From Students' Supervision to Working in a Transnational Corporation

An interview with Rustam Magomedov, a former student of HSE University and University of London Parallel Degree Programme in International Relations.

From Students' Supervision to Working in a Transnational Corporation

Tell us about the program, about the teachers, how were your 4 years at the university?

My path began rather timidly, as I was one of the few students originally not from Moscow. The first weeks were adaptational, and it was quite difficult to completely switch to English. The adaptation went quite well, for which I sincerely want to thank my curators. After a month, the feeling of shyness completely disappeared and was replaced by a sense of purpose. Over the year, I climbed 132 places in the ranking and took the 16th place, eventually receiving a scholarship covering 10% of the tuition fee.

I went through the selection process for the curator position, and the second year was abundant with acquaintances. The year passed quickly, but I clearly remember the first London examination process, which was initially carried out in offline mode. It was challenging, but the spring examination brought many students together. I improved my results even further and got my first First-Class exam grade, subsequently receiving a scholarship covering 50% of the tuition fee.

The third course was remarkable primarily due to the transition to the online learning mode. It was difficult from a moral standpoint. On the other hand, it presented a perfect opportunity to visit my family in Sochi. There I calmly completed my courses and finished writing my first term paper. At the time I was also a teaching assistant in three courses. I was lucky to work with Ekaterina Talalakina, Artem Altukhov and Alexander Koryagin. The UoL exams were substituted with the online version during the third year of study. In general, it had a net positive impact on the results. I tend to type faster than I write by hand, hence it was a good adjustment for me per se.

The last year was less intensive - the syllabus was well-organized with enough time for extracurricular activities. I devoted most of my time to writing my Bachelors thesis, assisting in the Game Theory course, and trying to understand my passions in the professional domain.

All in all, I would summarize those four years as follows: the program presents good opportunities for the development of crucial soft and hard skills. I was lucky to learn from qualified professors and alongside strong peers. I managed to work as a teaching assistant on four different courses, and I am grateful to Altukhov Artem, Talalakina Ekaterina, Dagaev Dmitry, and Koryagin Alexander for presented opportunities and dedicated time. I made great friends both in the personal and professional realms. I enlarged my network substantially. Eventually, it was a great journey.

What are your memories and impressions of your studies? What were your expectations and did they come true?

I did not have many expectations while applying. I was ready for minor organizational disturbances stemming from the young age of the program. Overall, I think the program managed to meet my expectations related to the broad range of knowledge and skills development. Unfortunately, we did not manage to move to campus on Pokrovka and did not have festive graduation due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Other than that, my experience was positive.

What were your plans when graduating and did they coincide with your career goals?

Thanks to the Career Development Center and Ella Khromova, I already had an idea of what I wanted to do professionally when I graduated. I am currently taking a gap year to gain work experience and take a more thorough approach towards choosing a masters degree. I recently got a job at one of the largest FMCG companies and finally decided on a master's program. In general, the Career Center allowed me to weigh all the opportunities in the private sector and participate in workshops with professionals from different industries. It is a great institution in terms of getting connections and gaining knowledge directly from practitioners, so I hope it will continue to benefit both active students and graduates!

Tell me, how did you enroll? Were there any difficulties? Why did you choose this particular university?

The Higher School of Economics attracted me mainly due to its progressive views and the opportunity of rather autonomous learning. There were no difficulties as such when it came to enrollment, I calmly flew in from Sochi and submitted the documents. To some extent, I was very lucky, as I performed rather mediocre during the Unified State Exam. To sum up, I am glad that I passed the threshold for enrollment.

What attracted you to the program?

The main attraction was the opportunity to study in English and to gain a wide range of knowledge. It is rare after middle school graduation that you understand what you want to do. International Relations in this sense helps to narrow the scope of interests and allows to subsequently pursue almost any master's degree. Hence, one can also maximise career opportunities. The second diploma is a bonus, allowing for a confident admission to a master's degree in Europe.

What are you doing at the moment?

I dedicated the last three months to looking for a job and finding a master's program that suits me most. I have successfully passed many fit and case interviews with large international companies, and I am currently working at Procter & Gamble as an Insight Analyst. In my spare time I play football and visualize football data.

Would you like to continue your studies/work in this direction?

I have always had a passion for academic work. I am a big fan of quantitative research. I also believe in the importance of quantitative analysis for the social sciences, which is growing at a very high rate. Throughout the university, I have spent much time doing research and truly believe in the utility it brings. Perhaps I will consider this track in the future. For now, I find the private sector and business, in general, a more sophisticated track for take-off and post-graduate development.

Do you think a master's degree is a necessity (taking into account your specialty)?

Useful? Definitely. Necessary? Definitely not. The structure of the program allows one to cover many subjects - economics, statistics, international law, international development management, political science, philosophy, public relations, international media. Eventually, you come out with a broad outlook. There exists an excellent simplification that demonstrates what employers are looking for in candidates. In short, the concept of T-shaped skills demonstrates that the ideal candidate has in-depth knowledge in one industry (the vertical bar on the letter T). Furthermore, the candidate has a broad outlook in general (the horizontal bar on the letter T), allowing to apply knowledge from other fields of experience. Thus, the master's degree helps to deepen the acquired knowledge, making you more competitive in the labor market.

What role did the university play in professional self-realization?

A substantial one, perhaps. Firstly, the design of my specialization requires strong soft skills. Critical thinking, debates, teamwork, presentation skills, project activities – these are one of the pillars of development during all four years of study. Secondly, the program also includes minor technical inclusions - the study of micro-and macroeconomics, development of Excel skills, R and Python courses, which in total represent an essential and robust set of hard skills.

Elective courses such as Choosing Career Path and Introduction to Strategic Consulting allow one to dive into the business environment, develop a business sense and work on real business cases during workshops. This is an incredibly useful experience for networking, for getting to know industries and top-tier companies. Although neither UoL First Class honours diploma nor HSE diploma with honours really impressed anyone on the job market (it should not be news for you), the developed skills and connections mattered most at the end of the day.

Tell us, please, about your extracurricular life at the faculty, did you do it?

In general, I can probably distinguish three main blocks of extracurricular life. Firstly, I was a teaching assistant in several courses. This is a good chance to gain academic experience, advance soft skills, and earn yourself a future letter of recommendation. Secondly, I initiated a project to analyze and change the public relations strategy of the HSE & UoL program. It was an exciting 6-month project together with a team of peers and a Public Relations course professor. It allowed me to gain experience in general project activities and develop skills related to the analysis of social networks, as well as to make a solid recommendation for the management. Thirdly, in the last year, together with graduates and students of the program, we created a football team to compete in the HSE Youth Football League. Football certainly helps to keep in touch and contributes to the sport's development within the program.

Do you use a foreign language in your work now?

English is most certainly one of the top requirements for a job in an international company. Thus, it is vital. As per the second foreign language studied at the university, I chose German, which is rarely needed in the Russian business sphere. I think the German language is a plus for potential work within cross-national teams or when it comes to relocation, but I don't really need it in a professional sense right now. I am keen on pursuing a masters degree in Germany; hence, it is an essential aspect for me.

How did studying for a double degree program affect you?

It seems to me that the main quality that distinguishes a student of the parallel degree program in IR is critical thinking. One learns to quickly search information, analyze quantitative and qualitative data, and learn to fish out facts. One starts to assess the phenomena from the perspectives of every actor involved and within different contexts. I will provide an example here – the study of Russia's foreign policy goes through several prisms at once. One gets acquainted with the point of view of both Russian scholars and practitioners, as well as with Western-centric rhetoric within the literature offered by the University of London. One learns to avoid confirmation bias. One learns to build arguments, to test hypotheses based on data, and not to make logical fallacies. I most certainly feel like a different person after courses on academic argumentation, research, logic, and game theory. 

Finally, do you miss something after completing your studies: fellow students, teachers, classes, events at the HSE?

It has not been that long since graduation, so I keep in touch with many people. With some graduates, we still play football together a couple of times a week. I definitely miss the learning atmosphere and some of the professors. When it comes to events, I began to miss them about two years ago, when everyone went into quarantine. I hope that it will be possible to attend HSE events within the framework of the alumni community in the future.

Interview by

Angelina Novikova