From Post-Doc to Tenure-Track: First-Hand Experience
Michael Rochlitz joined HSE in 2013 as a post-doc Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Institutions and Development (ICSID) of the Institute for Industrial and Market Studies. In 2014 Michael became an Assistant Professor at the School of Political Science of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and continues his research at ICSID as well. The HSE Look interviewed him about the experience of getting from a post-doc to tenure-track position, integration into HSE life and research plans.
How did you join HSE and what influenced your decision?
From September 2012 to April 2013 I was teaching at Ural State University in Yekaterinburg, at the same time as I was finishing my PhD. During this period I several times met Andrei Yakovlev, Director of HSE’s ICSID at various conferences in Russia, and at the Russian Economic Congress in Suzdal in February 2013 he told me they had a post-doc position open. As a lot of the research I was citing was from people who worked at ICSID, I was more than happy to apply. For example, one of the papers in my PhD was on governors in Russian regions, and one of the leading papers on the topic is by John Reuter who is also affiliated with the Center.
Did you get to know a lot of colleagues in your area of research at HSE?
Before I started working at HSE in September 2013, ICSID invited me to a conference in June of the same year, so I was already then able to meet a lot of people. The Center has assembled a strong group of people that all more or less work in the areas of research I am interested in, so it’s always a pleasure to meet and talk.
What I also very much appreciate at HSE is the support you get to travel to different conferences to present ideas and communicate with colleagues. This was really very useful and helped me a lot to build a good academic network during the last three years.
As I enjoyed very much my year as a post-doc at ICSID, I was interested in staying for a tenure-track position, and applied for one in Political Science. I have not yet had the chance to collaborate with colleagues from the School of Political Science, though I am of course familiar with their work – for example both Rostislav Turovsky and Nikolay Petrov are leading experts on Russia’s regions, and I’m also always following Sergei Medvedev’s interesting commentary and writings on current Russian politics. This spring I participated in the winter school “Escapes from Modernity” that is organized every year by Sergei Medvedev in Estonia, and it was a great experience. We also have a couple of research projects together with my political science students from last year. To combine teaching and research in such a way is something I consider very important, as it distinguishes a research university from a place where students only listen to lectures and pass exams.
What else do you do at HSE besides research?
I’m teaching a class in institutional economics for the third year students in political science, as well as a joint class with other colleagues at the School of Public Administration, and a couple of seminars for our PhD students. Especially the institutional economics class is quite demanding, with about 8 hours of teaching per week from September to Christmas – there are about 80 students, and they all come to you with questions, ask for feedback or need a supervisor. I very much enjoy the teaching and adore my students, but sometimes it’s true that it would be good to have a bit more time for research.
What are your research plans?
At ICSID, we started a project on foreign business associations in late 2014. During the first half of this year we interviewed representatives of 17 foreign business associations in Russia, and also made an online survey of their member firms, what they think about the business climate in Russia’s regions, the sanctions, investing in Russia in general. We now have the idea to expand the project to China and potentially to Vietnam, to see how foreign investors organize in these contexts, and then to compare the results to Russia. I plan to spend my new year holidays this year in Vietnam to get in touch with a couple of people, and also hope to do a visiting next year in a partner university in Shanghai.
Another project is a book we are writing with a number of colleagues about how different groups influence the process of political decision-making in contemporary Russia. The project is coordinated by Dan Treisman at UCLA (http://www.russiapoliticalinsight.com/ ) and together with a colleague we are writing the chapter on the security services.
With a friend of mine from my doctoral studies in Italy, we are currently working on a theoretical paper where we look how people that have never lived in a working democracy perceive the usefulness of democratic institutions, and how their perceptions can be influenced by different signals.
Then there is the project I do with a couple of students; we monitored a number of Russian, Ukrainian and Western European TV stations for the period from December 2013 to January 2014. We want to quantitatively show if, and to what extent there is indeed an “information war” ongoing between Russia and Ukraine, and between Russia and the West, and what it looks like.
Finally, there are also a number of smaller projects I’m involved in, on violence and informality in Russian regions, global value chains and economic development, Putin’s schedule and what it tells us about the changes in Russian politics over time, semi-legal markets in North Korea, and a more sociological research project on the situation of undocumented African migrants in Moscow.
Any advice for others?
HSE is a young and dynamic place, and there are lots of activities one can participate in. This is of course a big advantage, but it also can become a bit of a problem. At a certain point, you have to be careful not to overcommit yourself, otherwise together with your teaching load there will be no time for research. But then the multiple activities available make HSE such a dynamic place, and give the chance to meet many people.One thing I definitely recommend is going to the social and cultural events organized by the International Faculty Support Unit: last year we had tours of museums and the Kremlin, and this year it was a boat trip and guided tours through Moscow. It’s an opportunity to explore the city and Russia’s cultural heritage, while having a happy time with your colleagues and getting to know them better.