Address by the President
Congratulations, everyone, on your admission to SOKENDAI. Whether you are at the start of your full five-year program or transferring into a three-year course, you will spend the next several years as students of SOKENDAI pursuing research for your doctoral degree. While some of you have already decided upon a research topic, others of you may still only have vague ideas. Either way, I expect everyone here has high hopes for their life of research ahead, and perhaps a little anxiety as well. Because SOKENDAI is a graduate university with no undergraduate departments, everyone here today comes to SOKENDAI from undergraduate and master's programs located elsewhere. As you embark on a life of research in a new location away from the places with which you are familiar, it is only natural that you feel a little anxious.
That said, each of you has made the decision to embark on a doctoral program from a desire to pursue some kind of research and so I imagine you are filled with anticipation and excitement at the prospect of undertaking something new. I doubt the road ahead will be a straight one as you pursue your doctoral degree research, but I hope you will never forget the freshness of how you feel today.
Soon, you will all spread to different parts of the country based on your field of study. While the School of Advanced Sciences is here in Hayama, all other fields of study are located at institutes in various parts of the country. Each of them is undertaking world-class research in their respective fields. For the next several years, you will spend your time there pursuing research in your field, so you may not have many opportunities again to see your fellow students gathered here today.
Now, I would like to look beyond the various specialized research fields to talk with you more generally about the kinds of human resources our graduate university aims to cultivate and our goals in doing so. They are three-fold: "Advanced specialties and expertise," "Broad perspective," and "International competitiveness."
Let's begin with "advanced specialties and expertise." This refers to the mastery of knowledge in your discipline. As you pursue research into some particular research question, you must, at the very least, become a true expert on the field in which you are conducting your research. This means knowing the currents of past research in that field and the current state of the field in detail. What do we know and not know from current research? What are the important questions that still need to be answered? And how do these unknown questions relate to one another? I believe it is important that you have an understanding of your own on such questions.
Next, let's consider "broad perspective." If the "advanced specialties and expertise" I just discussed are about "going deep," then "broad perspective" evokes an image of going wide. While this might lead some to think they work in opposite directions, that is not what I believe. Rather, to possess "advanced specialties and expertise" requires taking a high-level perspective on one's field of expertise. The higher our perspective gets, the more able we become to view the entirety of academic study and human intellectual activity at a distance. In my view, that is what it means to have "broad perspective."
In recent years, areas of specialization have become exceptionally narrow and deep. Yet if a person has mastery over that truly narrow area only and understands nothing about areas at just a slight remove from it, I do not think we would call that person an outstanding researcher. Rather, it is when we have an understanding of how our research fits into a larger picture of human intellectual activity as a whole and are able to discuss it with researchers in different fields or with ordinary people who are not themselves researchers--that is when we can be said have "broad perspective," I would say.
Let me offer a short illustration. It regards the behavior of a species of digger wasp in Australia. These digger wasps dig holes in the ground, place paralyzed caterpillars in the holes to serve as food for their larvae, and then lay their eggs in the holes. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the stored caterpillars. These digger wasp parents, however, must take precautions against parasitoid wasps, which have the ability to parasitize their eggs. They do this by constructing round columns out of dirt on top of the holes in the ground containing the caterpillars. When the wasps have built the columns to a height roughly equal to their own length, they next bend them downward. Then, they create bowl-shaped umbrellas at the bent tip of the columns and their work is done. It is quite an elaborate design. They are the only species of digger wasp to build these complex structures and it is fair to say they are truly expert at it.
Now, do these digger wasps have any awareness of the structures they build as a whole? To investigate this, a researcher in behavioral ecology conducted experiments. When the wasps had dug their holes, filled them with caterpillars, built their columns, and were just beginning to bend the columns downward, the researcher took dirt and buried them just over halfway. This left the columns exposed above ground by mere millimeters. Despite this, the digger wasps still built their bowls at the bent tip of the columns, but the bowl edges were too close to the ground, making it impossible to build fully round umbrellas. Despite that, the wasps did not appear to mind.
The researcher next allowed the digger wasps to build their columns atop their holes in the ground and let them nearly finish the process of making their bowl-shaped umbrellas at the bent tip of the columns. Then, they opened a hole on top of the center of the bent at roughly the same size as the holes in the ground. In response, the digger wasps began building columns atop the new holes until they reached about the length of their bodies, then bent them and built the bowl-like umbrellas. The result was an overall two-story structure.
The researcher then opened yet more holes atop the second-story umbrellas. In response, the digger wasps again began building columns atop the new holes, producing a three-story structure. Even so, they did not seem to mind. The series of experiments showed that the digger wasps have no grasp of the overall structure they are building. Each of the steps in the process--digging holes in the ground, inserting caterpillars into them, laying eggs, building columns atop the holes, bending the tips downward, and forming the bowl-shaped umbrellas--involve highly refined behaviors, but they are likely the product of very simple algorithms.
Setting aside the mechanism (since my point is not to discuss behavioral ecology today), having "broad perspective" surely means seeing the work of the digger wasps as a whole from a higher level. And the same is true for "advanced specialties and expertise" as well. It means not only have the necessary skills to perform each of these procedures but also the ability to take a higher view of the work as whole to understand the point behind making the structure in the first place, as well as the connections between the each of the procedures.
To attain "broad perspective" by extending that view even further therefore means rising to even higher levels to see not only one's own nest but the entirety of life-sustaining activities undertaken by the various creatures that inhabit the area and to understand the place that digger wasps hold within their ecosystem.
In the 21st century today, we have accumulated massive amounts of academic learning and our fields of study are equally expansive. They are beyond any one individual's ability to grasp in their entirety. "Broad perspective," therefore, does not mean someone who knows everything. Rather, "broad perspective" means the ability to imagine how vast the world is, as well as the knowledge that there are many worlds that you do not know. It means having the imagination, as both a researcher and a human, even about those things we do not know, to ask what research and human intellectual work are and the ability to find their significance.
I do not mean to trivialize digger wasps. Their nest-building involves highly advanced techniques that have enabled them to survive effectively for no doubt tens of millions of years. And that has been enough, since it is not every day that they encounter a rude researcher bent on disturbing their nests.
Finally, there is "international competitiveness," but what is that? Is it the ability to generate results that are highly regarded internationally? That's important. In the context of internationalization, the ability to write papers in English and to use English effectively to communicate also comes immediately to mind. That was perhaps the goal a generation or so ago. And while producing outstanding results and using English effectively are still important, I think we need to add to them something else that is important in our world today--the ability to respect and work alongside people from different cultures who hold different values from our own.
Some aspects of research require us to think all by ourselves and can be solitary, but other aspects require us to engage in collaborative work with many people. And some aspects must be conducted not in Japan but in various locations around the world. This will bring you into contact with people from different cultures and those with different backgrounds from your own. Being able to transcend differences and work toward common goals is what I believe "international competitiveness" today means.
Digger wasps are essentially solitary creatures, so they do not engage in collaborative work with others. Unfortunately, then, I cannot call on them to help me explain "international competitiveness."
Today, I've talked about the three qualities that SOKENDAI seeks to cultivate in its students. Following convocation, there will be the Freshman Course. Please take the opportunity to get to know your fellow incoming students and senpai and to discuss your life of research ahead. I wish you the best in your life of research as a SOKENDAI student. May it be fruitful and enable you to complete a good dissertation. Again, congratulations to you all.
April 9, 2019
Mariko Hasegawa Ph.D., President