Alumni Profile: Anita Demkiv

Volume 4, Issue 2, Summer 2014

M.A. ’04, Regional Studies: Russia, Eurasia, and Eastern Europe

Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree at Columbia?

I was assigned to Ukraine when I volunteered for the Peace Corps from 1999 to 2001. I taught at Odessa National University. The Peace Corps volunteers not only taught classes but also engaged in an exchange of cultures with the people there. I became charmed by the culture and gained a level of affection for the Ukrainian people. I stayed in the country for another year and a half as a coordinator for the International Renaissance Foundation, a consultant for the World Bank in Kiev, and a Peace Corps Volunteer trainer. So my experiences in Ukraine were really the springboard for pursuing an M.A. in Russian, Eurasian, and Eastern European Studies. I became fascinated with the post-Soviet legacy and its lasting influence.

What was your master’s thesis topic?

I wrote about the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the influence of NGOs in facilitating that revolution.

What are your thoughts on the current political and civil unrest in Ukraine?

I think that Ukraine is facing three main challenges. The first is how the new government will represent the eastern and southern parts of the country effectively, so that Russian speakers and ethnic Russians don’t feel marginalized. Citizens in those areas tend to think that the conflict boils down to an East-West dichotomy. But the uprising was about overturning a corrupt government. Second, the country is in an economic free fall. Ukraine can borrow money from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, but then they will have to put austerity measures in place, like reforming their energy policies and reducing gas and energy subsidies. Austerity measures will breed public dissatisfaction. Third, they have to build a new government, one that is more transparent and democratic. Many were disenchanted with the previous government, so I hope this will be a new step forward in democracy.

How was your experience at Columbia?

Overall I loved my experience. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the interaction with students and professors. It was the chance of a lifetime. Regional Studies is a multidisciplinary program, and it’s not too easy to find those. Plus, I became interested in energy issues through Columbia—it’s what led me to my current profession as an oil market analyst. I came to appreciate the huge role that energy plays in Russia’s wealth and foreign affairs.

What do you do as an oil market analyst?

I research crude oil and respond to client inquiries about the research we provide. I also write special reports, which are in-depth studies on some aspect of the oil market.

Are you able to leverage your M.A. experience in your job?

Yes—besides giving me regional expertise, it also helps me look at energy issues from a multifaceted, geopolitical perspective. While I was an M.A. student, I spent a lot of time in the School of International and Public Affairs building. I was exposed to events, conferences, and lectures that brought me up to speed on global issues. In my job, I focus mainly on the U.S. and Canada, but I also look at the whole world, including the Middle East, post-Soviet states, and China.

You are also a GSAS alumni volunteer. How did you get involved?

I attended an alumni mixer where Dean Alonso spoke sincerely and candidly about GSAS’s dedication to its students. His speech was very inspiring. That’s why I got involved. I’m part of the Leadership Advisory Council of the Alumni Association—I help to contact alumni on behalf of GSAS to get them involved.

You received your Ph.D. in Global Affairs from Rutgers University in 2012, and you recently spoke at a “What Can You Be with a Ph.D.” event at the Columbia Alumni Center. How did that event go?

I enjoyed motivating the attendees and helping them realize that a Ph.D. can open up a lot of doors. As great as academia is, you can apply the Ph.D. to many nonacademic areas. With today’s job market, seeking alternatives to academia is a reality that must be acknowledged. I imparted the need to establish a network, and I emphasized the value that a Ph.D. recipient can offer in terms of researching, writing, and presenting data in a clear and coherent way. I think that companies do appreciate the skill set that Ph.D.’s can offer.

— Interview conducted by Andrew Ng