My Way to Japan

Searching for a suitable laboratory in Japan (Life Science)
Lai Hung Wei Updated in September 2022

“How to look for a suitable laboratory?” is one of the most common questions I received as a Mentor. Today I will be sharing my step-by-step methods for furthering my studies in Japan.

1. Identify your own interest.

Let’s face it - Most of us do not know the purpose of our life, more so in our twenties. However, studying abroad would provide a good opportunity for us to identify them. The first rule-of-thumb of searching for a laboratory/university is to know what your interest is. You need to ask yourself two questions: First, “What field are you interested in?”, for example, you are interested in cancer research. Next, ask yourself “what would like to do with cancer?”. In my case, I was interested in treating cancer with light. Once you manage to answer these two questions, you can proceed to the next step.

2. Information gathering on the internet

Internet is a powerful tool to look for vacancies. Search on the internet for relevant information of laboratories/universities offering positions that suits you. Japanese laboratories are often very welcoming with international students and will post their vacancies on their laboratory webpages. Drop them a well-mannered email to show your interest together with your CV and discuss with them about the possibility of joining them. In the field of life science, it is highly recommended to read up publications from the laboratory and at least come up with a rough idea of what you would like to do if you join – no one likes a free loafer in the laboratory after all.

3. Joining study-abroad seminars

During my masters, I sent an email to the PI of my interested laboratory and later found out he is coming to my university for a seminar to introduce graduate programmes of his university. I studied his publications carefully and expressed my interest in his laboratory right after the seminar. To my surprise, he immediately arranged an impromptu interview with me and discussed my proposal. I managed to learn more about his research and laboratory environment, and then decided this is the laboratory I am looking for. With his acknowledgement of having me in his laboratory, I proceeded to the application process.

4. Preparation of documents for application

I have to be honest - this process is rather excruciating. You must prepare all sorts of documents for the application, usually within a relatively short time frame. The only advice is to read through the guidelines properly and make sure you do not miss a thing. In some cases, applications which are ill-prepared might affect your passing rate. On the contrary, if you follow the guideline nicely, you might have a better chance in passing!

That’s all for step-by-step method to look for a laboratory in Japan (Life Science)! I will talk about scholarship application in the next post.