9 Students – A Footstep toward “Super Doctor”

3. Job-Hunting and Subsequent Career Paths

Prof. Kannari:I’m very glad that I asked you what was hardest about the program. I had never heard you talk about your experiences like that before. Standing on the sidelines, what you were doing looked very demanding, so I made a point of not asking, “So, is it hard?” But I’ve just heard about the areas where you experienced hardship, and I’m very glad I did.
So, our time is moving right along. Putting aside looking back for a moment, for me, the point where I have struggled or felt difficulty to some degree over the last one or two years is the exit from which we will send you out into society. More than is necessary, I feel keenly that potential employers in society’s industries are not actively matching up with this program. Regardless of what you say about other universities’ programs, a good many of their students have available to them the path of remaining in university or a national research institute. They do not have the problem that exists with this program; specifically, that remaining in university is basically not an option. In that sense, other universities’ programs have less of a sense of crisis compared to us in terms of having to find employment gateways in industry, and particularly in areas outside of research. In our program, our end goal throughout the entire five years has consistently been to send students to industry, including business, and government service. This presents a major challenge in our relationship with industry, and while I say that this is difficult, the truth is that it was you who had the most difficulty. Students from science programs have long been hired as PhDs or researchers, and so this is not such a big problem. However, the hurdles are high when it comes to PhD hiring in the humanities or corporate business fields. If you place a person who is in his fifth year of employment after completing his undergraduate studies side by side with a person who has just completed five years of master’s and doctoral study, you will be told that the PhD lacks experience and is already 27 years old.
People generally enter middle management at around the age of 33. So, considering that a new PhD must receive training and then serve well in middle management after five years, you will also be told that that five-year gap is just too large. I think there are government offices that would consider some of you based on your background. And, if you are on a technical track, you will likely receive matching opportunities for conventional technical positions, so this is not such a significant point. However, in the cases of Dan-kun, Ando-kun, and Nagao-kun, who are moving into the corporate business realm, you will probably be measured in terms of that five-year gap.
What impressions did you have through your job-hunting activities? Or, what impressions did you have with regard to the height of hurdles to being accepted by industry, or gaps that you experienced in your job-hunting, like the five-year gap that you will probably encounter next spring?

Student A:I personally did not feel any sort gap or hurdle height at all. But I don’t know if something was going on behind the scenes. I have already met once with the others who are also scheduled to enter the company next spring, and I didn’t sense anything unusual.
Prof. Kannari:What kind of people are they?
Student A:There are six of us, including me. Two of them are women. I get the sense that we were hired with considerable attention to diversity. Of the group, I have a doctoral degree, two have master’s degrees, and the other three have bachelor’s degrees.
Prof. Kannari:Have you heard generally about what kind of training you will receive after joining the company?
Student A:I know the basics. I was basically hired as a new graduate, so I’ll receive standard new-employee training. I’ll generally have an experienced employee with me. Most of my training will be on-the-job training. I’m told that I’ll learn my job as I go along and be considered fully qualified in about five years. Being “fully qualified” means that I’ll move to a position where I’ll be guiding new employees as an experienced employee.
rof. Kannari:So, you’ll be on the standard on-the-job training track for new graduates.
Student A:That’s right. That’s why there is absolutely no discrimination there.
Prof. Kannari:And as part of this, are you thinking of a strategy for demonstrating your skills as a PhD and the ability to see things comprehensively that you acquired in this program?
Student A:I think that at some point I’ll be assigned to a project. I’ll be the same as the others I was hired with then, but I think the most important thing will be for me to show how much value I can bring to the project. Of course, that will depend on the project to some degree. All I can say is that I’ll do my best to skillfully apply my experiences thus far. To be honest, I don’t know what I’ll be doing, so I don’t even have an idea of which department or projects I’ll be assigned to. But I believe I have seen and physically learned various things—such as how to study, how to investigate things, and the nature of failure—and so I think those factors will give me an advantage in terms of experience. Honestly, what I felt when I talked to my fellow new recruits was that, take away knowledge and all that, they are young. And I’m not talking about age; I’m referring to their way of thinking and passion. I think those are very important. But I should add that, when it comes to putting down drinks at a drinking party, I might be the youngest of the bunch.
Prof. Kannari:OK, B-kun, you failed to be hired a company, didn’t you? What do you think you were lacking?
Student B:It was mathematical skills. The only option available to PhDs in that company was a specialist course called an “actuary.” The course required mathematical skills for becoming qualified as an actuary. I didn’t desire to be an actuary, but I was told that I would be able to move to another position if I was accepted, so I applied. But, quite simply, it turned out that I didn’t have the mathematical skills.
The other company was not interviewing for a professional position, although the recruitment route was separate from other new graduates. They interviewed me simply with attention to my latent abilities and promise for the future, with the same eye with which they look at other newly graduating students. Like I said earlier, I think I’m not fully ready yet and that there are other possibilities out there. I want to take on various new challenges.
Prof. Kannari:In that sense, I think it was a good thing that an HR person who is familiar with this program interpreted the intent and desire that you brought to the interview. If he hadn’t, basically speaking, they would have thought, “OK, he’s science,” and you would have entered the company from the established gateway. If that would have happened, you’d have had a fairly tough road, I think.
Student B:Yes, tough. In truth, I was also interviewed as a regular graduate by a non-technical company, but I didn’t pass the second round. They were interviewing doctoral students, too, so in the interview I was asked nothing but questions about my specialty, and I spent the whole time explaining the Leading Program. They did look at my specialty, but I really got the feeling that I was disadvantaged by the five-year gap between being 27 and 22 years old.
So I am very glad the mentors are with us during the five years. I think they have a good sense of what kind of people we are.
Student A:In my case, too, the department was not one that hired PhDs. For my company, which had previously hired 22-year-old bachelor’s degree-holders and then trained them, hiring a PhD was probably a high hurdle. If it were a research position, the company could judge a candidate’s research ability by asking how many research papers he had published. But judging ability in business is difficult. For example, the company doesn’t know whether the person can communicate well and complete a task. No criteria exist for this and, what’s more, there is probably a strong policy against hiring based on the standpoint of risk management.
However, I honestly think that this topic is undeniably intertwined with the complexity of social problems. Given the possibility that problems that cannot be resolved in conventional routine work or problems that will only worsen if left unresolved will emerge as headaches for companies, companies are tackling the challenge of how to engage in diversity management. This is something that has received particular attention recently, and I think one part of it is the hiring of PhD holders. I get the feeling that being in this position will also help us grasp how to handle it.
Prof. Kannari:The human resources managers of Japan’s leading companies have an eye on the future and on society as a whole, and they seem to well understand the desire for new human resources that will create new value. That idea has trickled down to HR people and gradually gained greater appreciation. But the companies that will hire you want people who can hit the ground running. Hiring new human resources within that gap is risky. I would like there to be broad-minded corporate departments out there that have some leeway and will hire people like you. I think developing such departments will be an important task that must be tackled going forward. C-kun, how do you see this? Did you struggle or run into hardship, too?
Student C:Well, the company that gave me an informal job offer is basically a so-called science company, but it conducts its development and research elsewhere. The Japanese affiliate mostly handles customer support and marketing, so my workplace may in essence be more humanities-oriented.
However, the company has an extremely flexible way of thinking, which I think comes from the fact that it is a foreign company and an IT company. It doesn’t seem to be concerned about the difference between a doctoral degree and a master’s degree. I was told that 90% of its employees are recruited mid-career, and that there are few newly recruited employees. One thing particularly struck me during my final interview. When the interview started, one of the executives asked me what I had done for the five years after graduating. I thought, “Huh?” I actually said “Huh?” as I would normally. But I was happy that they liked me in the interview and hired me as I am, and had simply considered my age without any concern whatsoever for whether I had a doctoral or master’s degree, was a new graduate, or was changing careers.
I have had opportunities to meet others who also received job offers. Most of them have a bachelor’s or master’s degree. In terms of whether they come from humanities or science programs, in general many have a humanities-oriented background. As of now, I haven’t met anyone with a doctoral degree. However, the fact that I will be going to a company that is more humanities oriented means that I can use my science background nicely to my advantage. I think this will be true in my work, and will also help me serve as a bridge among people in the company. Particularly given that the company is actually a science-oriented company but the Japanese affiliate is more humanities-oriented, I think that I would like to be a bridge within the company in this way. I think the company gave me fitting and flexible consideration, in a good sense, during the hiring process.
Prof. Kannari:OK, I would think that one available path might be to enter a government office and then, after several years, go to an international organization, say by being temporarily transferred to the OECD. What thoughts do you have about that? Are you interested in being in government your entire career, long enough to advance to a high position?
Student D:Like A-kun alluded to, I think timing and chance are important. I haven’t started my job yet, so I still don’t have a mental image of the kind of work I will be doing. However, right now, I have chosen this government office as the place where I can fulfill my aims, and so I want to work seriously.
Prof. Kannari:What kinds of career path does a government office offer if you enter from a science background, for example?
Observer:In the case of a government office concerned with economic matters, in the past employees from humanities and science backgrounds were separated and proceeded on their own career paths. But at some point they both started being seen as “regular positions” and were moved around with the same standing. Employees are moved around as frequently as possible, within a year at least and in about two years at the longest. However, even if a person is transferred once a year, in thirty years he can only be transferred to thirty places. Employees are even transferred outside their office, including to other ministries and agencies. Sometimes they go to an embassy via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, their home position remains the government office that hired them. They move so often that people in private companies wonder if it is OK to change so frequently. We develop them by giving them numerous experiences in this way.
Prof. Kannari:When do they become differentiated for, say, promotion or the like?
Observer:Their work performance is evaluated at their places of assignment. If they do a good job, they are often given a more important post at their next assignment. They are then evaluated again there. I think talented people gradually come up the ranks through this repetition.
Prof. Kannari:If they do a job for two years, for example, and perform well during that time, they will receive recognition?
Observer:Yes. There is a rule that each year, when the time comes, each employee will be interviewed and evaluated. I’m not sure how it’s done now, but before employees were rated S, A, B, C, or D.
So in that way we evaluate performance and, in a sense, put people who can do their jobs in gradually better posts. That’s also for the sake of the organization. However, in reality, some offices continue to use the old way, and I think in many government offices, it is people from a humanities background who advance.
Prof. Kannari:D-kun, are you thinking of moving up the ladder?
Student D:Well, the office I’ll go to has told me that even if I stay on the technical side, I will advance to a reasonably good position if I do a good job. I want to aim to reach such a position during my first ten years or so. But what will happen after that? I don’t know. Some people probably go to a related organization. But, if I’m going to do this, I would like to go to the top of the technical posts. But I still don’t know.