On 25 January, Students’ Day is celebrated in Russia. The Latin word “studens” means working or studying. In Ancient Rome everyone learning something was called a student. Modern students are fast learners, they are dynamic and talented. Their behaviour is motivated by the achievement of personal success, choice of their own values, and independence. Elizaveta Zotova, the protagonist of our interview and a student of the Faculty of Economics, meets these criteria. She won the national students’ competition “Your move” that was held in November 2021. In our interview we asked her about the project for the competition as well as her personal development and growth.
“Tell us about yourself: what year are you in and what is your field of study, what do you do in your free time?”
“I am a third-year student at the Faculty of Economics of Voronezh State University, and my academic field is Economics at the Department of Economics and Organisations Management. I have been doing figure skating professionally for eleven years, and I am a candidate master of sports. So, in my free time I like skating. Right now, I’m not trying to achieve any sports results, I’m just practising for pleasure and to cheer myself up. I also enjoy dancing, walking, and reading books. In general, I try to do different things. It’s much easier to study after a meeting with friends or a work out at the gym.”
“Out of the subjects that you study at university which are the most interesting for you?”
“I can’t choose. Some of them I like more, some less. But in general, the educational process at the Faculty of Economics is interesting, and every day we learn something new.”
“How have you been fulfilling your potential during your years of studying at VSU?”
“I’m actively participating in research. I study the problems of the regions, write articles on sociology and economics, and I present my work at conferences. I’ve won international student research competitions three times.”
“Was it difficult to study and prepare for the competition at the same time?”
“The qualifying stage was during the summer holidays, so I had more free time. I attended educational courses, solved case studies, and took tests.
The semi-final was held offline in Belgorod. Over the course of two days, the participants worked in a team and performed various tasks. My role was “Completer Finisher”. It’s one of the eight roles that can be performed during teamwork. The team role model was suggested by the English scientist Belbin. It’s a very interesting theory, everyone should find out more about it.
In the semi-final we were given the tasks at the start of the competition. There was no time for preparation. That’s the main idea of the competition: to see how a person works right here, right now.
The last week before the final wasn’t easy. We had to make a video presentation about ourselves, our achievements and intentions, prepare a great number of documents, solve issues concerning logistics, watch several live broadcasts, and study the agenda of the selected faculty. At that time I really wished there were more than 24 hours in a day.”
“Tell us about the area of competition that you took part in, why did you choose it?”
“For the final stage of the “Your Move” competition, the participants were divided into 8 faculties depending on their interests. Our main task was to form the university of the future.
I went for the faculty of career. Its agenda seemed the most interesting and relevant. Sooner or later each student starts asking themselves questions, like how to develop their own career. Where are all the willing employers that you were promised you would see after you graduated and got your longed-for diploma? How to find an internship or work experience? It often happens that people can’t find answers to these alarming questions. And there are several reasons for that. First of all, many universities don’t help students with employment or finding a suitable internship or work experience. There are no successfully operating career centres at all. Moreover, employers aren’t really interested in searching for young specialists and training them. And thus, the circle is closed. Lots of problems and few solutions.
So we had to create and present a project as part of the faculty. My team developed a platform that will provide students, who pass an exciting game, with an objective assessment of their competencies and skills. After that, the students receive an offer from employers about possible internships or employment. This solves the problem of imperfect recruitment. And it's also much more interesting to find a job by playing a game than by taking tests or preparing your resume, isn’t it?”
“What was the most interesting or the most difficult stage of the competition? What was particularly memorable?”
“The most difficult stage of the competition was the final. They prepared an eventful programme for us which started at 7 am and finished at 11 pm.
Sure, we had some breaks, but each finalist had a rather difficult choice to make: either to take a break or complete the work on our project together with the team. Usually, we chose the latter. Remember that a thousand of the best participants took part in the final, so the competition was very high. Despite the festive atmosphere, we felt a bit of tension, but the difficulties actually made the final even better.
And without a moment’s hesitation I can call it the most interesting and also unique and memorable event in its own way. There were interesting cases and ideas that we came up with over lunch or on our way to a workshop, we worked with other participants who were so different from one another, but all of them were so talented and success-oriented. We had sleepless nights when the whole team gathered in a room and did their best to make our decisions the most memorable. We met CEOs of the largest Russian companies and had expert lectures, career consultations, interactive activities, and we developed and presented our solutions.”
“Was the knowledge that you have acquired at the Faculty of Economics useful for you?”
“Certainly. While working on the project, we had to identify and analyse the target audience, understand their needs and “pains”, and find the best solution to the problem. A basic knowledge of marketing definitely came in handy. And Excel skills as well as knowing how to correctly draw up a financial plan for the project were also useful.”
“How did you feel when you found out that you had won the competition?”
“When the last day was over, I thought that everything had gone well but I was very nervous because of the very high competition. Anyone could have been a winner. When the host said my name, I felt a whole range of absolutely incredible emotions. It’s hard to describe even now. It’s uncontrollable joy and happiness when you want to congratulate and hug everyone who is next to you on stage mixed with tiredness after three days of very hard work. There was excitement, delight, and a wave of energy from what was happening, and also I didn't actually realise that I'd won. To be honest, I fully realised it only after I had returned home.”
“Has your life changed after the victory?”
“For me this victory is just one of the steps that I’ve managed to take on the way to my goal. Now there are new interesting ideas and opportunities emerging, and I want to try something new.”
“What are you planning to spend the prize money on?”
“The award can only be spent on education, improving living conditions, or a startup. I’m going to spend the million in prize money on education. I want to enter a master’s programme at the Higher School of Economics in the field of Business Informatics or Marketing.”
“Who supported you?”
“I don’t really like telling people about my plans. I believe that first you need to achieve some results and then you can tell others about your success. The “Your Move” competition was no exception. Only those close to me knew that I was taking part in it. They believed in me from the moment I signed up for the competition until the day when the results were announced. Their support was very important to me. It’s part of human nature... No matter how strong you are, sometimes you just want to hear something like “You can do it, just believe in yourself and give it a go, and we’ll be there for you”. These words are the most valuable.
I also want to thank VSU for their financial aid. The university provided a bus so that we could get to the place where the semi-final was held and paid the finalists’ travel expenses.
I’m also grateful to Alexandra Nazarova, Head of the Department of Student Affairs. She helped with the organisational issues concerning logistics.”
“How do you think you are different from other students? What qualities helped you achieve such a great result?”
“It’s always difficult to analyse myself. I’ll tell you about the qualities that the examiners wanted to see in each participant seeking victory. Among them are the abilities to organise people and work in a team and easily adapt to a rapidly changing situation within a limited time. You should be able to convince people and be motivated, have public speaking and communication skills, and be responsible during the development and implementation of each project. Also, you should be open to new things, flexible, and focused on results, the group, and the client while working, you should be able to perform tasks quickly and clearly.
“What type of character do you have? Was it easy for you to work in a team?”
“I’m not really sure but I think it’s a mixed type. I’m communicative and I get on with people easily. The teams at the competition were chosen randomly, and we had just a few minutes to get to know each other. It makes sense, though: with just a short period of time you have to work well together with complete strangers, come up with an idea, develop a project, and present it. Mostly, it was easy to work in the team. The people were motivated, talented, and very interesting to talk to. I learned new things from them, and they learned something from me. The most difficult time was at the beginning. Gradually, all barriers were erased, and we became a single driving force. By the end of the competition, we became a real team and we still keep in touch.”
“What kind of people inspire you?”
“Determined self-confident, motivated, creative, and open people. People who always want to improve themselves. People who defy stereotypes and don’t want to be like everyone else. People who keep on going despite difficulties and overcome any obstacles to achieve their dreams, people who believe in their ideas, victory, and themselves.”
“What are your professional growth goals for the future?”
“I don’t like planning too far ahead. I’ll try to continue developing myself. I hope all my plans will be fulfilled.”
“Thanks for sharing your experience. I think your story will be useful to many students. And finally, your message to the readers!”
“I would like to address my message to students like me. Being a student is only for 4 years or 6 at most. It’s a short time. And many people want it to end as soon as possible, but they forget that this period that is the most valuable one, when you can find new acquaintances and prospects, gain knowledge, get new impressions, and develop yourself. Today, every student has a great number of various opportunities that can help to reveal their talents and interests and shape their life and career path. So let’s try! Grasp at any ideas, communicate, travel, create projects! And remember that anything is possible, it’s all in your hands, just dream and believe, and give it a shot!
Text by: Yulia Sokolova
Photos: from the personal archive of the speaker