Wisconsin Russia Project Grants in Action: A Report from the Field

In the following article, University of Wisconsin doctoral student Khasan Redjaboev shares some thoughts about his preliminary research work, which he conducted in Moscow earlier this winter. As Redjaboev’s summary illustrates, students learn so much more from fieldwork than they had planned!

by Khasan Redjaboev

In December 2018, I was able to visit Russia on the first part of my fieldwork and conduct preliminary research activities thanks to the generous fieldwork grant by the Wisconsin Russia Project, administered by CREECA and generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. This grant enabled my first individual research work abroad, which took me to Moscow for almost five weeks, from December 2018 to January 2019.

I am a first year doctoral student in Political Science interested in studying regime dynamics and transitionary economies with a geographical focus in post-Soviet Eurasia and Southeast Asia. It was my great fortune that the University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of the three prime higher education institutions that secured high-impact funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to study Russia. This early grant provided me with essential exposure to the area of my interest, its leading experts and institutions, as well as equipped me with crucial skills that come only with practice.

I went to Russia exploring my evolving interest in international organizations and their cooperation with transitionary political economies. In Moscow, I was able to conduct exploratory interviews, attend two professional events, interact with leading researchers, and secure a visiting affiliation with a leading social sciences institution in Russia.

Thanks to generous support of the grant and my faculty adviser, Professor Yoshiko Herrera, I attended the Harvard-HSE Moscow’s US-Russia Working Group meeting. My extended stay also allowed me to visit one of the most engaging professional events in Russia – the 2019 Gaidar Forum. Moreover, in-person introduction by Professor Herrera helped me secure the Higher School of Economics-Moscow’s interest to host me for summer 2019. I built valuable contextual knowledge and found highly relevant secondary sources by interviewing local experts. Even the process of grant application was highly useful in terms of reviewers’ feedback on research design and suggested literature.

Finally, it was this experience that helped me to be more practical and prepared for future fieldwork. While in Russia, I had hands-on experience on how to lawfully register my stay. Another clear happy-ending highlight was a brief loss and then lucky recovery of my passport. A Russian national from my neighborhood picked up my passport, which dropped off my inner pockets, and was exceptionally kind and thoughtful in searching me in the internet and emailing my UW email account. Since all foreigners in Russia are expected to carry their passports at all times, this taught me to pay extra attention to my documents, regularly check my email, and be appreciative of building up a reliable online presence.

Another extraordinary experience was an unexpected system failure with the airline’s morning flight, which led to the loss of my ticket purchase history. It turned out that the airline had a very limited customer service in Moscow and I would have missed my 9 a.m. flight if it was not for a highly professional support by another company’s representative, with whom I communicated in Russian, and an indispensable help of a fellow PhD student in the United States. This taught me the benefits of resilience and composure, and how keeping communication channels active could address even some of the most unexpected situations.

Overall, my preliminary fieldwork went in line with my work plan, and I benefited markedly from Wisconsin Russia Project’s financial and administrative support coordinated by Dr. Jennifer Tishler. Round-the-clock support, prompt responsiveness, and health insurance coordination by Dr. Ron Machoian made my visit to Russia more prepared. With these excellent institutional support and first-hand experiences, I am better prepared to conduct my future fieldwork and pursue my research projects in Russia.