Prof. Ilya Levine on Teaching Students How to Better Understand the World

November 08, 2022 Frantsiska Kutevska
Prof. Ilya Levine on Teaching Students How to Better Understand the World

Professor Levine comes from New Zealand where he studied Economics and Politics. He graduated from the University of Melbourne, Australia with a Ph.D. degree in International Relations in 2013.  

Listen to the interview AUBG student Teona Sima had with Professor Ilya Levine to learn more about the process of writing a Ph.D. thesis and the importance of taking courses in Political Science and International Relations. 


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“There is less of that sense of chaos…once you start thinking about the world rationally, conceptually, and in an evidence-based manner. A lot of things start to make more sense and that’s a kind of comforting I think,” said Ilya Levine, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the American University in Bulgaria, about the advantages of taking courses in his department. 

Courses in Political Science 

According to Levine the goal of his department and the courses he teaches is not to make politicians out of the students but to make them think and see the world from a different perspective. 

“We are not trying to train politicians. We are trying to offer a set of tools that students can use to better understand what’s happening in the world and help them develop a set of skills…teach students to organize their thinking, to engage in conceptual thinking where you apply concept to something.” 

He emphasizes that knowing theory is just as important as having other sets of skills. 

“Having some kind of conceptual framework, having an understanding of a set of ideas, models about how political processes work. That’s useful as well. It might sound like, oh it’s theory. Theory equals super abstract, it’s for pointy-headed people in ivory towers, and has nothing to do with the world. The theories that I try to talk about match pretty well with what happens in the world…Once you know these theories, then you recognize patterns, and you say “Oh, this is why this is happening.” 

Doing a Ph.D. 

This semester, Professor Levine teaches Introduction to Global Politics and Topics in Politics: Bribes, Bases, Drugs, Pipelines, and Revolutions in Post-Soviet Central Asia. The latter comes as a result of his Ph.D. in International Relations. He discusses “every single one of those things” mentioned in the title of the course. 

Levine shares that he liked the process of doing a Ph.D. but does not believe it is for everyone. 

“Ph.D. is for very particular kinds of jobs like the jobs that I am doing right now. And it’s for a particular kind of personality where if you love reading and writing and learning things about the world, but you are also willing to excessively focus on a pretty narrow topic, then it can work for you.” 

When he is asked by his students whether they should do a Ph.D., he usually answers: “Think very carefully about it, think about what you want from it. Don’t do a Ph.D. for the sake of doing a Ph.D.” 

Visit to Central Asia  

In the process of writing his thesis, Levine decided to travel to Central Asia and see what was really going on in the place that he was writing about. 

“It didn’t dramatically change my thesis, but you see things from a curious perspective, kind of the human, on-the-ground point of view.” 

He visited Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan – three out of the five Central Asian countries. Levine shares about them: “You get a sense of this post-communist place finding its feet and trying to figure out what it’s going to be using limited resources in many cases.”