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Political Science at HSE University-St Petersburg: Students' Term Papers and Theses

One of the most important deadlines for HSE students of any programme is the one for choosing a topic for term papers. For some people, it might be hard to define the area of their research interests due to the great variety of theories, events, and approaches. Others might have no idea what to write about. To help sort out potential topics, we looked at those chosen by political scientists for their papers last year.

Political Science at HSE University-St Petersburg: Students' Term Papers and Theses

HSE University-Saint Petersburg

Students of the Bachelor's programme 'Political Science and World Politics' prepare term papers in the second and third years of study. At the end of their studies, the graduates have to hand in and present their theses.

The term paper in the second year is a literature review. It is a critical analysis of articles on the subject where students have to describe the scientific gaps or debates in the field of their research. In the third and fourth years, the literature review is a chapter within the whole thesis, which also includes an empirical section. This part comprises a description of the research methods—quantitative and qualitative—and an analysis of the collected data. The differences in the paper’s specifics may influence the topic, but the field of research can be similar in the second, third and fourth years of studies.

In order to write and hand in the paper successfully, you should choose a topic that will be interesting to you throughout the entire year and will inspire you to work on the term paper without postponing it to May. It is important to build it upon already acquired knowledge so that the topic is clear to you and the context and research field are familiar. Many students change the topic after realising that they do not know the context or do not understand the field. Having a clear topic makes it easier to see the design of the term paper, analyse the literature, and choose methods.

Which Research Areas Can Students of 'Political Science Choose?

A ready-made topic implies that you already have a research question and an idea of research design and methods. Such criteria for a ready-made topic require extensive work on the student's part: reading articles, thinking the research through, and discussing it with a thesis supervisor. But you can start with the field of research—a general topic or an area of political science which seems interesting.

You can choose a field based on the courses you have already completed: 'The Political Theory', 'Contemporary Russian Politics' or 'Politics & Media'. If the lecture topics or texts for a seminar hooked you, you can choose the field of research based on them. At the moment, political scientists mostly examine topics related to social movements, political economy, comparative politics and political theory.

Yury Kabanov, Academic Supervisor of the Bachelor's programme 'Political Science and World Politics'

Students choose a wide range of topics, from more theoretical ones on political science and international relations to more applied ones on political analysis and public administration. Some of them prepare term papers in the form of projects aimed at solving specific social and economic tasks.

The students' choice is influenced by a great number of factors: we strive to make each topic the result of joint creative work between students and lecturers. This way, the students have interest in the topic, and the lecturers have the necessary expertise.

The choice can also be influenced by a course the student especially liked. For instance, after completing the course 'Politics & Media', many students think about examining the political media space. In senior years, the thesis topic may be related to future career expectations, Master's programmes, or professions. For example, if you plan to work in public administration, it is reasonable to choose a thesis in the form of a project. If you want to go into the energy sector, you should opt for a topic connected with energy policy.

Which Fields Are Most Interesting to Students of 'Political Science and World Politics'?

In the 2021/22 academic year, second-year students chose the following research topics the most often (in order of popularity):

  • Political theory
  • Political regimes
  • Electoral research
  • Media and politics
  • Policy analysis
     

For third-year students, the order of popularity is a little different:

  • Media and politics
  • Political institutions
  • Electoral research
  • Political regimes
  • Research of ideologies and identities
     

In 2022, graduates of the programme opted for the following thesis topics most often:

  • Policy analysis
  • Media and politics
  • Research of ideologies and identities
  • Political regimes
  • Analysis of political discourse
     

Some students approached the choice of topic very creatively and prepared papers about the music industry and politics. One example is the third-year term paper 'The Impact of State Involvement in the Music Industry on the "Soft Power" Capabilities of South Korea'. Among other unusual topics is the analysis of the interrelationship between politics and comedy in a paper called 'The Influence of Political Humour in Modern Russian Stand-Up Comedy on Public Opinion Building among Young People'. Such unusual topics can become very interesting fields of research.

How to Decide on the Topic of a Term Paper or Thesis

The decision should be well-considered and based on literature read and knowledge gained. Research seminars can also contribute to the choice of topic. It is necessary to remember that the topic must be interesting enough that you are motivated to write about it. At the same time, all the fields mentioned above are too broad to be a thesis topic; it should be narrow enough to examine and give a constructive response to the research question. Moreover, the topic should include a ‘puzzle’, something that is not clear or seems to be contradictory. If you have a research 'puzzle', you will be able to find a research question. Finally, the topic should be possible to study, which means that students should have relevant skills, enough time, and an opportunity to find the corresponding literature and supporting information.

Article prepared by Daria Polygalova, 'Free Editorial' project