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Spring FY2017 Commencement Ceremony Address by the President 【March 23, 2018】

Today marks a great turning point in your lives. Do you remember your first day at SOKENDAI, when you entered your degree program and embarked on your dissertation research? Already it has been three or five years, or maybe even a little longer in some cases. Now, you have submitted your dissertation and passed your exit exams, and today you receive your doctoral degree. Congratulations! I am sure you faced many challenges along the way. As aspiring researchers, you enjoy the research work that you do, but that does not mean everyday goes as planned. No doubt you endured many hardships, but you overcame them. It is with great joy that I congratulate you on reaching this day today. I also wish to congratulate and thank the family members and faculty advisors who supported you along the way.

In the academic world of science, a doctoral degree is a prerequisite to embarking on one’s own as a full-fledged researcher. To put it another way, it is akin to a driver’s license. (In the humanities, the degree perhaps tends to mean a little bit more than just that.) A driver’s license is evidence that you are qualified to drive on public roads and is required to operate a car. Likewise, to be a recognized researcher in the world you must normally possess a doctoral degree. Now, just because you have gotten your driver’s license does not necessarily mean you are able to go wherever you want in whatever conditions. That depends on a person’s skill as a driver. Likewise, just because a person obtains a doctorate hardly means that that person is a fully matured researcher. Today is the first day of your career as a researcher. As you continue to refine your skills as a researcher and aim for ever-greater heights, there is no doubt that each of you will achieve your goals.

At the same time, just because you have attained a doctoral degree does not mean that research is the only path open to you. There are positions outside research that you might choose to pursue with your degree. After all, what is a degree? What have you gained by obtaining your degree? Whether you pursue a career as a researcher or take some other path, I hope you will give careful thought to that question. Individually, the research that you have undertaken—be it in space science or genetics or Japanese literature—may be very different from each another’s; but at an abstract level, each of you has surveyed the research done on a particular topic in a particular field by those who came before you and you have added to it by conducting in-depth research of your own. How is that significant? I am not talking about the fact that you have “revealed such and such about the function of this or that gene” or “revealed such and such about the genesis of this or that star.” Rather, at a more abstract level, I hope you will think about where you were three or five years ago and what you have gained in terms of abilities and values since then. If you can awaken yourself to this, then whether you pursue a career as a researcher or enter some other profession, you will be capable of utilizing the abilities you acquired in the course of your degree work, just as you would the underlying skills of a driver’s license.

Regretfully, we do not know enough about the kinds of jobs SOKENDAI graduates obtain or about how their subsequent lives turn out. Around 60% of graduates do become researchers, it seems. That figure should not be surprising given that SOKENDAI, as a graduate university, has no undergraduate programs and is focused exclusively on doctoral training. I sincerely hope that you will use what you have gained through your doctoral degree research to serve as a driving force of future change in the research community and in society at large.

To change the status quo and break new ground requires thinking in ways others do not. What does it take to come up with novel ideas? The other day I attended a symposium on the future of food that included scholars from around the world, including several Nobel Prize winners. I was serving as a moderator on one of the sessions. The symposium was also attended by Yoshinori Ohsumi, professor emeritus at SOKENDAI’s National Institute for Basic Biology. As recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, he delivered the keynote address. At the end of the symposium, there was a session that asked the Nobel Prize recipients the question, “Where does creativity come from?” Interestingly, no one had an immediate answer. “Where indeed?” was their initial response.

As the conversation continued, however, a few conditions for creativity became clear. One was perseverance, or the sustained pursuit of a particular issue over a long period of time. Another was open discussion between researchers in different fields. With respect to perseverance, it is a researcher’s individual traits that have a significant impact. We might call it tenacity, or the kind of personality that can remain intensely focused on an issue that has caught the researcher’s attention. It is the ability to continue pursuing whatever it is that you truly want to pursue, above and beyond immediate gain. As for the second condition for creativity, it is the research environment to which the researcher belongs, in addition to a researcher’s individual traits, that has a significant impact. Naturally, to be able to engage in open discussion with researchers in other fields requires that an individual researcher possess the desire to have discussions with other researchers on a broad range of topics. But even if a researcher wants it, it cannot happen without a research environment that makes it possible.

Research is often competitive and researchers may feel they do not have the time to talk with people in other fields, or they may even fear that their ideas will be stolen. If that is how a large number of researchers feel about their workplace, then it is very unlikely that an environment can be created there in which researchers engage in open discussion with people in other fields. Long-term, such workplace environments are not likely to generate truly new ideas. Such workplaces will be driven by short-term competition that ultimately sacrifices long-term benefits.

I agree with the point made by these Nobel Prize recipients. True creativity is the product of both individual qualities and workplace environment. I hope that each of you will be tenacious, that you will bring perseverance and dedication to the pursuit of those topics of research that truly interest you. I also hope that you will be the kind of person who is not driven by short-term competition but rather has room to enjoy open discussion with researchers in other fields. Finally, I hope you will help others to see the importance of these values and become a driving force behind the creation of more creative workplace environments. You may think you are too young, your degree too new, for you to exercise such power. I would say to that, if you do not act on your ideals while you are still young, your ideals will never be realized. I, too, am powerless, but I take pride in the fact that from a young age I have fought for my ideals.

My expertise is in the field of evolutionary biology. In the early 20th century, British scientist J. B. S. Haldane made significant contributions to this field. He was a very unique scholar who presented a number of ideas that had never occurred to anyone else. Novel ideas are not easily accepted at first. Haldane said there were four stages through which novel ideas passed before they became commonly accepted in the academic world. The first stage says, “This is worthless nonsense.” The second stage says, “This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view.” The third stage says, “This is true, but quite unimportant.” And the fourth stage says, “I always said so.”

It is no easy thing to present new ideas. But it is also difficult, when a new ideas has been presented, to know what to make of them, to decide how to approach them. I hope that none of you become the type that initially dismisses new ideas as worthless, only to later claim “I always said so.” I hope each of you will cultivate a better understanding than that and an “eye” for new ideas. I feel I have placed a great many demands upon you today. If I have, it is because I wish you to act with pride as you work to transform Japan’s future as doctoral graduates of SOKENDAI. We expect great things of you in the future, as we celebrate your achievements here today. Again, congratulations to each and everyone one of you.


March 23, 2018

Mariko Hasegawa, Ph.D., President

Posted On 2018.04.18 By 総務課総務係
Shonan Village, Hayama, Kanagawa 240-0193 Japan


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