26 march 2013

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visits the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and meets with postgraduate students


During his tour to the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology not far from the capital in Dolgoprudny, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev toured the institute’s pharmaceutical laboratories. The laboratories began functioning in 2012 when a bio-business incubator was opened at the institute. Alongside laboratory research, efforts are made to create conditions for start-ups in the pharmaceutical industry.

Mr Medvedev visited a pharmanalytics laboratory where the effects of drugs on the human body are studied. He was told that the latest technologies introduced by the institute's scientists allow for developing individual treatment for serious diseases. Meanwhile, in the laboratory for innovative medicines development and biological testing, the Prime Minister was shown an up-to-date microscope, which allows for obtaining 3D images not just of individual cells and biological tissue, but also of entire organisms. The laboratory uses juvenile fish and worms for research. The scientists said that the equipment is on par with the best in the world.

After visiting the laboratories, Mr Medvedev met with postgraduates from leading Russian universities.

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Dmitry Medvedev: We’ve met in a good place. I was also a postgraduate once. I’m looking at you and thinking, how long ago this was! That was a happy time… Do you like it here?

Remarks: Yes!

Dmitry Medvedev: At this meeting, I’d like to talk about one issue that has been very actively discussed recently. I’m referring to theses, the activities of the State Commission for Academic Degrees and Titles, and generally to the discourse on those who write for themselves, and those who write in a different way.

I’d like to hear your proposals on how to make our system of assessing knowledge, taking qualification tests and awarding degrees and titles more modern, transparent and fair. Maybe this is a recent issue, because when I wrote my thesis, it did not exist in humanities, to say nothing of technical sciences. Now the issue of independent research has emerged and is a subject of heated debate. It primarily concerns humanities but, regrettably, in some cases it also extends to technical, exact sciences.

I’d like to know what you think on this score. There are many assertions that everything has become dishonest and wrong. Are there grounds for such statements? We have many postgraduates judging by the information I have. There are 150,000 postgraduates, or a third more than there were in the beginning of this century. The number of remote postgraduates has grown very much in the last decade. Moreover, they defend theses more often than full-time postgraduates. This seemed strange to me, because when I was a postgraduate it was the other way around. Full-time postgraduates defended their theses much more often. They focused on research, completed it in two or three years and received degrees. Remote postgraduates could write theses for decades without receiving anything. But this is the information I have and this is the issue I want to discuss with you.

We are meeting at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. This is our leading institute, which has a good scientific base and conducts impressive research. I have chosen your institute as the venue for our meeting, although we could have met anywhere. But we decided to meet here and there are postgraduates not only from your institute but a diversity of other universities, and not only from Moscow.

That’s it, guys. I won’t set any time limits. Just remember that after this meeting I must meet with academicians and explain to them what to do next, based on what we agree upon with you here.

So go ahead, please. Who wants to speak? Don’t be shy and don’t forget to introduce yourselves.

Arseny Petrov (postgraduate of St Petersburg State University; specialty – cultural sociology): Good afternoon! My name is Arseny Petrov. I study at the sociology department of St Petersburg State University.

I’d like to share my opinion with you. I think plagiarism is a problem because – let’s be straight about this – it is so easy simply to borrow someone else’s paper. Our university is combating this problem. Recently masters and doctorate theses are checked on the anti-plagiarism system.

Dmitry Medvedev: How accurate is this system? I’ve heard much about it. Arseny, tell us how accurate it is. Sometimes they write that some unique writers were checked by it and the system branded their pieces as plagiarism.

Arseny Petrov: There is a programme on the site antiplagiat.ru. It works but not very well.

Dmitry Medvedev: Antiplagiat.ru? Do you have to insert a passage for comparison?

Arseny Petrov: Yes, a passage of 5,000 characters. In addition, people from the international relations department, from which I graduated, developed their own system of the same name. It was fairly accurate. With the internet, it is fairly accurate at pointing out borrowings and sites from which information has been taken. It also shows the ratio. If I’m correct it works at random – takes a thesis, selects passages at random and then checks whether they correspond to what is on the Internet. It is fairly accurate.

As for countering plagiarism, I think it would be logical to make universities publish detailed information on theses that are being defended. This information should include the full text of a thesis, a signed review by an academic adviser, a comment by an opponent and by all means the results of a check on the anti-plagiarism system.

I think that on the one hand, this will enhance the responsibility of academic advisers and opponents for the quality of theses. On the other hand, this will resolve one more important issue – it will make theses accessible. Anyone, any student or postgraduate will receive direct access to a thesis if it is published on a university’s site. This is what I think.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you very much, Arseny. I will comment on your proposals straight away. I think it is a sensible idea to public a thesis if it is open, because some are not. At any rate, this allows anyone to read a thesis or check it, if need be. Not everything is so simple here as some analysts think, especially when it comes to theses on humanities, because they always include quotations. But these measures will help improve things. As for a review by an academic adviser… I think this is important, too and also in order to understand what an academic adviser is all about, because they are also different and some of them may not be ready for this.

Okay. Who else will take the floor?

Sergei Avtaikin (postgraduate of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology): My name is Sergei Avtaikin, from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.  I have a proposal on academic advisers. Many of them may not be interested in supervising postgraduates. Maybe their interest could be enhanced by financial means or in some other way…It is possible to assess their performance – who is effective and who is not, and let them supervise postgraduates depending on this ranking. It is also necessary to provide financial support for postgraduates in order to attract them, to create incentives for work. Many postgraduates have to combine studies with work. Why has the number of remote postgraduates increased? Because they work in the same fields in which they write their theses. They have more time and have no restrictions…

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, Sergei, there may be plusses to this as well as minuses. I worked while I was doing my full-time postgraduate course, firstly because there was never enough money, and even in the 1980s when I was writing my thesis, a postgraduate bursary was really small. Secondly, to be honest, legal studies don’t require being completely immersed in your research, as science or math do. Science students hardly have any time for work. But there is nothing wrong with working in the area of your expertise. It should be a job in your area of competence. If you're carrying boxes around all night, though, this can be very distracting.

Speaking of academic supervision, I totally agree with you. We need to create incentives for highly regarded and acclaimed experts from different areas of study to become academic supervisors. Even when I was still working at university, not many academics were willing to supervise postgraduate students because it’s an added and unrewarded responsibility – unrewarded in a monetary sense. Some researchers are more inclined to supervise than others. We should think about increasing motivation for academic supervision. I totally agree with you on this point.

Who would like to speak? Please.

Remark: Continuing on the line of motivation, I would like to mention incentives for postgraduate students. These don’t have to be direct incentives in the form of increased bursaries. There could be some social benefits similar to maternity capital that is supposed to stimulate higher birth rates. For example, there could be government grants for young researchers to purchase housing.

Dmitry Medvedev: Please.

Vyacheslav Sutyrin (postgraduate student of Political Institutions and Political Technology at the Lomonosov Moscow State University): My name is Vyacheslav Sutyrin. Political Science, Moscow State University.

Mr Medvedev, colleagues. Aside from transparency and control, which are also important, I would like to raise the issue of incentives and opportunities for postgraduate students and young researchers. As you all know, postgraduate study takes three years. During this time, most students are willing to gain experience in both theoretical and practical research. This is why professional internships for students are essential. I’m talking about internships at universities and research institutes both in Russia and abroad. Students would embrace the opportunity to visit foreign institutions and learn from their experience. However, there is a problem. While there is no general policy on internships and funding, many students who take the initiative to find internships have to face the red tape of our educational system. Going abroad to study and winning scholarships is the exception rather than the rule. Please consider this issue. Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: I will. Please, next.

Vladimir Nishukov (postgraduate student of Ontology and Cognitive Theory at the Lomonosov Moscow State University): Vladimir Nishukov, Moscow State University, Philosophy. I’d like to get back to the subject of combating plagiarism – namely, to the programmes mentioned by my colleague Arseny. In my view, they are rather imperfect. For example, if we load the dissertation of an esteemed doctor of science which does not contain any plagiarism, the programme will still find a large amount of plagiarism because it will consider the scientist’s own articles to be plagiarism.

Dmitry Medvedev: And the programme will not exclude them from the analysis, the programme will view them as plagiarism.

Vladimir Nishukov: Meanwhile, there are not enough members of the Supreme Certification Commission to conduct detailed evaluations of these strange things in all dissertations. The Supreme Certification Commission can establish only some formal conditions. 

Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Nishukov, excuse me, please. Do I understand correctly that when programmes like Anti-Plagiarism and other programmes find works, say, by the same author whose work is being examined, they classify these works as plagiarism?

Vladimir Nishukov: Yes. But there are different programmes. Good programmes should be purchased, and this will cost departments money. This is generally expensive.

Next. In my view, in addition to the examination and evaluation by the Supreme Certification Commission, an examination by an expert community of scientists is necessary. For example, I believe that I can judge whether a young colleague whom I know personally can write a dissertation. On the other hand, the corporate scientific ethos that was destroyed in the early 1990s has not recovered. And… You have mentioned a figure, 150,000 postgraduate students. This figure is rather improbable.

Dmitry Medvedev: I mentioned what was written.

Vladimir Nishukov: More than half of the students of my year were enrolled in postgraduate programmes. Meanwhile I perfectly understand that many of them did not intend to do research, but rather it was a form of social protection against military service and expensive housing, because they can stay in dorms, and they also wish to continue living the carefree life of a student.

Dmitry Medvedev: I see. Now I’ll say a few words on what was said, so that we don’t miss anything.

Regarding encouraging young scientists – this is a bit off-topic.  Nevertheless I’ll speak about this. We need to be doing this. We won’t be able to invent a universal mechanism to be used throughout Russia – what Mr Chernyshev said. This is the task of those educational institutions, those universities, academies of science (if an academy is meant), and it should be resolved. 

The main issue is housing. If a young scientist realises that he has some prospects to get housing, he will remain (in 80% of cases) in the relevant educational institution or in an academic research institution. These programmes exist but unfortunately they are very different. This depends on how relevant tasks are resolved in the university: some universities have the necessary funds, other universities have no funds, some find the money and others have insufficient funds. Ultimately, it’s true that this is an issue of the priorities of the university’s leadership and the Russian Academy of Sciences. I made a concerted effort some time ago to make the Russian Academy of Sciences build housing for young scientists. It has just begun to build – this is true. Perhaps they have not solved all the problems these young people face, but they have begun to build housing for them. If the rector sees this issue as a priority, then the scientists will stay; and if the rector has different priorities, then nothing will happen. 

Of course, we have and will continue to award grants, but neither presidential, governmental, or regional grants, or research grants, or grants from philanthropic organisations will be able to completely resolve the problem. This is primarily the task of the educational institution itself and the correct structure of spending. 

On internships. Honestly, I do not know whether we need a centralised policy. I used to be a postgraduate student, everything was absolutely centralised, but I did not travel anywhere when I was a postgraduate student, simply because… In Soviet times, a Communist Party permit was needed for any action. I think that here it is much more important to have proper scientific ties between the university and its companion universities in other countries. You are a postgraduate student of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, right? MSU has a great number of connections with various educational institutions. But more contacts are needed… 

Remark: Mr Medvedev, MSU has really great connections and many students may travel. However, it is desirable to expand these connections. In particular, in the humanities, we would like to have more opportunities and we would like to have documents providing for these opportunities so that students do not have problems… 

Dmitry Medvedev: When organising internships?

Remark: On the one hand, yes, primarily when organising internships; on the other hand, so that a student has more opportunities not only to travel abroad but across Russia.

Dmitry Medvedev: I absolutely agree with this because when we speak about teacher mobility, about scientific mobility, we tend to speak about foreign countries – let’s travel to a good place and invite a good professor from abroad – in fact, there is such a need… I don’t doubt that. This is good. We’ve got some money for that now. But it is necessary to travel across our native country because our country is vast; we want our scientific manpower to be distributed throughout Russia; we do not want them to leave Moscow or St Petersburg for somewhere [foreign countries], we want them to give lectures at least, but in some cases to relocate to take permanent jobs too. This was the case in Soviet times when new scientific centres were founded. Novosibirsk was founded this way – as well as many other cities. 

Regarding internships. If it is necessary to change some rules, I’m not opposed. Mr Livanov, please take note, let’s think about this. Perhaps the Ministry of Education  and Science will issue an executive order to take care of the formalities.

Now regarding the programmes to combat plagiarism mentioned by Mr Nishukov. You said they are expensive. I believe that once we have decided to fight plagiarism, there will be nothing wrong with the Ministry of Education and Science allocating some funds to this end. We have a limited number of universities (what’s more, we do not need to supply these programmes to all universities).These programmes should be introduced in those universities so that dissertation councils and specialised councils can use these programmes even if they are complicated or expensive. Besides, you can generally buy such programmes in bulk for a discount. 

The number of postgraduate students is a philosophical issue. In my view, the figure is very high indeed – in fact, only a certain number of current postgraduate students are capable of performing research. Formerly, the rules were much stricter. I remember my law department, in my time, in St Petersburg, were I was educated, people could enrol in postgraduate studies only once every three or five years. It was a great luck! . They educated students for this, and honestly, uncommitted people could not enrol in postgraduate studies. Those who joined postgraduate programmes defended their theses and worked normally.  

On the other hand, I understand that if the circle of postgraduate students expands, perhaps the total number of research fellows should ultimately be higher too. But you are right: some of the postgraduate students who are currently considered as such obtained this status for the reasons you mentioned. Perhaps this is not so bad, but unfortunately this undermines postgraduate work, which is not good.

I have one more figure. It has to do with exact and natural sciences. The share of members and corresponding members of academies of science among research supervisors has almost halved. This has to do with the issue that we discussed with the minister. Such outstanding scientific forces as these are not very eager to advise or supervise postgraduates. This is not right indeed. But this is a question for academy members, right, Ms Krivolapova?

Is the situation with research supervision normal for you?

Alexandra Krivolapova: The situation is good.

Dmitry Medvedev: Good. 

Go ahead please.

Yekaterina Koreyeva (postgraduate student at the Kazan (Volga Region) Federal University): My name is Yekaterina Koreyeva, of Kazan Federal University.  

I want to say a few words on two points that have not been mentioned during our meeting. The first point has to do with the discussion on the anti-plagiarism programme. As far as I understand, we are now talking only about papers published in the Russian language rather than simply Russian papers. And what about foreign publications? To my knowledge, the anti-plagiarism programme does not provide for verification. This begs the question: if some hypothetical person uses a foreign paper that has not been translated into Russian, how will this be qualified? On the one hand, this is plagiarism if there are no references, but on the other, this is a good translation. I don’t have a ready answer to this question…

Dmitry Medvedev: A smart question! In this case we should conclude that this person is a qualified translator rather than a post-graduate.

Yekaterina Koreyeva: I don’t have a ready answer to this question. I simply want to say it is worth thinking about this and maybe adjust the anti-plagiarism programme to perform this verification. This is just an invitation to discussion.

Dmitry Medvedev: You are absolutely right. I also thought about this because in a great number of disciplines, practically in all the humanities… Let me repeat that things are much more complicated in technical, precise sciences, and thankfully, there is much less plagiarism in them. Obviously, it is easy to grub up good translations – any post-graduate (your average one, in any case) can translate papers in his or her specialty. If they do this without citation, this is plagiarism, pure and simple. Is it easy to identify borrowed material? I think this is very difficult. The purpose of these anti-plagiarism programmes is to compare texts, isn’t it? They compare what has been published on the internet and what has been presented as a thesis. But if this is not published, say in Russian, it won’t be viewed as borrowing. I think that future programmes should do something about this. We also understand that this is also an issue of a particular translation, for instance, on humanities. Translation may be different, in which case the programme won’t identify it as plagiarism. Say, if some words are displaced or some ideas are…

Vladimir Nishukov (postgraduate of Lomonosov Moscow State University; speciаlty -- ontology and gnoseology): I have a specific proposal on translations of humanitarian texts. For instance, a translation of a philosophical text is a truly philosophic project but it is not equal to an authorial publication.

Dmitry Medvedev: So, it is not equal?

Answer: Not yet. It is necessary to write at least a page-long comment. I don’t think it’s quite correct the way things are.

Dmitry Medvedev: Probably. We should think it over, all the more so since all of us who have done translations understand that a good translation requires serious effort. This is true. This applies not only to philosophical sciences but to any translation simply because you have to get into it. After all, this is not word-for-word translation. Do you know what it is when you have a word-for-word translation and then turn it into fiction or scientific piece? By and large, this is authorial work. But this also depends on the canons, on how we perceive it. As for copyright (I’d like to remind those who don’t know or don’t remember), translation is a separate copyright item, but it cannot be presented as a thesis for a degree.

Ivan Rybakov (postgraduate of Sechenov First Moscow State University; specialty – human anatomy): As for translation of medical texts, this question may cease to exist if the world community had access to all medical publications. All publications abroad are published in English, and if Russian theses were also available their authors could themselves find cases of plagiarism.

Dmitry Medvedev: I see. I think this is possible but not for all scientific publications. Maybe this is okay for medical specialties since, as I understand, there is a special place publication in which is an absolute guarantee against plagiarism, correct?

Ivan Rybakov: Yes.

Dmitry Medvedev: If this is possible for some sciences, it is probably a good thing. But it is not possible for all sciences simply because there are dozens of such places and it will be very hard to identify such cases.

We have focused on plagiarism but I’m also interested in your opinion on the following question: do you consider the entire system of awarding degrees and titles fair? Or do you consider it an anachronism and not quite fair? I’m simply interested in how you perceive this because when I wrote my thesis, this issue did not even come up. There was one system of defending theses. It was used in our country for 30-40 years. Everyone defended theses in the same way. The system was fairly effective for all its drawbacks. I’ve already spoken about plagiarism. To sum up, this issue did not exist then but what is the case now? Go ahead, please.

Arseny Petrov (postgraduate of  St Petersburg State University; specialty – cultural sociology): In principle, we have a good system. It worked in the past and is still working. By and large, it is logical, but I personally think it has some minor anachronisms. Take, for one, the qualifying exams for a master’s degree. Why do we need philosophy there? I think, in the past, future scientists had to study philosophy by all means and take exams in order to prove their…

Dmitry Medvedev: …loyalty to the political system.

Arseny Petrov: Yes, but it seems to me that today…

Dmitry Medvedev: And do you still take philosophy exams?

Answer: Yes.

Dmitry Medvedev: That’s interesting! Is it for everyone? Does this apply both to technical sciences and humanities?

Arseny Petrov: It is mandatory.

Remark: And medicine, too.

Dmitry Medvedev: Medicine – I see.

Well, English, French… Well, this is understandable because everyone must know a foreign language – this is absolutely clear, but I haven’t heard about philosophy. So you still have to take a philosophy exam.

Dmitry Livanov: Yes, it is still there.

Dmitry Medvedev: I don’t object, I simply…

Dmitry Livanov: It is still there, but we are about to amend the provisions on awarding degrees. I think we should take the philosophy exam out and retain the foreign language exam. I think this will be enough to check the readiness of a person to become a postgraduate and go in for science.

Dmitry Medvedev: Is this an entrance exam or so-called maximum requirements for a master’s degree that postgraduates must meet? When do you take a philosophy exam?

Remarks: It’s one of the entrance exams.

Arseny Petrov: Twice: during entrance and meeting these minimum requirements.

Dmitry Medvedev:  What are entrance exams today? The specialty, as before, a foreign language and philosophy?

Arseny Petrov: Yes.

Dmitry Medvedev: And what do philosophers think?

Vladimir Nishukov: As an entrance exam, it could probably be eliminated. This is an exam on the course of philosophy that was taught during studies and it is usually presented in layman’s terms.

Dmitry Medvedev: It depends.

Vladimir Nishukov: I think every scientist or scholar should know the methodological foundations of his or her field of knowledge.

Dmitry Medvedev: I see. Go ahead please.

Alexander Kursakov: Alexander Kursakov from the Moscow Psychiatric Research Institute. As for defence…I haven’t yet defended a thesis but heard a lot about…

Dmitry Medvedev: But you’ve heard a lot of bad things about it.

Alexander Kursakov: Yes, some very frightening things about procedures for collecting and submitting documents… In general these bureaucratic procedures are needed, but they take too much time. And postgraduates need to prepare for their defence, to do research… This is the first point.

And the second point is that, not only in medicine but in other fields as well, it takes as long as a year after the Scientific Council awards a degree before the individual concerned gets the paperwork proving that he has earned a scientific degree. This is based on the information that I have, although it may be somewhat incomplete or inaccurate.

Dmitry Medvedev: I think that it is quite accurate. This was also the case in the past. 

The question is who should award the degree and which aspect or legal fact, to use legal terminology, becomes the last one in this entire sequence because different procedures are used around the world. Russia has a specialised scientific theses (dissertation) council and the Supreme Certification Commission. As far as I know, a PhD degree is still officially awarded upon the Supreme Certification Commission’s decision. Is that so?

Dmitry Livamov: The decision to award a PhD degree is awarded by the dissertation council.

Dmitry Medvedev: This was also the case in the past, but what are the Supreme Certification Commission’s (aka Higher Attestation Commission, HAC) functions today?

Dmitry Livanov: The Commission awards diplomas.

Dmitry Medvedev: In other words, no matter how we refer to the organisation, the HAC remains the final authority, as without the HAC diploma, there is no degree. Although, legally it seems that a degree is considered “earned” when the dissertation is defended. This was the case when I defended my thesis many years ago, and this remains the case today.

We can either keep this system as it is or delegate the authority to the level of the university, which also seems to be acceptable. Those present here all come from very good universities, but not all of our universities are as good. And the quality of the PhD and other degrees awarded by these universities might be so low that we will be ashamed to even sit next to the individuals who hold them. Therefore, this is something that we need to think about.

Regarding the paperwork and the registration procedure, you are right – it is rather cumbersome. We should certainly work on simplifying it, although certain requirements will remain. The simpler the procedure the better. 

In fact, registration procedures are closely linked with the issue of plagiarism. Why? I remember when I was working on my dissertation. I think that it is much more difficult to plagiarise when you are writing your thesis by hand or using a typewriter.

I typed mine on a typewriter, as back in 1987-1988, we did not have computers. However, the emergence of computers and the Internet has greatly simplified this work and made it much easier. Clearly, it is much more convenient to type and to edit a text on a computer regardless of your field of study.

However, this has also resulted in a great deal of plagiarism-related issues, as you can copy and paste huge chunks of text from various sources and not everyone resists this temptation. This does not only apply to scholarly dissertations.

Dissertations are simply the highest level of this problem, as we are talking about scholarly attestation work. To be honest, though, this also happens with university research papers and graduation theses. At that level, no one even bothers to think about this issue, especially if it is not the student's major.

Perhaps a medical student studies his major seriously, but he may well get his philosophy paper from other sources, and vice versa, depending on the student’s specialisation. This has created a major problem.

There is no other way to deal with this issue except through our own efforts and our own attitude. Honestly speaking, plagiarism is mostly prevalent in our country and in other countries that are transitioning to a new development model.

I can hardly imagine anyone doing this kind of research and writing dissertations in this way in countries with high scholarly ethics. But we have what we have. In fact, we used to have very high standards of scholarly ethics, but unfortunately, we have largely lost them.

Vladislav Vorotnikov (postgraduate student at the Moscow State (University) of International Relations (MGIMO) under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; field of research – general history): My name is Vladislav Vorotnikov, from MGIMO.  I want to say a few words on two points. Mr Medvedev, many speeches have centred on anti-plagiarism; and our meeting today is mostly made up of representatives of the humanities. 

Dmitry Medvedev: I think we have more [cases of anti-plagiarism] among the humanities…

Vladislav Vorotnikov: Naturally. Because you have to do tests in the technical sphere, and it is difficult to steal a test.

Dmitry Medvedev: Well, a test can be copied from somewhere else after all. Yes, it is a bit more complicated; we need to understand more in this field.

Vladislav Vorotnikov: Based on my experience in the humanities, I can say that the humanities have good research experience and there are specialists in all fields of the humanities. I propose to introduce this practice – we must assign reviewers or select only those individuals who have at least some publications on the relevant subject – ore equally they can be acknowledged experts in the field. There are some quite specific subject areas where it is difficult to find an expert: in our area of foreign relations there are some countries on which little research has been conducted so naturally it is difficult to find an expert on such countries. At the least it should be someone who has read a lot in this field so that they are able to detect plagiarism. Sometimes you read some works and you realise that this is not the first time you have read it. 

Dmitry Medvedev: This is true. I think you are right. A lot depends on the reviewer too. In any case, in my time, when I used to monitor defences of theses and publications in my field, it was enough for me just to look up who was the research supervisor or the official reviewer of a dissertation and I could say – this is good or this is rubbish. That was the situation at that time. It is probably different nowadays especially in the humanities. Nevertheless even nowadays it is possible to form a correct opinion given acknowledged research centres, acknowledged academics whose very presence provides for a certain guarantee that this is an honest and qualified work. You are probably right.

There is one more problem that you have not mentioned since you are civilized people. Regrettably the defence of a thesis has become a part of a government career – a practice which does not exist in any country of the world. It is not necessary do defend a thesis or write a research paper to become a president or a governor [in other countries]. On the contrary, in Russia it has become prestigious for any small boss to add the letters DSc to their name. When I see this, I always have great doubts. I do not mean that all public officials with PhD and DSc degrees have obtained these titles through dubious means. Not at all! Many of them defended their theses and so on, but for me the key fact is the time when the thesis was defended. If an individual did not hold a high public office at that time – that is one situation; and if he did hold a high public office at that time, than it is a different situation. At one point I was thinking about writing a doctoral dissertation – and I decided against it because it would look ridiculous, even though this work is interesting.

Alla Vergun (post-graduate student of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs): I would like to put forward a proposal. As we are still in the midst of our studies, I think we need a certain good leadership, represented by our scientific supervisors. Post-graduate students working on their dissertations choose renowned scientists as their scientific supervisors, and often the number of students per single supervisor is too high. I believe this number should be limited so that a supervisor can pay more attention to each student. I think this would be proper.

Dmitry Medvedev: You’re absolutely right, but I would like to say that I worked at a university for many years and then took post-graduate studies – 20 years spent there, and from my experience, it depends entirely on the person, and nothing else. If a scientific supervisor – even if he is an outstanding academician and a genius – handles this duty negligently, no one will be able to control him. But in this case, a post-graduate student will not receive proper feedback and contact. Judging from my experience, I know that if you do not have personal contact with your supervisor, if you do not speak with him/her at least once a week or every two weeks, this is not scientific supervision. Of course, they can write something on your PhD dissertation’s summary or do something else, but it is highly important to have direct contact with your supervisor, whatever he/she is – a young PhD, ScD or a seasoned academician. I assume that people should have personal control over their actions. Although, perhaps there are certain norms. Are there?    

Dmitry Livanov: No, there are no norms as to the number of post-graduate students per scientific supervisor.

Dmitry Medvedev: How many did you have when you worked as rector?

Dmitry Livanov: It would depend, but I remember when I was a post-graduate student, my supervisor took supervision over students very seldom – one or two students off one course at most, so overall he usually had three or four students.

Dmitry Medvedev: There was the same situation at my university, despite the fact that you and I studied very different sciences. My scientific supervisor and my colleagues at the department each had two or three post-graduate students, but they made every effort in their work. This resulted in qualified specialists.

Alla Vergun: I’ve heard there are cases when such “star teachers” engage their assistants in supervising their post-graduates if they have a lot.

Dmitry Medvedev: You know, I think it depends on the situation. For the humanities, I believe this is just totally unacceptable. If you have a post-graduate, you have to supervise him or her personally. As regards large scientific institutions in natural or exact sciences, this is more complicated, as there may be a large number of people, a consolidated scientific team, like a large laboratory. Maybe it can be possible in certain instances – but in any case, this is not going to work without personal involvement. A teacher or a scientific supervisor should devote him or herself to this work – or else he/she should not be called a scientific supervisor. I suppose you agree with me. This is an obvious thing, I think.

You’ve told me some interesting things. I think I’ll go and speak with the rectors.

I wish a prompt dissertation defence to all of you, and the best of luck with this standard procedure.