Faculty in the Spotlight with Elena Poliakova

With more than 700, including 186 permanent professor-researchers, IÉSEG offers to its students a high-quality learning experience, based on 4 key elements: an active, interdisciplinary learning process, focused on the acquisition of competencies, offered through customized curricula.

Each month, “Faculty in the spotlight” invites you to meet one of the School’s professors who presents their vision of teaching, their methods for transmitting their expertise and passion to students and shares their best memories and stories at IÉSEG.

This month, we are meeting Elena Poliakova, Professor of International Negotiations at IÉSEG.

What is your background and why did you choose to become a teacher?

I come from Russia and I have 2 PhDs – one in Linguistics from Lomonosov Moscow University and another one in International Business and Marketing from Georgia State University. I have lived and worked in 5 different countries: Russia, Germany, Italy, the US and now, France.

At the age of 15, I already was a tutor for foreign languages. I wanted to make an impact and change the world around me by teaching people.

What is your area of expertise/teaching? What course(s) do you teach at IÉSEG?

I specialize in international business negotiation and research methods; culture, language and negotiation. At IÉSEG, I teach Negotiation Research Methodology in the Master of Negotiation; Introduction to negotiation ; Decision games and negotiation in the 4th year of the Grande École program, and I also teach Diversity and cross-cultural management in the Executive MBA program.

The courses I teach are quite introductory. I familiarize students with the key concepts of negotiation and game theory, to apply them to real business contexts and practice negotiation. The research methods class is an introduction to negotiation research: we read and discuss scientific articles, learn how to write literature reviews, collect data through interviews, surveys and experiments and analyze it. I make sure to explain in which professional areas these skills can be applied.

Why did you choose IÉSEG? What attracted you?

I chose IÉSEG for many reasons! I wanted to move to France to experience a new culture and learn the language. It is interesting to see how people think and act differently in different countries. Moreover, I think Paris is a vibrant city and it gives me energy.

IÉSEG offers a truly multinational and multicultural environment, which I really appreciate. Moreover, the School’s values and mission fit with my personal goals and values.

I really appreciate the pedagogical support we receive: CETI, pedagogical coffees, workshops and webinars. There’s a collegial atmosphere where we help each other. There’s no competition between professors.

How are you in line with the values and the mission of the School?

I think my international experience is in line with IÉSEG’s Vision to be a unique and international hub empowering changemakers for a better society. Indeed, thanks to my background including stays in different countries, I can bring a mix of different cultures to the students and my colleagues. Also, as I was saying earlier, I have always wanted to make an impact and contribute to changing the world and make it a better place – that’s IÉSEG’s mission and I feel aligned with it.

How, through your courses, do you integrate the Vision “Empowering Changemakers for a Better Society”?

To be a changemaker, you have to have critical thinking, you cannot be conformist. In order to develop their critical thinking, I challenge students by asking certain questions and I motivate them to debate and to challenge me as well by asking questions.

According to your students, what are your strengths as a teacher?

Based on the feedback I received from students, I am energetic, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, empathetic, and capable of keeping students engaged even during long online classes. In my opinion, my major strength is a “growth mindset”: constant improvement of my knowledge and competences.

 What pedagogical methods do you rely on?

I use various techniques to get students engaged beyond passive listening: I alternate formal lectures with activities and include some elements of blended learning. Most of the techniques I use can be labeled as a “course co-creation with students”. For this, I did the following: 1) in the first class, I ask students to share two things/topics they would particularly like to learn in class, then I can somewhat tailor it to students’ interests by choosing most relevant examples or activities. 2) After a while, I ask my students to fill out an anonymous survey: « What should the instructor keep doing? stop doing? start doing? » An analysis of the answers gave me a better idea of how I could tailor my teaching style.

My teaching evaluations showed that the students felt more empowered and motivated when they saw that their feedback could change the course. This activity contributed to critical thinking and meta-learning. Apart from analyzing how each element of the course could be improved, students also understood what works best for them personally in the learning process.

How do you support students in their learning?

First and foremost, I strive to create a safe environment. I ensure that they’re not afraid to talk, try new things, make mistakes and learn from them.

Communication is key in this course so, I make them sit in groups with students who they are not used to communicate with in order to have them network with everyone.

Do you have an anecdote to tell us?

Since I am passionate about multiculturalism and strive to provide intercultural learning experience, an anecdote I can share is about an exercise “How to conduct interviews in different cultures” from my “Negotiation research methodology” course. The course is considered to be difficult since students without prior knowledge and training learn about numerous research approaches and methodologies in a short period of time. In this exercise, I asked students how researchers should conduct an interview in their culture, what they should keep in mind and avoid. The students who come from various countries (France, China, the US, Mexico, Portugal, Lebanon, etc.) shared their ideas. And instead of lecturing, I was a facilitator who summarized their ideas on the board and commented on them (an inductive, bottom-up approach). This exercise was very popular with students, even those who seemed to be usually disengaged were involved and shared their positive feedback with me after the class.