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Regular version of the site

“I took a risk – and don’t regret it”

Alexandra Solovyeva graduated from the ICEF Master’s Programme in 2009, and enrolled in the PhD programme of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. As part of ICEF’s interview series, Alexandra discussed her experiences of studying in both Russia and the USA.

Alexandra, why did you choose the ICEF Master’s Programme?

I received a Bachelor’s Degree from the HSE with a specialism in Macroeconomics and Macroeconomic Politics, having been accepted without any assessments as a winner of the Russian National Olympiad for high school students. Initially, I considered continuing my studies on the HSE master’s programme, but ICEF launched its own degree that year in Financial Economics – something that was new and unfamiliar to me. An English-language programme, PhD-level teachers…it caught my attention, and I decided to risk it.

You were something of a pioneer! Wasn’t it dangerous, given that back then no one knew what the programme would be like?

Well I wasn’t completely in the dark – I knew the teachers who gave courses at ICEF, and had a sense of what subjects I would be studying. But no one was sure what it would all be like – there were no MSc graduates yet. I took a risk – and I don’t regret it.

So you’re a risk-taker?

Not with everything – as an economist, I don’t like risking money – but in terms of study and travel, yes.

What sticks in the memory the most from your time at ICEF?

Now that I’m studying at Minnesota, I often think back to Maxim Nikitin’s course in Macroeconomics, and Carsten Sprenger’s in Finance. The knowledge that both courses gave me helps hugely on the PhD programme.

Did you decide to enrol on a PhD programme immediately after graduating with your MSc?

Not quite – even though I’d had thoughts about a PhD while I was still at ICEF, I only acted on them three years after graduating from the Master’s Programme. At first I was working as a researcher at the Central Bank, in the Information and Research department. I had no problem finding a job – that’s something ICEF really helps students and graduates with. For example, they regularly organise events with various high-profile employers. Working at the Central Bank was great – there was a lot of travel. I went to the Bank of England, the Bank of Finland and the European Central Bank. But after a while, I realised that I lacked the knowledge and skills necessary for more in-depth research. That’s when my thoughts of pursuing a PhD really became reality.

What sort of research were you doing at the Central Bank?

I was looking into the dynamics of monetary and credit aggregates, and how these shifts influence general economic activity and the inflation rate. I also analysed the structure of people’s bank deposits – that is, what proportion of their deposits were in foreign currency, and what factors prompt them to switch deposits from roubles to other currenices.

Does our Central Bank differ from others – for example, the Bank of England?

Their research capabilities are far greater, because most of their experts have doctorates from leading European and American institutions. We have very few specialists of that level – I’d say that’s the key difference.

What made you choose the University of Minnesota?

I immediately sent off applications to a few universities in the US and Europe, and the London Business School, the University of Maryland, and the University of Minnesota all offered me a place. I chose the latter because it was the highest in the rankings. I also spoke to people studying there, and I liked what they told me. The atmosphere here is very similar to the one at ICEF. Students and teachers are always ready to discuss things – they’re very friendly and happy to help each other. In general, the first two years of the PhD programme are similar to the ICEF Master’s Programme – there is a lot of time devoted to independent work, and significant pieces of coursework and project work.

So where is tougher to study?

At ICEF it was hard to make the shift into studying in English, while here in the US it was difficult to get to grips with some completely new subjects that I’d never studied before. Everywhere has its challenges – but I’m managing.

Are there any Russians studying there with you?

When I enrolled there were none. Two years ago, an HSE graduate came, and another followed a year later. So now there are three of us. Even though my English was OK, it was hard at first to hold a conversation, but I quickly realised that other foreigners had the same problems – which brought us closer.

Was it difficult making the decision to go abroad for so long?

No. I was born in Perm, and after leaving school came to Moscow to study at the HSE. After that, I would say that I was already prepared internally for the following move. I don’t know yet where I’ll end up working – maybe another move is on the cards.

Have you already thought about the subject of your dissertation?

I’m working on it…The general field will be Macroeconomics, but I couldn’t say anything more specific than that. Right now I’m looking into the optimal length of negotiations on restructuring of national debt between creditors and a government that has had to default. I don’t know what I’ll get involved in next, but I’m always on the lookout for new ideas.

Are you working part-time anywhere?

Yes – official I don’t have the right to work in the US as I’m on a student visa, but my programme has fairly strong ties with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota, which is the equivalent of our Central Bank. I’m spending some time there as a research assistant to Christine Areyano, an economist in the Department of Research. In particular, I help her with research projects, I analyse large data sets and evaluate economic models.

Are you more attracted to the prospect of a career in research, or would the business world also be something that you would consider?

That’s a difficult question…but the knowledge I picked up at ICEF and what I’m learning on the PhD programme will help me choose. Whether it’s academia, business, or something else – time will have to tell…

Anastasia Chumak, exclusively for ICEF HSE

Translated by Joseph Gamse