‘I Would Strongly Recommend Studying in Russia’

Abrar Riaz

Abrar Riaz
© HSE University/ Mikhail Dmitriev

Abrar Riaz has come to Moscow from Pakistan to study in the Cognitive Sciences and Technologies: from Neuron to Cognition Master’s programme at HSE University. He was accepted to the programme through Russia’s Open Doors Scholarship Project. Abrar spoke with the HSE News Service about why he chose HSE University and what it was like to participate in the competition.

From Pakistan to Russia

I studied at one of the best universities of Pakistan, Government College University Lahore, an antique institution in a big and historic city. I graduated with a Master’s degree in Psychology (I am the only in my family who graduated with this level of education on a governmental merit scholarship). I wrote my thesis about Murderer’s Experiences in Forensic Psychology. The findings of my previous research prompted me to look for a Master’s programme in cognitive sciences so that I could learn brain-imaging techniques and gain deeper insight into the subject. I want to study the brain mechanisms of deception detection in criminals. For this, I need to know magnetoencephalography (MEG), electric encephalography (EEG), and other brain-imaging techniques.

At first, I started exploring cognitive sciences programmes in different European universities – I didn’t know there were universities in Russia specializing in cognitive sciences. Then I went through a website called studyportals.com where I saw 144 cognitive sciences programmes offered in different countries. At about the same time, I came to know about two relevant programmes in Russia taught in English – one at HSE University (Moscow) and the other at the Ural Federal University (Yekaterinburg).

Abrar Riaz
Abrar Riaz
© HSE University/ Mikhail Dmitriev

I was looking for a funded programme with a scholarship. That is how I learned about the Open Doors Scholarship Project, which offers tuition-free study in master’s programmes in Russia. To qualify for this scholarship, one must first submit an online application with academic credentials and background for online review. After that, applicant’s name appears on the first merit list, and then during the second stage of the Olympiad, one has to take a final test. This is a three-hour online written test that an applicant can take sitting at home on a personal computer. The Olympiad process is very convenient, as you don’t have to go anywhere to submit an application and you don’t have to pay for anything.

I would strongly recommend the Open Doors Russian Scholarship Olympiad, because of its convenient application process and lack of an application fee. Students can choose a desired programme offered by the best Russian universities

Having applied to different universities in different countries, I have never experienced such an easy process at an international academic competition like the Open Doors Olympiad. Furthermore, if students have good knowledge in their relevant subject area with a strong academic profile, they can easily pass both qualifying rounds of the Olympiad. Another interesting thing about HSE University and Open Doors is that if a student previously studied an English taught programme, they don’t need to take an English language test. Once students win the Olympiad, they will easily get their student visas, although process can be quite lengthy.  

I chose HSE because of the availability of the programme I was interested in, its international ranking, and the opportunity to get a scholarship

Another advantage is that Moscow is cheaper than other European cities, as I discovered exploring the information available online. I have been in Moscow since the end of September, but this is not my first time in Moscow. Last year, I came here to attend preparatory courses in the cognitive sciences at HSE University. For personal reasons, I had to go back to Pakistan. Now I’m back to resume my studies.

Research-Focused Studies

So far, I can say that the studies have lived up to my expectations. The teachers and the faculty members are very accommodating. Apart from Russian professors, there is an international team working here, including some professors from Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Spain, and other countries. Another thing I like about the HSE programme is that I can do research in specialized laboratories. There are different kinds of labs at HSE that work with brain imaging, fMRI, EEG, MEG, eye-tracking, machine-learning methods and techniques.

Students can join a research group and attend the lab of interest from the very beginning of their studies. This is certainly beneficial for practical learning and experience, as it helps you enhance your skills.

There are, of course, a few challenging things for me here. For example, the hard study schedule, keeping up with daily assignments, homework and research activities. Also, I have to study mathematics and programming. In my previous research, I used SPSS Statistics for quantitative data analysis. Now, I have to learn Matlab, R, Python, and some other programming languages. This is not that easy for a person with a non-technical academic background, but I need them for my research projects, and I hope I will be more efficient with them in the future.

Abrar Riaz
Abrar Riaz
© HSE University/ Mikhail Dmitriev

My current research interest is working memory. I’m doing my research project in MEG lab — led by my scientific and research supervisor, Assistant Professor Tommaso Fedele.

After graduating, I might pursue a PhD, or I might find a job. Of course, I would like to have a job related to the cognitive sciences or forensic neuropsychology. With my interest in working memory research, I would also like to return to studying and working with deception detection in the future.

Living in Moscow

Moscow is a beautiful city. It is different from my city in terms of living, culture, education, religion, and family structure. For the first few months, I found it confusing – I had to get my accommodation and paperwork figured out. For example, HSE University has many campuses, and if you want to get your electronic pass, or your visa extension, or you need to submit your admission documents, you have to go to different buildings, and some of them are located quite far away from one another. You have to walk every day to get from your home to the busy Metro and from the Metro to class. Lot of hustle.

The Moscow Metro is probably one of the best underground railway systems. It has as many as 17 lines, and it is very convenient. In Pakistan, we have conventional trains, but no underground train system.

All this might seem a bit complicated at first, but it gives you a chance to explore and get to know the city. It always takes time to adjust to a new place. It was tough for me at the beginning, but I managed to get used to it

My dormitory life was also a bit difficult for me at first because I can’t speak Russian apart from some basic words. My native languages are Urdu and Punjabi. I also know some Arabic, and I can speak English proficiently. Fortunately, all my lectures and classes are in English, although I hope I will be able to learn Russian as well. I have made a few friends in the dormitory and university, most of whom are Russians but also some international ones. Last of all, I would advise aspiring students to be mentally prepared for challenging and interesting things here, especially learning some basic Russian. I can now say that Moscow is an exciting place to live and study.

Register for Open Doors Russian Scholarship Competition before December 18, 2019

Admissions to HSE’s Master’s programmes are now open. International students can apply online. To learn more about HSE University, its admission process, or life in Moscow, please visit International Admissions website, or contact the Education & Training Advisory Centre at: inter@hse.ru,  or via WhatsApp at: +7 (916) 311 8521.