My Way to Japan

Research Life in Japan - Part 1
Rahul Maroju Updated in June 2023

In 2022, I graduated with my master's degree in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Systems, The University of Tokyo (UTokyo). As the program was during the time of COVID-19 pandemic, it was held completely online. The expected duration of this study is 2 years (4 semesters). Successful completion of this program involves two requirements – coursework and thesis (research).

The students need to earn a minimum number of credits of courses to graduate. They are free to choose them from a wide range of options. However, there was a mandatory course of weekly seminar during all the semesters. In this session, every student in the department presents his/ her research in turns.

Majority of these presentations were spoken in Japanese, but the slides contain information in English, along with a report. The details of the meeting rooms and the presentations would be open, and the participants can choose one of these rooms. To encourage active participation, every attendee must provide some comments after the session.

Apart from this, a laboratory meeting was held once every week, where anyone could choose to present their research progress with the supervisor and peer lab members. This was an opportunity to learn and interact about the relevant areas of research, and it was often conducted in English. Sometimes, students preferred to present in Japanese, but later tried to summarize in English, so that no one was left behind! I was impressed by the comfort and positivity of this space for free and constructive discussions. This demonstrated our keen sense of unity as a research group.

During the first semester, students are expected to focus mostly on their coursework. In UTokyo, though most courses are taught in Japanese, there are a sizable number of English courses. These courses will be the foundation for gaining knowledge by exploring several topics. In parallel, it would be better to gradually narrow down the field of interest to perform research.

During the second semester, it is advised to complete the remaining credits of coursework. The broad area of research must be decided with the help of the supervisor if necessary. A brief literature survey must be presented during a weekly seminar to a panel of Professors, who will be the evaluators for the entire program. The comments from the attendees can play a key role in incorporating innovative ideas.

There will be several talks, workshops, exchange programs, study abroad and many other opportunities on diverse topics in the university. All this information will be shared on the university bulletin board. Also, there are some opportunities to visit other labs, industries, universities, etc., but most of them were held in Japanese.

The university library has a lot of books on different subjects, but unfortunately only a few books in English. However, relevant books and other equipment required for research can be provided by the laboratory on the approval of the supervisor. This way, despite challenges like language, there are several resources to support the students.