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Interview with professor Pakhnin:

Hi everyone! We know you’ll all be as excited as we are to read this fascinating interview with professor Pakhnin from the European University at St Petersburg! Professor Pakhnin was interviewed by Olivia Fothergill, both are pictured here. If you have questions you want answered; comment under this post and we will use them in our next interview. We want to hear from you too! If you have a professor you want to interview or an article etc. then send it in!

- Why did you choose to work at VIU this term?

I work at the department of economics at the European University at St. Petersburg (EUSP), an almost unique place in Russia that offers world-class level graduate and postgraduate training in humanities and social sciences. The EUSP acquired a reputation as one of Russia's best educational institutions in social sciences, and has established a lot of connections with leading universities in Europe and the US, including the VIU. Professors from the EUSP (including our department) have worked at VIU for a number of years, and they always praised Venice and the VIU community. So when I was offered this opportunity to deliver a course at VIU, I immediately agreed. I have visited Venice a couple of years ago, but this is my first time teaching at VIU, and I am looking forward not only to teach something, but also to learn a lot from the community.

- How do you think teaching online will impact your teaching style? How are you going to adapt your teaching style to fit the online structure?

Online teaching is a very unusual experience. As everyone would probably agree, not every discipline can be converted into an online course. Here, at the EUSP, we treat economics as a rather mathematical discipline, based on formal models whose analysis require some mathematical techniques. But teaching formulas online proved to be a difficult task. Therefore, to fit the online structure, we decided to use the approach suggested by Alfred Marshall, one of the most influential economists of all times. He argued that when you write a book or a paper in economics, you (1) start with «mathematics as shorthand language», (2) keep it until you get the results, (3) then translate everything into plain English, (4) illustrate your results by «examples that are important in real life», and finally (5) «burn the mathematics». I feel that Marshall's point (4) is the most important, and especially in online teaching. So adaptation would be in studying different and diverse examples, and trying to explain the logic behind them (sweeping all the mathematical details under the carpet).

- Are you currently in St Petersburg?

Yes, I was born in St. Petersburg (which was then known as Leningrad), and live here at the moment. St. Petersburg is a very beautiful city, different from all other cities in Russia because it is clearly European in spirit. By the way, St. Petersburg is often called the «Venice of the North» or «Russian Venice», which is another interesting connection with VIU.

- What is the situation like with Covid in Russia (or wherever you are) at the moment?

The situation with Covid in Russia was particularly uneasy and worrying in December 2020, when there were a lot of cases, and the medical system in many cities was really close to collapse. Two main problems with pandemic in Russia are: (1) very poor management, due to which our medical system was not prepared to the crisis; moreover, all the decisions of our authorities were not evidence-based, but purely politically-motivated, which was a strong destabilizing factor; and (2) the low level of trust in authorities, which resulted in the fact that many people ignored the requirements imposed by the local governments. At the moment, these problems did not disappear and stay the same, but nevertheless, the situation with Covid in Russia is slowly improving, as far as I can see. Compared to spring 2020, two major things have changed: (1) we know much more about the virus, which improve our countermeasures and reduce panic level; and (2) we have decent vaccines, which allow us look optimistically to the future.

- How will you approach teaching in VIU’s multidisciplinary environment?

I very much hope that during the course we will manage to create the conditions allowing each student to display her or his strengths and to contribute to the course. As I have already briefly mentioned, we are going to discuss economic concepts using different examples that are important in real life. I hope that students would come up with their own examples, reflecting their own educational background and interests, as well as their cultural values. This is where online teaching plays an important role, as it simplifies the interaction of students from different countries and disciplines, allowing them to discuss global economic challenges from their own perspectives.

- What are you most looking forward to about teaching at VIU?

I believe that VUI's multidisciplinary and multicultural environment will provide myself with a lot of experience. I am looking forward to meeting the students and discussing with them various issues concerning economics of sustainable development. I very much hope that this will also spur and improve my own research. Unfortunately, it seems that this year I will not be able to visit the wonderful city of Venice in person, so I am going to substitute this important source of inspiration by interacting more with the VIU community.

- If you are teaching from St Petersburg you will be 2 hours ahead of Venice time, so your class: Natural Resource Economics and Sustainable Development will finish at 8.20pm (for you) instead of 6.20pm. Students from Tsinghua University will be 7 hours ahead of Venice time and 5 hours ahead of St Petersburg time. This means for any students from Tsinghua attending this class it will be from 11.50pm to 1.20am. What advice do you have for students tackling this challenge?

This is a really tough challenge for students from Beijing, and I am not sure that it is worth taking the class under these circumstances. However, we (me and Professor Yulia Vymyatnina who is also teaching this course) were ready to hold our sessions in the morning, and we are still ready to move our class to the morning slot if needed. So if there will be sufficient demand from the Tsinghua University students for the course, I hope that organizers will be able to update the timetable.

- What is something a student can do to impress you?

Well, attending the class on Natural Resource Economics from 11.50 PM to 1.20 AM will definitely impress me a lot :) But I really hope this would not be the case this year. On the other hand, attending this class instead of walking down the Fondamenta delle Zattere or admiring Scuola degli Schiavoni is also very impressive. As you see, students have to be really motivated to impress me :)

- What is your favourite and least favourite thing about being a professor?

The favourite thing about being a professor is the freedom. It is not only the ability to freely choose your schedule and the lack of necessity to work from 9 till 5, but also the ability to discover something new when thinking about your research. The least favourite thing is the time constraint (24 hours a day), which is always binding and leads to the shortage of time to devote to all the interesting and meaningful projects.

Thank you so much for answering our questions Professor Pakhnin! Who do you want us to interview next? Comment below ;)

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