- How did the idea of ‘Tohoku Forum for Creativity’ first develop? Given the fact that it is first-of-its-kind institute in Japan, what challenges did you face in establishing the institute?
The idea for TFC was first conceived by Prof. Kotani of Institute of Materials Research, Tohoku University. It was extremely well received but, at that time we had no monetary resources. Luckily, we were able to get governmental support and support from Tokyo Electron which gave us enough funds to run the activity.
As officials, we never experienced such activities. Challenges includes communication with foreign countries, cultural differences, difficulties in administrative job due to immense working pressure, promotion of TFC activities in Japan and across the world, etc.
- Tohoku Forum for Creativity (TFC) is said to have been modelled upon Aspen Centre for Physics in US and Issac Newton Institute in UK. In what ways do you feel that TFC is different and unique from the above mentioned institutes?
Visitor research institutes tend to be highly specific in their subject areas. Aspen focuses on physics whereas Issac Newton Institute on mathematics but in the case of TFC, we accept ideas across all subject areas ranging from science and humanities to life science and cosmology. The fact that only best programs area accepted and interdisciplinary research is promoted here, it is a very unique idea across the globe.
- Could you please tell us more about the ‘International Satellite Stations’ (ISS) and how is it going to be collaborated with other global institutes?
ISS does not belong to TFC and it is hosted at other institutes. We already have ISS established at Cambridge and Chicago in partnership with AIMR, Tohoku University. We are also in the process of finalising the plans with Lyon in France and also in China. The engagement is at departmental level but TFC facilitates such new collaborations. Researchers from these institutes shall also visit our campus and conduct research. This is a very real collaboration.
- Tohoku University has established various world-class research institutes such as AIMR and ToMMo amongst others. In which other subjects/areas does the university plan to set up such institutes?
We are already thinking towards the same direction and are looking beyond WPI (World Premier Institute) program. I am also currently asking some groups to lead the world research in their specific areas.
- One of President Satomi’s vision speaks about setting up of ‘Special Research Zones’ (SRZ) on the campus in connection with graduate schools and research institutes. Could you please tell us more about it and how would it help in enhancing research collaboration?
SRZ was indeed discussed in the Satomi vision. Research activity faces a lot of hindrance due to administrative activities and social communication as reasons. So, SRZ was ideated as groups who shall do only research. Outstanding researchers end up in administrative positions but SRZ aims to direct these researchers more into pure research-based activities. Many researchers come from institutes like Institute of Electrical Communication and spend most of their time doing research activities.
- What do you think are the major challenges that Tohoku University faces today with respect to research and internationalisation?
Research in even more interdisciplinary areas pose as a current challenge. There is also a certain kind of walls between people, faculty and departments but the university has overcome such barriers. I also wish to see advancement of research activities at various institutes which is also a challenge.
In internationalisation, getting people from countries beyond Asia is a huge challenge. For the same, we need a more international city. Students are absolutely fine with the current settings but the international faculty faces challenges. Social support is also crucial. Difficulties in coping with other countries, cooperation from Miyagi prefecture, etc. are also some of the other challenges.
In the end, English is important. In Europe, most countries can speak English but that is not the case with Japan. There is a long way to go.
Scientific Research in Japan
- A news report that appeared in Japan Times on October 16, 2015 stated that Japan’s research trend continues to fall primarily due to shrinking state fund and involvement in non-research activities. Where do you see Japanese scientific research today and Tohoku University’s contribution to it?
Budget allocation from the government is surely decreasing and the association of universities is fighting against the same. Funds have to be sought from other sources such as industries or any other external support network. Currently, the government is trying to reform the universities. Tohoku University does face similar problems but we are still doing relatively well.
I see more intensive research and education based on research today. We must admire and respect each other in whatsoever we do.
- An article in ‘Nature’ magazine stated that the major challenge that foreign researchers face in Japan is related to linguistic abilities since most of the non-research work has to be done in Japanese. Do you agree? If yes, how do you think we can find a solution for the same?
Yes, I do agree. The city office hardly speaks any english and it won’t be soon that such things change. Initiatives like Mother’s group where they help foreigners in doing day-to-day administrative activities can act as a good solution. Learning basic Japanese would be helpful.
- Where do you see ‘Tohoku Forum for Creativity’ 10 years from now?
TFC is at the core of internationalisation for Tohoku University. Many researchers apply for the programs and has led to increase in the number of international visitors. TFC enjoys immense public support and it is obliged to give them feedback. It is and shall be a very important centre of activity in both Japan and world.
- What message would you like to give to the readers of ‘The Sentinel’ and young researchers globally?
Having a global view is very important. To understand differences is a crucial key. I myself have lived in the US for more than 10 years and though in the beginning I found things as strange but understanding of culture, religion and way of living is very important for the future of the world.