Invited Article: Activities of “Kagakusha Network” (“Scientist Network”) and a Guidepost to Study at U.S. Graduate Schools.

By Tomonori Yamamoto and Taiji Oashi
(Translated by Hisashi Kobayashi and edited by Brian L. Mark)
In December 2009, a major Japanese newspaper carried an article reporting on the steep drop in the number of Japanese students who study in the U.S. Since then a number of reports have been written on this marked trend. The number of Japanese students who came to the U.S. significantly increased during the period of Japan’s high economic growth. It remained around 46,000 during 1994/95 through 2002/03. But thereafter, the number sharply dropped down to the level of slightly less than 25,000 (see the reference). The same trend is found in the total number of Japanese students who went abroad, not just to the U.S. There are many plausible explanations for this trend : the so-called “harvibolization” (or grass-eating) and “inward-looking” trait of the young generation, the matured Japanese society, the decline of Japan’s economy, the marked increase in the cost of attending U.S. colleges, and so forth. Our group, Kagakusha Network (where Kagakusha is a Japanese word for “scientist”) formed in 2000, has been continuing various activities to cultivate scientists and engineers of the next generation who can play an active role on the international stage. In this article we will describe our efforts and achievements, and pose some questions as to how one can grow up to become a global leader of tomorrow.
Kagakusha Network started as an effort of compiling a mailing list in the year 2000, when the information concerning the graduate study abroad in science and engineering disciplines was not readily available. We began the effort to develop a community where three different groups –those who are currently enrolled in graduate schools abroad, those who have completed graduate study, and those who are contemplating to pursue graduate study abroad—can share information. Through that forum we strived to help, encourage and enhance each other. The name “Kagakusha Network” was coined by its founders, Dr. Shigeki Sugii and Dr. Akiko Futamura, who aspired to become scientists who can perform well and be accepted in the international scene. Since then our activities have been consistently guided by the following principles: (i) to construct a human network through which Japanese graduate students and researchers who are already abroad or aspiring to study abroad can stimulate and work hard together, (ii) to cultivate leaders of the next generation who can take an active part in a global environment and (iii) to contribute to the future of Japan’s science and technology by promoting a better understanding of graduate education systems of Japan and abroad.
Toward such goals, the activities of Kagakusha Network are built around the following three pillars. First, we administer a mailing list to support those who wish to study at graduate schools abroad and to help them communicate with those who are already abroad or who have completed their graduate study. At present we have over 260 members, composed of Japanese graduate students and researchers who are currently enrolled in, or have graduated from, graduate schools in the U.S. and Europe. Second, we distribute a mail magazine for free, which contains articles on personal experiences contributed by those who have attended graduate schools abroad, and various tutorial articles for the general public that explain the world’s most advanced research topics. This magazine has been periodically published since 2007 and has a wide readership, not just those who are interested in pursuing graduate study abroad. Third and last, we hold orientation meetings for students who are interested in graduate study abroad in the fields of science and engineering, and organize seminars concerning graduate education. In future, we plan to hold workshops on such topics as ”support of the career development after the completion of graduate study, “ and “women’s advancement in society and support of their career development.”
As part of our activities outlined above, we published in March 2010, a book entitled “U.S. Graduate Schools: A Path for Global Scientists & Engineers.” This book focuses on how to prepare for studying in leading U.S. graduate schools which, with their excellent education programs, continue to play a leading role in advancing the state-of-the-art in science and technology, and to send out outstanding researchers into the world who will become future leaders. We, the contributors of the book, are driven by our desire to support those who aspire to become such researchers. The book was published by ALC Press Inc., which has a good reputation in publications on “studying abroad” and “language study.” It is composed of three parts loaded full of information and stories of experiences that the 36 contributors have provided in earnest. In Part I “Information,” we fully cover basic information pertaining to graduate study such as why we pursued graduate study in the U.S.; lectures and curriculums of U.S. graduate schools; application and admission processes; financial support available during the study; and careers to pursue after graduation. Part I also discusses such topics as research fields that are drawing attention at present; talents or skills in great demand; and various statistical data concerning studying abroad. In Part II “Practice,” we discuss such topics as how to gather information necessary to achieve studying abroad; how to select schools to which to apply; a sequence of guiding steps from preparing for applications till winning the admission. It contains practical materials such as many stories relating personal experiences of members of In Part III “Interviews,” such distinguished people as Prof. Masatoshi Koshiba (a Nobel laureate in physics); Prof. Kiyoshi Kurokawa (a former special advisor for the Japanese Cabinet); Prof. Hiroshi Ishii (Associate Director of MIT Media Laboratory); and Dr. Koichi Kitazawa (President of Japan Science and Technology Agency) discuss, in an interview style, their personal experiences of studying abroad. Their powerful messages that will stir one’s spirit should be appealing to every reader, regardless of his or her special field.
As stated above, our main activity is the support of overseas study at the graduate level. As the globalization of our society is progressing with rapid pace, it is urgent to develop human resources who are fluent in English or other foreign languages, have acquired an international way of thinking, and have expertise in their own fields. Thus, it is of a great concern that the number of Japanese students who study abroad is on the steady decline. Study abroad often encounters many difficulties: competing for admission to the school of your choice against talented applicants from all over the world; a long and hard journey from admission till graduation; and seeking employment abroad or from abroad is not always easy. But what is required of leaders in this new era is a cosmopolitan way of thinking, willingness to accept diversity, and the ability to confront various challenges. In this rapidly changing era, where past experiences and traditional know-how are not sufficient, exposing oneself to a foreign environment with a different language and culture and working hard and competitively with the cream of the crop in the world may be a shortcut to becoming a leader of the coming global age. Of course, study abroad is not a panacea, and cannot be recommended for everyone. There are many outstanding people who have stayed within Japan, and yet have made significant achievements and are recognized internationally. Studying abroad, however, will give us opportunities to take a look at Japan objectively, and make friends from various countries of the world. Moreover, it will help us acquire an international way of thinking, understand different points of view and accept different values, and these abilities are becoming increasingly important for the future. It is not just designed to polish our skills and knowledge in our special fields. Therefore, our Kagakusha Network will continue its activities with its objectives to turn out as many true leaders as possible who can take an active part in this new global age.
Dr. Tomonori Yamamoto is President of Kagakusha Network. After graduating from Tokyo Institute of Technology, where he majored in Control and Systems Engineering, he entered the Mechanical Engineering Dept. of The John Hopkins University and completed his Ph.D. study in January 2011. His research fields are robotics and haptics. Since April 2011, he has been with SynTouch LLC, a start-up in Los Angeles, and is engaged in a research project to apply tactile sensors to robotics. He was the editor of the book “U.S. Graduate Schools: A Path for Global Scientists & Engineers “ described in this article.

Dr. Taiji Oashi is Vice President of Kagakusha Network. He is currently a researcher of a large pharmaceutical company in Japan. He received his BE from the Faculty of Engineering, Kansai University, and then entered the Graduate School of Biostudies, Kyoto University. Before completing his graduate study at Kyoto, he moved to Mount Sinai School of Medicine (MSSM), which was a part of Graduate School, New York University. He received his Ph.D. in computational chemistry from HSSM in2008. Then he was a post-doctoral research fellow at the Computer-Aided Drug Design Center, the University of Maryland, School of Pharmacy. His research is concerned about creation of new drugs by applying computational chemistry. He is actively helping young Japanese students who study science in graduate schools overseas.

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