Iaroslavna Ageeva, a student of the master degree programme «Environmental Management» at St Petersburg University, recently graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy of Moscow State University. Today, she is studying sustainable urbanisation and adaptation of cities and communities to climate change; doing research work under a grant from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research and Era. Net; and presenting her reports at major events on Arctic topics.

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In her interview for the SPbU website, Iaroslavna told us about why she had chosen the master degree programme of St Petersburg University for her professional development in the field of ecology. She answered the question why it is easier to study if you are involved in practical research work, and also shared her further academic and scientific plans.

Iaroslavna, please tell us why you have chosen the SPbU master degree programme «Environmental Management»?

I ended up at St Petersburg University after a long and thorough search for what is truly «mine». After getting a Bachelor’s degree at M. V. Lomonosov Moscow State University (the Faculty of Philosophy), I worked as anassistant editor for a major publishing house for half a year. Although this experience had been useful and fascinating in its own way, it did make it clear that I wanted to continue my studies.

To begin with, I decided that what I want to study further is ecology. The modern world poses a wide range of challenging tasks for researchers in this area. Solving them requires a systematic interdisciplinary approach. I love to overcome difficulties and set myself tricky problems. In addition, the philosophical tools acquired during my undergraduate studies help me to take a comprehensive approach to studying ecology.

I was scrupulous about choosing a university and a curriculum: I studied in detail the curricula of various universities which provide trainingin the fields of «Ecology» and «Sustainable Natural Resource Management». I liked the curriculumat St Petersburg University, its high level of international cooperation and the modern approach to education. This was followed by intensive preparation for exams, taking them, anxious waiting for their results, and, finally, the long-hoped-for order of enrolment.

What are your impressions from studying at St Petersburg University in the chosen programme?

I am very satisfied with my choice of the university as well as the curriculum. From the first months it became clear that I am finally in my place: it has become possible to participate in research, to attend conferences and various events on scientific topics that are of interest to me. I like the fact that St Petersburg University is as open as possible to new technologies and trends, which makes the learning process more dynamic. During some academic courses we mainly work on scientific and practical projects, we work a lot in teams, and we try to solve real-life cases.

Today, you are not only studying, but also doing research work. What are your research interests? How have you managed to determine them?

At first, there was an interest in the study of cities, then gradually this interest began to acquire clearer forms whilelearning, studying literature, and working on academic and scientific projects. My research interests include sustainable urbanisation, regional development, adaptation of cities and communities to climate change.

A lot is being done at St Petersburg University to involve students in research work. I like it, because when you work on certain research, general programme materials are acquired better: you immediately look for how to apply this academic knowledge in your projects and in practice.

You recently presented your report at the Congress of the University of the Arctic in Finland. What was your presentation about? In general, what are your impressions of the congress, the speeches of colleagues, and the atmosphere? Did you manage to acquire new contacts in an academic environment?

Indeed, in early September, we managed to attend the UArctic congress in Oulu, where I spoke, and we also visited Helsinki. This was my first conference abroad, so there are many impressions. I liked the organisation of the event (in total, it gathered 600 participants, so the task for the organisers was not easy at all). The atmosphere was liberal and conducive to communication and to establishing new contacts among Arctic researchers. It is not a common situation whenin a relaxed atmosphere you can find such an opportunityto get acquainted with scientists whose books have long been on your shelves and to personally ask them questions that are of interest for you. I managed to get acquainted with colleagues from all over the world: researchers and students from the USA, Canada, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Japan, Germany, and Great Britain. Of course, there were a lot of meetings with compatriots from Yakutsk, Arkhangelsk, and Tyumen.

As for my speech, it was devoted to the role of urbanization in sustainable development of the Arcticregion. This is directly related to the project I’m currently working on, which is funded by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research and Era. Net. Russian cities in the Arctic face unique challenges of both a climate and social and economic nature. At the same time, there has been an increasing interest in the Arctic lately, and there have been large-scale projects launched recently. The key question that I raised in my presentation was how these projects and city development plans will affect their sustainable development. Analysis of existing research, strategic planning documents and reports made it possible, on the onehand, to identify key benefits and opportunities, and, on the other hand, risks and potential costs. If we talk about the methodology, I used primarily a multi-criteria decision-making analysis, with which you can examine thesesophisticated and complex issuesin detail. I hope that what I am working on now and which I spoke about at the congress can later be used in our project.

Research in the Arctic plays a significant role in scientific and academic work carried out by St Petersburg University, both in Russia and internationally. St Petersburg University is implementing a number of educational programmes devoted to polar and marine research, as well as the integrated development of the Arctic region. University students annually do internships in the Arctic. No wonder that it was St Petersburg University that in September 2016 hosted the first ever Congress of the University of the Arctic. On the agenda today is to ensure integrated development of the Arctic. This includes the issues of prospecting and exploration of new mineral deposits; sustainable use of natural resources; and the protection of Arctic ecosystems. St Petersburg University is actively involved in these processes as an expert, and research and academic centre, bringing together leading scientists and training a new generation of researchers in the Arctic.

Can you give us a little more detail of this? Please tell us about the essence of this project and about your role in it in particular.

Since the beginning of the year I have been a member of the research group of the project «Opportunities and Challenges for Urban Development and Social Cohesion in the Russian Arctic in the Context of Global Climate Change». This is a joint project funded by the RFBR and Era. Net. I’m working on it withthe leading scientists of St Petersburg University in the field of sustainable development and exploring the north — Head of the Department of Environmental Safety and Sustainable Development of St Petersburg University Nikolai Bobylev; and SPbU Professor Aleksandr Sergunin (the Department of Theory and History of International Relations). In addition to me, Anna Emelianova, an SPbU undergraduate student (the bachelor degree programme «Ecology and Nature Management») and a graduate of the University Madina Kokazhanova (the master degree programme «Environmental Management») are also responsible for this projectfrom the Russian side. The goal of our interdisciplinary research is to create the Sustainable Development Index of Arctic cities. It can then be used to assess the current situation and develop practical recommendations for the enhancement of a sustainable development strategy and social cohesion in the Russian Arctic. Besides the Russian part of the project, foreign colleagues are also working on it. Among them are Professor Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen from the University of Helsinki, and Professor Marian Paschke from Universität Hamburg.

As for my work under this grant, I am mainly engaged in research concerning city communities and a socio-cultural component. I am interested in how the community responds to climate change, how it can adapt to new conditions. Such issues require combining data and methods from a wide variety of fields. As I have already said, there are special challenges facing Arctic cities, and I have always been attracted by challenging tasks.

In my thesis, as well as in my research under the grant, I adhere to an interdisciplinary approach, I amtherefore lucky to be able to consult with people working in different fields. This approach is also encouraged by my own academic backgroundwhich unites classical and natural sciences.

What are your professional plans? Do you want to continue your research? Are you going to apply for an aspirantura programme?

Yes, I would like to continue my studies and research work in the future. In the evening of one of the last days of the UArctic congress, I discussed with other researchers how each of us had begun studying the Arctic. Most of us came to this area by chance, but we all noted that polar exploration absorbs one entirely and then simply does not let go. I have personally experienced the same thing: I can confidently say that my further research will be about the Arctic and the Arctic cities.