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Regular version of the site

Interview with Anastasia Petrova about her PhD

We continue talking about the achievements of our students and interns!
Since her first grade on the bachelor’s program in HSE, Anastasia Petrova immersed herself in laboratory activities. She was engaged in numerous expeditions, participated in project groups and eventually she worked in a laboratory as a researcher. Having successfully graduated from the HSE master’s program last year, Anastasia entered her PhD this year. She would explore the issue of cyberbullying in collaboration with professors Christina Salmivalli and Claire Garandeau. In this interview, Anastasia shared her insights about the enrollment on international educational programs and relocation abroad. Additionally, she gave some valuable tips for bachelor students, who wants to secure great scientific supervisor and enter the prestigious university

– What topic were you investigating in HSE, and under whose supervision?

All of my research work was conducted under the supervision of Titkova Vera Viktorovna. The primary focus of the majority of my work revolves around the issue of bullying in the school environment.

– And what topics were you examining? 

For my bachelor diploma I examined the connection between bullying spread and basic school characteristics, focusing on the school’s size and its location. Hence, the intriguing effect of the school discipline on the bullying spread was found. The term paper on the first master’s year explored the relative significance  for the bullying victim of protection from observers and their empathy. Then, in my master’s thesis I was investigating the interplay of aggression in family and school bullying, considering the moderating effect of the supporting school environment.

– And what topics are you going to investigate in university? Would they be somehow connected with the previous ones?

I already have the general topic, which I am going to explore during my PhD program, which is formulated in this way: "Gender Diversity and Parental Involvement in Cyberbullying and School Bullying".

In a recent discussion with my supervisors, we refined the specific focus for our research during this academic year. We would explore the interplay of the parents’ personal experience – whether they were involved in the bullying as aggressors, victims or observers in their school years – and what advices they offer to their children regarding the way they should react to bullying. Besides, we aim to explore the way in which parents’ personal experiences shape their overall bullying perception and their opinions upon the school’s role in addressing issues regarding bullying. This year I will be working with already existing datasets.

– Why have you decided to enrol in a PhD program?

After graduating from the master’s program I decided to take a hiatus from academia. At that time I was employed as a data analyst at a small company, and I wanted to explore opportunities somewhere beyond the university. However, I had a strong feeling my occupation lacked sufficient social significance. It cannot be said that I was consciously looking for opportunities for getting a PhD degree, I was just “passively” scrolling different PhD vacancies.

However, one day my friend forwarded me the PhD vacancy in University of Turku. The description of the vacancy outlined the prospective research that immediately captured my interest. Moreover, I recognized people with whom I would be collaborating – they were those whom I had cited in my research papers. Thus, encouraged by the straightforward requirements for the application process, I decided to apply for this position, driven by the prospect of making my own contribution to resolving the issue of bullying, which is truly important for me.

– Can you tell us about your scientific supervisors, please?

I have two supervisors –  Christina Salmivalli and Claire Garandeau. Christina Salmivalli, in addition to a large body of research on school bullying, developed the well-known and effective anti-bullying program KIVA with her team. Claire Garandeau has made a major contribution to the study of bullying, she focuses on peer relationships with each other. 

– Can you share your experience with Christina Salmivalli?

First time we talked to each other in my interview for the position, our discussion was centred solely on work-related matters. Despite her extensive experience in bullying exploration, she seemed to me to be very easy-going and amiable. I feel mutually-respected and treated as a colleague. She knew about all the difficulties in paperwork and she supported me. If I have some questions, she always tells me who to go to. On the first day of my work she showed me all the pivotal places of the university, and introduced me to other personnel. Thus, I feel safe here.

– How difficult was the decision to relocate for you?

As a person who appreciates sustainability, I approach changes in my environment with careful consideration. Of course, there was a small fear – would I succeed? As a result, everything was good. It was reassuring to know I was not venturing into the unknown entirely alone, as I have some friends in Finland. I was living with my friends for more than a month. Having people supporting you in a new place makes the process of settling down in a new place much smoother. 

I had no concerns regarding a new work, as school bullying was my research interest for some years, hence I was sure that the research would be interesting for me. Instead, I was struggling solely because of the process of relocation: moving belongings and  the paperwork are really exhausting. Although not everything went seamlessly, I believe I went successfully through drawbacks.

–  You have mentioned your friends from Finland. Who are they? How did you meet?

The friends I stayed with for the first month in Finland share the same background with me – they are both from Russia and both from "Sociology and Social Informatics" at HSE in St. Petersburg. They have already  established their lives and work in Finland. In Turku now I also have a friend whom I met thanks to the first two. She is from Russia, but finished her bachelor's degree in Finland. While I communicate closely with people who are from Russia, I generally communicate well with everyone I've had the pleasure of getting to know. 

– Does someone from your significant others already have an experience of relocation to another country because of their education or occupation?

My family and several friends are rooted in my hometown, Volgograd. Meanwhile, others are scattered across Saint Petersburg, Moscow and even Serbia. I deeply appreciate friendship and familyhood, and naturally, I miss them. Having spent the last 8 years in Saint Petersburg, I became accustomed to geographical separation. However, video calls help me in constant connection with my dearest and nearest.

– What else was required for enrollment to the university? What documents were needed?

Firstly, to provide a comprehensive understanding of the document set, we need to delve into the context of the vacancy. I am currently employed at the research centre INVEST situated in the University of Turku. This centre contains masters and PhD students, specialising in social sciences (e.g. sociology, psychology, etc.). 

I entered the university through the PARTICIPATE project, a collaborative initiative of universities from several countries (e.g. Ireland, Finland, Greece) created in order to conduct research about involvement of parents in bullying and cyberbullying. This project won a grant from Marie Curie Foundation. According to the project, universities had to recruit 10 researchers, each assigned to explore the research topic prepared for them in advance. My theme is «Gender Diversity in Parental Involvement in Cyberbullying». 

The preparation of required documents took approximately two weeks. The document set included a motivation letter, a detailed CV, a list of people to contact for references regarding my experience, academic transcripts, academic papers (i.e. theses and term papers) and proof of English language skills. That time, my IELTS certification was slightly “overdue”, so to my application I added a link to the English-language course I was taking at HSE, a scan of my IELTS, an invitation to mobility to the University of Helsinki where I was studying in English, confirmation that my undergraduate and graduate studies were partially taught to me in English. Also I included a TOEFL exam date that was after the application deadline and subsequently submitted the results separately after the interview. The academic transcripts were translated to English by notarius, and others I translated myself.

– Can you give a description of the paperwork you went through?

The application process unfolded intuitively. The job description page contained a link, leading to the page with an application form and document upload field. Upon advancing to the next stage, HR contacted me and scheduled an interview. Despite the inherent difficulty, I prepared for the interview in two days by looking through commonly asked questions and reflecting on how best to articulate my skills. Having successfully passed the interview, I was told that I am one of the best candidates.

I agreed to undergo a security check. Then I received an official acceptance letter that facilitates the application for a visa or residence permit. There were no more calls, but the HR specialist remained constantly accessible, offering assistance with all my inquiries. Once I wrote her a letter with 17 questions regarding filling out the visa application, and although I suppose she might be a little overwhelmed, she diligently addressed each of them.

Upon completing the document preparation, I had to make an appointment at the visa centre, which I did not manage to do the first time, but it was not a big deal, there was enough time. There is a languid waiting period, after which the documents arrive. Once I received the documents, I promptly purchased a bus ticket. Simultaneously, I was gathering everything I needed, talking to the lender of the apartment where I lived in St. Petersburg, giving unnecessary things to friends. This whole preparatory stage also was time consuming, and then, at the beginning of August, I took a bus at night and was in Finland the following morning.

– Do you have to enrol in any courses or give lectures in parallel with your lab work?

Yes, as a PhD student, I am supposed to gain 240 credits over 4 years, with 200 credits allocated for my thesis. My dissertation has a distinct structure, containing several articles (3-4) unified by a common topic. It turns out that I need to complete 40 credits in four years. There are some required courses, for example, about research ethics. And there are also mandatory workshops and winter schools from the PARTICIPATE project. 

Regarding teaching responsibilities, during the interview I was told that I am not expected to teach, because my main job is to do research. But if I would like to, I can take small courses. Also, there are scientific seminars at the university, and if there is a seminar on bullying, I may be asked to prepare a small presentation.

– What are your impressions of Finland?

It is not the first time I will stay in Finland for a long time, because in 2021 I lived here for 5 months during academic mobility. Of course, the first visit is always delightful with everything that moves or does not move. In my experience, the main joys and challenges of life in Finland became apparent during that period.

However, cold times are really tough in northern countries due to the lack of sun, and everyone here takes this problem seriously. Thus, vitamin D and sweets can be bought anywhere, and winter sports and activities are really well developed in order to encourage people to venture outdoors. My first autumn here also was really challenging, therefore in November I bought myself a lamp simulating the sunlight.

I have gone through all circles of paperwork hell. At that time I felt the value of work-life balance that everyone is following here. Official matters often come to halt here after business hours.

One of the distinctive aspects of Finland is the plenty of hobbies available. This time I noticed the abundance of adult centres, offering a great array of clubs for leisure and skills development.

– Can you describe the town you live in? Or maybe compare it with Saint Petersburg somehow.

Finland is a small country in terms of population density, and this is certainly felt in all the cities. I live in the city of Turku, which has a population of 186000 and is the fifth most populous city. Initially, Turku was the capital city, and now it serves as a major transportation hub in Finland. The main attractions here are Turku Castle, the Cathedral, the Aura River and a former prison on Kakolanmäki Hill. In general, the city is quiet and pleasant to live in. 

Finland has two official languages – Finnish and Swedish. The vast majority of people know English well, therefore I do not have any communication problems.

Having been to Finland before, I got used to hares jumping in the park instead of stray dogs. I guess since I was busy with documents this time, I learned a lot of interesting things about it. What else I noticed this time is that Finns have a very unusual way of introducing themselves. Some do it as if through children. For example, when I was on a course, one of my classmates introduced himself as follows: "Good afternoon, my name is Illari and I have two children, so they might get in our way". My friends said that this is a very common story.

– Can you give some tips for bachelor students, who want to secure a great scientific supervisor and enter a prestigious university?

To begin with, I would recommend finding a lab that aligns with your research interests. Personally, I am immensely thankful to the Laboratory of Sociology of Education and Science. Working with senior colleagues in the lab played a crucial role in shaping my research interests and helped to gain necessary for the further work skills.

Secondly, I recommend actively participating in the projects that the lab offers, such as expeditions or research seminars. Thus, for example, my exploration of bullying started after one of the expeditions with Lab.

Additionally, I suggest engaging with different people, as it helps to broaden your horizons and learn new things. Last, but not the least – do not hesitate to ask questions! It is a really valuable practice for gaining new insights.

– For whom from HSE do you want to express your gratitude?

I would like to thank all my colleagues from the Laboratory of Sociology of Education and Science for their support, guidance, criticism and communication. In general, I am very grateful to everyone I have encountered in my studies, work in the Laboratory and extracurricular activities during my 7 years at HSE, because all this has played a huge role in my development as a person and a specialist.