'A Desire to Constantly Add New Tools to Your Kit is a Hard Skill Which You Need to Develop'
Pavel Dolgov is a 2016 graduate of the Bachelor's programme 'Sociology'. To continue his education, Pavel chose a double-degree programme at HSE University-Moscow and, while getting his Master's degree, had a chance to study in Holland. In his interview, Pavel talks about sociology through the eyes of the graduate, scientific and UX research, studies abroad, and the inner workings of Alfa-Bank.
— Did you have any expectations of your studies before admission? If yes, were they met?
— I knew that HSE University was a high-ranked university, one of the best—if not the best—universities in the fields of economics and social sciences. In the beginning, I knew a lot about HSE University-Moscow, but less about the campus in St Petersburg. On the one hand, I was sure that it wouldn't be easy and I wouldn't be able to skip lectures, but on the other hand, I did not completely understand what to expect. I also understood that graduating from HSE University would be a great contribution to my future career. Everyone knows that HSE is a brand and a very strong university which helps you to find a job because of its name alone. This is how I chose HSE University as the place to get my degree.
— Did you take part in any academic work/projects during your studies? How helpful was this experience?
— If you don't take into account my term papers and thesis, I took part in a couple of projects for the Laboratory of Sociology in Education and Science, where I conducted surveys and observations. If we talk about studies at HSE University in general, there was a lot of field work—this is exactly what I am currently engaged in. I work in the sphere of UX research and use all the research methods I learned at the university very actively. From the perspective of methodology, it was right on target. I was very lucky to have HSE University and such courses in my life! All these things gave me an excellent base. Many UX researchers do not have such experience, so it is much harder for them than for me. HSE University gave me very strong theoretical training, such as courses in ethnography and anthropology. I use all this knowledge in my work. I examine how people interact with computers and interfaces and in which situations they do it. To interpret the results, I use the basics I gained during my studies. I would like to use even more, but UX research is quite different from academic research, so I can't use my theoretical background to the full extent, but I try to do it as much as possible. I am almost the only one among my group-mates who uses knowledge from our 'Sociology' course in practice.
— What knowledge and skills did you get from the opportunity to study abroad at Tilburg University in the Netherlands?
— During the master's degree, I studied economic psychology. This branch of science examines our economic decision-making, and when you study how people make irrational decisions regarding consumption, you will learn how to act rationally. It changes your perception of the world. Of course, both HSE University and Tilburg University provide you with a high level of inner freedom. You learn how to express yourself, and it is an environment without judgement. Without doubt, my studies developed my critical-thinking skills, which helps both in my career and my life. HR managers pay attention to your level of education, so, like it or not, my career prospects improved significantly after graduating from both universities.
— When did you start your career path? In which position and company?
— Apart from being a teaching assistant at HSE University, my first official employment was in the International Laboratory for Sociocultural Research. After entering the Master's programme at HSE University-Moscow, I became a research assistant in the laboratory and started engaging in research activities. I cannot say that I carried out the research projects myself or actively took part in the projects of other laboratory staff. I was more of an assistant: I cleaned up the databases, analysed and interpreted the collected information, prepared literary reviews. My next and more serious workplace was the French company Ipsos, which conducts marketing research using a broad range of methodologies. I engaged in quantitative research into the client experience mainly in food retail: we measured loyalty and satisfaction metrics using a large sample (about 7,000 people per quarter). Over these two years, I gained a tremendous amount of experience. There were a lot of difficulties, but it was all worth it.
— Would you say that you are working in your chosen profession—as sociology includes analytics? If not, why did you decide to change your professional track?
— Now, having changed focus from CX to UX research, I can say with confidence that my job is closely connected with the training I received. UX research focuses on people, so I actively and permanently use the whole methodology of sociology: interviews, observations, surveys, sometimes focus groups. This is especially true if it is profound and wide-scale research; then it is necessary and very important to apply conceptual sociological methods—and that is what I learnt at university.
— Where do you work now? What is your position? What are your duties?
— A month ago, I was a lead UX researcher at Alfa-Bank and was engaged in examining the reactions, emotions and actions of users when interacting with the product, but I made the decision to leave, so at the moment, I am unemployed.
— With your extensive educational background, do you feel like a sought-after specialist?
— In the Russian market, without doubt, I do. I can see this in the number of emails from recruitment officers from different companies. But I cannot say the same about the international market; I will have to find out soon (smiles). I understand that it will be harder for me to find a job in Europe than in Russia. But my diploma from the Netherlands eliminates the question of my English proficiency, at least. Moreover, my previous career experience significantly increases my chances of employment, as I have done great work and climbed up the career ladder—I have worked as a lead, directed people, and played a rather important role in our research centre.
— Tell us more about the corporate culture at Alfa-Bank. What other distinctive features might appeal to candidates apart from the position and professional challenges?
— That's a good question! I would like to highlight both the pros and cons of its inner workings. As for the cons, there is a huge amount of work that requires a lot of effort and time, as research plays a significant role in the process of developing applications and products which, in turn, are too numerous as well. Working at a rapid pace with a large number of tasks can easily result in burnout and apathy. You also have to know how to cope with it by yourself, because no one in the corporation will help you. The pros are the great team of researchers with a high level of knowledge and skills, the responsiveness and friendliness of colleagues, and also the diversity of tasks and effectiveness of their completion within the team. The tasks in the company vary in content and difficulty; you don't feel like you are working like a machine. There is some room for imagination, choice of methods and approaches, and multiple teams to communicate with. Such an approach is a huge plus. For people who already have some experience in the industry, working at Alfa-Bank would be a driver for personal growth. The company is interested not just in its own development, but in the development of employees' personal brand, which is very valuable as well.
— What is your next career goal?
— At the moment, I am ready to become a senior researcher. I want to carry our research and maybe work for a start-up. Unfortunately, it is very hard to keep track of the results of your activities in corporations. By this, I mean that you can suggest some solutions for changing services or products, but you have to wait a long time to understand whether it has brought about any benefits. Carrying out research without a clear time frame for implementing changes is a bit exhausting. But that doesn't happen if you work for a start-up, as you are able to see the results of your analysis immediately. That is an important characteristic for me in my next workplace.
— Do you have a hobby which helps you to maintain a work-life balance?
— The question about hobbies always seems funny to me, because my main hobby is reading. As soon as I have spare time, I read and implement what I've previously read in my work. Of course, sport and running are part of my life. I've also started swimming. It sounds like I have a very boring life: work, read and run... Perhaps hobbies shouldn't be like that! (laughs)
— What three words do you associate with HSE University?
— Freedom, fun and deepness.