Spring 2021 Graduation Ceremony Address
Congratulations, everyone, on earning your degree today. Pursuing doctoral research and completing the dissertation is never easy; but to produce a doctoral dissertation at a time when the novel coronavirus pandemic has suspended many activities since January of last year, as each of you has done, was even more challenging than normal. That you were able, despite it all, to successfully obtain your degree and reach this day gives me great joy. And to the many people who have supported you to this point, including faculty advisors and other professors as well as the members of your family, I want to express my deepest appreciation.
Both globally and in Japan, it seems we still have a long way to go before the coronavirus situation passes. There will be many challenges ahead when it comes to future employment and opportunities for overseas research. I encourage you to think carefully about your capabilities and utilize the networks you have built with fellow researchers and friends. Never give up hope and keep moving forward.
All of you have experience exploring a particular topic in depth within a single academic discipline, comparing your research findings against prior studies, and adding something new to them. Even if your findings were not especially groundbreaking within your field of study as a whole, all of you made new discoveries and developed new perspectives that were your own. Such moments, when something new comes into focus, are so exciting and fun, aren't they? It is what research is all about. Developing the research plan, conducting experiments and making observations, analyzing the data--yes, sometimes it can be tedious and sometimes we face a string of failures, but that joy of discovering something new is irreplaceable.
When I was conducting research on chimpanzees in the wild in Africa and witnessed behavior that no one else had ever recorded, or when I was entering observational data on wild sheep on the island of St. Kilda off the coast of Scotland and began to see the whole picture of a particular behavior, it was exciting to think there was no one else anywhere in the world who knew what I knew. I'm sure that bringing it all together in a single paper was also hard work. But now even that is behind you, and you have successfully reached the day when you receive your degree. So, take a break, reflect on your journey, and then think about what comes next.
Starting today, you can now refer to yourself as a "doctor." But what does that mean? How much do you think you've grown compared to when you first started your degree research a few years ago? I am sure you have acquired much knowledge in your field of expertise. I am also sure you have acquired much knowledge about the things that remain unknown in your field and the methods that can be used to tackle those questions. But how about things beyond your narrow field of expertise?
Naturally, you will have less knowledge outside your field of expertise; but surely, by writing your doctoral dissertation in a particular discipline, you have gained insight into general questions about what research is and what it means to explore an unknown field. Surely, you have gained insight not only into how to tackle questions that remain unanswered and what it takes to do so, but also into how to go about discovering the questions that are worthy of answering in the first place. Looking at it from this broader perspective, what would you say you have gained from your dissertation research experience?
What will be the path you follow in the future? Most of our graduates become researchers in their given field of study, while some choose a different path. In either case, I want you to realize that completing your doctoral dissertation research is more than just an achievement in your field of expertise; the experience has given you general skills--things like the understanding what research is and the ability to discover questions and develop a plan for tackling them, whatever they may be. It is an important realization, I believe, whether you continue with research in the same field, move into some other field of research, or choose an entirely different career.
In my past addresses to new doctoral degree recipients like yourselves, I have never mentioned the issue of gender. However, in light of circumstances, I thought now might be an appropriate time to say something.
The former chair of the Tokyo Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Mr. Mori, made a comment to the effect that meetings with lots of women are a problem because they take too long; as a result of the ensuing controversy, he resigned. While the truth of his statement is itself questionable, so is the very premise that it is a problem when members of a committee take lots of time to speak and debate issues. To me, however, his remarks are rooted in thick layers of unconscious prejudice toward women that Mr. Mori himself holds, as well as Japan's long-standing tradition of older men dominating the management of organizations.
On the various indicators of gender equality, Japan is among the worst in the OECD countries. In Japan, the percentage of women in decision-making positions in organizations--for instance, members of the Diet, prefectural governors, mayors of municipalities, corporate managers and executives, and university presidents--is exceedingly low compared to the rest of the world. For example, of the 86 national universities in Japan, only three are headed by women, a mere 3.48 percent. By contrast, at the world's top 200 universities as ranked by U.K.-based Times Higher Education, the percentage of female presidents is 17 percent, and at the top 60 universities, 25 percent. I truly hope that members of the younger generation like you will be the ones to change this situation.
To do so, it is of course important that women themselves express their opinions and actively seek leadership positions; but men must also share the belief that having many women in decision-making positions is perfectly natural. Indeed, not just women but a diverse range of people belong in decision-making positions.
While I don't believe that the younger generation has the same outlook on life as Mr. Mori, I do think they often cling to old ideas unconsciously. For example, when I went to my first meeting of the Japan Association of National Universities with our university's Secretary-General (a man), the administrative heads from other universities (also all men) looked first at the Secretary-General and greeted him, without even giving me a glance. It is a little thing, but we see it all around us. The men in these positions of administrative leadership don't mean anything by it, but the accumulative effect of such attitudes is part of what keeps the status quo from changing.
No one knows what society will be like in the future, or even what the world will be like once the coronavirus pandemic has passed. What is certain is that the world has changed and will continue to do so rapidly in the future. The creators of that world are the members of your generation. In that world, our past experiences and common sense may no longer apply. You may have to destroy basic assumptions that people have taken for granted. Navigating such a world will be challenging, and you may not be confident in your ability to do so. But you have all successfully undertaken dissertation research and attained advanced degrees, so I believe you are fully capable of taking on this challenge of the unknown. Plus, you are young, a wonderful thing to be.
Whether you continue in academic research or pursue a life in some other professional career, I hope that you achieve great things on your respective paths and apply the skills you gained at Sokendai toward making our world a better place. My sincerest congratulations to you today.
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI