- 1. Growing “Aspiration” through Five Years in the Program
- 2. The Hardest Part
- 3. Job-Hunting and Subsequent Career Paths
- 4. Aiming to Build a Better Program
2. The Hardest Part
Prof. Kannari:So far, during the first part of our roundtable, we’ve heard about how you feel you are different from typical doctoral program students and the areas in which you have gained confidence as a result of your growth over the five years.
Now I’d like to take our conversation in a much different direction. As you all have just said, you have all progressed through this program and thought about it together. The educational system was extremely ambitious, and its menu was unprecedented. I think the biggest hurdle was the requirement to acquire a master’s degree in a sub-major. In truth, the sub-major scheme’s original design was inseparably linked to the mentors’ group project exercises. The term papers of group project exercise activities (mentors’ seminars) were designed to serve as sub-major master’s theses. That was the original idea.
But then, just as we were getting ready to start, two problems cropped up. Naturally, the curriculum of a particular major always belongs to that major. It is not something that people outside it can have a say in. A request for a degree based on learning content that was set by an outside program will not be accepted. So the first problem was the fact that, basically speaking, majors are fairly sacred areas that people outside have no right to manipulate. And the second problem was that the mentors had never provided instruction for master’s degrees before. Indeed, some mentors told us frankly that they could not provide such instruction. I agonized over these problems during the very earliest days of the program. It was then that I decided to believe in your abilities and have you acquire your master’s degree in your current faculty in one to one-and-a-half years. When I think back on that time, the circumstances demanded that I trust your abilities. The only way forward was to ask you to enroll in your seminars as quickly as possible, proceed by quickly ascertaining and recognizing on your own what is required for a master’s degree in that faculty, and then work hard toward earning one. Fortunately, I suppose, you did even better than I’d hoped in your sub-majors. Your sub-major instructors told me that having students from vastly different fields enter their seminars was like a breath of fresh air. I was truly happy to hear that. That the first-term students successfully earned their sub-major master’s degrees one after another was an extremely significant breakthrough in our effort to establish the MMD education system.
I suspect that the toughest period for you during the five years was when you had to earn this sub-major master’s degree. But, really, what was the toughest, most difficult part? Of course you can talk about other things beside your sub-major.
Nagashima:I think it’s now.
Prof. Kannari:Now? By “now,” are you saying that you were so busy with this program that you couldn’t spend time concentrating on your primary major like other students? I think, in a sense, that is a difficult aspect of the program. But think back and tell us the time that was the hardest? And then tell us about how you made it through that time.
From my outside vantage point, I thought you did very well even during your half-year overseas study period. But I also know that things are different from person to person. So what was the toughest time?
Nagashima:I still think the toughest time will be this academic year. Each year of the program had a tough menu. When I first entered, there was the difficulty of not being accustomed to the program. And in my second year, there was the problem of balancing the classwork of my primary major’s master’s program and my sub-major. But, in a way, I had a concrete view of what I had to do and could overcome the obstacles right in front of me. On the other hand, the final academic year is a time to think about how to pull together all of the many things we’ve done thus far. It is a time to take a new look back at how we have changed through the program. This involves a completely different way of using your head. I think the toughest part is to manage multiple menus while at the same time pulling them all together.
Prof. Kannari:So, what you’re saying is that the tough part is not only preparing your own doctoral dissertation but also thinking about things like policy recommendations, right?
Nagashima:Yes. My study in my primary major is hard, of course. But, in the process of compiling policy recommendations, whether it is policy recommendations or my doctoral dissertation, it has become time to look back on exactly what I have gained and how I have changed during these extremely long and jam-packed five years. I think that is tough.
Prof. Kannari:So what is tough is the lack of time?
Nagashima:The problem of time was constant throughout the five years. However, for good or bad, my success was very much on the line and so I learned to unconsciously invent ways of getting through. It is a result of this that all of us are here now. What I feel is difficult is clarifying all of the individual concrete experiences I’ve had so far into one package. Arranging them in my head is the hard part.
Prof. Kannari:I see. Yu-kun?
Yu:Let’s see. If I think about what was the hardest time, I feel that each of the years was equally hard. In the first year, I had many classes specifically for the program. I worked to master the lesson content while writing for my master’s thesis. When I started my sub-major, I entered into a completely different environment and had to adapt to it. Last year it was studying abroad that was hard, and now it is writing my doctoral dissertation. So all of the times were difficult. If I reflect back on how I got through them, I think the biggest factor was the presence of my fellow program members who went through the same tough times with me. I think our friendly competition made the tough times feel less weighty. Everyone around me is motivated, so we had an environment in which we sometimes got help and sometimes stimulate each other. Above all else, I feel that is why I am where I am now.
Prof. Kannari:So you think you would not have succeeded if you were alone.
Yu:Yes. I think it would have been very tough if I were alone.
Nagao:Well… If I’m asked when I was the busiest, to be honest, I want to answer like Nagashima-kun did by saying that it’s now. I sometimes feel that there is a difference between myself and my classmates who are ordinary doctoral program students in that I was unable to apply the time I spent in the program to my primary major. But, on the other hand, if I also consider the broader perspective and other assets that I have gained through the program, I feel I can produce output that exceeds that of ordinary students.
As for another busy time, for me, as Professor Kannari mentioned, the time when I was studying for my sub-major was very hard. I had to study in a place that differed greatly from what I was used to, and what I had to learn differed, too. The study methods differed too, of course, and the system of credits, like for the seminars, also differed. For example, in the case of a science or engineering lab, the degrees are arranged M1, M2, and D. However, in the Graduate School of Business and Commerce, where I studied, in general there are almost no master’s students (M). The system classifies students simply as B3 and B4. Because I was suddenly exposed to such diverse circumstances, I was busy with my research and busy with my studies—I was just busy all the time. But I was also truly helped by the people around me, and I think their being there played a large part in my success. I was also helped by sub-major doctoral students as well as undergraduate students. Their help was not limited to the content of my research; it also included many times when they motivated me or cheered me up.
Another thing I appreciate is that not only did I receive help but I was also able to give something to others. Because I was going to a completely new field, I initially thought that I would be on the receiving end of all of the learning. But that was all in my mind. For example, when I see the research presentations of undergraduates, I am able to offer some comments. I can also offer comments about analytical methods from a scientific perspective and from various angles. I remember how much that pleased me. So, I think I was able to create a good environment in the form of this kind of give-and-take and, in a way, in the form of a bridge between the Graduate School of Science and Technology and the Graduate School of Business and Commerce. So, in this sense, I think building a good relationship with the people around me played a large role in my getting through the busy periods.
Prof. Kannari:Kato-kun, please.
Kato:Unlike everyone else, I think the hardest time for me was the first year. My head was in a fog during my first year, as I didn’t have a clear idea of what would happen to me in the program or ultimately what I would aim for. I had lessons and events to deal with, but I had no vision of what would happen if I effectively managed them. In that sense, I may have been suffering physically, and I think I might have been overworked mentally.
Rather than feeling that I had overcome this situation, I felt that it had somehow faded away. But there were also changes. The first was that, as I got closer and closer to the exit, it became clear to me what kind of person I would become and where I should go. I also came to understand well the direction my efforts should take, and I calmed down mentally.
As for the second change, I want to say that I became stronger physically. But I think that, in my head, I became able to prioritize things properly; in other words, I could rank things in terms of their priority and act on those things that demand priority and drop things that don’t. And as a result, I think I was able to escape from overwork.
So I was very flustered during the first year. But now, even though my circumstances are still demanding, I feel that I can handle things more calmly compared to then.
Prof. Kannari:Kato-kun, I have the impression that your English conversation skills improved remarkably during your first year. What do you think?
Kato:Well. even now I remember my recruitment interview, when Dr. Ventzek, an overseas mentor, was present. When Dr. Ventzek said something I didn’t understand, Professor Kannari or Professor Nakayama interpreted for me. I think that, in a way, I was aware that I wasn’t good at English. During the first year, I was given training based on a plan of eliminating my feeling of being poor at English and just trying to communicate, rather than trying to converse skillfully. So I think that if something changed dramatically, it was a result of that training.
Prof. Kannari:OK, Yoshiki-kun?
Yoshiki:The toughest time that sticks in my memory is the overseas study. I had several options to choose from, but in the end I went to the University of Freiburg. Before I went, I had an image of overseas universities as being open and global settings. But when I opened the lid and looked in, I found I was really in an environment where everyone but me was German. I was truly in an environment in which I experienced being alone as a minority for the first time. Looking back on my life theretofore, whenever the community around me changed—for example, when I completed elementary school—everyone changed all together, and there were no times when only I was a minority. But when I experienced overseas study, I felt for the first time what it’s like to be the only one who is different. It was a time of intense culture shock for me.
However, thankfully, the German students were extremely kind to this one Japanese. As for language, they are excellent English speakers. But their native language is German, and whenever they began speaking German, I was left out of the conversation and felt alienated. That was a difficult experience.
Then I thought I’d try something new to pull through. Whenever somebody began speaking in German, I would really be left out, so I decided that if I spoke English first, then the conversation would naturally continue in English. I am normally not such an active speaker, but with this new tactic, I think I became a little more talkative. In fact, after I returned to Japan, a kohai of mine told me that I had become more talkative.
Prof. Kannari:Is that so?
Yoshiki: Yes. I think I changed in that way. That’s all I have to say.
Prof. Kannari:OK, Dan-kun?
Dan:Overseas study was tough for me, too. It wasn’t so tough on me physically, but it beat the heck out of me mentally. I went to Stanford University, one of America’s top universities. The students there were truly exceptional. And particularly in the lab for earthquake engineering, which is my specialty, everyone had a truly amazing degree of expertise concerning earthquake engineering. But there was something that left an even deeper impression on me. A postdoc with whom I became very friendly constantly announces his own achievements and research outcomes. He prepares his work extremely carefully so that it will be easily understandable to all who see it. He wasn’t told to do it like that; it’s just something he does completely on his own initiative. He prepared his work this way because he wants to share the results of his labors with society and make them known by more and more people.
When I asked him about this, wondering where he found the time, he said he spent a great amount of time studying, a great amount of time conducting research, and a great amount of time spreading his work to society. Hearing that, I felt I really have a long way to go. Of course, I was stimulated by his effort. I greatly increased my own study load and realized that I must work harder. On the other hand, one thing that saved me, so to speak, was that I could work with my classmates on an equal footing. What I mean is that the fact that I had studied in the Graduate School of Business and Commerce for my sub-major was very highly appreciated. Students there have great expertise, but they tend to consistently pursue only one thing. When I spoke as a person who has expertise in another field—business and commerce—I could stand with them as an equal, and sometimes they really listened to me and made use of my opinions. So I felt overwhelmed on one hand, but I also felt I contributed in some ways. The experience made me glad that I had a double major, and made me want to continue studying more and more things.
Prof. Kannari:Dan-kun, you have also gone to various other places, such as Istanbul in Turkey. Do you feel that Stanford was different?
Dan:Well, in the case of Istanbul, I went to Istanbul Technical University on a summer school program run by the T.I.M.E. Association. At that time, I was a master’s student and I think most of the other participants were also master’s students. Many of us were around the same age and were exploring brand new subjects together, so it was a project in which we started from scratch and worked from there. The program was about two weeks long, so I really couldn’t see the abilities the other participants. On the other hand, when I was at Stanford, the people near me were extremely capable. That was quite a shock, so to speak. I was amazed.
Prof. Kannari:OK, Ando-kun?
Ando:What I found to be the hardest… I am not so bothered when I am busy. Indeed, I rather like being busy, so I did not experience much hardship. But, even so, there were two times that were unpleasant or distressing. The first was when I advanced to my sub-major. In the laboratory of my primary major, there were other master’s students of the same year, but I was the only one among them that was on a doctoral course. Moreover, I would be going to a separate organization, the Graduate School of Business and Commerce, for my sub-major, and I knew very few people there. In fact, about the only people I would meet were my fellow program members who are here now. In the Graduate School of Business and Commerce, the kind of “community” we have in laboratories did not exist. Instead, graduate students only gathered and discussed matters at seminars, so basically speaking, each individual handled his own affairs alone. Within such a change in environment, my personal relationships became weaker, and I had fewer opportunities to relieve stress by talking with people, sharing a drink, or things like that. I think that was hard in a way. But, in the case of this program, I have the other first-term students, and so there were no times when I was left all alone like a real humanities student. I appreciated that very much.
The second very difficult time was also when I was studying for my sub-major. I conducted a questionnaire survey as part of my research for my master’s thesis. Asking people to take the questionnaire survey was hard. My primary major of computer science is a field in which tasks are completed by an individual: You create a program, operate it, and take measurements in front of a computer. But conducting a questionnaire survey requires coordinating related tasks, such as typing e-mails and actually going to people and asking them to take the survey. And I experienced things along the way. I got so many complaints. People said they wouldn’t cooperate, told me to stop because I was being a nuisance, and shut the door in my face without listening to a word I said. At the beginning, that was extremely hard mentally. But I knew that, even so, I had no choice but to go forward, and that I had to do it or I would not earn my master’s degree. So I did my best and made it through. To be honest, if possible, I would prefer not do that kind of work. But, I feel that I experienced it was tremendously significant.
Prof. Kannari:I see. OK, Sakamoto-kun?
Sakamoto:Was it hard? It was always hard. And did I feel overwhelmed? I felt overwhelmed every day. But if I had to mention one thing, when I was returning to my doctoral studies in my fourth year, last year, I was felt in a way like I was experiencing the “Urashima Taro phenomenon”—not exactly, perhaps, but something like it. What I mean is that in the Leading Program’s third year I temporarily left my home background in law and went to science and engineering for my sub-major. Being that I was from a humanities background, a lot of people asked me if studying science was hard. The truth is that it wasn’t hard at all. I really enjoyed studying science. In fact, there were parts of it that I enjoyed too much and ended up pouring all my time into them. Of course, I also attended seminars for study in my primary major in my third year, and I continued my research in my primary major, but I found science and engineering research to be very enjoyable and I really got into it, to the point that I ended up putting too much effort into it. But then, when my science and engineering studies ended and I began my doctoral studies, my mind became a blank.
In fact, I had become confused about what I wanted to do. In a way, I think that feeling undoubtedly came from the difference in educational system. But like Ando-kun just touched on, the method for pursuing research, frequency of communication with professors, and other characteristics of science and engineering differ completely from the humanities-based research methods and time spans at Mita. I suspect that circumstances vary depending on the field, even within science and engineering, but even so there are great differences between the humanities and science in terms of their research and education systems. The effect of leaving my primary major for one year to study for my sub-major in the third year of the program, and the difference in research and instruction systems, made me feel something like Urashima Taro when I entered the fourth year. The fourth year of the program is the time when we need to be preparing for our overseas study, so I regret becoming a little unfocused then. But in that context, I thought that making a smooth transition back to my primary major was a challenge when I returned to it from my sub-major.
Yamamoto:If I think about difficult times, I say now is the hardest. I’m the one who is entirely to blame here, and there are various factors involved, such as my personality, but at any rate satisfying the requirements for completion of the doctoral program is hard. Here, I think keeping a journal becomes the most important key. When I was an undergraduate and master’s student, I really didn’t put a lot of emphasis on externally outputting my research through a journal, and I didn’t think it was all that important. I am paying for that now in the doctoral program. I was not accustomed to writing research papers and so I put it off, with the result that now is the hardest time for me. This is where I feel regret.
And if I dare say another, as you all know, the first year was tough for me physically. Each week, I commuted by overnight bus from Tsuruoka to Hiyoshi to attend the Saturday exercise. It’s not that commuting by overnight bus was hard; I think the hard part was that I was doing everything I could to make a place for myself. Although I had some handicaps, I felt that if I didn’t do my best even with them I would be left behind, and that if I didn’t give my all I would not produce results. I think that it was managing all of that that was the hardest.