A world leader in science and technology, with a fascinating and rich culture, Japan at last seems to be recovering from deep recession. For the world's third largest economy, a thriving R&D landscape based on excellent academic research seems more important than ever before. For a nation poor of mineral resources, intellectual resources play a vital role.
The Japanese government's current 5-year, ?250 billion ($277 billion) Plan for Science and Technology focuses public R&D spending on four priority areas--life sciences, information technology, environmental sciences, and nanotechnology and materials sciences. In the field of proteomics alone, a budget of around ?72 million ($80 million) is earmarked by the Japanese ministry of research for the study of the interactions of 30,000 human proteins.
There seem to be plenty of good reasons for young Western researchers to go east and spend some time in the land of the rising sun. And indeed more than money is needed if Japan is to remain a research leader. The reform-minded government of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi aims to restructure Japan's research and development systems, in an attempt both to funnel basic research into new industrial products and to attract top international talent. The recently established Centers of Excellence (COE) Program, also known as the Toyama Plan, is an example of one such initiative. It vastly increases the number of symposia held in Japan and provides a new source of financial support to Japanese postgraduate students.
Much more could be said here, but we prefer to let the young scientists who have experienced research in Japan speak for themselves. In this month's feature you can hear from Western participants in exchange programs and from Japanese scientists that have joined Western research groups. Here too you'll find profiles of funding programs and organizations and lots of practical tips to help you prepare your own research visit to Japan.
Interested? Keep reading the new feature articles posted on this page throughout the whole month of September.
Feature Index "Scientific Exchange and Cooperation With Japan"
Ryujiro Hara, Ph.D. relates his personal experiences as a Japanese scientist living and working in the USA, noting differences between Japanese and American lab environments, as well as academic and business cultures.
Tony Michael, of the UK's Institute of Food Research's Food Safety Sciences Division, got seduced by a new genetic approach done at Japan's Chiba University, and when a funding opportunity came along it was just too much to resist.
Katsuhiro Hanada and Masato Miyata are Japanese Postdocs, working at the Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands. They describe and contrast the different work cultures in Japanese and Western laboratories.
Linda Marlind of Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology recently completed a year's work experience, combined with language and cultural training, in Japan through the Vulcanus programme that is aimed at European science and engineering students. She shares her experience of applying for, and participating in, this scheme.
Frances Leung's 1-year internship in Japan was an all-in-one opportunity to perform great research, learn a foreign language, and get accustomed to a different culture. Now back in Canada, she is studying for a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Toronto.
In addition to the 1- to 2-year postdoctoral fellowships available through the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), the organization recently created a short-term fellowship program for North American and European Postdocs. Our Canadian editor reviewed the JSPS programs available to North American researchers.
For European scientists it seems natural to think "USA" first when it comes to a postdoc or collaboration. But unless we start to think of building contacts with Japan we risk getting left behind in the global science race. Kirstie Urquhart looked at the opportunities for, and advantages of, going east.
Japan is restructuring its traditional research tenure system, by offering fixed-term positions to both "superpostdocs" and more established researchers. In exchange for giving up job security, the researchers would receive greater freedom to explore their ideas.