From international relations to management: the story of Pavel Vinogradov, a student from St Petersburg University who changes his educational path

Pavel Vinogradov graduated from St Petersburg University in 2021 with a degree in International Relations and decided to change his career path by continuing his studies in Management. In the summer, he was simultaneously taking his final exams and preparing for his Master in Management – MiM. In the interview, Pavel Vinogradov talked about the most challenging and interesting experience of preparing and studying for his master degree at the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University.

You entered the University in 2017. What did you start with?

I studied international relations at St Petersburg University. It was a conscious choice. Since childhood, I wanted my life to be connected to the global world. I travelled a lot and could not imagine myself confined within national borders. I wanted to build a diplomatic career: to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Russian missions abroad. However, the civil service and diplomatic service, in particular, is not for everyone. There is a very strict hierarchy and specific rules. By my third year at the University, I realised that it was not for me, and I turned my eyes towards international business. During my studies, as an intern, I tried my hand at both private and public sectors and I turned out to be more impressed with the private one.

What do you remember of that period?

It was an environment where I felt very comfortable and I studied the subjects I liked: a lot of history, politics, and global economics. These studies have broadened my horizons. I focused on East Asia, learned the Chinese language and everything related to the region. The most important thing they taught me in International Relations is thinking globally and the ability to see the links between various events and phenomena that happen on the world stage. However, it was an academic education with a focus on theory, rather than on skills. What I lacked was the hands-on approach.

What about learning languages, which is another very important component of the international relations programmes at St Petersburg University?

Certainly, you can't build international relations without English! Number two option is Chinese. It was really exciting, but also enormously challenging and time-consuming. There is a wide choice of languages: we could choose between Turkish, Japanese, Chinese, and European languages. The advantage of the programme is that you can ‘assemble’ your individual curriculum and develop a trajectory for yourself. The programme in International Relations opens doors to many fields, just like Management, and even wider. Some of my fellow students have pursued a diplomatic path, some have gone into international journalism, and others, like me, have chosen management.

Why have you chosen management?

Since the end of my second year, I had focused on global energy. My term projects and my graduation project were related to the subject of international cooperation in liquefied natural gas and the Chinese gas market. Halfway through my studies, I saw myself somewhere in the global energy business: it is one of the most internationalised businesses in the world, which requires a combination of managerial and international relations skills. It was then that I realised that I needed a management add-on to my bachelor’s degree which would enable me to pursue a career in global energy sector.

Did you decide to stay loyal to St Petersburg University and continue your studies at the University business school?

I remember being asked this very question in an interview at a business communication exam. I had three strategic options: my childhood dream of becoming a diplomat was still in the back of my mind and I was thinking about applying to Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), then I also considered St Petersburg Mining University to study strategic management in the fuel and energy sector, and a business school. The Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University was one of my priority options. As I have friends who completed their bachelor’s degree there, I had the opportunity to get some idea of the place. Besides, there are a lot of corporate partners, which is just great, and then there is a sense of real confidence that you won't be left behind in this life. Furthermore, its practice-oriented approach to learning appealed to me. The faculty members are continuously seeking to link theory and practice. This is quite different from my experience in International Relations; it's neither good nor bad – it's just a different approach. Also, when you look at the rankings, including the Financial Times, of course, you want to be part of something so big.

Could you tell us about your first semester? What did you enjoy? What, if anything, did you not like?

Interestingly, students after having completed their degree in international relations come to study management... There are a lot of them here. When you first learn the structure of the United Nations and the way it functions, and then you are plunged into managerial economics, it might be stressful. On the whole, though, the hands-on approach and teamwork is excellent experience. In each subject we get a project to work on together and it makes it really easy to understand new concepts.

You get real knowledge post factum when you apply theory in practice. Olga Dergunova, Deputy President and Chairman of VTB Bank Management Board, the Director of the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University, described it as 'learning by doing forever'. For example, in corporate finance, we had to conduct a financial assessment of Siemens, and there are similar projects in other disciplines. We were forewarned that the first semester of MiM is a tough one for students with different academic backgrounds. I don't mean to say that professors pay little attention to such facts. On the contrary, everyone is eager to help. It's just a different environment and the demands are extremely high, as is the intensity of the learning process.

I will once again refer to our Director Olga Dergunova, who taught us that when you come to work for a large company after graduation, no one there will care about your academic background, expectations, or situation. Businesses have specific tasks to solve here and now, and if you're on board, you'd better do your best. MiM at the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University simulates this situation and provides a demo version of an extremely competitive business environment.

What are your plans for the second semester of your first year?

In the spring semester, I am taking part in an exchange programme with the University of Cologne, at the Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences. It is one of the best business schools in Germany. The Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University has so many partners, that you don't know where to look first. I am currently studying German and that is why I decided to opt for Germany. As for my expectations from the programme, I have already formed a learning path and picked up subjects the credits for which can be transferred to my studies at the University. I haven't been on an exchange before, so this is a new experience for me.

What has been the most important and valuable experience at the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University for you?

Definitely, it is the community of people, all of them: fellow students, the administrative and teaching staff. My fellow students are very smart as it's not an easy task to be admitted. Everyone knows what they want out of their career or their life, and yet everyone is always willing to help. There is a really great atmosphere of collaboration when we work together in the library and do team projects. Our office of masterminds makes things happen very quickly every time. The teachers deliver the highest level of knowledge. All together that makes the Graduate School of Management a family.

When I looked at the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University from the outside, I thought it was all exaggerated. I could not believe that such a format of interaction was possible and that you could really feel like part of the family of a business school. But when I entered, I felt like I was belonging here. And this is its main asset, apart from the highest level of knowledge, the vast number of activities, and the career opportunities. There really are a lot of them, and we regularly have various events with corporate partners. The main thing, however, is this feeling of being a family of the Graduate School of Management. I was quite impressed.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

I see myself in the global energy sector, i.e. the oil and gas industry. I have been interested in it for a long time. The Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University offers a lot of opportunities in terms of internships, practical training, and case competitions with partners in this sector. There is a stereotype that oil and gas mean a lot of money and happiness. Apart from the material aspect, energy is what keeps the world going, it enables you to drive cars and fly planes – the essential things. Working solely for money is wrong. There has to be an idea of why you are doing something. For me, energy, oil and gas are what literally move our world, and I'm interested in trying my hand in this industry at a tipping point, by which I mean green initiatives. I'm interested to see how the industry will be able to adapt, as it is happening now with British Petroleum and Shell. There are also ESG projects run by Russian companies. In terms of strategy, this is all very exciting. And I can really see myself working in strategic management or strategic risk management.

Can you draw up a checklist for a student who wants to enrol in Management at the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg University?

Those who do not have a background in finance, economics or mathematics should certainly prepare for the GMAT. GMAT preparation normally takes three months. It should not be stretched over a year, as it is a very intense process. Motivation is crucial, and you have to answer the question of why you want to do it. This is an important question in the business communication exam, which you also have to answer for yourself. Otherwise, you will fail the preparation for GMAT mentally and physically. I had to solve 40 tasks every day for two and a half months before taking my bachelor’s exams. As for the exam in management, I can be a little more reassuring: there is a textbook, which you have to work through and that's it. The main thing is the GMAT. You can't really prepare for the interview because questions might be very different. The main thing is motivation: what can you give the business school and what can the business school give you?

Management and Business English (GMAT) is a compulsory written exam in English for admission to master’s programmes in Management at the Graduate School of Management.