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Campus inSaint Petersburg

How to Fall in Love with Political Science in Four Years’ Time and Enrol in an MA Programme in Germany

The Political Science Department's Free Editorial Office ('Volnaja Redaksiya') caught up with graduate Nikol Fuks to talk about enrolling in an educational programme abroad, lecturers, how to overcome yourself, and choose a thesis topic.

Nikol Fuks

Nikol Fuks
© Nikol Fuks

Nikol, first of all, I congratulate you on your acceptance to the University of Cologne and winning the DAAD scholarship. Tell us, how did you do it?

Thank you!

I should start by saying that DAAD wasn't the only scholarship programme that I applied for. I realised that I wanted to continue my studies abroad during the summer before my final year at HSE. Thanks to the graduates of our programme - Liza Ozernova and Nastya Mirovednikova - I knew about the scholarships in Sweden (Visby) and the University of Tartu (DORA). Also, graduates of our programme get accepted to the Central European University nearly every year, where one can get a financial support package that covers tuition fees, accommodation costs, and provides a small stipend. I knew about DAAD, a scholarship to study in Germany, since I was in high school since I graduated from a German gymnasium. This autumn I started to looking at these programme sites to get a sense of when the deadlines are.

DAAD has the earliest deadline in the middle of November. I had to take the IELTS since I wanted to enrol in an English-taught MA programme. The selection process had two stages. The first stage was a correspondence stage - I had to send documents to Moscow (my CV, IELTS scores, a motivation letter, a recommendation from my academic supervisor, and in my case, my German language diploma - DSD). It is also necessary to fill out a special form which indicates the three universities/programmes I was going to apply for.

In February I was notified that I passed the first stage and was invited to go to the interview in Moscow. The interview was carried out with German and Russian professors and DAAD experts in the language I selected when applying for all three programmes. Since I chose programmes taught in both German and English, the interview was in German and English. I was among students with backgrounds in social sciences, and I was interviewed by a political scientist from Munich University and two linguists from other universities (unfortunately, I don't remember the universities’ names). The interview was quite standard. Many applicants told me that it was stressful, but I didn't think so. The questions were on different subjects: on my research, language proficiency, programme choice, about my MA thesis topic and possible supervisor, my intensions after graduation, etc.

At the same time (in February) I started applying for German university programmes. The deadlines vary greatly. For example, the deadline in Cologne is in the middle of June. I decided to apply to four programmes: political science in Munich, Cologne and Mannheim, as well as international relations in Bremen.

At the beginning of March, I was notified that I was one of 37 people to get the DAAD scholarship. I was left to wait for the German universities' decisions (and I waited for a long time). In March and April, I got replies from the aforementioned universities and scholarship programmes. I could choose from several countries but decided I would stick to places where I could use my DAAD scholarship and wait for the German universities' decisions. The last, long-awaited reply from Cologne arrived two weeks ago, and this was the programme I was most interested in. This is how I ended up deciding to study in Cologne.

I don't think I would have been able to navigate the variety of scholarship programmes without the help of Liza Ozernova, who studies in Sweden on the Visby scholarship. This is why I am happy to help anyone else interested in enrolling in a programme abroad, so please email me if you have any questions!

Did our programme help you in any way with your application process?

This is a rhetorical question: of course, yes! HSE and our programme, in particular, made me the person I am now. I came here with quite a low Unified State Examination (USE) score, bad English, and zero understanding of what I wanted to do with my life. One should understand though that I didn't get off to the smoothest start: at first, I couldn't understand what was going on, then, I had doubts about whether political science is my area of interest. After that, I decided that I would pursue event management as a career after graduation. However, during my final year at HSE, I realised what political science really is and why people study it. I knew that I acquired a lot of soft skills. During four years at HSE, I enriched my CV by attending scientific conferences, schools, and seminars. This could have never happened if our programme didn't provide me with research and analytical skills, English language skills, and the understanding that every skill (statistics included) is a result of efforts invested in it and that everything is possible.

When I say 'programme' I mean our lecturers as well. I can say for sure that every lecturer contributed to my personal development. Political Science at HSE is a community of cool and caring people. In my 11 years of primary and secondary schooling, I didn't get the amount of support, experience and information that I received at HSE in just one year. I am enormously grateful to every lecturer — they invest a lot into their work. During the application process, every lecturer I contacted to ask for a recommendation letter sacrificed his or her own free time because they understood that this letter is very important for the final decision on the application. Many of them also advised me on how to strengthen my CV and motivation letters. The Programme Office was efficient in issuing transcripts and all the necessary documents in a limited amount of time. The support I received from the the programme is really what made it possible for me to study at a German university.

What is the topic of your BA thesis? Why drew you to your topic?

My thesis is about the 'Open Society' influence on the quality of government management. Specifically, I was interested in whether various initiatives which were published in an open source (open data, civic initiatives, petitions, etc) can make government more efficient.

It is a more complicated question why I started to study this area since I am not, unfortunately (or fortunately), among students who have chosen just one topic and stick to it the entire four years until thesis submission. I think my path was quite interesting: in the first year, I wrote on the new media influence on political socialisation under the supervision of Yury Kabanov. Then, for two years I wrote about the European Union institutions under the supervision of Anna A. Dekalchuk. During my third year at HSE, I tried to do a quantitative paper on lobbying in the EU, but the paper was of a quite low quality. The reason was the bad quality of the data available for the analysis. Afterwards, I realised that I wanted to do a quantitative study for my thesis using a big data set. However, I understood that this kind of data set is not available for the EU, or if it exists, someone has already done research using this data. So, I decided to switch my focus to something else.

When I worked at the FIFA World Cup I realised that I wanted to combine two areas of interest to me: sportd and politics. I then got the idea to write about sport mega-events and approached Yury Kabanov for advice. However, when I looked closely at this topic, trying to formulate a research question and the research methodology, we both saw that literally zero data on the topic exists and that there is hardly anything to study because of the lack of scientific relevance. We started to look for a topic that was more relevant with available data. At that time, I was attending the elective course, 'State Data', taught by a PhD student Mikhail Karyagin, and then I learned about open data and Open Government. My academic supervisor also researched this topic and warned me that many people tried to study it as a dependent variable — in other words, they wanted to see what influences the 'openness' of government had. Moreoever, these studies were not particularly rigorous. As a result, we decided to treat 'Open Government' as an independent variable and examine whether it can influence anything in the government area or whether these initiatives serve as just a new instrument in a public policy that is unable to change anything. Yury also advised me to try an interesting statistical method called SEM, which has rarely been used in social sciences before. I was excited to learn something new apart from the regression in R. This is how we chose a topic and designed the research.

- Any advice for the prospective students?

First of all, I want to say that a wonderful four years are ahead of you. Don't waste your time. Appreciate every minute of your undergraduate studies, because the time flies. Regardless of your programme, try to get involved in academic life and extracurricular activities at the university. Become a volunteer, participate in conferences, winter and summer schools, learn languages. You have four years to expand your CV, which will be of use to you, whether you will continue studies or find a job. The sooner you start strengthening your CV (and strengthening yourself at the first place), the greater your chances of achieving what you desire will be.

Finally, if you have any questions about studying political science or HSE in general, message me. I will be happy to share insider information!