Memo from the Russian Studies Workshop. Written by Sarah Fogleman, RSW Project Coordinator.
On September 14-15, 2018, RSW organized the “Graduate Methods Training Workshop: Focus on Russia.” The GMTW brought together 20 emerging social-science scholars from across the United States to IU’s Social Science Research Commons (SSRC), a state-of-the-art facility designed for social scientists. There, they met with over a dozen social science scholars who led panels and discussions on the practicalities of qualitative and quantitative research in and on Russia. The goals of the workshop were to break down the challenges of doing academic research in Russia and encourage an exchange of ideas and research, thereby making students’ time in the field more efficient and effective and fostering a community of emerging scholars—the next generation of Social Science scholars in the United States to advance Russian studies.
The first day’s panels covered 1, Russian archives, libraries, and databases with Wookjin Cheun (IU, Slavic Librarian), Joe Lenkart and Kit Condill (both of the Slavic Reference Service at UIUC); 2, interviewing, ethics, access, and rapport with professors with first-hand experience, including Emma Gilligan (IU, International Studies), Michele Rivkin-Fish (UNC, Anthropology), Svetlana Stephenson (London Metropolitan University, Sociology); 3, Media and Discourse Analysis with Kate Graber (IU, CEUS and Anthropology); and 4, a “Lightning Round” session that was divided by discipline, in which each student participant had 3 minutes to summarize their proposed project, followed by collective feedback.
The second day’s panels included 1, a continuation of the conversation from the day before about the “formalities and informalities” of using the Russia’s archives and libraries led by Tatiana Saburova (IU, History); 2, a 30-minute video talk (via Telebridge) with Mikhail Afanasev (Director of the Russian State Public Historical Library); 3, an overview of the challenges and benefits of survey methods by Ted Gerber (Wisconsin, Sociology); and 4, a panel on the practical application of digital humanities tools by Kalani Craig (IU, History). During the closing session the students gathered in interdisciplinary groups to discuss their research projects as simply and succinctly as possible (in “lightning-round” sessions) so as to be understandable to the general public.
On both days in between sessions, students had the option to meet in informal one-on-one meetings with IU professors who shared a discipline or a common research subject (which RSW staff set up before the workshop). Also in between sessions, students were invited to an optional “Equipment Petting Zoo” session in the SSRC’s Qualitative Data Analysis Lab in order to get to know field recording equipment, transcription pedals, video cameras in the lab, a hands-on experience that can be useful in thinking through the practical issues of data collection and management, both in the field and beyond, and also when applying for funding (such as when predicting expenses).
Based on our post-workshop survey, the individual meetings with professors turned out to be especially useful, but many other aspects were useful too:
“I will be using the obtained knowledge for my research and dissertation. Meeting scholars from different areas helped a lot to get invaluable comments and pieces of advice, which I wouldn’t be able to get by talking to professors in my department. I really appreciate an opportunity to have a one-on-one talk with the specialist in the area….Thank you for having me, I loved this workshop!!”
“I truly feel that I benefited from every panel in some capacity and am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this workshop.”
“There were a number of speakers that discussed methods I did not even know existed. I feel these were quite useful to expand my research and I could see myself utilizing some of these methods.”
“…finding people here who shared their resources with me was incredibly valuable…”
“The workshop has also exposed me to many methods I had not considered using before but are now in my research toolbox.”
“I really enjoyed the panels with multiple panelists. It was nice to hear conversations between experts about the process of research”
The lightning-round sessions were also a favorite:
“Being able to speak clearly and concisely about my research was an incredible skill to practice.”
“I will revise my proposal reflecting the feedback that I received…”
“The feedback from my peers and [moderator] has also given me ideas for where and how to focus my research in the future.”
“I will definitely incorporate the feedback on got on my project into my dissertation prospectus and grant proposals.”
“…the most useful aspects were the interactive ones, where I was able to collaborate with colleagues and receive feedback.”
By the end of the workshop on Saturday evening, the student participants decided that 1) they would create a Facebook page to keep everyone in touch and to continue sharing ideas and opportunities and 2) based on conversations at this workshop, they would collaborate on interdisciplinary panels proposal for next year’s ASEEES convention. The fact that these ideas were initiated organically by the students was heartening; it also affirmed the importance of bringing together and encouraging a community among emerging social science scholars who study Russia—especially those who feel isolated in their home departments. The importance of this particular aspect of the workshop was confirmed when we read their feedback in our survey:
“…I hope to stay in touch with my newly found family of Russia and post-USSR scholars.”
“I think the biggest advantage from this workshop is the sheer number of impressive and fascinating contacts.”
“I have met lots of people and obtained connections that would be very useful in the future. This workshop is an amazing resource for professional growth, connecting with people and getting advice.”
“…getting to listen to talks from scholars of various background (as well as interacting with PhD students in different disciplines) has both re-inspired my optimism for an interdisciplinary approach in my own work and opened my eyes to so many of the cool things that other students of Russia, Eastern Europe, and Eurasia are working on around the country (and globe).”
Our post-workshop survey asked for suggestions for improvement, too. Participants in particular suggested more structured social/networking time and longer coffee breaks for socializing; making the workshop one day longer; shorter panel presentations; sharing presenters’ material in advance to promote more discussion; more time for discussion following each presentation; and holding a panel on research-grant writing, among other things (like more variety in the lunches!). We see these suggestions as helpful for future possible workshops and indicative of the need for such a workshop to continue.
Even with the suggestions for improvement, participants and panelists alike commented on how grateful they were to be a part of this workshop. “Overall I cannot stress enough how interesting, fun, and engaging the workshop was,” one of the participants wrote. In turn, we too are incredibly grateful that we were able to provide these students this kind of support and encouragement, an effort that would not have been possible without the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
To see more about the workshop, go to RSW’s GMTW page for slides and recordings of the presentations, the original call for applications, the workshop program, and photos of the panelists and participants.