‘Political Science Is a Lifestyle and Way of Thinking’
The Master's programme 'Comparative Politics of Eurasia' trains specialists in the internal and external politics of post-Soviet countries. Students learn how to combine qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis with theoretical approaches from various social sciences. The programme has three educational tracks: one in research and two applied ones. Andrey Starodubtsev, Academic Supervisor of the programme, explains which subjects students will learn and where they will be able to undertake internships.
— The programme is designed around studying the internal and external politics of the post-Soviet region. Why is this relevant today?
— First of all, it is no exaggeration to say that modern world politics heavily depends on what is going on in the Eurasian region, how political and economic processes are built in individual post-Soviet countries, and how relations between the countries of this region are developing.
Secondly, after the collapse of the USSR, each country chose its own development vector. In the programme, we analyse these vectors and the present results they have led to. Such a comparative context allows our students to gain an in-depth knowledge of the diversity of possible avenues of social, political and economic development, the reasons for choosing one option or another, and the consequences of each choice.
— What kind of specialists does the programme train?
— The programme trains specialists in political processes with expertise in area studies. Area studies require in-depth knowledge of not only political processes in a country or region, but also of social, economic and, of course, international processes. We cannot be sure that we fully understand a region or country if we do not delve into the specifics of its interrelationships with other important players in global politics. In this respect, international relations and political science work very closely together and cannot exist without each other. The programme also devotes a lot of attention to methodological and theoretical training in the sphere of political science. Every year, graduates of the programme continue their education in various Russian and foreign PhD programmes.
— Do the educational tracks of the programme reflect this?
— Yes. There are currently three educational tracks for students to choose from. Two of them are more applied, and the third one is theoretical and methodological. The first track covers political processes in post-Soviet countries. Students of the second one look into international politics in the Eurasian region. The third track is designed for students who would like to pursue a career in the academic world and are already preparing to enrol in PhD programmes. We assume that students of the third track plan to develop their academic career further, and that those in the first and second tracks are more interested in working in analytical organisations, business and non-profit organisations.
— What do you mean when you talk about contemporary methods and theories of political science?
— Political science uses various methods for collecting and analysing the empirical material that it studies. It is almost impossible to imagine a modern political scientist who does not understand how to work with quantitative data. At the same time, we cannot exclude qualitative research methods, both anthropological and sociological.
Our programme combines these successfully—you can study various methodologies that are generally used in the contemporary political and social sciences. Depending on our students' plans and what they want to research, they can study either quantitative or qualitative methods.
Theoretical diversity is another distinctive feature of our programme. Some look into party politics, others—the relationships between branches of power, the state and society, the functioning of public structures, international processes, and much more. To cover such different topics, it is important to be flexible in terms of the conceptual apparatus you use. That is why we help to develop interdisciplinarity in our students—to use concepts which exist not only in political science, but in neighbouring social sciences such as history, sociology, international relations, and others.
— What other advantages does the programme have?
— The main advantage of the programme is that even with its small size—every year, we teach approximately 20 students—it offers a unique set of courses.
With very few exceptions, the students choose the majority of subjects themselves, creating their curriculum for two years. If a student cannot attend a particular course this year, they will have a chance to do so next year.
We shouldn't forget that we have a double-degree programme with the University of Trento in Italy. Students of the international politics track can spend a semester or a year in Italy and, as a result, gain two diplomas. The University of Trento is a focal point for European research on international politics, so it is a very useful opportunity for our students.
— What courses do students study?
— Students of the track on post-Soviet politics will study courses in Russian politics, the politics and society of countries in the South Caucasus, Central Asia, Belarus, and Moldova. They also take courses on public administration and urban policy in post-Soviet countries.
Students of the international politics track attend various courses in international relations, relations between Russia and the EU, and Russia's position in the world. In addition, they will be able to choose courses on the activities of various international organisations in the post-Soviet region.
Students of the track on methodology can attend any courses from the other two tracks, as well as those on various methods of political and social research.
— Where can students undertake internships?
— It depends on the educational track. Students of the track on post-Soviet politics can undertake internships in educational, cultural, analytical, and state organisations in Russia and the countries which they have studied. Students who engage in international relations usually undertake internships in analytical units related to their research interests. This year, such organisations included the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies and the Centre for Stability and Risk Analysis at HSE University. Students of the methodological track usually take internships at research centres such as the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, the Centre for Comparative Governance Studies and the European University at St Petersburg.
— What do you find particularly interesting about political science?
— For me, studying political science is the clearest and most convenient way to explore the world in which I live. Political science is multifaceted; it uses theories, concepts and methods from other sciences and studies various aspects of social life. Political science is a supplier of interesting tasks: new challenges are always appearing that must be faced by individuals, peoples, countries, or the whole world. And it is interesting for me as a political scientist to solve such tasks. But in addition, for me, political science is a lifestyle and way of thinking. It allows you to see and analyse interactions with certain people, organisations, institutions, and, in the end, your own country. And when you realise what is behind your actions and the actions of those who you interact with, life becomes much easier.