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Being a college professor in a Japanese university

hiverloon

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I'm currently in the last part of my master thesis in a country in Europe where I'm a foreigner as well. For the next destination (PhD), I would like to try Japan as I have found certain research group in the University of Tokyo which suits my field of interest. What I want to talk and ask about is related to the long run plan of my life. In particular I'm considering to make Japan as the last foreign country I am going to live in, in other words I want to find a job there, a college prof. My field is physics and engineering.
My question is what are the academic steps in becoming a professor in Japan starting from PhD? I know that after this one comes postdoc, but afterwards I guess the exact carrier stages should vary by country. Furthermore, how hard is it to get a full teaching position in a Japanese university especially Tokyo university (experience related to other universities is also welcome)? Any distinction between natives and non-natives?
 

Glenski

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Let's start with some basic information first. (You can look at the JRECIN web site for requirements for university jobs, too.)

What is your nationality?
How good is your reading/writing/speaking ability in Japanese?
 

johnnyG

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...how hard is it to get a full teaching position in a Japanese university especially Tokyo university...
Further basic info: Do you actually mean 東大/University of Tokyo? In physics and engineering?

Or just some university in Tokyo?
 

hiverloon

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(You can look at the JRECIN web site for requirements for university jobs, too.)
Hey, thanks for this reference!!
What is your nationality?
How good is your reading/writing/speaking ability in Japanese?
Unfortunately I object to reveal my nationality, I can only say I'm Asian but I have been in Europe for 2 years for my master degree. My Japanese knowledge is still in the lower tier of beginner level, I can only read katakana, the easiest letters. But why do you want to know my nationality, does it generally matter in applying for a job in Japan?
I have conducted some researches in JREC-IN though, especially any teaching opening in the University of Tokyo. Some of them implies that capability in both English and Japanese is required, but the former appears to be more prioritized. Other job offer does not mention any requirement on the language.
Further basic info: Do you actually mean 東大/University of Tokyo? In physics and engineering?

Or just some university in Tokyo?
Yes, the University of Tokyo.
 

Glenski

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Yes, your nationality may matter, not only for jobs but for acceptance to university. What's to hide?

Language is only one factor in getting a university job. If you want to teach there, you are likely going to have to use Japanese, not English, for example. As for any post-doc positions, it may depend on the department whether they will take you without Japanese. Look into MEXT scholarships, too, because some put you into intensive J language studies before you start school (if they even consider post-doc to be school).

Why are you pursuing only the U of Tokyo?
 

AmerikaJin5

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Look into MEXT scholarships, too, because some put you into intensive J language studies before you start school (if they even consider post-doc to be school).

Why are you pursuing only the U of Tokyo?
@Glenski , you're right that they put you through a 6-month intensive language course before the official enrollment begins (I will start this in one month, and proceed to my doctoral program next April). However, the MEXT Scholarship does not cover post-doc positions so the OP will need to find another alternative (such as the JSPS post-doc fellowship).

@hiverloon , I feel that every non-Japanese student who wants to pursue graduate school in Japan, wants to attend Tokyo University (東大)...realize that this is the top institution in Japan (and Asia, actually). Competition is fierce, and overabundant. MEXT scholars basically get their choice of 3 universities, but in the end only a few are lucky enough to get placed at Todai because of the sheer number of applicants. So shoot for the starts, definitely, but look at other institutions as well! There's also RIKEN, Tokyo Tech (Tokodai), Tohoku, etc. all good engineering/science schools. 頑張って!
 

hiverloon

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Yes, your nationality may matter, not only for jobs but for acceptance to university.
Wait, this a bit sound like a discrimination. What does nationality have to do with acceptance criteria. I know educational level must vary by country, but if one coming from a less developed country has spent some years in a modern countries and has gained all the required knowledge and experience, his nationality can be put aside. Am I understanding something wrong here?

Why are you pursuing only the U of Tokyo?
I aim UTokyo for my PhD only (and probably postdoc as well) because I can only find the research group which suits my interest there, as for the future teaching job I am more open. But still Tokyo is more favorable due to higher pay than other cities. For this last one, I know that the job salary is also adjusted to the living expenses but I also want to fund my family in my homeland after I get an established position.
 

hiverloon

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So shoot for the starts, definitely, but look at other institutions as well! There's also RIKEN, Tokyo Tech (Tokodai), Tohoku, etc. all good engineering/science schools. 頑張って!
I cannot be that flexible when it comes to research interest. As far as I know, only UTokyo and RIKEN which offer research position in my field of expertise and interest. RIKEN is also my choice, but you can't work there before you are enrolled in a Japanese university which holds a collaboration in the research field in question. In my case, this is UTokyo.

What's to hide?
I can only say that I come from southeast Asian country.
 
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Glenski

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Thank, Amerikajin5. Wasn't sure about postdocs, and to be honest, not all of the MEXT scholarship foreign students at my uni have that language training, so it's not 100 percent guaranteed for everyone.

Wait, this a bit sound like a discrimination. What does nationality have to do with acceptance criteria.
You'd better get used to this. Japan may be a modern country, but it still discriminates. Some acceptance review boards are just shams, where they look at the applicants, then decide based on which nationality was selected the previous year. ("Oh, last time we took a Malaysian, so we can't this year. Who on the list was a nationality we chose long ago? Never mind their qualifications of grades and such.") There may be other reasons they exclude some nationalities, and you will never know. That's another reason to consider more than one school.
 

hiverloon

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Ok thanks @Glenski, that's clear enough of a clarification. I also consider other places for my PhD but they are not in Japan. Anyway thanks all for the answers.
However one of the questions I originally asked which I don't get the answer yet is that the academic track in becoming a college prof in Japan after the postdoc. For example in US there are assistant, associate, and finally full professor. How does this "professorship stage" go in Japan?
 

Glenski

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one of the questions I originally asked which I don't get the answer yet is that the academic track in becoming a college prof in Japan after the postdoc. For example in US there are assistant, associate, and finally full professor. How does this "professorship stage" go in Japan?
Same here. Depending on what's open and your qualifications, you might skip the bottom rung, but I wouldn't count on it.
My Japanese knowledge is still in the lower tier of beginner level, I can only read katakana, the easiest letters.
This will not bode well, especially for the upper 2 rungs. If you plan to teach at most unis here, you're going to need to be quite fluent for those physics majors, and in speaking/reading/writing so you can communicate with them, read your email from the admin, and play an active role on mandatory committees and in staff meetings.
 

hiverloon

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I know that I must improve my Japanese once I get accepted, anyway thanks for the advice.
 

AmerikaJin5

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I've spoken with my advisor and other professors with whom I've made acquaintances in Tokyo, and most of them have said that if I wanted to join the university faculty I would need to speak good Japanese and have an impressive publication record. Having those, simply making connections at the university is the most important aspect of securing a position. This is for engineering departments; not sure if @Glenski can confirm or deny this first-hand. I plan to pursue positions as a professor or research scientist after I get my PhD, and I would accept an offer if the opportunity to stay at a Japanese university came to me. I'll cross that bridge when I get there :)
 

hiverloon

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I've spoken with my advisor and other professors with whom I've made acquaintances in Tokyo, and most of them have said that if I wanted to join the university faculty I would need to speak good Japanese and have an impressive publication record.
I expect this must be the case in every country.
Btw seems like we share the same career goal. Good luck to both of us.
 

Glenski

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As a university prof in Japan now (and as a former hard science researcher), publications are everything.
 

johnnyG

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While it's hard to say about 東大 and other such top-ranked schools, professorships are not what they once were.

Especially over the last decade, in academia there has been a tectonic shift in the employment conditions offered to new hires**. Rather than 'permanent' employment, contracts are now the norm. You will be contracted for a number of years, up to five maximum--five year-long contracts renewed each year, possibly an initial 2-3 year contract renewable for some added years to total five, and in some cases you'll get five years right off.

Two things happen with this five year period. One--it's considered five-years-and-you're-out, and you have to move on to another school. Two--some universities use this as a probationary period. They stipulate that you may be kept on and hired as a regular faculty member, if you have proven your value (agreeability, keeping your sempai happy and helping them with anything, saying 'yes' to all requests for committee work and non-teaching duties, etc. ...and continuing to publish!) So you may or may not be accepted.

As I said, it's hard ((for me)) to say about 東大 and other such top-ranked schools. Altho I'm a long-timer, supposedly 'tenured', I'm in language teaching and not science, and my uni ranking is almost at the opposite end of the scale from 東大 (tho one of our daughters is now a 3rd yr student there, in science).

**It's hard for me to see how this shift will even stop where it is now. I'd bet good money that the contract system will only become more and more pervasive. There are still some positions around that are permanent from the get-go, but by the time you finish your PhD and post-doc, they will almost certainly be more rare than they are now.

Good luck! ;)
 

AmerikaJin5

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I expect this must be the case in every country.
Btw seems like we share the same career goal. Good luck to both of us.
In the USA, many universities have much different requirements for hiring new faculty members. For instance, the Materials Science department at my undergrad/masters university (top public institution) only hires new faculty (asst. prof.) from the 30-35 age range, having a PhD from a certain echelon of schools, a post-doc in certain national labs, and at least 6 first-authored journal papers...not to mention activity in technical committees/societies, lecturing experience, etc. So if Japan only requires good English/Japanese proficiency and a big list of publications, that's a breeze by comparison. I am working on submitting my 5th first-authored journal paper from my masters degree, and hope to have 3-5 more from my PhD in Tokyo...we'll see if that's competitive or not I suppose. Good luck to us both! :)

There are still some positions around that are permanent from the get-go, but by the time you finish your PhD and post-doc, they will almost certainly be more rare than they are now.
Good luck! ;)
I will use my time during PhD in Tokyo to decide whether pursuing any of these professorship positions is worth it in Japan...otherwise I will turn my gaze toward Europe or USA. Thanks! :)
 

Glenski

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johnny is correct, but he (probably inadvertently) left out a point or two. I'll add them after I paste this:
In the USA, many universities have much different requirements for hiring new faculty members.
What johnny didn't describe were that Japan, too, has more than one hiring process.
  • you get a part-time job
  • you get a full-time job on a temp contract
  • you get a full-time job on a tenured post (either right away or after some probationary period)
  • you get an adjunct position
Perhaps other options exist.
  • if Japan only requires good English/Japanese proficiency and a big list of publications, that's a breeze by comparison.
    Depends on what "big" means (i.e., how many), and what type of publications they are. You must realize that there is a tiered system of points given to publications.
  • international vs. domestic journal
  • weight of the journal itself
  • single author vs. coauthored
  • book (low ranking) vs. journal (high ranking)
  • manuals, newsletters, blogs, web pages, lab instructions, news media reports, etc.
Personally, if your publications can pass muster in terms of how many and what type, I think your biggest challenge is going to be finding a position that accepts you with whatever level of Japanese language you have. You admit that at present your "Japanese knowledge is still in the lower tier of beginner level, I can only read katakana". You're going to have to study very hard to get up to a level where you can read office memos and email, entrance exam instructions, etc. as well as internal science reports, as well as hold positions on mandatory committees where English may likely not be used. I'd really like to know how far you think you can get in terms of Japanese fluency between now and the time you apply for that job. PLEASE GIVE US A CLUE WHAT YOU THINK!
 

hiverloon

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PLEASE GIVE US A CLUE WHAT YOU THINK!
I cannot really make a meaningful estimate of how good my Japanese will get at that time before I try reading some Japanese learning sources. I heard that Japanese is harder than Chinese for English speaker, but I'm not native English speaker. If I try hard enough I will probably be able to be fluence in 4 or 5 years.
Anyway if by the time I want to apply for a teaching position, my Japanese won't suffice yet, I will probably try to find a research scientist position, for example in RIKEN, I saw there are a couple of foreign researchers. Stay there for some years while improving my Japanese, and go back hunting for a teaching opening once I feel I'm good enough to have conversation in Japanese.
Actually, my ultimate goal partly concerns wealth (along with recongnition in my field), I choose to pursue a professor position because I think that's the position with the highest salary level for a scientist. If it turns out that working in a research institute such as RIKEN can help me fulfill those goals of mine, I wouldn't mind working there.
So, probably I also want to ask if someone knows how is the comparison in salary between a college prof and senior scientist which does not do any teaching job?
 

Glenski

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Trust me, if wealth is your goal, don't go into science.

You said if you "study hard" you can be fluent in 4-5 years. Maybe, but that would entail IMO very concentrated effort, and most people tend to give that up after a few months. You have to be willing and able to avoid a lot of contact with other non-Japanese people and put in long hours of study. That only gets you "fluent" in terms of book knowledge. To be truly fluent, you have to get experience outside the book grammar, and that takes more years. I really think you underestimate your timeline here.

I also want to ask if someone knows how is the comparison in salary between a college prof and senior scientist which does not do any teaching job?
Do you mean "senior scientist" as in someone working at a company?
Engineering Salaries in Japan - CareerCross

Sample of RIKEN postdoc salary (1 year contract renewable for total of 3 years only).

College prof salaries vary with rank and with the type of school, among other factors like age, marital status, etc. See what I posted a few years ago.
 

hiverloon

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Trust me, if wealth is your goal, don't go into science.
I know this pretty well. I don't aim for a luxurious sparkling lifestyle anyway. I just want to achieve the highest possible income while being a scientist.
Do you mean "senior scientist" as in someone working at a company?
Not in company, my field of research does not enable me to work in a company, at least for the current state of advancement of my research field.
College prof salaries vary with rank and with the type of school, among other factors like age, marital status, etc. See what I posted a few years ago.
By the way, how did you get that list of prof salaries in Kansai? Would be interesting to know how it is in Kanto, especially Tokyo. Furthermore, do I somehow miss Kyoto University in that list, I thought they are one of the top schools in Japan.
 
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Glenski

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If you don't plan to work in a company (or can't), then please explain where exactly a "senior scientist" works.

The list of salaries was compiled by a uni teacher from a professional group whose discussion forum I followed for a few years. The group has since been disbanded (due to insufficient membership) and absorbed by another, and I have not followed them since. That teacher worked for one of those universities in that area, so he had access. The group never compiled any other figures. Use them only as a guideline because they are geographically limited and only private unis, but it's essentially the only information available unless you scour the JRECIN site and get lucky. As I wrote above, salaries depend on your age, marital status, length of term, and rank, so it's hard for any university to say exactly what you will make anyway. I wouldn't ask your target university directly because it's not professional, so you just have to go with what they tell you voluntarily.

Oh, and you're welcome for all this info. (hint, hint)
 

hiverloon

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If you don't plan to work in a company (or can't), then please explain where exactly a "senior scientist" works.
In RIKEN.
The group has since been disbanded (due to insufficient membership) and absorbed by another, and I have not followed them since.
I never thought I would find an answer why Gaijinpot registration was closed in this forum. But good to know.
I wouldn't ask your target university directly because it's not professional, so you just have to go with what they tell you voluntarily.
Well even if I give you the university names that will be less meaningful because the time when I will go look for a permanent job is still far to come. A lot of things may happen before then. I may have said that I aim for UTokyo for my tenure but after getting the general picture of how getting jobs in Japan is, I think I should broaden my target range. Not to mention that being a researcher in RIKEN can also be an option as I have indicated before.
 

Glenski

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I think you are confused about the group that disbanded. I did not mean Gaijinpot.
 
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