“The Reality of Graduate Research”
Mitsuo Ueda, 2nd Year Master’s Student, Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics Group
I am affiliated to the Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics research group (Takahara Group) at the Department of Earth and Space Science here at Osaka University. Condensed matter physics is a discipline that conducts research on the macroscopic behavior of matter using principally statistical physics. We look at everything from real physics stuff like spin glass and frustration to simulations of well-known natural phenomena including earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
My own personal research focuses on the numerical simulation of friction. Today, despite the fact that humans now understand so many physical concepts, we still don’t really understand friction, a physical phenomena that we encounter and experience on a daily basis. Friction is closely connected to a number of physical concepts. Take earthquakes, for example. We study earthquakes, amongst other things, in my research group, and friction could potentially be a vital tool in understanding more about why and how earthquakes happen.
My main research method is computer-based simulation. I think this is probably the case for most disciplines, but it’s actually quite rare for my research to go the way I expect it to, and sometimes it can be a struggle being patient. For example, with simulations, all it takes is just one glitch in the program to ruin your results. So I have to review and repair the program, sometimes over and over again. But when I finally get the results I’ve been hoping for, the feeling of satisfaction and achievement is worth all the effort and waiting. It’s such a good feeling, in fact, that I normally call up my student friends and invite them out for a celebratory drink or two.
Most of the time, you’ll find me in front of my computer. All I really need to do my research is a good calculator, so my lab is quite clutter-free. We’ve also got a common room – we call it the tea room – where I can go and chat with other students while having a tea or coffee when I need a break. All the students here get on well together; there’s a great sense of camaraderie. We hold meetings where we present our research to each other, we have joint study sessions, and there’s generally a really positive atmosphere in the lab.
I think the key to successful research is working hard and being determined. And if you don’t try, then you risk ending up with nothing to show for your two years of research time.
Each research group has its own characters and benefits, and it’s really important that you feel comfortable in your research environment. But I think that, ultimately, each group is the same at its core. The key to success, at the end of the day, is really putting in the effort yourself to make your time a success.
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Yoko Kebukawa, 2nd Year Doctoral Student, Physical Geochemistry Group
“I pray that I may die beneath flowers in spring.
In the month of the Buddha, under a full moon”
Saigyo Hoshi, Japanese poet
People have always been fascinated by flowers, and by the astral bodies that light up our sky.
I am just one in a long line of people who, like Saigyo, have been enchanted by the earth, which nurtures life, and the universe that silently enfolds it. The earth, our earth, the only home to life in the entire, vast universe….I have always been deeply interested in biology and the universe. After a long period of indecision, I finally decided to indulge my curiosity and study our universe.
When I was trying to decide which research group would be best for me, I discovered that there was a discipline that brought together my two main areas of interest – biology and the universe. Astrobiology is an academic discipline that examines the origins and evolution of life from an astrophysical perspective. How did these organisms form, how were they brought about by primitive earth, how did they become life? And does life only exist on our earth? My research focuses on organisms in meteoroids, in the hope that my findings can help answer these fascinating questions.
I was terrible at English when I was at high school, but I got a little better when I entered graduate school. In the first year of my Master’s program, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take part in a NASA summer internship program, where I spent ten weeks in Houston, Texas. It was the first time I had ever been overseas on my own, and I did find it difficult communicating in English, but it was wonderful; the research was great, and then at the weekends we went to the seaside and camping – I had a great time. When I started my doctoral course, I attended international academic symposia, and presented my research findings – in English! At academic symposia I’ve been able to hear, first hand, about the cutting-edge research being carried out in my field, and I’ve been able to discuss and debate research with my international peers.
It might well be the same in other fields, but I think that astrobiologists have a particular tendency to lock themselves away in their laboratories, and run the risk of losing touch with what is happening outside their own research, so I think it’s all the more important to maintain a global approach, be proactive in collecting information from researchers and research symposia overseas, and aim for international collaboration in research.
Having said that, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m always jetting off overseas; most of my time is spent in the lab, here in Osaka. I measure meteorological materials using various devices, conduct experiences, analyze my findings, read papers, and sometimes hold or attend seminars to present my results. When I need a break from research, I spend time in the common room, drinking tea and eating snacks – especially if it’s something someone has brought back from their travels. You have to be quick with those, they disappear in a flash.
I hope that you will be able to find a research group and research theme that suits you as well as mine suits me!
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“Make it happen!”
Nemes Norbert, 3rd Year Doctoral Student, X-Ray Astronomy Group
I have been interested in the universe ever since I was a young, and have always wanted to be an astronomer. In Romania, my native country, I studied Astronomy, but after the revolution the national universities were left with little budget, and I was only able to study theory. I spent half a year at the Max-Planck-Institut in Germany, and then joined the X-Ray Astronomy Group, the Tsunemi Group, where I remain to this day.
The word “Astronomy” might make it sound as if I just spend all my time star-gazing when, in truth, most of the time I’m sat at my desk, working hard at time-consuming, sometimes boring, tasks.
As for language, I won’t pretend that it wasn’t hard at first, having to learn everything from scratch in an entirely new environment, but I have been lucky to have the tireless support of Dr. Tsunemi and everyone else in the group and the department. I’ve also been able to solve money problems by applying for and, thankfully being granted, several scholarships and financial support schemes. I also work as a Teaching Assistant here at Osaka University.
When my research is busy, I find myself rushing to catch the last train home, and sometimes even carrying on at home, sat in front of my laptop. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’m almost always thinking about astronomy, morning, noon and night. But astronomy is what I love, so I’ve got no complaints.
My colleagues in the lab are all very open, friendly and cooperative. They’re kind enough to take the time to understand my faltering Japanese, and I’m able to fit in with everyone else without feeling like a foreigner. The assistants have all gone out of their way to help me, and I truly feel blessed to have found such a wonderful place to carry out my research.
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“Make the most of research!”
Hiroyuki Nakano, Theoretical Astrophysics Group Graduate
Special Research Fellow, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Osaka City University
I first decided that I wanted to be a researcher when I was in elementary school. It was seeing a sunspot on a camera film that did it for me. I had always thought that the sun “just shone”, so the idea of a sunspot was something strange and wonderful and fascinating. From that moment on I became interested in the moon and the planets and the stars, and I was particularly enchanted by Halley’s Comet and its 76 year orbit. At the time, although I wasn’t too sure, I thought that I probably just needed to know something about physics to become an astronomer.
What you learn as an undergraduate becomes the foundation upon which you build knowledge and carry out research at graduate level. So it’s vitally important to make sure this foundation is strong. Once you enroll in graduate school, would-be astronomers have to master more specialist knowledge about earth and space science. Graduate students have to carry out cutting-edge research while simultaneously building up their expertise and skill; it’s almost impossible to do this without a strong and sound knowledge of the basics. You also need to learn English – although I will confess that it is certainly not my favorite subject – in order to be able to take part in joint research projects with international researchers.
At the moment, I’ve become a little obsessed with the theory of general relativity, and am focusing on the black holes that were predicted by Einstein’s relativity theory and the diffusion of space-time distortions (gravitational waves) that are so close to being detected. So you can see I’ve come a long way since that first sunspot that triggered my interested in the field!
Whatever field you’re interested in, as a researcher you’ll be constantly faced with new things, with things that are out of the ordinary. Whatever it was that sparked your interest, as long as you love what you do, and maintain your thirst for knowledge, then I truly believe that anyone can achieve great findings in their research. Of course, you need to try hard, and keep trying hard. I hope that you will all find research as fulfilling as I have done!
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