Written by Stephanie Rankin-Turner (School of Science)
This summer I had the privilege to take my research to the other side of the world as part of the UK cohort in the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) summer research programme.
JSPS is a funding institution which aims to facilitate international research collaboration between Japan and the rest of the world via a range of fellowship programmes. These programmes are pretty wide-ranging, targeting everyone from Masters’ students to Nobel Laureates. Last year I stumbled upon the JSPS Summer Programme, a scheme enabling postgraduate researchers to spend two months working at a Japanese research institution of their choosing. Needless to say, I did not waste any time in jumping on this unique opportunity.
With the support of my supervisor, I got in touch with Professor Kenzo Hiraoka, my hopefully-soon-to-be collaborator proposing I join his research group for the summer. As a PhD researcher just starting out in my career, and having had no previous contact with this research group, I was a little wary about making such an out-of-the-blue proposition. But thankfully he was more than happy to welcome me onto his team! Following a brief discussion about my research and a proposed plan for the summer, we put together an application. After a few long months of waiting, I received that long-anticipated email informing me I had been selected!
The next couple of months flew by and, following a brief induction day at JSPS headquarters in London, I was soon flying to Tokyo to begin my summer of research. The program started with an orientation at a beautifully secluded university in Hayama where, along with other research fellows from around the world, I would stay for a week. The induction to life in Japan from JSPS was brilliant, introducing us to everything from the language and cultural norms to calligraphy, music and origami. Any fears about embarking on this journey were rapidly eliminated and I couldn’t wait to move to my host university and start my research.
For the rest of the summer I lived in a mountainous city called Kofu, based in Yamanashi prefecture (renowned for Mount Fuji, delicious fruit and outstanding wine). Life working at the University of Yamanashi was vastly different from my workplace in the UK (it certainly took me a while to get used to wearing special slippers in the lab!), but I quickly felt at ease thanks to the support of my new colleagues. I was constantly amazed by the generosity of the people I worked with. Much of my time was spent in the lab working directly with two Professors who, despite both being obviously incredibly busy, did not hesitate to dedicate a great deal of time to my project. They trained me in new techniques, shared their knowledge and stories of academia, and generally went out of their way to ensure my time in their lab was fruitful and enjoyable. Outside of the lab, I had the chance to immerse myself in Japanese culture, travel around the country at weekends, climb Mount Fuji, and make some incredible friends. The Japanese people are the most welcoming and generous people I have ever met, from my colleagues in the lab to strangers on the street.
My time spent in Japan has been one of the highlights of my career to date. The chance to work with incredible researchers on the other side of the world and sample life in a country so very different from my own was invaluable and an experience I will never forget. As a researcher, experiencing working life in another lab and another country can give you a completely different perspective on your work, not to mention a unique networking opportunity. The generous fellowships on offer from JSPS can enable you to achieve this, and I would strongly recommend the programme to anyone!
Interested in Applying?
In the autumn of each year the British Council opens applications to UK PhD and MPhil science students to take part in the fully-funded summer research programme. Application to the 2019 summer programme will open later this year, so if you’re interested in seizing this incredible opportunity, keep an eye on the British Council website.