My summer ended quite epically, as I have attended a rather unique summer school organised by the Finnish Russian network in Russian and Eurasian studies in the field of social sciences and humanities (FRRESH). The school was a collaboration between Aleksanteri Institute (University of Helsinki), European University at St. Petersburg, and Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen. In my opinion, this Summer School is the perfect example of a well-mastered programme with outstanding lecturers/participants, location, and practical content. Maybe you are looking for a summer school to attend and cannot decide what criteria to look at? Perhaps you are even organising one yourself and need some examples of best practices? In this post, I would like to tell you why I am so thrilled about this school and why I find it to be unique and successful. I hope that my impressions will be handy for you in either case.
Although this was my first trip to Finland, I feel like I have established a deep connection with this country, as I was able to spend meaningful social and studious time with 24 other PhD Candidates and 8 senior academics working on issues related to Russia. Being in the ‘classic’ Finnish woods together, with lakes and forest around us, brought about an extra layer of bonding, as we stepped out of the habitual offices and classrooms. In the five days that the school lasted, I made new friends, learned about a dozen new topics in the Russian studies, gained exposure to the leading scholars in the field and experienced the incredible hospitality of the Finnish people and nature.
FRRESH summer school brought together PhD candidates passionate about topics related to Eurasia, with a particular focus on Russia. Having such a focused group of participants was one of the key factors of this school’s success. Everyone was excited to meet each other, to exchange their ongoing research projects and to discuss potential collaboration prospects. Participants from different countries quickly found the common language and I don’t just mean Russian (although everyone was quite a polyglot), I am referring to the language of the academic passion and research curiosity. Our summer school took place synchronically with the summer school for the Finnish master’s students in the field of the Russian studies and I believe that this too was a meaningful encounter for both groups, as we have exchanged ideas, experiences, stories and contacts.
Another success factor of the summer school is related to the lecturers and the lectures. Programme organisers not only selected the leading scholars in the field of Russian studies, but also ensured that the topics covered were diverse. For instance, Heiko Pleines presented his ongoing research on identities and self-censorship among Ukrainian journalists before and during the Euromaidan protests; Vladimir Gel’man gave an insightful lecture explaining the difference between the “Liberals" and the "Democrats" amid Russia's political transformation; Sanna Turoma brought in the artist’s voice to the discussion through the analysis of “Citizen Poet” (Grazhdanin Poet) media products in the nostalgic subjectivity of post-Soviet liberalism; Susanne Schattenberg introduced the fascinating world of Leonid Brezhnev’s multiple identities, which made a revealing impact on the audience; Dirk Uffelmann continued with the artistic component by addressing the phenomenon of a language shift in poetic identities on the example of post-2014 Ukraine; Ivan Kurilla addressed the notion of history ownership and social construction of historical narratives in contemporary Russia; Rustam Urinboev presented (in an impressively informative and entertaining manner) a chapter from his forthcoming book on migration, shadow economy and ‘street law’ in Russia; and Anna Tarasenko combined her lecture with a hands-on practical exercise on state’s ‘options’ for social service provision amid the specific nuances in Russia’s regions.
Some of the lectors also shared practical skills with the PhDs about publication strategies, employment prospects and life after the defence (What? There is such a thing?)
All PhD Candidates had the chance to present their papers and receive valuable feedback from peers, discussants and senior scholars. Each paper was given an hour of attention. Workshops organised in such a manner were the third success factor of this summer school. Presenting in the group of 6-7 fellow PhDs allowed for a unique opportunity to exchange ideas and receive a diversity of insights which are fundamental to the interdisciplinarity aspect of our work. Naturally, discussions went on beyond the structured settings. Conversations spilt over into the excursions, evening ‘hang-out’ sessions, (very tasty) breakfasts/lunches/dinners and the sauna, of course. The sauna is a sacred place in Finland and there is certainly something symbolic to bonding during the communal cleaning of the body and the soul.
I hope that my experience will help you find the perfect summer school for yourself or will provide some helpful insights into what to pay attention to when you organise such a school yourself. I very much enjoyed the focused theme of this school; the level and the diversity of lecturers; meaningful workshops; and location. These factors contributed to the depth of connectivity established with other participants and senior scholars.
I would like to sincerely thank Dr. Ira Jänis-Isokangas and Juulia Heikkinen for such a wonderful experience and I congratulate them for having mastered summer school organisation, making FRRESH undoubtably the best example of best practices in this domain. I am grateful to all the speakers for their insights. Special thanks to Juuso Salokoski for hosting us for a special dinner and delicious lohikeitto. I also thank Teemu Oivo for having been a great roommate and a guide to the Finnish culture. Thank you all for these amazing memories! Morning lake dips and late-night conversations around the fire are already greatly missed.
Below is a group photo for the memories to last!
Rashid Gabdulhakov is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Media and Communication of Erasmus School of History Culture and Communication. Supervised by Dr. Daniel Trottier and Professor Susanne Janssen, Rashid is investigating vigilant behaviour in digital space as part of the ‘Digital Vigilantism: Mapping the terrain and assessing societal impact’ Project funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).