Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Academics: A chance to break new ground with a SAIS Bologna thesis

Martin Vladimirov was among five winners of SAIS Bologna's highest academic prize, the C. Grove Haines award, this year for his thesis entitled, "Why is a natural gas OPEC not possible?" He wrote the paper as part of the Master of Arts in International Affairs (MAIA) program, which requires candidates to write and defend a 20,000-word thesis. Below he discusses how he got the idea for his thesis -- click here to read the paper -- and offers tips to aspiring MAIA candidates.

Q: How did you get the idea for the paper?
Vladimirov: The global natural gas market has been both my academic and professional focus for the last three to four years, and this is not the first time I have tackled the issue of natural gas geopolitics.

But I have always shied away from the topic of a potential gas-OPEC because the magnitude of the research necessary did not allow me to proceed with the analysis. The MAIA thesis was an excellent opportunity to attempt a multi-layered overview of all the issues surrounding the cartelization of the gas market.

Martin after he received his award at graduation, between Prof. John Harper (L)
and SAIS Bologna Director Kenneth Keller
Q: What was the main point?
Vladimirov: The main point of my paper was to show that despite the fact that gas reserves are concentrated in a small number of countries which share and ambition to control output and prices, there are major structural and political reasons why cooperation between the gas exporters has not been possible.

I examined in detail the structure of the global gas market as well as the international political rivalries between gas producers. In addition I added a domestic dimension to the topic, saying that the absence of a gas-OPEC is partly explained by a misguided domestic gas policy.

Q: What was the hardest part of your work on the paper?
Vladimirov: The most difficult aspect of the paper was to develop a theoretical framework that I can defend with substantial evidence. While the structural aspects of the problem were already known, I introduced new political elements to the discussion but was not sure if they fitted the topic theoretically.

Q: What tips would you give to incoming students as they prepare to write papers here?
Vladimirov: If they want to say something new and original, they really have to start early, even during the summer before the beginning of the year. Once you start your regular SAIS Bologna course work, it becomes hard to juggle everything.

Also, they should listen to their advisers even if they are saying that there should be a complete change to the direction of the idea. They are usually right about it.

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