I decided to enroll in the University of Tokyo because students receive a general liberal arts education for two years before choosing their specialization for their third and fourth years of undergraduate education. When I was in high school, I was interested in electrical engineering, aerospace as well as programming, so I kind of thought I would major in engineering, but nothing was concrete. I took a year off after high school and read a lot of books, which made me realize the importance of learning with an open mind. This strengthened my desire to enter the University of Tokyo since it has a variety of options for students. When I was in my second year of undergraduate studies, I decided to enroll in the Department of Bioinformatics and Systems Biology because I was drawn to the excitement and possibilities within the field. In particular, reading books by Shinya Yamanaka, a professor at Kyoto University who won the Nobel Prize for his research on stem cells, and Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, sparked my interest in the field of life science.
I wanted to experience what it was like to do research abroad. Therefore, in the winter of my third year of undergraduate studies, I went to Trinity College Dublin in Ireland as a research intern through the School of Science’s Study and Visit Abroad Program (SVAP). Under the supervision of Professor Aoife McLysaght, who studies molecular evolution, I did research on the relationship between the phenomenon of gene duplication and the evolution of gene regulatory networks. I developed a computational model to investigate the relationship. I then analyzed the data by simulating the model using a computer program.
During my research internship abroad, I had moments where I felt like my academic background or English ability was insufficient, but this motivated me to learn more and improve my English. By joining events like birthday parties or board game nights, I got to know the professor and the other lab members better and was able to have an enjoyable time. I really liked the comfortable atmosphere of the lab. On the other hand, my stay in Ireland was during a cold and rainy season, which made me feel down, but I felt like it was a valuable experience in terms of learning how to manage my mental health in an unfamiliar environment.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to present the research that I did on SVAP at an international conference; however, while I was preparing for the conference, it was canceled due to the pandemic. Despite this, my experiences on the program have furthered my interest in gene regulatory networks and led to the graduation research project that I am currently working on.
I am deeply aware of the importance of information science and life science as an integrated field, and I want to do impactful research in biotechnology that will contribute to the world. Presently, I am doing research on cell biology, which is the foundation of biotechnology. I have a particular interest in cultured meat and reprogramming, which are examples of biotechnology. By deepening my knowledge in basic research, I hope to contribute to pioneering new fields.
My experiences on SVAP have been useful in terms of doing research and choosing my path in life. In particular, learning how to research different labs and write emails to professors was very helpful when I applied to graduate schools in other countries. SVAP is an excellent program that provides financial support for students to do research abroad even if they have no experience or academic achievements. I want students reading this to take on challenges through SVAP and similar programs.
I had a lot of help from professors and senior students in my department when I applied to SVAP. I think the easiest way to achieve something is by conveying what you want, taking action, and not hesitating to rely on others. It is also best to talk to someone who has successfully accomplished something you want to do. Even if you have the slightest bit of interest in SVAP, please come talk to me or anyone else who has been on the program. We will gladly support you.
Interview and text: Kanako Takeda (Translation: Kristina Awatsu)
Photography: Junichi Kaizuka