Vladimir Vasilyev, ITMO University rector, PhD, professor, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Graduate of Leningrad Polytechnic University in 1974 with a degree in Thermal Physics.

There’s one day in all of my exam sessions that I’ve remembered all my life. I was a fourth-year student at the Polytech. Throughout our years there we had a tradition to get together at a local dive called "Grenada." It was very popular among the students, and you were guaranteed to run into your friends. We’d chat about what topics we had to discuss during the exam and how well we did. [Many exams in the Soviet Union were oral. Students would "pull" a piece of paper with their topic from a pile and after a few minutes present it to the lecturer in a one-on-one conversation — ed.]

It was finals time and I took my exam in the morning and got an A. Then as usual our group headed to "Grenada" to celebrate. There we met a group of the same-year students who were also celebrating good grades but in a different exam, the one we were supposed to take in a few days. They said that their lecturer was in a wonderful mood that day and generous with grades. My friend and I thought: Why not give it a go? So we tried our luck and got As.

Then it was back to the café where another excited group was sharing their experience of their final with a generous lecturer. We were supposed to take that exam the following day. My friend passed on it, but I tried my luck once again and yet again got an A. So for the first and last time in my life I finished pretty much all my finals in one day and set a personal record!

Another memorable incident happened to me when I was already rector at ITMO U. The end of December is a stressful time for us as we wrap up the year and set goals for the next. This usually happens at the vice-rectors' year-end meeting full of important discussions and challenging questions. It’s quite a serious matter!

In the early 2000s, just as their meeting was heating up, the door opened and in came … Ded Moroz [Russian version of Santa Clause — ed.] and said: "Who's the rector here? My friends and I’ve come to wish you happy New Year!" And in comes his entourage complete with bunnies, squirrels, dwarves, and of course, the Snow Maiden, a total of about 15 people. The music turns on and Ded Moroz says: "And now it’s time for the rector’s present — a dance with the Snow Maiden!" As the squirrels and bunnies cheered, right in the middle of next year’s research discussions, I had to accept my gift — and dance with the Snow Maiden. Ded Moroz and his crew were students, of course.

When the surprise was over, the tension dissipated. Everyone relaxed and remembered that New Year was only a week away, and the rest of the meeting was easy and joyful. That was the most memorable New Year’s gift I ever got from students!

Nikolay Kudryavtsev, rector of Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, PhD, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Graduate of the Molecular and Chemical Physics Department of Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 1973.

When we get together with my graduating class, this story from the mandatory military exercises is still one of our favorites.

After their fifth year, students of our institute had to participate in mandatory military exercises that took place in Pskovsky Region, near the birthplace of poet Pushkin. For many of our students, who were used to lab work and research, these exercises were a real challenge, and it took them a while to get used to physical labor, early wakeup calls and new types of activity. Our officer was a lieutenant colonel of a local military unit. At first we were not particularly impressed by him, and the feeling was mutual. But over time, as we grew to enjoy his jokes and stories, we started to appreciate his good nature and he stopped seeing us as book worms instead, started seeing us as young men in excellent physical shape ready to conquer new sporting heights.

At the very end of our term we had to pass a final, and most got an A or a B. When it was over, the lieutenant colonel lined up all our students, about 300 of them, excited to head back home, and said: "And now for some physical labor!" In front of the command post was a field, larger than a football field that we were supposed to dig it up and leave only flowers.

As physics students, we figured out the optimal way to hold a shovel and set about digging up every tiny weed and leaving beautiful red poppies. Done with our task, we lined up in front of the command post waiting for our officer. Imagine our surprise when lieutenant colonel stood their speechless.

"Did you do this on purpose?" he finally asked.

We were just as taken aback.

"What do you mean? We pulled out the weeds and left the beautiful poppies," we said.

"What poppies! Our commander brought the grass seeds from the Czech Republic! You should’ve pulled out the poppies and left the grass!"

Later, when everyone calmed down, the officer talked to the commander who had a good laugh and promised to bring more seeds of the inconspicuous flowers from the Czech Republic.

Victor Koksharov, rector of Ural Federal University, PhD

Graduate of the History Department of the Ural State University in 1986.

My student years were a challenging time for the country but I still remember them as bright and memorable: the dorms, studies, research, military service, expeditions, languages, community work.

Our university was famous for its "political battles" - a satirical competition. I was head of our team, and we took on all sorts of other teams. In the spring of 1984 we killed it in the "theoretical part" of the competition with the Perm University team, but they had semi-pro performers we couldn’t beat. That time we lost, but it was a good battle. In general, the battles were fun because you had to change characters: one day you were a dervish story teller, the next a genie from the bottle or a Spanish king.