I like that ICEF took a relatively small cohort into the programme, which created a sense of being part of a team, and of cohesiveness within the student body. Obviously, the high level of teaching and top-drawer course content were also significant factors. Before I came to ICEF, I had never been taught by foreign academics. The most useful courses for me, naturally, were the ones in Microeconomics with Anna Yurko and Alexei Parakhonyak – eventually the latter actually became my research supervisor. I also really loved Carsten Sprenger’s course on Financial Economics – later I led seminars on that course – and Macroeconomics with Maxim Nikitin. But overall it’s hard for me to single out particular teachers, because the faculty at ICEF is so consistently strong across the board.
Did you have any difficulty switching to studying in English?
No, in Nizhny Novgorod I attended a school that specialised in high-level study of English – plus my father is actually an English language teacher by profession, so he was on hand to help me if needed. I did have some difficulty after I graduated from ICEF and went to study at Oxford in the UK; I was having to speak in English constantly, which physically hurt my jaw! I spent two years there.
Is British English very different to the more American version that the whole world is so used to speaking?
Yes – the English have very odd pronunciation, they mumble a lot under their breath, which makes it very difficult to make out what they’re saying. I remember that on my first day in England, I had no idea what the cashier in the shop was saying. In Oxford that wasn’t really much of a problem, as there was a very international student body – around 70% of us weren’t English.
How did your career progress once you graduated from ICEF?
I went to work for Sberbank in my very own Nizhny Novgorod. At this point I’m a Senior Specialist, carrying out economic valuation of projects. But given that I’ve already decided to pursue a PhD soon, I haven’t thought through a long-term career plan in Moscow or Nizhny Novgorod yet.
When did you realise you wanted to study for a doctorate?
In the third year of my Bachelor’s an ICEF graduate came back to visit, and she spoke a lot about her PhD research. That was when I set my heart on a doctorate, and I’ve never had doubts about that decision. I’m the sort of person who rarely has second thoughts on something once he’s made up his mind. That’s probably because I’ve been lucky in life, and everything has just worked out well. That’s why I have no inclination to ask myself too many questions, and wonder whether I’m on the right track.
Which universities did you apply to for the PhD, and why did you choose Wharton?
I sent applications to about thirty different universities in the USA and the UK, and ended up choosing between Columbia University, the MIT Sloan School of Management, the Kellogg School of Management at North-Western University and Wharton Business School. A friend who is currently studying at Wharton recommended it to me.
You’ve already studied in a lot of different places – what are you expecting from the PhD programme?
Something pretty intense. At Oxford I spent very little time in lecture halls, and they barely gave us any assignments – as a student, you just go to the library and study independently. Though I have to admit that everyone duly went off to the library very conscientiously – there were no free seats. I found that work rhythm quite challenging, because after ICEF I already knew a lot, and I ended up letting myself relax more than was ideal. In contrast, I haven’t even started at Wharton yet, but I’ve already received a stack of different ideas for articles, which I have to prepare for September. I’ve also looked at the preparatory courses for the first semester, and my head hurt a little – it’s very complex material. So I expect that I’ll have to work harder there than ever before.
Speaking of research, what are your areas of academic interest?
Broadly speaking, the distribution of information in the market between firms and consumers. Or to be more specific, different digital areas of interest, like digital marketing. My Master’s dissertation at Oxford was connected to the sale of keywords and sponsored links – the advertising links on Google.
How do you see your career panning out in five to ten years?
In the future I’d like to combine research activities with teaching at a university – perhaps at INSEAD, Fontainebleu. I want to live and work in Paris, or perhaps in the UK. I don’t see myself in America for a long period of time.
And how’s your French?
I’m working on it… I started to learn French in school, and I continued at university. Right now I can read fluently and speak at a passable conversational level.
You lead seminars at ICEF – is that your first experience of teaching?
Pretty much. I started teaching when I was still studying at ICEF. I taught a course in Development Economics for the BSc students, and in Financial Economics for the Master’s ones.
What was your initial reaction to walking into the lecture hall as a teacher?
Fear! Fear of being a bad teacher – one of the ones that I would have been underwhelmed by as a student. But I’m more motivated by my own internal drive than any external social pressure. For me it was more important to meet the standards I set for myself, rather than worrying about what other people were expecting.
And what sort of teacher are you? Have you managed to develop your own style?
I don’t know if I’ve succeeded or not, but I’ve learnt to conduct seminars slower – the first time, I ended up finishing with forty minutes to spare. Now I just try to be myself – not to be too formal or artificially exaggerate the distance between me (as a teacher) and the students.
What is your chief characteristic?
And the guiding principle by which you try to live your life?
I’d say not to lie – most of all to yourself. But it’s hard, because it means constantly self-questioning – and it’s not simple to do that constantly. I don’t really like navel-gazing, though – I think that the world around me is far more interesting than the one inside me.
Anastasia Chumak, exclusively for ICEF HSE
Translated by Joseph Gamse