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Deepshikha Nair graduated in 2017, from the Civil Engineering department in IITB. She is currently enrolled in the integrated MS-PhD program for international students at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.
- Why did you decide to grad school over a job? – If the answer for the above question is interested in research then why not jobs in R&D
I decided to pursue my Master’s and Ph.D. before entering the R&D industry as many of the jobs out there require advanced knowledge and specialized skill sets. In Japan, very few graduate structural engineers enter the industry directly after obtaining their undergraduate degree as most of the structural design companies here prefer to hire engineers with at least a master’s degree.
- Getting here-
I always wanted to be a researcher so pursuing a Ph.D. felt like the natural next step. The five-year integrated MS-PhD program offered here at Tokyo Tech allowed me to get a head-start in my research. Japan has some of the best research groups in the field of earthquake engineering. The summer internship at JFE-Steel gave me an insight into the research environment here. (check links) They informed me about the top researchers in the area of seismic design of steel structures and after going through their profiles, I decided to apply to one of them here at Tokyo Tech. The application process is pretty straight forward. The hardest part is convincing the professor to be your advisor. Good grades and the summer internship helped in getting a positive reply.
The master’s curriculum in Japanese universities is designed in such a way that the students are expected to spend more time on their thesis. This allows plenty of time to focus on the research and even publish a journal paper by the time one graduate. A significant portion of the student’s time is also spent in the ‘job hunting’ process. The placement process is similar to the one we have in IITB in the sense that companies come to the universities to recruit. The process is a fairly standardised one in Japan and almost all students from Tokyo Tech get placed in good companies. In an effort to globalize, the big Japanese companies are now embracing internationalization and are therefore eager to hire candidates proficient in both English and Japanese. In terms of long term career in a traditional Japanese company, the corridor to the top is narrow for non-Japanese. This trend seems to be changing for good but the pace of change is still painfully slow.
- Research culture at your university-
The laboratory culture varies from lab to lab. Hence, finding the right advisor is extremely important so it is advised to do a little research about the professor and get to know the laboratory environment before applying. For instance, my lab often collaborates with other universities or companies which opens several opportunities to be involved with ongoing design projects or research collaborations with the industry. My professor is very supportive and tries to make time for his students even on his busiest days. That being said, he also tends to push his students to ensure that they perform at their full potential.
- Social life in your university and in Japan
Social life in the university as an international student is mainly centered around the friends you make in your department and the ones from the Japanese language classes that almost every international student takes (which are super fun!). The international student community also organizes cultural exchange events and mixers that one can join to meet like-minded people. The first few months can be daunting and so it is recommended to stay in the international student dorm as they have assigned tutors to help you make the transition smoother. Socializing with other dorm mates also happens more naturally.
As an expatriate, it is easy to get lost in translation while navigating through daily life. Google translate is a savior, especially outside Tokyo. Without it, you can end up buying yogurt for your tea instead of milk (this happens a lot!). Japan was isolated for about 200 years and is in a way, still adapting to the demands and expectations of the globalized world. With Japanese people generally being more reserved, it is often hard to break the ice in the beginning. The Indian community as well the international expat groups here in Tokyo are very active and there are international parties, meetups, and special events dedicated to helping locals and expats mix and mingle, particularly in the bigger cities. But it all depends on how open you are and how often you go out.
Knowing even a little bit of Japanese will take you a long way so it is highly recommended to learn the basics before coming to Japan. Nonetheless, people are friendly, so even if you are lost, confused or completely out of your depth, everyone will do their best to assist and explain things to you.
- Final thoughts
These are just my two cents based on the opinions I have formed over the past two years. Ultimately, it is your judgment call as to what would suit your needs.
- Useful Links
Tokyo Tech application: https://www.titech.ac.jp/english/graduate_school/international/graduate_program_a/