My Way to Japan

Choosing university and supervisor for PhD
Johannes Nicolaus Wibisana Updated in April 2023

PhD student at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology

Field of research: Molecular biology, Genome biology

While most people preferred to continue with PhD where they did my master’s degree, I mostly continued with my master's degree because I wanted to finish my research and write a paper. At the end of my master’s degree, I accomplished that and I decided that I should go somewhere else as I would like to venture out of my comfort zone, learning new things along the way. As I decided not to continue at the same university for my PhD, I had some considerations that I will introduce here.

The first criterion when I decided where to do my PhD was the research and the skills I can acquire doing my PhD in a certain lab. Firstly, I tried to find potential PhD supervisors by looking at the authors of the papers I had read. Then, I look at their other publications and determine if it is something that I want to pursue in the future. I also tried to look at their website, to see if there are members of the lab with skills that I want to learn. After listing up potential supervisors, I tried to contact some of them, to check if they are interested in having me as a PhD student. Then, I proposed to have an online meeting to discuss potential research projects and see if we match. I also talked to current students about the work environment and how research is done in the lab, which also helped me in choosing labs.

Another thing that was important to me was the university environment, such as the living conditions and the financial support. As I have spent more than 6 years in Japan, I was looking forward to being in a more global environment and at that time, I was at first looking to go somewhere else abroad. However, I found that one of the labs that I wanted to join was in the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), which is a newly established university in Japan. This university happened to have an international environment with 80% of students being foreigners. This was very exciting to me as I was able to still stay in Japan, while being in a new environment. It is also generously funded, where the stipend is high enough to have a decent PhD life. Some PhD programs require personal funding, or some of them are barely enough to support a living. Other than that, what I was also excited about was the lab rotations, in which I was able to conduct research at different labs, one out of field. This was important to me as I could do something that I have always wanted to do, which is paleontology.

In conclusion, while I think the university is important, I think having a good compatibility with the potential supervisor is much more important, especially because this will be the foundation of a scientist’s career. All these things led me to my current PhD work at OIST, working on genomic regulation of the tunicate Oikopleura dioica.