Wisconsin Russia Project Scholars Reflect on Time at UW-Madison

On April 27, 2020 predoctoral and postdoctoral scholars of the Wisconsin Russia Project (WRP) gathered virtually for the final “Salon” of the academic year. These regularly-occurring research forums are one of many platforms where scholars WRP visiting research fellows (from the US and abroad) and UW-Madison faculty connect to generate and expand knowledge of Russia’s economy, society, politics, culture, and institutions.

At the culminating salon, predoctoral scholar Grigory Grigoryev (Anthropology, European University at Saint-Petersburg) presented his research on “Dagestani ‘heroes’ of the Russian Civil War and the formation of social, political and religious identities in the contemporary Republic of Dagestan.

Funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York and administered by CREECA, the WRP trains a new cohort of emerging scholars each year and fosters close collaborations and networks between US- and Russia-based social scientists.

WRP research fellows at the final salon of the year. Top row: Grigory Grigoryev (presenter), Cole Harvey, Viktor Bryzgalin and Nikita Zakharov; Bottom row: Austin Charron, Aleksei Egorov, Natalia Savelyeva, and Kate Libova. Photo credit: Jennifer Tishler.

This academic year is not ending how any of us imagined it would, but the end of the spring semester is an opportune time for this year’s cohort to reflect on their time at UW-Madison. Like previous cohorts, the 2019-20 scholars enthusiastically acclimated to and embraced a new community of social scientists, a new university, and a new city (or country!). But this group had to adapt — and then persevere — as they continued to collaborate and carry out their research projects remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our conversations have served as the fuel and inspiration for my own research. At each seminar or CREECA lecture, I keep asking myself, ‘Why is the time is so limited? We still have so many questions to discuss!’ Unfortunately, the global situation with the virus ruined most of my plans. However, the creativity of the CREECA team kept us visiting scholars inspired. All meetings and discussions moved to the digital format, which I appreciated very much. It allowed me to stay engaged with both the hot topics and research methods. I still felt supported and had opportunities to share my ideas.”

Kate (Ekaterina) Libova (International Laboratory for Information Technology and Intellectual Property Law, Higher School of Economics)

The success of the digital format was likely a reflection of the solid community this cohort of scholars had built in the months leading up to the Wisconsin Safer at Home order in March.

“The year provided the opportunity to build connections with an interdisciplinary group of scholars at UW-Madison and within Russia that have pushed me to look at my own research through different lenses and to learn about their exciting, ongoing work.”

Sasha Klyachkina (Department of Political Science, Northwestern University)

“The fellowship has been a great opportunity to meet other scholars of the region, and learn about their research questions and how they study Russia and the post-communist world from different angles.”

Cole Harvey (Political Science, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill)

“It is great to have other post-doctoral researchers as colleagues to socialize with and to support one another at this stage of our careers. For this reason, I coordinated traditional lunches where we meet once a week to strengthen our community. One highlight has been getting to work with my mentor, Professor Dower (Agricultural & Applied Economics), who is an amazing professional and a great person. Together we started a promising project about the effect of the Ukrainian conflict on the regional press in Russia.”

Nikita Zakharov (Economics and Politics, University of Freiburg)

Amid this remarkable camaraderie and mutual support, these WRP scholars have been quite prolific and productive in their writing.

“I completed drafts of two papers—one comparing trajectories of manipulation in Russia and Mexico over time, and the other studying how the switch away from elected mayors in Russia’s cities affected election manipulation in those cities. I also prepared a grant proposal in the hopes of conducting survey-experimental work in the fall.”

– Cole Harvey

“My time at UW-Madison has allowed me to make progress on my book manuscript on the impact of armed conflict and governance in the North Caucasus and provided me with time to start developing several of the articles that present parts of the argument.”

– Sasha Klyachkina

“I have published three scholarly articles related to my dissertation research on internally displaced peoples from Crimea in the journals Eurasian Geography and Economics, Europe-Asia Studies, and Euxeinos: Governance and Culture in the Black Sea Region, with a fourth article under review.”

Austin Charron (Department of Geography, University of Kansas)

WRP research fellows have also been sharing their work at the CREECA Lecture Series and at other programming events on campus. They have taken their work on the road, networking and presenting at other universities in the UW system and at national conferences as well.

“I really appreciated the funding from WRP to attend the largest conference on the Russian and East European regional studies, The Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, in San Francisco. This conference was incredibly beneficial with respect to networking. For example, I started a joint research project on the subnational resource curse in Russia with one of the prominent professors in this field. If I were not in the USA, I would not have discovered this excellent conference.”

– Nikita Zakharov

WRP research fellows presenting their research as part of the CREECA Lecture Series throughout the year. You can catch up with their work on the CREECA Podcast. Links to their talks are available at the bottom of this article.

CREECA wishes this group of thinkers, writers, and researchers much success in their careers. We hope that their time at UW-Madison and with CREECA will have a long-lasting impact on their scholarship. The CREECA team looks forward to following their professional trajectories.

“Beginning in August, I’m fortunate to be taking up a position as an assistant professor of political science at Oklahoma State University.”

– Cole Harvey

“Living in Madison and engaging with an outstanding community of scholars at CREECA and UW–Madison at large has been a tremendous privilege, and my experiences here will undoubtedly prove a crucial asset to my continued career in academia.”

– Austin Charron

“This was the first time when I could work in a place where everything and everyone are helping me to improve my research. I’ve wished for access to important databases, software, and literature, and now I can use them. Here I am surrounded by people who are doing high-quality research. I have discussed my work and ideas with them and have received helpful advice. My view of the research process will be different after the program. I hope to use this experience at my university – now I know how the work should be organized.”

Viktor Bryzgalin, PhD candidate at the Faculty of Economics, Lomonosov Moscow State University

“The experience exceeded my expectations: I’ve discovered a vibrant research environment with numerous opportunities to share my research and to network with a wide range of scholars. This is a stark contrast with my previous life as a doctoral student when I had virtually no colleagues who did research on Russia, and very few specialized in my own field, the border of the disciplines of economics and politics.”

– Nikita Zakharov

You can catch up with WRP scholars’ research on the CREECA Podcast. The following talks are available to stream:

Political Cycles in Media Harassment, Dr. Nikita Zakharov – September 12, 2019

Ukraine’s Internally Displaced Crimeans: Diasporic Identities, Dr. Austin Charron – October 10, 2019

From Protest Rallies to Local Activism: Political Culture in Russia, Dr. Natalia Savelyeva – January 30, 2020

Using Election Forensics on Election Manipulation in Russia & Ukraine, Dr. Cole Harvey – February 13, 2020

Written by Amy Beilke and Ryan Goble