The Russian academe: “Empty words”

I’ve already griped a bit about how those lucky Russian college kids get to hang out and skip class all semester, as long as they buckle down at the end for the oral final exam. Now, my latest finding: When it comes to academic writing in Russia, he who says the least with the most words achieves success.

I’ve long since come to the conclusion that however much ass the Russians kicked in the sciences during the Space Race and the Cold War, it didn’t transfer over to the humanities, which has gone from a Marxist-Leninist propaganda scheme to a giant playground for anyone slightly inclined to pick up a book now and then. As my American lit-major friend often likes to say, the work demanded of students in the Russian undergraduate lit class he’s auditing is “eighth-grade level.”

Yesterday’s session on how to write a research paper in Russian just confirmed me in my belief.  In the words of our academic advisor, the secret is “many empty words.”  Rather than say something as plebeian and concise as “This is an important topic because …”, it’s much better to ramble on for a few paragraphs to the effect of “We can deduct from the trend arising from such a phenomenon the critical nature of this topic …”

Once you throw in an elaborate table of contents detailing every section and a bibliography that includes any title you can get your hands on, whether or not you used it, a 20-page paper really only requires 10 pages of actual work.

And don’t get too many ideas about the “actual work” you’ll be doing.  In Russian academia, the student is a reflection rather than a product of his or her instructor.  That means you sum up the literature your prof deems valuable and echo the thoughts your prof has on the theme.

The pros: Every paper churned out by this inane mechanism is a great stepping stone for the next student who wants to get a firm grasp of the literature on your topic.  The cons: Too much original thinking is considered a bad thing, and your prof gets their name on the top of the finished product.  And so the notoriously long-winded Soviet political-speak meets Humanities 101.

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3 Responses to “The Russian academe: “Empty words””

  1. Your academic advisor 🙂 , I guess, had to write lots of empty words in her papers and obviously got tired of writing papers which noone reads. That’s another feature of the Russian academia.

  2. You’re right. That’s it. That’s the way things go down in Russian Academia – I remember when I started going to ‘real’ classes with ‘Russians’ and noticed how they would all just read qoutes from textbooks and I though they were all going to fail because they didn’t… think for themselves. But ha! I was the one about to fail, because I made the effort and tried to figure things out for myself…

    But we – i.e., the foreign students of RF – are going to change all that, are we not, Alec?

  3. […] a few academics, I’ve learned that it is true – academic standards in Nepal are on par with those today in Russia.  I’m not certain about Russia (please fill us in Alec), but here IRB and basic research […]

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