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The 5th Elite Science Student Visit Abroad Program

  • Emiko Gosho (Lecturer, International Liaison Office)
Figure 1

The 5th ESSVAP students visiting the Low Library, Columbia University

The ESSVAP (Elite Science Student Visit Abroad Program) – an overseas dispatching program for promising students who will be active globally in the future – has been conducted at the Faculty of Science, the University of Tokyo since 2006. This year (2012), 10 students visited three private universities in the U.S. — Columbia University, Princeton University, and Rockefeller University — from March 7 to March 16.

Columbia University and Rockefeller University are located in Manhattan, New York State, and Princeton University is in New Jersey, about 90 minutes away from Manhattan by NJ Transit. All three universities have built new buildings on campus to promote scientific research collaboration. We were impressed with the glass walls of the buildings that let the sunshine and the landscape in to make the buildings appear full of freedom. A café is situated to provide people-to-people links, meeting rooms are located on each floor with bright-/different-colored chairs and sofas facing the river, and space is well-balanced with the grass on campus to give people the feeling that they are in a forest. The buildings we saw seemed to have made the most of the conditions of campus locations. Through the fact that these shared spaces are located right next to or below laboratories, I could see that the U.S. is active in developing interdisciplinary fields.

Through the campus tours, the group/individual laboratory visits and the free time on the weekend, the students seemed to have perceived the research environments in American universities, with people there from all over the world, and the richness of culture in New York during the week-long stay.

For this program we were greatly helped not only by the International Liaison Committee members but also by the relevant faculty members at the School. The faculty/administrative staff/students at each university we visited also gave us a warm welcome. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their hospitality. In particular, Prof. Yasutomo Uemura at Columbia University (Physics Dept.) and Prof. Stewart Smith at Princeton University (Dean for Research) for arranging the visit schedule for us, which enabled us to have a fulfilling time. We had helpful conversations about research life in the U.S. with Dr. Takeshi Doi, visiting researcher at Princeton University, over dinner, too. Besides, we met Hirofumi Nakayama and Akinori Ebihara who participated in the 1st ESSVAP from the Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry. It has been 5 years since I last saw them. They showed us around Rockefeller University, where they are pursuing a doctoral degree. I wish them every success in their research.

Application details about/destinations of the 6th ESSVAP will be available in September at the following website: http://www.s.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ja/offices/ilo/essvap/application.html. The report on the 5th ESSVAP are also available for distribution. For more deatailed information, please feel free to contact the International Liaison Office at .

What I felt at the 5th ESSVAP

  • Keita Komatsu (4th year undergraduate student*, Department of Bioinformatics and Systems Biology)
Figure 1

At the PPPL(Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory)

Through the 5th ESSVAP, I had an indescribably wonderful experience, mainly through the two encounters described below:

The first encounter was with the research environment in the U.S. It was the first time for me to visit the mainland of the United States as well as American universities. I believed that American universities would have town-sized premises, but at least among the universities I visited this time, Columbia University and Rockefeller University were different from what I expected them to be. The former was a bit bigger than the Hongo Campus, and the latter was smaller than the Komaba Campus. When it comes to laboratories, however, things were quite different from Japan. Most of the laboratories I visited have bigger spaces available per person than in Japan. In addition, laboratories seemed to have been designed to promote exchanges with other laboratories; there are shared spaces between neighboring laboratories, and multiple laboratories are located in the same – huge – experiment room. Furthermore, most of the laboratories have particular staff in charge of making test reagents and preparations for experiments, and laboratories get cleaned by cleaning agents, making it easier for researchers to focus on research only. I had heard of the research environment like this before I went to the U.S., but I couldn't help envying the people who were actually in such an environment when I talked with them. Of course I do not think we should imitate every single detail of the research environment in the U.S. because there are good things about the Japanese research environment, too. But I felt it should be important for Japanese researchers to know other possible research environments such as the one in the U.S.

The other encounter was with people. Through the ESSVAP, students are encouraged to contact directly the laboratories they want to visit individually. In most cases, the professors whom the students are going to meet are literally "over the ocean far away from us" people who can be seen only in research papers. Contrary to my expectation, however, the professors I met were friendly enough to have serious discussions about research with me. Through the discussions, I realized that the world stage is not so far as I thought it would be. I also had the opportunity to talk with many undergraduate/graduate students whose home countries were varied, ranging from the U.S., the U.K., Russia, China, Republic of Korea, Israel, Holland, Columbia, to Japan. Their backgrounds are different, but the way they talk about their research with some kind of uniformity in such an amusing and lively way was so impressive that I could not help wanting to become like them.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Faculty of Science for providing a wonderful opportunity like this and also Ms. Gosho at the International Liaison Office for supporting me in all aspects of – before and after – the travel. Through this program, I got acquainted with nine fellow students who have a common goal, which is science, even though they study in different fields. While eating and sleeping together, we were able to enjoy conversations not only about academic topics, but also about our future. I also want to thank all nine for sharing the experience with me and stimulating one another. I was so happy to have a chance like this. In the future, I will always remember to be grateful for this experience and keep on making efforts day by day.

*at the time of participation in the 5th ESSVAP