Egle Rindzeviciute and Dmitry Arzyutov. Not pictured: the three boxes of very good Finnish chocolate that Dima brought for the occasion.
Yesterday marked a milestone on Dmitry Arzyutov’s path toward his PhD — or perhaps I should call it a highway, given how quickly and smoothly he is progressing. Dima presented three papers (respectively on woolly mammoth research in Siberia, the history of the concept of ethnogenesis, and a study of the modern history of Novaya Zemlya) within the overall rubric of exploring the “environmental archive”. (For a taste of his work, see the wonderful mammoth article here.) Dima’s opponent was Associate Professor Egle Rindzeviciute from Kingston University in London. Egle gave a terrific commentary, ranging across the politics of international scientific cooperation, the intertwined evolution of social and natural scientific disciplines in Russia, and the art of writing a text. I suspect many of my colleagues will be using her beautiful analogy of the hammer and the nail when explaining the relationship between an argument and the literature it engages with. Bravo Dima — and bravo Egle!
Now for the self-indulgent part. I have the privilege of being Dima’s lead supervisor, and amid the sense of pride in how well he’s done, I find myself reflecting on how fortunate I’ve been. As is so often the case in Scandinavia these days, Dima is employed within the overarching framework of a project (Greening the Poles) that puts him in the position of being responsible for a deliverable in addition to a dissertation. This in turn puts me in the position of being both mentor — I obviously want him to develop his project into something unique and meaningful in the context of his own professional development — and his boss, as the person ultimately responsible for the project’s success. In this particular case it’s gone beautifully. Dima’s articles will contribute neatly to the overall project while also staking out some unique ground for himself, and I have the luxury of being funded by the European Research Council, who have a commendably positive approach to risk and reward. But I do catch myself wondering if this is ultimately a healthy trend. I’d hate to be in a position of trying to corral a student in a particular direction because they risk straying from the bounds of the project if that direction happens to be original and exciting — just not quite within the project frame. I wonder if the question is worth pondering, given that the project-based funding landscape here probably won’t change any time soon.
But that’s for another day. Congratulations to Dima for a job well done, and thank you to Egle for helping to make this happen. The work required to do a good commentary is huge, particularly when the texts are so rich and diverse as Dima’s. Onward to the next step!