NSF Activities in Japan


The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Strategic Plan includes clear language relating to the development of the nation?s science and engineering workforce. The foundation?s Outcome Goals include the engagement of the American scientific and engineering community in the global community through international study, collaborations, and partnerships to produce globally engaged science and engineering professionals who are among the best in the world.

Through the NSF Office of International Science and Engineering (INT) and the foundation?s disciplinary directorates, programs and specific projects across a broad range of fields address the need for a 21st century workforce with international competence. Notably, these include a suite of activities aimed at students and junior researchers, introducing them to the international cooperative research scene and, in some cases, allowing them to realize tangible enhancements to their individual studies in the near term. Of course, there is an expectation that benefits will accrue in the longer term as these junior scholars become full-fledged members of their research communities and carry with them a willingness (and, hopefully, an eagerness) to engage collaborations on a global scale.

Access to, and utilization of, unique resources at a foreign site--including, notably, Japan--are an important component of NSF-sponsored programs and feature strongly in NSF?s international portfolio of activities. These resources can take the form of advanced or specialized research facilities (for civil engineers, the soon-to-be completed world?s largest three-dimensional shake table in Miki City, for example); or of natural resources (for volcanologists, the active Unzen Volcano on Kyushu Island); or of the intellectual capital in human resources, for scholars in all fields, the many highly skilled researchers at Japan?s hundreds of universities, research institutes, and company R&D laboratories. Regardless of the nature of the project, the importance of making professional scientific and personal connections with foreign scholars is central in the foundation?s transnational programs and is a key to promoting future collaborations.

Clearly, some American laboratories have evolved an international dimension to their scientific and engineering collaborations, while others look to do so. For the developing graduate and postdoctoral scholars in both settings, and for undergraduate students who have yet to launch their graduate-study careers, there are suitable programs and many potential host labs in Japan.

The NSF/Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Summer Program in Japan is a component of the NSF East Asia Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students in Science and Engineering (EASI) Program. (The EASI program has component summer research institutes in Korea, Taiwan, China, and Australia, as well.) The Summer Program began in 1990, and since that time has supported more than 900 student participants at host sites throughout Japan from Hokkaido to Okinawa.

There are two central features of this program. First, the 2-day predeparture and intensive 1-week in-country orientations offer the participants ?survival? Japanese language training (or appropriate higher level training for those who already have some language facility) and an introduction to the scientific infrastructure of Japan and its national research priorities. Second, 7 weeks of hands-on research in a host laboratory engage the students directly with individual Japanese scholars and host lab staff. Through this primary emphasis on research, the Summer Program differs from other, more traditional study abroad programs that are coursework-based. The NSF programs are focused, interactive, research-based experiences.

Consistent with NSF?s existing programmatic coverage, graduate students in all areas of science and engineering (including some of the social sciences) are eligible to apply. Biomedical students are eligible for this program via support provided by the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health. There is no requirement that participants have previous international research experience or an existing connection to a host lab; students are guided and assisted by NSF staff in securing an appropriate host scientist or engineer. The NSF partner in Japan for the Summer Program is JSPS, which supports and manages the in-country activities. Both the NSF Tokyo Regional Office and JSPS maintain online resources for the Summer Program in Japan. The deadline for the EASI Program is during the first week in December, annually.

For graduate students who have progressed beyond their qualifying exams (and may have already participated in an EASI summer institute), NSF Doctoral Dissertation Enhancement Awards support individuals at foreign sites. Students are expected to work in close cooperation with an international host institution and investigator on a project that will directly benefit his or her research. The home-institution research advisor works with the student and the foreign host to design a research plan, and submits the Dissertation Enhancement proposal to NSF on the student?s behalf. Because of the individual nature of the Dissertation Enhancement Awards, they offer flexibility not available in the EASI Program but lack the organized program of group activities. Information on this award program is available at the the INT Web site.

The NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program supports small groups of about 10 students each for research in a defined science or engineering field. At the host institution, students are associated with a specific research project and work closely with faculty and other researchers. In contrast to the EASI Program, the REU programs are group-oriented and structured, in keeping with the needs of the younger target audience. Nevertheless, the programs serve similarly to introduce students to international collaborative research in a context relevant to their educational program.

Japan hosts an REU site operated by the Civil Engineering Department of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Participating students each year do research in advanced technologies for the detection and mitigation of damage to structures resulting from violent events such as earthquakes and hurricanes. This Japan REU program is designed as a summer experience, with 5 weeks spent in Japan at the University of Tokyo and 3 to 4 weeks in the U.S. at the students' home institution. In addition to research, relevant technical tours and cultural/social events are planned. Also in East Asia, REU site programs operate in China (in marine science and engineering) and in Thailand (in organic chemistry). The current list of international and domestic REU sites is available on line and can be searched by host site or key words.

Administered by JSPS, the Research Fellowships in Japan are a suite of opportunities that offer support to postdoctoral scholars for periods of 1 week to 2 years. The ?traditional? 1- to 2-year postdoctoral fellowships are available to those who have graduated within the last 6 years. Eligible host institutions for the Research Fellowships in Japan include Japanese universities, interuniversity research institutes, and other designated institutions under Japan?s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, in addition to Japanese national laboratories, public corporations, nonprofit research organizations, and prefectural research institutions. For scientists pursuing research in NSF-supported fields of science or engineering, application can be made via the NSF East Asia and Pacific Program. Details on the Fellowship Programs are available at the NSF Tokyo Regional Office Web site.

Altogether, the portfolio of NSF-sponsored activities in Japan (and elsewhere in East Asia) provides a menu of exciting, career-expanding activities for junior science and technology researchers. The support packages offered to participants typically include round-trip airfare and an allowance to cover onsite housing, food, and local travel expenses. Eligibility varies by program, but includes U.S. permanent residency or citizenship. Individual e-mail inquiries can be directed to NSF's East Asia and Pacific Program.

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