A Round Table Talk on Student Life

What is the RCAST like? What kind of education and research are conducted at the Department of Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies (AIS), Graduate School of Engineering, University of Tokyo, which belongs to RCAST?
We have three students of AIS here to talk freely about their student life and what they think about it.

Facilitator Prof. Ryohei KANZAKI Vice Director of RCAST

Why did they choose AIS?

Kanzaki: I'm today's facilitator, Prof. Kanzaki. I'm the vice director of RCAST and chairperson of the curriculum committee of AIS. My field of research is life intelligence. I want you to talk a lot about your life in RCAST and AIS. First of all, Could you briefly introduce yourself?

Kondo: I'm Ayano Kondo. I graduated from the master's course of the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Tokyo and entered a pharmaceutical company. I've worked there for three years and came back as an adult student with employment. I'm in the first year of the doctoral course in the genome science field.

Haring: I'm Kerstin Sophie Haring from Germany. I'm in the second year of the doctoral course, belonging to Watanabe lab in the cognitive science field. I'm specialized in human-robot-interaction.

Taniguchi: I'm Yohei Taniguchi. I entered AIS right after graduating from the master's course of the Graduate School of Engineering at the University of Tokyo. I'm in the Nishinari lab. I analyze various factors of the complex flow of traffic as a mathematical model, and carry out experiments and simulations.

Kanzaki: Thank you very much. Genome Science, cognitive science, mathematics of a complex system to solve traffic jams — hearing only three of the students getting together here, we can realize how various the fields of researches in the AIS are. This is one of the characteristics of AIS which has been established in RCAST. Then how did you come to know AIS or RCAST? Why did you choose the lab you are belonging to?

Kondo: When I was a student of Tokyo University and in the master's course, I didn't know a lot. After I entered the company, I was assigned research on human genome and got chances to collaborate with Prof. Aburatani and Prof. Kodama of RCAST and visit to see RCAST. Then I came to know the fact that there are many of the latest machines and that many adult students with employment related to the pharmaceutical field have gotten together and conduct research, so I came to desire to study here.

Kanzaki: How about you Ms. Haring?

Haring: When I was hesitating over which doctoral course I should choose, I researched through the Internet to find specialists in computing science. Then I got an opportunity to see many researchers at a conference. I felt that Prof. Watanabe would give me the best support among them for my research so I entered AIS. It is extremely important what kind of support I can get to do my own research.

Kanzaki: Did you know about RCAST and the University of Tokyo when you were in Germany?

Haring: I knew about the University of Tokyo, but didn't know about RCAST.

Kanzaki: How about you Mr. Taniguchi?

Taniguchi: I conducted to research related a little to traffic jams in another lab when I was in the master's course. When I went on to the doctorate course, I decided to conduct research under Prof. Nishinari, who is also in the University of Tokyo, since he the leading researcher on the field of traffic jams. So I made an appointment with him to see and learn about AIS from him for the first time.

Participants Ayano KONDO first year of doctoral program, Aburatani Lab

Daily Life

Kanzaki: Now you've become a student of AIS, then what's your daily life is like?

Taniguchi: As I'm not employed and the main research of our lab is to develop theories, I don't have any fixed daily schedule. I usually come to lab around 11 am, sometimes I concentrate so hard that I'm in the lab around 11 pm, and sometimes go home much earlier. It depends on what I have to do.

Haring: When I had to do without a scholarship, it was a little bit hard as I have to do not only research but also some job to support my life. But after obtaining a scholarship things have become much better. I love mornings, so I get up at 6 am, do some exercise, and come to school.

Kanzaki: How about the student life with employment?

Kondo: It takes about an hour from here to my office. My schedule is rather flexible, sometimes I come to school after working at the office and sometimes come directly to school.

Kanzaki: How many days a week have you come to school?

Kondo: I've spent for a fairly long time in the school. Maybe I spend a longer time in the school than in the office.

Kanzaki: I'm sure there are times when you have to give up coming to school, don't you?

Kondo: Well, sometimes the lectures of the school and the meetings of my company are at the same time.

Kanzaki: Which one do you usually choose?

Kondo: Basically I appeal to my boss to attend the lecture, but I can't do that when I have to go on a business trip. In such cases I explain my condition to my supervisors at school, then they kindly show understanding, which is a great help to me.

Kanzaki: I see. But maybe it depends on the policy of the company.

Taniguchi: It seems that some of the students of the doctoral course around me have made big efforts to find time to come to school.

Credits and Curricula

Kanzaki: How hard it is to take credits?

Taniguchi: We have to take 20 credits during the three years of the doctoral course including 12 credits related to the doctoral thesis. On the other hand there are two credits of selected requirements which form the ‘leadership-talent growth program,’ so if I take some credits by attending the ‘omnibus lecture’ or other lectures related to my thesis, for example in my case lectures given by Prof. Nishinari, my supervisor, I can fulfill the required condition as to credits without special efforts.

Kanzaki: I suppose that it is a serious problem for students with employment. What do you think Ms. Kondo?

Kondo: Yes, since there are times when we have to go to the office, so the percentage of attendance oriented lectures is hard to us. Luckily my office is not so far from the campus, I have no problem about it. But one of the students with employment who comes from Shizuoka seems to have a hard time to take credits, coming by the first train, taking paid holidays to attend lectures, and so on.

Kanzaki: The curriculum committee has arranged as many lectures as possible on Wednesday so that students can take most of the credits by coming to campus on Wednesday. What do you think about the result of this?

Kondo: It's good to us if many lectures are on the same day of the week and we can take most of the credit as long as we take paid holidays and come to campus on that day.

Kanzaki: Don't you have any problems, Ms. Haring?

Haring: No, as to credits, I have no problem at all as I'm a student who is not working for a company.

Kanzaki: Basically many of the lectures are given in Japanese, I'm sure. How about it?

Haring: Yes, I've had difficulties with the languages. Some of the lectures are given in English or I can do some of the assignments in English. But sometimes I guess what they are saying from figures and pictures of slides used in the lecture and look over the materials to understand and do assignments.

Kondo: That must be hard.

Haring: I gave up taking some lectures I was interested in because they were given in Japanese only and I had to do assignments in Japanese. I don't have any trouble with basic Japanese but still have some difficulties when I try to explain in a higher level of Japanese such as is spoken in the lectures at the university.

Kanzaki: It must be an obstacle for foreign students studying in Japan. It's our task to consider and now we are proceeding to make English the official language in lectures as soon as possible.

Kerstin Sophie HARING second year doctoral program, Watanabe lab

Utilizing the Scholarship and Registration System

Kanzaki: It is extremely important for students' life how to financially support yourselves. How do you get over this problem? Is it the fellowship offered by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) you mentioned about, Ms. Haring?

Haring: Yes, it is.

Kanzaki: Is it good enough for a student of doctoral course?

Haring: I think so.

Taniguchi: In my case our lab has conducted joint research with business and I've received some pay as a research assistant. In addition to this, I've made good use of the scholarship and drawn on my savings to compensate for the deficits. I'm sure the most serious problem for students is the financial one. Not every student can get fellowships from JSPS, so I hope there are some systems to support students.

Kanzaki: We have a system to support graduate students who cannot receive JSPS fellowships or some other scholarships in the University of Tokyo. Do you know about it?

Taniguchi: They can get fifty thousand yen a month can't they?

Kanzaki: Yes, fifty thousand yen a month during six months, so three hundred thousand yen in total. The intention of the support system is to offer at least half of the annual tuition. Almost all students who apply for the system can receive the support for the time being. How about the students coming from companies?

Kondo: It depends on the company. Luckily my company offers two and a half year's tuition to me. All I have to pay is half a year's tuition as to three years of the doctoral course.

Kanzaki: Do you know the long duration registration system? In this system you can extend for three years the duration of the doctoral course to six years with three years' tuition.

Kondo: I'm very conscious of it. I'm afraid whether or not I can obtain a PhD within three years because coping with both my job and the research to obtain a PhD could be hard. It is reassuring to have such a system thinking about the critical moment.

Kanzaki: Yes, it's good especially for students with employment.

Taniguchi: One of the students said to me that such supports were a good reason to choose AIS. Is that system applied for students without jobs?

Kanzaki: There are some cases where such students can apply for this system. There are other various systems to support students. It's important to make good use of such systems, so please ask at the secretariat without hesitation.

Yohei TANIGUCHI third year doctoral program, Nishinari lab

Opportunity to Study Abroad

Kanzaki: By the way one of the missions of RCAST is the retraining of working adults. We should train capable persons who have good knowledge of innovation and its management with interdisciplinary education and who also can conduct proper research. In order to fulfill this mission, AIS has an innovator course in addition to the general course. All of you are in the general course, aren't you? Weren't you conscious of the difference between the two courses?

Haring: No, I wasn't.

Taniguchi: After graduating from the master's course, I directly entered to AIS, so I chose the general course without consciousness. There are some differences in the curriculum I'm sure.

Kondo: Although the subject of ‘leadership-talent growth program’ 1, ‘proposal’ and 2, ‘English in advanced science and technology’ are selected requirements in the general course, both of them are required subjects in the innovator course, aren't they?

Kanzaki: Yes, they are. ‘Leadership-talent growth programs’ are one of the central pillars of the curriculum. The reason why both ‘proposal’ and ‘English in advanced science and technology’ are prepared as required subjects is that we aim to retrain working adults to be capable persons who play an active role in the broad fields of society, creating innovation. Which one have you selected?

Haring: I've selected ‘English in advanced science and technology.’

Taniguchi: So have I.

Kanzaki: The ‘proposal’ is hard not only for students, but also for faculty, but in taking the subject, students can be trained in various fields of various faculties whose specialty is slightly different from but important for your own research. It is very important for students to broaden their specialty to different fields. They can deeply learn from faculties in such fields, write proposal documents, and give presentations. The faculties give them advice.

Haring: I see.

Kondo: I've selected ‘proposal’ though I haven't take its credit yet. It is very exciting for me to write proposal documents thinking that how to collaborate with researchers in some other fields, or how to receive scientific research fund, and so on. I also think that it's precious opportunity to be trained not only by my own supervisor, but also by faculty in other fields.

Kanzaki: We also give the priority to English education. Do you know the system of sending students to participate in the Visiting Fellowship Program at Clare Hall at University of Cambridge? The living expenses during the stay and traveling expenses are paid by RCAST. In the case of students sent in 2013, they were sent for four weeks, attended two weeks of summer courses at Cambridge, and the rest of the two weeks they could research freely. The obligations of the students are to hand in reports about the visit and to make a presentation at the class of ‘English in advanced science and technology.’ Fulfilling these two tasks they can take the credit of the class without attending every lecture.

Kondo: I've been eager to apply and asked my boss, but four weeks absence is too long for an office worker. If I hadn't been employed, I would absolutely apply for it. It's such a nice system.

Kanzaki: The required condition to apply is to have TOFEL iBT score of more than a hundred, but naturally this level of English is needed. Many students with employment are eager to go, but it seems to be difficult for them to be allowed by their companies.

Taniguchi: Is it competitive to be sent?

Kanzaki: Under the present condition those who can apply can be sent.

Kondo: I really envy them!

Learning from Various Fields

Kanzaki: We also give priority to another point, interdisciplinarity. We have the idea that researchers could have something outstanding beyond their own research field. Because of this we've prepared ‘advanced specifics’ lectures in which you can learn deeply the latest five fields of AIS, and ‘AIS special lectures’ in which recent trends or important research of each field and movement in the world are comprehensibly explained. Do you have any thoughts or impressions about them?

Kondo: Working in the company tends to narrow our vision in some respects. For example, I've conducted research in a pharmaceutical company on the basis of biology, so I could obtain a broad knowledge in biology but cannot get information in other fields. On the other hand, in AIS I can come to think about my research from another angle. For example, I listened to the lecture in the ‘advanced specifics’ 21 given by the teacher who conducted research on developing machines and devices. Then I found that I could adopt some other approaches from the point of devices, for example, how to physically administrate developed medicine, how to physically carry the medicine to the targeted area, and so on. So after the lecture I visited the teacher and discussed our subjects, which was really exciting experience.

Kanzaki: How about you, Ms. Haring? We've established such curriculum as students can learn in interdisciplinary areas. What do you think about it?

Haring: When I belonged to a lab in Germany, I conducted research on computing science. Then I didn't have any idea of human-robot-interactivity.
After entering AIS, I've come to conduct interdisciplinary researches in which many fields like cognitive science, artificial intelligence, psychology, are blended.

Kanzaki: How about you Mr. Taniguchi?

Taniguchi: The center of my research is methodology about ideal movements of cars since my subject is how to solve traffic jams. But I think that I'd better know how to assemble such cars. I listened to the latest cognitive science in the lecture. Having broad knowledge about related fields makes me do a better job I'm sure.

Taking Chances and Possibilities

Kanzaki: What is the impression of student life in AIS and RCAST?

Kondo: Talking about AIS today I've realized again how diverse it is. Leading researches in many fields are getting together in RCAST, and there are various students here such as students from working fields, overseas, master's course, and so on. I also realized how supportive the systems are.

Kanzaki: I see.

Kondo: There are so many chances and possibilities, so all we have to do is to make the best use of them. I am to spend a couple years here so I'll never forget it.

Kanzaki: How about you Ms. Haring?

Haring: I've gotten a valuable lesson. Sometimes I have some language barrier but my supervisor Prof. Watanabe, secretaries in the lab, everyone is willing to help me with translation of documents and interpreting. I wrote many application forms for scholarships in the past two years. All of them required the review and seal of my supervisor. All of the members are unbelievably kind to me. The supports I've received are beyond belief, so helpful to me. Without the support, I have not managed to get through. The members of the secretariat are also supportive.

Kanzaki: That's what we call ‘omotenashi.’ (laughing) How about you Mr. Taniguchi?

Taniguchi: I also think that it is a really diverse institute. When people think about their future life and hesitate over which course they should take, I think AIS is a good choice to enter because it offers lectures about the latest trends in various fields and opportunities to think a lot.

Kanzaki: What do you think about career after graduating from AIS?

Kondo: Since I'm sent by my company, I'll go back and keep on conducting research there.

Haring: After obtaining my PhD, I want to spend another year at the university as a postdoctoral student. I am also thinking about becoming a consultant or establishing my own company related to my field of research.

Taniguchi: I've already gotten a job for at a company. My specialty is about traffic jams, so I am to conduct researches related to it, I think.

Kanzaki: I expect you to make best use of AIS and RCAST, and take an active part in society after graduating from here. Thank you very much for your attendance today.