'You Should Not Pretend, But Be a Good Specialist'
Anatolie Cecalenco was born in the Republic of Moldova and entered the Bachelor's programme 'Political Science' at HSE University. Then, he continued his education on the Master's programme 'Business and Politics in Modern Asia' at HSE University-St Petersburg. Currently, Anatolie is a PhD student and a lecturer at the campus. He also works as an ESG specialist for the company Business Solutions and Technology (which formerly operated in Russia as Deloitte). We talked to the PhD student about his studies and work.
— Why did you choose the Master's programme 'Business and Politics in Modern Asia'?
— In my Bachelor's programme, I conducted research on regional integrations. Within the programme, we studied political science, illustrated only by the example of European countries. However, after the Bachelor's degree, I wanted to understand how regional integrations work in Asian countries. I was also eager to try my hand at business after working in the public sector. That is why, on the advice of Sergey Akopov, my lecturer, I entered the Master's programme 'Business and Politics in Modern Asia'.
— What useful things did you learn on the Master's programme 'Business and Politics in Modern Asia'?
— Originally, I chose the academic track, planning to engage only in political science, but in reality, the programme gave me a chance to go way beyond studying just politics. Many courses had a major influence on my professional and personal development. For example, the knowledge gained on the courses 'Introduction to the Specialty' and 'Introduction to the Researches of the ASEAN Countries' helped me to look at the things I was examining from a different perspective. Studying the ASEAN countries and their integration, I saw the difference in the processes compared to European countries. The course on cross-cultural communication delivered by Valentina Morozova helped me to learn both about foreign cultures and about my own; by understanding another ethnopsychology, you start to understand yourself better.
In addition, we had a lecturer, Sergey Kolesnichenko, whose signature line was: 'You must know your unique selling proposition'. At first, it seemed rather trivial and obvious to me. However, after graduation, I started thinking about what I would do further and why. Then, Sergey Akopov recommended me the very interesting book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle, which helped me to understand why I engaged in academic activity at all. This book is not about science, but about discovering yourself, your personality, and goals. Then I remembered what Professor Kolesnichenko had said and I realised that I engaged in academic activities not to prove something to somebody or raise my self-esteem, but because I truly enjoy it and am good at it. Max Weber's article 'Politics as a Vocation' also helped me to reassess these things.
— Who inspired you to follow the academic path?
— My Bachelor's thesis supervisor was Irina Busygina, and it was she who inspired me to enter a Master's programme. Thanks to her, I managed to believe in myself. A PhD programme always seemed to be something unattainable, but professor Busygina motivated me to stay the course and logically continue my chosen journey. As a result, my journey has been as follows: I studied how integration processes work in European countries, then in Asian countries. Within the PhD programme, I try to figure out why they do not work as they should sometimes. That is why now I am working on the dissertation 'Factors of "democratic deficit" in the system of multilevel governance in the EU.'
— Did your original career plans change by the end of your studies?
— As I have already mentioned, originally, I aimed at an academic career. So, being a Master's student, I already knew that I would enter a PhD programme and develop in this direction. In this regard, everything is going according to plan.
Liudmila Veselova contributed to my career development in the business sphere a lot by helping me to get an internship at the Russian-Chinese Business Park. Despite the fact that it was during the pandemic and there weren't many events, I gained extensive experience and figured out how business in Asia worked. During the internship, I learnt how to build strategies for companies to enter the Chinese market and Special Economic Zones and to create marketing presentations. Everything was extremely interesting—even colour solutions play a significant role, and things which work, for example, in Nordic countries, may not work in Asian ones. Moreover, I learnt a lot by communicating with representatives of business in China; in particular, I saw the differences in cultures and approaches to completing tasks.
At the moment, I work for the one of the 'Big Four' companies with a focus on Asia, which is gaining popularity in Russia. I constantly use the knowledge and skills acquired during my studies at the programme. For instance, I am working on research into Asian markets. I noticed that it was much easier for me than for many of my colleagues who did not have an Asian and African Studies background and an understanding of how many mechanisms work in this region. What is more, I am not scared of working with large amounts of data because during my studies at HSE University, I also had to deal with a huge quantity of diverse information: today it is banking in the Middle East, tomorrow it could be political theories, then methodology and cross-cultural communication—all these things taught me to react quickly, adjust, and efficiently search for information.
— How did you get your current job?
— After completing my Master's degree, I entered a PhD programme. A year later, I started working at the analytical agency INFOLine, where I engaged in marketing analytics. Thanks to my diploma from the programme 'Business and Politics in Modern Asia' and my work experience in the Russian-Chinese Business Park, they hired me, which wouldn't have happened if I only had academic experience. Then, I had an interview at Deloitte, where I emphasised my analytical skills and knowledge in the ESG sphere. As a matter of fact, there are not very many ESG specialists now. But in Asia, this field is just starting to take off, so they paid attention to me, in particular as a chartered professional in Asian and African Studies.
During the interview, they asked me to solve cases and checked my knowledge of Excel: formulas, macros—things I had already studied myself. As a matter of fact, while many people believe that university will give you all the knowledge you need, you also have to pay attention to self-education. University provides you with brilliant lecturers who are open to your questions and are always ready to help. The most important thing is not to be afraid or too shy to ask questions.
— Are you considering working in business or do you want to continue working in the academic sphere?
— I am planning to continue working in both fields. When I tried to develop only in the academic sphere, I felt like I lacked something. I wanted to 'touch', to see the result immediately. In the scientific sphere, it usually happens through writing an article, but that takes more time. Besides, I find it interesting to complete various tasks, and the business sphere offers more practical tasks: non-financial report, audit, presentation. Science is about more creative research processes.
— How do you manage to combine the academic and commercial tracks? Is it about strict time management?
— There is no secret at all; the most important thing is to allocate your time properly and clearly follow the plan. I work in the afternoon and teach in the evening. As for my free time, I devote it all to my studies and research.
I think that those who do less achieves less. If you have a clear plan, you understand that if you don't do it today, then the entire chain of actions will be ruined—it encourages you to solve problems without delay.
— What is your advice for those who are still in doubt about their career choice?
— Most importantly, you shouldn't be afraid of taking risks. For example, for me, Deloitte was a certain risk: I did not have any education in audit or consulting, but I still decided to go there. Besides, I worked for one company and realised that I did not like it there. This is no problem, because I have enough time to try something new and find what I like.
For instance, you have an interview at a company and fail it, don't give up. Have ten interviews—this is also some kind of experience. If you couldn't answer a certain question during your previous interview, then make sure you have prepared an answer to it next time. For instance, I tried to get a job at one of the 'Big Four' companies—they turned me down. Then I came to Deloitte, who also turned me down at first. I came back to them six months later and was hired because they appreciated my skills and knowledge as well as my zeal to join their company.
Never believe that your education limits your career choice in any way. Education is just a basis which develops your hard and soft skills. But you should understand that you will learn hard skills in the process, so it is much more important to develop soft skills which will help you to adjust quickly. Never put yourself in a tight corner; as the book I've mentioned above says: Any experience is experience and every experience is useful in its own way.