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Post-Soviet Tensions: A Training Programme in Post-Soviet Affairs for Early Career Researchers

Final Report Summary - TENSIONS (Post-Soviet Tensions: A Training Programme in Post-Soviet Affairs for Early Career Researchers)

TENSIONS provides a world class PhD training programme based on a network of dissertation topics and more experienced researcher interactions, all focused on post-Soviet affairs, and in particular post-Soviet tensions. Tensions here is understood as both tangible tensions (conflicts, war, riots) and less tangible (or latent) ones (such as social tensions that have not as yet been manifest in a violent form). The programme supported the development of a team of 14 early stage researchers, who have developed a strong regional specialisation, a rigorous methodological training and three years’ experience of working in an international and intercultural environment. Such experts are in high demand and this network will lay the basis for ensuring that Europe is self-sustaining in creating the best young researchers in the world with an expertise on the former Soviet space. This programme is based on a premise of learning by doing, but learning in a highly structured and supported environment. In addition to creating the next generation of experts in this field, it also contributes a significant body of knowledge in its own right that explores and compares the way tensions have been escalating (or remaining latent) within the Post Soviet region.

TENSIONS was funded for four years, starting in May 2013 by the European Commission under FP7-PEOPLE-2012-ITN (Grant agreement number: 316825). However it is the intention of the programme to continue the network of researchers beyond the conclusion of this cohort of researchers. The consortium partners are as follows: Dublin City University (DCU), Ireland (Coordinator) – Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction; Tallinn University, Estonia; University of Bremen, Germany – Forschungsstelle Osteuropa (Research Centre for East European Studies); University of Oslo, Norway – Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages; University of St Andrews, UK and University of Warsaw, Poland – Institute of International Relations. We also have a number of non-university associate partners Caucasus InterConnect, Netherlands; GeoWel Research, Georgia; Ibidem Verlag Publications, Germany; Levada Centre, Russia; SIAR Consult, Kyrgyzstan; Transitions, Czech Republic and Office for a Democratic Belarus, Belgium.

The programme is built around 14 Early Stage Researchers, each pursuing an individual PhD project. The students therefore combine the strengths of a traditional PhD in planning and completing a significant individual piece of research, along with the benefits of a more networked programme. In the network they have access to advise and mentoring from a wide range of experts on the region – covering different aspects and disciplines such as politics, conflict resolution, culture, gender, international relations and anthropology. Each network event brings together supervisors and experts from the 13 partner organisations so that students build their own personal research and professional network.

The Early Stage Researchers recruited include a good mix of nationalities; people with experience of living in the region and researchers new to the region and a wide range of disciplinary and employment backgrounds. Each fellow joined a PhD programme in their host university and joined the training modules there covering topics such as research design, research methods and language classes. Collective training events included more advanced methodological training, ethics training, feedback on research proposals from a wider range of experts inside and outside the consortium and from academic and non-university backgrounds. They also provided a context for advanced training on the region itself and to prepare for fieldwork. Each student underwent a rigorous ethical review process involving their host university, the supervisory board and an independent ethics board, before starting their fieldwork. Over the four years the fellows attended collective training and dissemination events, approximately twice a year in Bremen, St Andrews, Oslo, Prague, Warsaw, Tallinn, Dublin City University and Brussels. These events focused on developing regional and academic expertise; on fieldwork in the post-Soviet region on career planning for both academic and non-academic sectors, on writing for diverse audiences. They also each include an outreach and dissemination event aimed at bringing knowledge form the network to diverse audiences beyond the academy.

One of the strong features of the programme is the requirement that each student spend a period on secondment working with one of our non-university partners. This provided valuable additional training and work experience. It gave students an opportunity to experience potential future careers in consultancy, think tanks, academic publishers or training organisations. It also gave some an opportunity to live and work in the region for a more prolonged period.
All students also spend an extended period of time engaged in fieldwork in the region. This allowed them to do a rigorous piece of research but also strengthened their understanding of the region and their language skills.

Disseminarion from the programme has diverse forms. It included 14 PhD dissertations, 35 high impact academic journal articles, an edited book, 32 policy oriented articles / papers, 77 academic conference papers. Links to or information about the outputs are all on our website www.postsoviet.eu. The ESRs also organised Marie Curie Ambassador events, highlighting both the specifics of their work and the benefits which the MSCA programmes bring.

At the end of this project we will have 14 new experts on a region of growing importance to the European Union - all with good quality PhDs. We will have produced a new body of original research disseminated to different audiences and in different styles and formats. We will have created a new network from the supervisors, training and other experts involved in delivering this programme who are committed to long term future collaboration. The sustainability of the network can be seen in ongoing collaborations, including other successful funding applications from this team focused on the region stretching out to 2022 The social impacts of this programme will be significant. Europe is desperately short of experts on the region, with appropriate high level research skills, language skills and an ability to write for different audiences. This programme has made a significant contribution to meeting that urgent need.