Dr. Fujii, Associate Professor, Department of Astronomy, has been on a career path of a researcher, which is the course she always aspired to be on. She is having a fulfilling life not only as a researcher, but also as a mother, taking full advantage of what she witnessed and experienced in the Netherlands as a postdoctoral researcher.
―― What sort of research do you do?
I conduct research on the formation & evolution of the galaxy and stellar clusters in the field of theoretical astronomy. I try to explore how galaxies and stellar clusters have been formed and grown in the history of the universe by way of simulation using a super computer. The detection of gravitational waves is one of the big news of recent science. One of my research themes is theoretical prediction of how many black holes are formed in the stellar clusters and when & how gravitational waves are released from them.
Actually, my original intention was to do observation; however, I realized that a theoretical approach is more suitable for detailed research of the evolution of galaxies and stellar clusters. That is why I decided to pursue theoretical research. Although I was nervous initially because I was a beginner to programming, I worked hard to master it.
―― I was told that you served in a post at Leiden University, the Netherlands, after completing a doctoral program at the University of Tokyo.
As one of the friends of my supervisor was working there as a professor, I pursued a position there as a postdoctoral researcher. Actually, as I got married when I was in the third year of my doctoral study, I went there by myself, leaving my husband in Japan. I didn’t make this decision lightly. I did it because I thought that it would be the last opportunity for me to experience a researcher’s work in an overseas country.
The experience I had in the Netherlands is, still now, an invaluable asset for me. As half of the students in the doctoral course in the Department of Astronomy and almost all postdoctoral researchers came from overseas, I was able to communicate with a variety of people from different backgrounds. This was possible because of the unique educational policy of the Netherlands in the field of Astronomy. Specifically, they have a policy where they scarcely give postdoctoral positions to the students of their own country; instead, they encourage their students to go overseas to gain experience.
Not only there were diverse nationalities of people, but also about 30% of the postdoctoral researchers were female, whereas less than 10% of postdoctoral researchers in Japan in the area of Astronomy are female. There were even postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers who had married, had given birth to a child, and came to the Netherlands with their children. They, mother and children, went overseas, leaving their husbands in their mother countries.
―― I was told that, after you came back to Japan, after giving birth to a child, you’ve been doing your research while looking after the child as a mother, and you are even expecting your second child soon.
My second child is due next week. Encouraged by those courageous female researchers whom I met in the Netherlands and what they were doing there, I gave birth to my first child during my previous job as a fixed-term researcher. Although, in the field of Astronomy in Japan, as a matter of course, there are such schemes as maternity leave and parenting leave, as the number of female researchers is small, I feel there is room for further improvement. For example, in the Netherlands, although the maternity leave was not very long, as it was a half year or so, there were many people, male and female, who worked from eight o’clock in the morning to five o’clock, four days a week, until their children grow old. Ideally, researchers, too, should be able to choose a manner of working which suits their lifestyle. I would like to get involved in putting such a scheme in place in the future.
―― What is your message to the students?
There might be a day, particularly for female students, when you feel you have to choose either work or family. My advice is “Be greedy and try both!” One caution though, “Don’t try to be perfect in everything!” (hahaha). Even if it is not perfect, as long as you have been doing what you are supposed to do, you should be able to be endowed with an opportunity. I know many female students studying at the University of Tokyo want to be perfect in everything; however, it is also important for your survival to take it easy and wait for the opportunity to come.
Interview and text: Masatsugu Kayahara
Photography: Junichi Kaizuka
Originally published in The School of Science Brochure 2017