Toward Ways of Thinking That Transcend Disciplinary Boundaries
To each of you, congratulations on your admission to SOKENDAI. Each of you will spend the next several years at the university pursuing research toward your doctoral degree in your respective disciplines. Because SOKENDAI is a graduate university with no undergraduate departments, everyone admitted here today arrives having graduated from one of many different undergraduate programs. Since today is also the October admissions ceremony, we have with us many international students as well. Whoever you may be, you have left behind someplace familiar, perhaps even your home country, to begin research in an entirely new place. While you are probably a little nervous, I am sure you are brimming even more with anticipation. This environment, in which you have an opportunity to gather with people of differing backgrounds and pursue a life of research, is a very interesting one, I think, in terms of generating new ways of thinking.
Although today's admissions ceremony has brought you here to the main Hayama campus, each of you will soon go your separate ways to research centers around Japan. Indeed, today may be an opportunity to connect with graduate students you may never again see and I hope you take full advantage of that opportunity.
SOKENDAI is different from graduate schools situated in normal universities in that each of our disciplines is housed within a national research institute. These various research institutes conduct world-class research in their respective fields, possessing large-scale equipment, such as an observatory or accelerator, that normal universities do not have and engaging in many kinds of joint research. It is inside such research institutes that you will soon find yourself and, although you will be graduate students, your everyday lives will be very different from those of graduate students belonging to normal universities.
Your professors will all be top scholars in their field. While our disciplines are formed around such professors, the number of students we admit annually to each program is very low, ranging from three to five students. This very high ratio of professors to students is a blessing when it comes to getting advice on your research. On the other hand, it can sometimes be a problem when the number of fellow graduate students is so few. While it is ideal to form a strong community among graduate students, the nature of a large research institute can sometimes mean that students feel a bit isolated. For international students, while it should be possible to get by in English within the research institute, living in Japan inevitably means having to speak Japanese.
At a normal university, students would have many opportunities for entertainment, relaxation, sports, and so on and there would be support and assistance centers available to help with student life. Our university's programs, however, are located not in such places but rather inside research institutes, sites of cutting-edge world-class research. In terms of your everyday care, it may be fair to say that these settings are less than ideal.
But SOKENDAI remains a graduate school and caring for graduate students is our mission. From here on, if you ever encounter problems or frustrations in your research life, do not hesitate to contact the main university office. We will do everything we can to improve your study environment.
That said, I also hope you will understand from day one the special nature of the inter-university research institutes that are the research facilities where you will be conducting your research. Say, for instance, that you are in the first year of a full five-year program, having just graduated from college. Even then, I hope you will be the kind of person who finds joy in being treated as a junior researcher from day one.
While today marks your admission into one particular discipline and the start of your research within it, SOKENDAI as a whole spans the humanities and sciences and consists of no fewer than 17 different research institutes and the School of Advanced Sciences at Hayama. Such a rich environment for research--how could one not put it to good use? Do not be interested in only your own research institute. Peek in on what other research institutes are up to and discover the potential they hold. As your own research progresses, if you ever feel that research being conducted at another research institute might be useful in some way to the research you yourself are conducting, talk to your faculty advisor about it. SOKENDAI encourages students to transcend the boundaries of their narrow disciplines in pursuit of new possibilities.
And this does not only apply to disciplines within SOKENDAI. If there are professors at overseas universities and research institutions you would like to have advising on a portion of your research or with whom you would like to have a discussion, talk about it as well with your faculty advisor. SOKENDAI provides and promotes various opportunities for overseas research exchange.
Of late, we hear about the need to transcend the boundaries of traditional fields of study and pave the way to new forms of inquiry. We hear phrases like the "fusion of humanities and sciences" and "invention of new fields" thrown about. But all this is easier said than done. While top-down recommendations may tell us that something new will emerge if we simply combine this field and that field, this is not how new fields emerge.
Each of you is going to conduct research in a particular field, finding solutions to the questions it raises and making some kind of discovery, and then bring it all together in your dissertation. As you do so, consider methods other than the ones normally used in an existing field, consider research approaches other than the ones typically taken in an existing field--in other words, try out innovative ways of thinking, no matter how small they may seem. If you do, you may just find the beginnings of something that eventually leads to the creation of a genuinely new field. As young individuals who are just beginning their research, you may even be more capable of such flexible thinking.
Following today's admissions ceremony, the Freshman Course begins. The Freshman Course provides an opportunity to think about how your research activities relate to society and what kind of ethics a researcher needs to possess. It will also be a time for your senpai to share the kinds of research they are doing in their departments at SOKENDAI. As newly admitted students, please use the Freshman Course to build networks of exchange across fields as you connect with fellow students in your year of study, as well as your senpai and kohai. Such networks may very well become the driving force that generates the kinds of new thinking I described earlier.
The future will be built by you. With new technologies developing at an ever faster pace, those of us in the older generation can barely imagine what shape society will take in the future. I ask you, as part of the new generation, to pave the way to new forms of learning and build an even better world. We at SOKENDAI will do our part to ensure the university provides you with the very best environment in which to do so.
Again, my sincere congratulations on your admission today. We look forward to everything you will accomplish.
October 8, 2019
Mariko Hasegawa Ph.D., President