Economics: Research Program is a Chance and I am Extremely Glad to Take Advantage of it
Nargiz Mammadova, first-year student of the Master's program Economics: Research Program on her way to the Economics: Research Program, her first semester experience, and her takeaways from the HSE University studies
Me Before HSE University
My name is Nargiz Mammadova and I am from Azerbaijan -- The Land of Fire that is a motherland for not only Azerbaijanis, but also Russians, Lezgins, Talysh, Avars, Tats, Tsakhurs, Udins, and Jews. Born into a nation with rich culture, deep-rooted traditions, mesmerizing climate, and soul-warming Mugham, I learned how to tolerate everyone from different walks of life and live with them in such a peaceful environment. From my perspective, fairness is the definition of happiness and comes at first in each sphere of life and when it comes to the Education Sector, fairness is the preliminary determinant of success. That Fairness was the reason why I decided to pursue my Master degree at the HSE University as my mother told me a lot about the equal treatment and fair grading system of Russian professors that she experienced when she was a student at Faculty of Russian Language and Literature in Azerbaijan Pedagogical University named after M.F. Akhundov.
Prior to being an HSE University Economics: Research Program Master student, I used to study Bachelor of Science in Economics at ADA University during 2015-2020 that can be translated into 5 years which I would name as the Renaissance period of my life. Being my second home and the predominant source of my all accomplishments, ADA University possesses a giant place in my life and soul as it played an indispensable role in terms of helping me discover my inner voice and identify myself as the utmost curious creature with a substance called “Economics” in my DNA. My first acquaintance with the magic significance of this field was initiated from a movie named “A Beautiful Mind” with the following sentence and later on solidified by the experiments carried out in our Behavioral Economics class which made me say “YES! This is where I should belong to”.
“…To triumph, we need results. Publishable, applicable results. Now, who among you will be the next Moors, the next Einstein? Who among you will be the vanguard of democracy, freedom, and discovery?”
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
How Did the Process Start
I have always been dreaming of studying for my Master Degree in Economics at Heidelberg University, Germany and applied for the DAAD Scholarship to get myself closer to my dream. While working on my 3 pages of motivation letter written for DAAD, I was unaware that my last destination would be the HSE University that I occasionally discovered later on. What attracted me most was Master’s Program Economics: Research Program that, I believed, is the best fit for my academic interests. Application portal is really user-friendly and you can switch the languages from Russia into English which is a very appreciative option that some Spanish Universities did not provide on their application pages. In my case, it did not take that much long to receive the results of the application as they came out in 3 weeks. I also did not attend any entrance examination and internal interview with faculty. Coming to the factors gaining me 100% Russia Government Scholarship, unfortunately, I am not sure about the exact criteria over which applicants are evaluated but I am sure they are not different from what other universities are paying attention to such as motivation letter, IELTS score, CGPA, extracurricular activities, CV, and recommendation letters. Ms. Oxana Budjko was always there for me who answers the emails even on weekends after midnight just in a blink of an eye. I am really grateful to have such a responsible and punctual staff around me who are trying their very best to contribute to the success of students.
Culture Shocks in Student Life
The Fall semester starts on 1 September and lasts until the end of December. One of the factors differentiating HSE University from other universities is that the academic year is divided into 4 modules such that we have 2 modules per semester. The Module 1 usually covers 1 September-22 October while the Module 2 is covered within 26 October-22 December. We have 10 days of break between Fall and Spring Semesters. Module 3 starts from 11 January and continues until 28 March whereas Module 4 starts from 5 April and ends on 20 June. Another never-experienced thing for me was having lectures and seminars from each course on different days and attending classes that last for 3 hours with 10 minutes break which is the only thing I really do not like about HSE University as it makes the learning procedure hard to enjoy. At my Alma Mater which was ADA University, classes last for 75 minutes. We also did not separate between lectures and seminars like we do at HSE University. Coming to the most important part of academic life which is GPA, it is also absolutely different from what I used to see at ADA University where the grading system was based on a 4.00 scale and passing grade for each course was 60 (now it is 70 for those who were admitted to ADA after 2016). Unlike ADA, the passing grade for all courses, be them core or free elective, is 4 out of 10 and there are no adjustments to the cumulative grade. Another difference between ADA and HSE University is that in Module 2, to be exact, on November 23 we select our free electives that we are going to study during Module 3 and Module 4 while at ADA, we do it just 3-4 days before the new semester begins. One more thing that I really do love about HSE University is that both Bachelor and Master students must enroll in a Term project that starts in October and ends in June. At ADA, we name it as Capstone project which is another way to name Bachelor or Master Thesis. The main difference between ADA’s Capstone and HSE University’s Term Project is that HSE University students work on different topics every year and the topic submitted in the last year of academic studies is named Thesis, however, at ADA, Bachelor and Master students take Capstone only at the final semester of their studies. The list of Terms Projects is provided in September and they are classified into three categories; Projects only in English, Projects in Russian and English, and projects only in Russian. Students are asked to select maximum of 5 projects and rank them according to their preferences. They also have to provide a short statement of purpose reflecting why they would like to join this particular project. Before the start of Module 2, the results are announced. There can be minimum 1 maximum 4 supervisors in a project and selected students can work either in a group or individually. In most cases, individual work is preferred by students. Currently, I am enrolled in “Transformation in Banking: Impacts of Global Financial Crisis and COVID-19 Pandemic” and my supervisors are Dr. Veronika Belousova and Dr. Canan Yildirim.
At HSE University, one course can be taught by 2 or more professors. For example, we have 3 professors in Advanced Econometrics, 2 from MRS, 2 from Advanced Microeconomics, 2 from Advanced Macroeconomics, and 2 from Mathematics for Economists. It mainly happens in case the course is a major core.
Professors and Students
My Russian professors are extremely friendly, always ready to help as much as they can, and never judge the book by its cover. I received huge support from Professor Alexey Zakharov during the war in Azerbaijan when we had absolutely no internet stability. Professor Alexander Tarasov, who is one of the amazing professors at HSE University, offered his kind help in methodology and data description for my FES project and he never created a problem when we needed to change the article that was difficult to understand. When I had problems with seeing the board in the Advanced Microeconomic class, Ilia Krasikov was so kind to share his lecture notes and explain every single detail in personal meetings. It is a must for me to mention Dr. Danisz Okulicz for the rest of Advanced Microeconomics class, always-smiling face, golden character, and being a friend with his students that is beyond being a professor. That was what made the most difficult course of Economics: Research Program program bearable. Our TA, Nikita Pavlov, from the Mathematics for Economists course was a person with a golden heart so as Professor Kirill Bukin. Dr. Cemal Eren Arbatli helped me a lot with Advanced Macroeconomics and I should say that he has a special talent for explaining extremely tough and hard-to comprehend economic growth models in such a way that materials turn out to be a piece of cake. My supervisor, Ms. Belousova, from the FES project goes beyond my expectations with her understanding and contributions. Dr. Elena Kotyrlo already became my favorite as she always cares about whether students understand the topics or not. By offering Individual Trajectory, she saved my GPA and life literally. The beauty of Individual Trajectory is that in case you had –A or better (which is equivalent to 8 out of 10 according to the grading scale of HSE University) grade from Econometrics in your Bachelor degree, you do not have to take Advanced Econometrics for the Fall semester. My grades were A from Econometrics I and Econometrics II courses at ADA and I owe oceans of gratitude to my professor Dr. Ruslan Aliyev for his course syllabus that was accepted to be comprehensive and detailed enough by Dr. Elena Kotyrlo to approve my application for Individual Trajectory. The Advanced Econometrics course is one of the major core courses for Economic Research Program students and is covered within a first year of Master degree. Under Individual Trajectory plan, your grade for Fall semester will be calculated as 0.5*what you had from Bachelor degree+0.5*paper. You do not have to take midterm and final exams, submit any home assignment, and participate at any lectures or seminars. All you need to do is to submit a paper consisting of 5-8 pages in which you select one model, describe it, and state how you are going to work on this model for your future individual research projects. In my case, the model was Blinder-Oaxaca Decomposition and Difference-in-Difference Estimations in Panel Data Analysis. My grade from Advanced Econometrics was excellent and I got 9 out of 10 from the paper.
Another nice thing about HSE University is that while providing feedback, our professors make sure that they do not hurt our feelings as they accept that we have different backgrounds. From the professors' side, there is 0 discrimination and I respect them a lot for that.
…All in all, for me, economics is a vast wardrobe of fashionable theories that hardly ever fit the skeleton of the difficult-to classify-world and there is almost no other influential pleasure than knowing that you tailor new or already-existing theories with amazing social planners (professors).
Why Did I Choose Economics: Research Program
To clearly apprehend my point, you can personate parents as depositors, children as deposits, universities as banks, and field of studies as interest rates. This is, undeniably, an immense desire of depositors to put their deposits in a sound banking system at a high and future promising interest rate so that wealth accumulation on those deposits to some extent can be guaranteed after 4-5 years. Unlike my peers and still respecting their preferences, I did not want to play a deposit role by sleeping in an uninspiring bank account idly or rush to invest in obtaining ACCA certificates that almost 4 out of 5 graduates have in order to work in well-reputable companies like Big Four even during weekends. What decisively converges to my values is feeling the beauty in requisitioning things, theorizing how emotions turn to be the tremendous captains of our choices, and explaining the magic significance of decision theory.
Inspired by my professors in Behavioral Economics and Money, Banking & Financial Markets courses at ADA University and urged by the thirst for knowledge so as the eagerness to compose an influence on engineering and the mysterious side of economics empower me to be the author of my creative teaching methodologies. As a newbie economist, I am crazily in love with the environment of academia in which flexible teaching methodologies modified by big-scoped research conducted in the field of Behavioral Economics, coupled with Matching Markets, contribute to the world-changing birth of science. Being a part of this process is my source of motivation that empowers and forces me to rush out of the bed and run to university, stop by the office of the professor from whom I can learn more, be in the search of opportunities into which I can transform my knowledge, and come up with the results that are created by shaping my never-ending thoughts and immense love toward this field.
In the world where most of the graduates behave as utility-maximizing agents and try to score the highest salary possible by being a part of race also known as “Labor market”, selecting an occupation that can only satisfy your motives rather than financial position is a matter of keenness and ardor of being unique. If one chooses to be the author of her research papers with a rise of unforeseen topics coming out of question-traffic in her brain while having a chance of working for prestigious companies, it signifies changing the direction of the flow rather than following it. The secret prescription of success for this field lurks in the people whose brain is ready to give birth to revolutionary ideas embracing innovative approaches for which there is no magic formula besides fairness, uniqueness, and patience. As a famous scientist, Louis Pasteur claims “chance favors only the prepared mind”. For me, Economics: Research Program was a chance offered by the HSE University and I am extremely glad to take advantage of it.