My Way to Japan

Why Did I Choose to Work Instead of Pursuing a PhD?
Ha Hoang Updated in October 2023

Many friends of mine continue doing PhD after master’s studying, and I got questions from them that why I choose to work instead of pursuing PhD. In previous webinar event of SSC in Vietnam, I also got the same question. There are many factors and reasons that lead me to choose to work,
then here will be my full answer for your reference.

1. Sakura Science program in 2016 piqued my interest in working in industry

My host university at that time was Kwansei Gakuin University (KGU), and lately it was also the place where I did my master’s studying. In early 2016, I was luckily to attend the 1st SSP that KGU hosted. At that program, I had many opportunities to visit some famous industrial facilities in Kansai area such as Sumitomo Electric Industries, Acecook, garbage treatment center. I was amazed how these companies applied advanced technology in their products and manufacturing. Just a few weeks before the SSP, I studied concentrated solar panels in my class, and in that trip to Sumitomo Electric, I saw a real concentrated solar panel. By using a concentrator called freshen lens, it helps to concentrate sunlight onto a small area, as a result, less solar cells are required to capture the same sunlight as non-concentrating solar panel, improving its efficiency. I could see how research in academia was linked to actual products. And I wished that I could do research in industry. I wanted to bring research and technology close to our daily life.

2. I was inspired by a book called “Letter Shop” written by a Japanese author named Takigawa Yasushi

In that book, the author said a company/organization is like a “human”─they are born, will grow up and die someday. Choosing a company to work is like choosing a partner of your life. You do not need someone famous or rich, you just need someone whom you can be better together. I never heard someone described about a company like that before. Generally, people just consider a company like a fixed place to work, then they get paid. Because of that, they often change jobs when they have difficulties in their work, or for better salary and promotions. Hence, I wanted to experience to work in Japan to corporate with “a human” in a form of a company.

3. My MEXT scholarship could not be extended for PhD studying

I was surprised when an office staff at KGU told me that my MEXT scholarship could not be extended from master’s to PhD. If I wanted MEXT again for PhD, I had to return to Vietnam and apply after 2 years. Since my friends in other universities could extend their MEXT for PhD, I think it is varied by universities, and my case was impossible. If I wanted to pursue PhD, I could apply for JSPS fellowship once I enrolled in 1st year doctoral course. Even if I got JSPS fellowship, it would start in April, while my PhD course began in September of previous year. It meant I had to pay tuition fee and living fee for a half of year by myself. Another option was to apply for PhD course in other universities through other scholarships. Since I had been interested in working for a while, it seemed a sign that PhD was not for me (laugh).

4. If I did PhD, where would be my place after graduation?

If I completed PhD course and still joined a company later, then it is better to join the company early after master’s study. Because Japanese companies usually treat people with a PhD’s degree as experienced workers, so you would have less choices on types of jobs you could do. It means your chance of getting a job would be lower.
In addition, I didn’t want to do postdoc with short period contracts, moving from lab to lab, worrying about contract renewal or getting funds. And it is hard to get a permanent position in academia too. Perhaps my personality prefers stability and long term.

Without one of these factors, I could not have been an engineer to work in a Japanese company like now. I could choose to work only when these 4 factors above existed. I shared my story because I hope that you would happily accept any situations that come into your life, both satisfied or dissatisfied ones, and follow its flow. I did not intend to choose to work by all means instead of pursuing PhD. Not being able get the scholarship for PhD was disappointing, but thanks to that, I could have more motivation to find a job and experience a working life in Japan.