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Interview with Dr.Elena Cirkovic – This Summer our Research Fellow at HSE-St. Petersburg

Dr. Elena Cirkovic is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Bosphorus University (Turkey). She completed her Ph.D. at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University in Toronto, Canada. She also holds MA and Honours BA from the University of Toronto in Political Science. Dr. Cirkovic has taught at universities in Canada, Germany, and Turkey. Elena is spending this summer with us as she has currently a status as a Visiting Researcher at the Department of political science National Research University Higher School of Economics.





As a part of her stay she meet our students and June 20, 2017 and delivered a speech on the topic “By a soldier for a soldier: “conscience of humanity” in warfare and the international human rights law”. Elena Cirkovic introduced us to her interesting empirical work from different geographical areas and jurisdictions, namely: South East Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Asia, and South America. Dr. Cirkovic has extensive fieldwork experience, which she conducted in local languages. She emphasized the necessity to engage in interdisciplinary and transnational research. For instance, she pointed out the pluralism of state interests in the international arena, as well as different thematic global interest areas, such as human rights, economics (trade and investment), environment, and the corresponding international and transnational regulatory regimes. Finally, during the discussion period, Dr. Cirkovic introduced us to one of her current research projects on themes of human rights, trade, and the Silk Road Project that she is undertaking with her colleagues at Helsinki University, SOAS, as well as in HSE – St. Petersburg.

Here we publish a part of interview we took with Elena concerning her experience at HSE-St. Petersburg and advices she can give to scholars and students.

Elena, what are your impressions from being a research fellow with us at HSE-St.Petersburg so far? As you know we are starting a new Russian-English program “State, Society and Economic Development in Modern Asia”. What advice can you give to our future masters students?

Dr.Cirkovic: It is important for scholars to continue international collaboration and my visit to HSE was invaluable for my current research project and further collaborative efforts with my colleagues. I had an opportunity to meet with some of the HSE students and attend their in-class presentations. I was impressed with their level of knowledge, especially theoretical and research methods.

It is important for students to be aware of the competitive and demanding nature of current global markets. This means also that universities have to engage in “global education”. Students need to gain skills that will prepare them for the labor market after graduation. This means flexibility, rigorous and demonstrable research and analytical skills in their field of professional interest, as well as capacity for innovation. This, I would argue, can be taught by emphasis on independent research of our students, but also guided instruction. The latter means involving the students in projects, and not only providing information in the classroom.  

This also means that we as faculty need to remain updated in our fields. In my experience, students benefit the most from participating in research projects at their universities. But this means that we have to have an institutional capacity to attract funding, develop independent and collaborative faculty research, and involve students as research assistants. Finally having research centres and more focused programmes, such as your present collaboration on Russian-English program - State, Society and Economic Development in Modern Asia, would allow you to involve students, as well as open possibilities for exchanges with other universities. If we look at most competitive schools in the world now, they all show strength in both research and teaching. Students learn most when they can participate in research of their instructors. In turn, the instructors can help if their work is “global” and current.

On a more substantive level, I would also argue that students need to gain deep knowledge in their areas of interest. I say this because after participating on few admission and recruitment committees, it is easy for an institution, or a graduate programme to make a distinction between a candidate who has had a rigorous background in their education. For example, I can tell my students that there is a gas pipeline somewhere, but if they are interested in how all this works, and would like to work in the field after graduation, they need to know who the stakeholders are, what are complexities and intricacies of various global and local networks, the role of the State etc. This involves historical, theoretical, and technical knowledge. Is a corporation from Russia rooted in same corporate/economic culture as, for instance a German, or Chinese company? What implications does this have for transnational projects? What about other stakeholders such as property owners, environmental interests, and so on. 

I could also give an example of one of our programmes at Bogazici University.  We are offering a new MA program MIR (Master of Arts Program in International Relations: Turkey, Europe, and the Middle East), which offers a solid training in the politics, economics and history of Europe, Turkey and the Middle East. It provides concrete tools of assessment and analysis for any professional. It is an international programme, and our faculty and students come from the Balkans, the US, Europe, Turkey, Middle East and the Far East. This is an example where we try to foster relations among academics, various industries, and established professionals. Our students come from a wide range of professions, such as Advertising, Civil Society Organisations, Consultancy Firms, Film, Finance, Foreign Affairs, International Organisations, etc. 

This approach to teaching is important for some graduates to learn how to position themselves in the current markets, and especially if their interest is in public or private sector jobs. Others, of course, decide to continue their graduate studies. It is thus important for students to develop their analytical and research skills, as well as gain proficiency in other languages. But mostly, they also need to know how to cross borders between academic and professional worlds.