'Here I Get a Lot of Help'
Ekim Arbatli is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Politics and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Advanced Studies since 2011. We’d like to thank Ekim who kindly shared her experience with the HSE LooK.
— Why did you accept a tenure-track position at the HSE?
— I’m originally Turkish but for multiple reasons I was in the USA for six years during my PhD, so eventually I wanted to get back to the European continent. The most important thing was that my dissertation was on Russia and I did some field work here in Moscow and I loved this city. My dissertation was on oil politics and resource nationalism in Russia and Venezuela. I was doing interviews with the HSE and NES professors on Russian natural resource policy. I thought I would have better connections if I work here.
— How long did it take you to feel comfortable in Moscow?
— I’ve been in Moscow many times and I lived here for a while, so for me it was much easier to get myself comfortable here. But for a first-timer I guess it would take about six months to settle down. Things like finding an apartment, or even learning the alphabet, can take time. So, there are some challenges in the beginning.
— You’ve been here for a year. What have you achieved so far?
— I have a lot of time for research here. My teaching is very light compared with other universities where I could have a tenure-track position. In the HSE it’s a module system. Last year I was teaching two courses, this year only one so I have a lot of free time for research. That was the key reason why I accepted this offer. Also, I like my students a lot. It’s a great experience. Now I have two big projects going on at the same time. I’m trying to make my dissertation on resource nationalism into a book. That project takes most of my time. Secondly, I’ve started a joint project with some colleagues, comparing the June 2013 social movements in Turkey and Brazil. We applied for a grant to write a comparative analysis on these cases. I’m also working on multiple smaller journal articles. Recently, we got a paper accepted for publication, focusing on the USA media coverage of the Russia-Georgia conflict and how it reflects on relations between Russia and the United States. It was a joint effort with my co-author from the USA.
— Your work implies a lot of research trips. Is travelling from the HSE easy?
— I do a lot of research trips. I go to conferences and take field interviews. Last year I went to the USA for a conference and to work with my co-author. This year I’m planning to go to Venezuela to do some field work for my book. I also had a research trip to Istanbul this summer, so my schedule is quite intense. The ease of travel depends on where you’re planning to go. Most of my travels up to now were to Europe, so for me it was quite easy in terms of distance. But if you want to attend the big conferences in the USA, then travelling becomes harder. I know that there is a lot of paperwork for business trips, but I always get help from the HSE administrative staff. Often I just have to sign the papers, so I haven’t really suffered greatly from bureaucracy.
— What are the benefits and drawbacks of working at the HSE?
— The main advantage is that I have a lot of time for research. But at the same time my teaching experience has been extremely positive.
My students are really well-informed about the course material, which is something new for me after working in American universities for six years where I used to begin by explaining very basic concepts.
The students at the HSE seem better prepared, and there is also a general interest in politics which is nice to see. Sometimes it can be really hard to engage your students. Here, I don’t really have that problem. Sometimes, the level of English can be troubling. I’m not a native English speaker either, so I can understand people having difficulty trying to explain themselves. They are shy to speak up at times. If they spoke English better, I’m sure they would have more to say. Also, it is hard to get used to the module system. During my first year as I was preparing my syllabus I had to make changes on the go. But after that learning process, now I feel more comfortable. In terms of research issues, I would really like to connect with more colleagues I could work with. I don’t think there are enough venues where people can meet and talk about their research in English. Having more research seminars and reading groups would be nice.
— There is always room for improvement. What would you like to improve given the chance?
— There could be departmental introductions for all new faculty staff members. It’s very important to get a sense of what’s going on in the department, and how to do research. For example, it took me a long time to figure out how to use the library and online resources. So the professional introduction for our new colleagues is a good idea. Social events could be more frequent for people to get to know each other. I also think that the organization of Russian language classes for newcomers is an important issue that needs to be settled.
— What advice can you give to our new colleagues?
— I guess they should ask about how the teaching process and academic calendar is organized from the very beginning. I advise them to meet people in their departments as soon as possible, and not to be too scared about everyday problems. Learning some basic Russian phrases before arriving to the country is a good idea. Also, I recommend the people who do research on Russia to use this opportunity to establish connections in Moscow.
Read more in #5, October, 2013, the HSE Look
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