POS and EU Department Grants Student Research Awards
Russia’s “sharp power,” Vietnam’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and Europe’s policies against the global pandemic. These are the topics of the winning projects of Political Science students Alexandra Gouleva, Thong Nguyen and Svetoslav Milushev who took part in the student research competition of the Department of Politics and European Studies (POS and EU) at AUBG.
The three students presented their research during a virtual panel led by the AUBG Political Science Club and POS and EU Professors Ivelin Sardamov, Ilya Levine and Jean Crombois.
The idea to grant student research awards came to Professor Robert Phillips in light of the difficulties posed by the outbreak of COVID-19 last spring. “We wanted to give students an opportunity to support their education during a summer that some of the more traditional routes were blocked by COVID-19,” Phillips said. “The research grants allow students to investigate something that they are interested in and to develop their research and writing skills.”
And while the requirement for the research was a minimum of 3,000 words, Gouleva ended up writing a 13,000-word paper that investigated Russian disinformation methods or the so-called “Sharp power” tactics. “During the process, I learned that the study of sharp power activities, such as Russian influence operations, is a field that could greatly benefit from more research,” Gouleva said. “I think this topic is becoming more and more relevant in our day and age when we’re surrounded by an overabundance of information and disinformation which can be manipulated to harm our democracies. What I found most interesting is that these different types of influence operations are very interconnected; it’s not about using only one tactic to sow disinformation and chaos, but using all of them in an integrated manner in order to increase their reach and effectiveness.”
Thong Nguyen, who comes from Vietnam, researched his home country’s successful approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Southern Asian nation adopted a very early and very comprehensive lockdown (combined with strict contact tracing, testing, and mandatory quarantine), and was able to keep coronavirus infections to a minimum. “The most interesting thing in my research is most probably how basic procedures in dealing with a pandemic like mass testing, mass contact tracing, mandatory quarantine in governmental facilities, etc., as well as societal norms like wearing masks and hug/no-hug cultures can affect a country's ability to respond to a pandemic like COVID-19,” Nguyen said.
Milushev also wrote about the policies against COVID-19 but from a European perspective. “The COVID-19 pandemic was a natural choice for a topic, given the impact it has had on every aspect of our life, and I decided to combine it with my interest in public policy,” he said. “It was interesting discovering just how multi-faceted crisis management literature was, spanning multiple fields from business administration, through political science up to environmental studies. The variety of viewpoints was both an asset and a challenge at the same time, as different fields used their own definitions and terminology. Learning how to adapt these viewpoints and incorporate them into my own research was a valuable experience.”
Professor Ivelin Sardamov, who has been teaching at AUBG since 1998, when he came back from his PhD studies in the U.S., played a vital part in bringing the student research initiative to life. “My main goal is to help students expand their intellectual horizon – and develop more sophisticated, yet not overly abstract, thinking about larger social issues,” he said. “They can hardly achieve this without acquiring a taste for serious reading. Nothing gives me more joy than observing students develop such an appreciation for reading – and grow mentally during their four years at AUBG (and later, since I keep in touch with many of them).”