Soft Skills is a broad set of skills related to communication, workflow, and productivity. How can you get along with your colleagues? Is it possible to overcome the fear of public speaking? What are the secrets of great teamwork? The Soft Skills course is designed to help students find answers to these and many other pressing questions (see our article for more details).
Soft skills are essential not only for students’ future careers but also for training. For instance, the course helps students adapt to a new environment, get along with their fellow students, and improve their time management skills.
The course’s authors followed a practice-oriented approach: they wanted students to interact with their professors and classmates and thus improve their skills in teamwork, leadership, and communication.
At ITMO, the Soft Skills course is an integral part of training for both Bachelor’s and Master’s students. Students begin to master this discipline from the very start of their studies. The courses for first-year Bachelor’s students include:
- Communication and team-building
Today, almost every aspect of human life – from science to business – is connected with teamwork. That’s why students can take a course in communication and team-building developed by top-tier experts in business communication, psychologists, HR specialists, and professional educators.
The course consists of eight modules. Each addresses the real challenges that young people face during their studies and will have to deal with in their future careers. These are communication in social media, teamwork, and roles in projects.
- Public speaking
It’s not enough to achieve results in studies, research, or the development of new products, you should also know how to present them properly. This is precisely what students study at ITMO. This course teaches students to work with audiences and conquer their fear of public speaking. During the course, lecturers also pay special attention to the features of live presentations, online performances, and interviews.
- Special skills
In the third year, students have the opportunity to choose one of five subjects to boost their more specialized skills. For example, Creative Thinking and Team Creativity is for finding new perspectives, and Personal Effectiveness and Time-Management helps students manage the stream of tasks. If their goal is to get a handle on their emotions, then they can sign up for Social and Emotional Intelligence. There are also separate courses for those wishing to improve their critical thinking and storytelling skills.
Master’s students have the chance to acquire new and more advanced skills. ITMO trains researchers, employees for the university’s corporate partners, and also future entrepreneurs. This determines the special traits of the courses for Master’s students.
Now, ITMO offers a choice of six different disciplines to its students. Half of the courses are held in Russian, and the other half – in English (for students who want to communicate with international partners and colleagues).
- Courses in Russian
Students can either go for Personal Effectiveness and Time-Management or Business and Research Ethics, Research Management, during which they will gain presentation and negotiation skills, learn to create effective CVs and applications for grants, brainstorm project ideas, and work in scientific databases.
Another Russian-taught class is dedicated to effective team management. In this course, students learn to resolve conflicts, motivate and inspire their teams to achieve goals, and build relationships within their teams. The teaching staff includes specialists with various backgrounds: psychologists and business coaches, as well as experts from such companies as Gazprom Neft, Eurosib, Nissan, RedFox Outdoor, and Bumaga online media.
- Courses in English
The Emotional Intelligence course focuses on emotion management and interpersonal communication.
For future scientists and researchers, there is International Research Management Essentials, during which they will learn all the ins and outs of interdisciplinary research, effective communication within a team and science communication, as well as the specifics of applying for grants and goal setting.
Moreover, students can explore the topics of interpersonal conflicts, negotiations, and business communication at the Negotiation, Influence and Conflict Management course.
There are also online courses for ITMO students. In 2020, almost 1,000 students took part in the online soft skills course Life in Science: A Guide for Young Researchers.
The Soft Skills course is taught by professional psychologists and business coaches who specialize in working with innovative companies and developing management skills, as well as training startup entrepreneurs to present their ideas to future investors and foundations.
One of the course’s lecturers is Antonina Fedorova, a practicing psychologist. For several years, she has been coaching students in public speaking. Antonina Fedorova also held communication training for museum staff and lecturers. In addition to teaching, she is engaged in educational psychology and writes scientific papers. The lecturer highlights that one of the key features of her class is an in-depth analysis of students’ cases to let them see the ways to apply the acquired skills in the future.
“Almost every class includes working on personal cases. Such an analysis allows them to understand how they can use their knowledge in life. We often use reflexive learning: students analyze their experiences, look for benefits, classify this information, and put forward their theories. For example, they have the chance to study several people, who they consider leaders, and find something they have in common in order to identify essential leadership qualities. Students can also complete a special assignment – to create a formula for an efficient team. Here, they can remember some examples and analyze them,” she says.
Another lecturer of the course is Marina Kazantseva, a business coach and managing partner of K&D Training. She deals with innovative startups and trains aspiring entrepreneurs to present their ideas to investors and foundations. Now, she teaches Creative Thinking and Team Creativity at ITMO University and works with students on the cases and tasks of her clients.
“We learn to use creative tools in real-life cases and then show our results to the clients. This way, students can not only see how their methods work in real life but also get feedback from entrepreneurs and experience the working environment,” says Marina Kazantseva.
The Business coach Anna Parinova has been involved in the development of management skills for almost 20 years. She worked with Sberbank, Severstal, Rostelecom, Rusagro, ILIM, PhosAgro, and Gazprom Neft. Her class at ITMO University helps students learn to evaluate their experience and find effective communication strategies.
“Many students, especially those who just started at the university, are not that good at reflecting. They don’t want to analyze, and this is a fundamental skill for communication. I try to encourage students to discuss and analyze their experiences at each class, and one of the best ways to do so is through various play techniques,” she says.
Evgeniia Shestakova has a background in psychology and experience in conducting business training. In her opinion, teaching soft skills is not just about conveying this knowledge but about letting people use it, get feedback, look for options, and do so in the most comfortable environment.
“Thanks to our Personal Effectiveness and Time-Management course, some students started dating (they’d not known each other before the course), eighteen students got jobs, four successfully passed their exams, and another four found their career paths. Let alone all those who started singing, playing different musical instruments, created their own projects, applied for grants and contests. And that’s just my study groups,” she shares.
There are also specialists with extensive experience in a wide range of business projects and companies. For example, Maria Ososkova did her internship at Baltika, recruited personnel for Toyota, and worked at English First. She also created her own educational projects.
“From year to year, I enjoy seeing students change, acquire new skills, and become more conscious during the course. It’s impossible to teach a person who doesn’t want to learn. And I’m so happy that my students find good jobs and internships, understand their priorities and next steps. Later, the students shared that they found the time for their hobbies and summoned the courage to apply for contests and participate in championships. I always ask students to draw up their career plans for the next three years (this is only 36 months) and I’m glad to see that they become aware of their next steps by the end of the course. They know what companies they should apply to and what courses they should take,” she notes.
Some lecturers not only teach soft skills but also core disciplines at ITMO University. Ekaterina Tyurikova, a lecturer at the Faculty of Energy and Ecotechnology, teaches students to write articles, search and process information for their theses, look for conferences, make reports, and apply for grants.
“I think that finding articles in various databases is one of the most time-consuming activities. It may seem that this is an easy task. You just need to enter some keywords and the search engine will offer many options but it requires patience, preparation, and critical thinking to analyze all these articles and find the most relevant information for your research,” Ekaterina Tyurikova explains. “Our goal is to make students more independent. We want to boost their self-confidence and encourage their desire for creative approaches because many students are simply afraid to share their visions and solutions when writing scientific papers.”
Mikhail Kurushkin, dean of ITMO’s Faculty of Biotechnologies, is also one of the soft skills lecturers. He developed an intensive module-based course called International Research Management Essentials. During this course, students work in teams and develop ideas for scientific projects aimed at solving real-life issues.
“A unique feature of this course is that we chose the teaching staff based on their projects. It allowed us to create a community of highly professional experts from all over the world. We used a similar approach for teams. We asked students to come together to solve a problem that worries them, and paid no attention to their majors. That is, our focus was on the project,” he says.