Clinic of Applied Political Science at St Petersburg University: from organising political campaigns to popularising science
In 2023, the St Petersburg University Clinic of Applied Political Science was opened on the initiative of the University students. Now, the students enrolled in the Political Science programmes at St Petersburg University have the opportunity to take part in research projects, acquire practical skills they will need in future career settings, and gain experience of professional interaction with real-life clients.
Galina Lukianova, Head of the Clinic of Applied Political Science, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Institutions and Applied Political Science at St Petersburg University, told us about how the Clinic was established and how its work is organised today.
Political science has been taught at St Petersburg University since the late 1980s. Could you please tell us when the first internship programme for students in this area of study was implemented? How were the internships organised? Where did they take place? What did the students work on?
In the Department of Political Science at the Faculty of Philosophy, student internships were organised in a format that was fairly traditional for St Petersburg University. Students would work in partner organisations for a fortnight. The exception was the sociological fieldwork organised by the Department of Political Institutions and Applied Political Science. The fieldwork was conducted at the call centre of the Faculty of Sociology. At that time, under the guidance of Georgii Artemov, the then Head of the Department of Political Institutions and Applied Political Science, students would take part in the research project ‘Political Petersburg’. Every year since the 1990s, students recorded the political behaviour of St Petersburg residents. The research findings were reported in term papers, graduation papers, articles and textbooks. Moreover, the Faculty of Sociology had a Centre for Empirical Political Research that conducted research both on the initiative of St Petersburg University scholars and students and at the external requests. Our students had the opportunity to participate in these projects. That was our first attempt to organise a clinic-based internship programme.
Could you please tell us when the idea of establishing a clinic for political science students was first voiced? Was it given the go-ahead then?
The idea of establishing a clinic of political science at St Petersburg University was born in 2017. By then, a few clinic-based internship programmes had already been implemented at the University. The opinion was expressed that the University’s clinic-based practical training programmes should be studied, and the question of establishing a clinic for political science students was discussed. Due to various circumstances, however, the initiative failed, or rather was shelved for almost five years.
The decisive impetus for the opening of the Clinic came at a meeting of the presidium of the Student Council of the Faculty of Political Science at St Petersburg University with Rector Nikolay Kropachev in autumn 2022. At the meeting, a proposal was made to establish a Clinic of Applied Political Science and the Rector supported the initiative.
The positive example of other University clinics, especially the Sociological Clinic of Applied Research, had been much talked about at the Faculty of Political Science. Many students wished they had a clinic-based internship option. Many of the faculty members were also in favour of the idea, said Ilia Mokin, a 4th-year bachelor’s student in the Political Science programme, Chairman of the Student Council of the Faculty of Political Science at St Petersburg University. This issue has always been especially relevant for upper-year students, who need more practical training and opportunities to gain a hands-on experience in their future professional activities.
‘We did not have any fixed plans for the Clinic, but we were eager to have it. So, as soon as the opportunity arose to talk to the Rector about our idea and try to realise it, we seized it,’ Ilia Mokin shared. ‘Professor Kropachev was willing and open to our ideas. He immediately initiated the formal preparatory procedure for the Clinic. It turned out to be much simpler to implement our proposal than we had anticipated. I believe that our meeting gave decisive impetus to the idea of establishing the Clinic of Applied Political Science, because we once again confirmed the students’ request. Indeed, the fact that we were able to communicate our idea directly to the Rector accelerated the process immensely and made it more efficient.’
In the spring of 2023, the opening of the Clinic was announced, and Galina Lukianova, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Institutions and Applied Political Science at St Petersburg University, was appointed Head of the Clinic. Soon, the new University unit began its work. A team of activists was gathered, including representatives of the Student Council. A VKontakte group was created and the group design was developed. According to Ilia Mokin, the students were actively involved in the project, showing initiative and drive, and the Student Council provided the necessary guidance and support for the project, including informational support.
I believe that student internship programmes are among the most important components of the University education. It is an opportunity to gain practical experience and, no less importantly, build your own social and professional network, especially valuable for future political scientists. In applied political science, practice is vital. It does not suffice that you have read the textbook and learned the material, you need to be well-versed with it. You will have to be able to apply different methods of analysis and non-standard approaches in real-life cases and find most effective solutions. Hence, the Clinic is a relevant and important project that makes the political science programmes at St Petersburg University even more attractive for students.
Ilia Mokin, Chairman of the Student Council of the Faculty of Political Science at St Petersburg University
The Clinic of Applied Political Science started its operations in March 2023. What have been achieved since then? What do political science students work on in their clinic-based internships?
The tasks set for students at the Clinic are aimed at developing a professional skill set that will help them to become more sought-after specialists on the labour market, thus improving their career prospects. Based on these stated goals, we chose several vectors of our activities.
The career guidance track enables students to explore the opportunities that will be open for them upon graduation from the University. We organise meetings with St Petersburg University graduates of the Political Science programmes. They speak about the ways to self-realisation in the professional environment; their career paths; share their experience; and offer advice. Thus, through professional intergenerational undergraduate-graduate interaction, we guide students in selecting a career path among all possible career trajectories.
The main goal of the educational track is to popularise research publications in political science. Within this track, we share useful information that will facilitate better understanding of the concepts and practices in applied research and will expand students’ knowledge base. On the other hand, students develop professional skills in preparing popular science texts.
The research track features research projects in applied political science. The projects are offered to the Clinic by the clients. The research goals often require out-of-the box thinking, while the tasks are highly specialised, which fosters creativity and strengthens professional skills.
The organisational track offers practical activities and participation in organising of political campaigns and public events of different levels and scale. For example, one of our students worked in the Project Office of the 7th St Petersburg International Labour Forum. Also, at the beginning of this academic year, the University students helped to organise the All-Russian Scientific and Practical Conference "Political Institutions in the Modern World: Collapse or Reset?" held on 12-13 October 2023.
In the modern world of continuous professional development, when entering the labour market, a young specialist has to demonstrate not only professional knowledge, but also practical skills. The Clinic allows for getting these skills built and developed while still studying at the University. Moreover, we must admit that the labour market for political scientists and political technologists is rather tight. It is practically impossible to find vacancies at the labour exchange or on job hunting websites. The Clinic therefore can provide guidance to students in choosing a career path, while serving as an intermediary or filter in the selection of promising candidates for employers.
Galina Lukianova, Head of the Clinic of Applied Political Science at St Petersburg University
What skills can students build and develop at the Clinic?
The main goal of the Clinic is to train young specialists on the modern methods of empirical and applied political research for their further professional activities in federal and local government bodies; civil society institutions; and educational and research organisations. Practical training at the Clinic contributes to gaining experience of professional interaction with real-life clients and practical activities in different topical areas of political analysis. It helps to improve students’ teamwork skills and develop key skills and competences for public defence and social media marketing.
The uniqueness of the Clinic of Applied Political Science is determined by the breadth and scope of the field of politics. Essentially, it lies in the combination of several areas of activity: from event management, organisation of political campaigns and development of communication projects to conducting applied political research and popularisation of political science and its subdisciplines.
Who are the clients of the Clinic of Applied Political Science? Could you please tell us about the employers you cooperate with?
Our first clients were graduates of the Political Science programmes implemented at St Petersburg University. Among them are: employees or heads of various non-governmental organisations and representatives of local authorities, executive and legislative bodies of St Petersburg and the Leningrad region.
What projects is the Clinic currently working on? Could you please give us some examples of research studies that have already been completed and those that are being implemented now?
Since the political sphere is quite sensitive, it is not always possible to disclose the content of the work or the name of the client. Ensuring the safety of confidential information is an integral part of the work of a professional political scientist.
In spring 2023, at the request of the St Petersburg University Alumni Relations Department, the Clinic conducted a monitoring of political science graduates who later became our clients. Then, together with the Resource Centre "Centre for Sociological and Internet Research" we carried out an initiative research "Political Values of St Petersburg Students". Its findings have been reported by the students at conferences and in research publications. Additionally, students were engaged in the development of a communication strategy, identifying possible ways to convey information about the use of QR codes as a tool for receiving feedback on the clients’ projects to the executive authorities and the general public. At the request of a deputy of the State Duma of the 8th convocation, students studied the politicisation of virtual urban communities in one of the regions of the Russian Federation. Also, the Clinic conducted a street survey as part of the election campaign and, based on expert interviews, prepared materials for a panel at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.
We are currently compiling a list of research projects to be implemented in the autumn term. We can already say that there will be a series of focus groups; an online and a street survey on the topic suggested by one of our clients; a survey of the Legislative Assembly’s deputy corps; and preparation of an application to the Presidential Grants Foundation.
Could you please share your plans for the development of the Clinic?
I wish all the University students — undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate — would do internships at the Clinic, thus gaining practical work experience that could be demonstrated to future employers. This could help them find a job in their area of study upon completion of the internship programme. In my opinion, the Clinic should become a place where St Petersburg University political science graduates could seek solutions to non-standard research problems in various fields.