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Update: Academic/Research Career in Japan

AmerikaJin5

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Hi All,
It's been a while since I've posted on here, but since I've engaged in several discussions regarding careers in academia/research in Japan before, I just thought I'd give an update on my situation.

In March 2019 I'll graduate with a PhD in chemical engineering, and I'll join the National Institute for Materials Science (物質・材料開発研究所 - NIMS) as a permanent research scientist (定年制職研究員).
I originally come from a background in structural mechanics, so switching to ChemE was quite challenging, but eventually I started to find my way and produce some results. I've been gravitating toward a career in materials science (a compromise between my two fields of study), so a position at NIMS is like a dream-come-true for me.

I had been self-studying Japanese on-and-off for about 2 years before passing the N2, after which I haven't so much as cracked open a textbook :emoji_grimacing:. Nonetheless, I've spent the last year trying to improve my academic/technical Japanese (written and spoken) and often spend entire days without using English. I still have a lot to improve, but it's encouraging to see results:emoji_relaxed:.
That being said, although NIMS is (on paper) an "English-only" environment, obviously everyone uses Japanese daily (the HR department certainly doesn't speak English!) and I had to submit a copy of my N2 certification -- so all-in-all, I think it was worth it to study for the exam.

In case anyone else is interested in the process for NIMS, let me start by saying it was quite taxing. The application process involves submitting (all in English): a detailed CV, a several-page summary of your previous/current research accomplishments, and a several-page proposal for your research at NIMS, as well as obtaining 2 recommendation letters. If you pass the document screening, the first interview is held (in English) at NIMS and it is very formal (I assume typical for Japan). A panel includes about 10-15 interviewers, mostly research group leaders and about 3 of the executive vice presidents. You must prepare a presentation and send it in advance so that the panel can read it and prepare questions; mine was 20min (using a digital timer) to discuss my previous/current work as well as the future proposal for NIMS. This was followed by 30min of Q&A. This part was brutal -- they don't hold back and they apply lots of pressure. I understand this is common in Japanese interviews (圧迫面接). I even had one guy ask if I could propose a novel idea for self-healing materials (not my field), on the spot (when I mentioned some state-of-the-art approaches, he waved them away and said "everyone is doing that"...tough crowd!). Regardless, just keep your cool and try to answer confidently.
After passing the first interview (which I was sure I had failed), the final interview was also 20min presentation + 30min Q&A, but just with 3 interviewers -- the president and two top VPs. The atmosphere was completely different -- from the start we were laughing and engaging in interesting discussions about research, life in Japan, long-term plans, etc. This one was most likely just a formality/confirmation, because I received the job offer by email within several hours.

Forgive me for the long post, but hopefully anyone who is interested in a career at one of Japan's national labs will find this helpful/interesting.
(sidenote: I considered applying to university positions as well, but after an internship at JAXA and finding a permanent position open at NIMS, I decided a national lab was my first choice -- and luckily I got a job on my first try).
So, most likely some of my future posts on this forum will be asking for advice on things like permanent residence...よろしくお願いします!
 

johnnyG

先輩
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I've just logged in specifically to say congratulations on this. And I couldn't tack enough superlatives on to that!

I've rated it "informative", but could as easily have chosen "like" or "thank you". I wish I could do all three.
 

thomas

Unswerving cyclist
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Congratulations indeed!
 

Toritoribe

松葉解禁
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Congratulations!:emoji_clap: It's nice to hear your dream comes true, and your post is really interesting and informative.:emoji_thumbsup:
 

AmerikaJin5

後輩
Joined
12 Nov 2014
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Thank you everyone! This forum has helped me a lot over the last few years, everything from language to health insurance and much more. Probably the opposite of many young students/job-seekers who find their way to Japan, I never planned on staying more than PhD+post-doc...but I grew to feel like this is home and I decided to stay long-term. I'd like to think the advice and encouragement of many on this forum contributed to that:emoji_slight_smile:
 

hojoojoh

History Student
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2 Jun 2014
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Thank you everyone! This forum has helped me a lot over the last few years, everything from language to health insurance and much more. Probably the opposite of many young students/job-seekers who find their way to Japan, I never planned on staying more than PhD+post-doc...but I grew to feel like this is home and I decided to stay long-term. I'd like to think the advice and encouragement of many on this forum contributed to that:emoji_slight_smile:
Congratulations. I remember reading your posts years ago when prepping for MEXT. I'm also thinking Post-Doc and even maybe a career (keeping my options open) here -- certainly many trips and stays in Japan on research and for conferences. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Great job and good luck!
 

tomoni

Sempai
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15 Apr 2014
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Congratulations

Is very nice to hear that someone who works so hard was able to reach their dreams.
 

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