Autumn 2021 Entrance Ceremony Address
Congratulations on your admission to SOKENDAI. It brings me great joy that you have reached the starting point of your degree research despite the many challenges amid the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
SOKENDAI consists of a total of 20 departments housed in 17 research centers and museums across Japan and at the university's headquarters in Hayama. Each of these departments admits only a small number of students each year, and the total number of currently enrolled students is only about 500. At such a small graduate university, where everyone conducts their research in different locations, there are precious few opportunities for everyone to gather with people from outside their own departments. This is why the entrance ceremony and subsequent Freshman Course are such important opportunities for incoming students like yourselves to gather together in Hayama, as well as to interact with the students ahead of you in your programs. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has made this impossible and forced us to hold these events online, which is deeply regrettable. Still, we do intend to hold the Freshman Course online after this, and I hope each of you will take full advantage of it.
What made you decide that you wanted to pursue degree research? Maybe you noticed something interesting in your undergraduate or master's program and wanted to explore it further. Having questions and wanting answers comes, I believe, from curiosity and is a part of our human nature. It is no easy task, however, to turn that into the kind of work that is "research" and create something of quality that contributes to the massive body of knowledge that human beings have accumulated so far. You are all about to begin that great undertaking.
Research is very hard but also very enjoyable. No matter what the topic is, the work that you will be approved to pursue as research will be a question that no one else in the world has yet tackled. It is truly exciting and enjoyable to venture into this unknown world and apply new methods and ideas to find answers to questions on your own. Rosalind Franklin, one of the contributors to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, held a position as a researcher at King's College, London. It is said that she came to the laboratory even on Sundays and immersed herself in her research, saying, "I feel bad that I get paid to do something I enjoy so much." While I can understand the sentiment and believe that research has its origins in personal enjoyment, research findings do not benefit just the individual, but rather contribute to the intellectual development of humanity as a whole. It is only natural that researchers be paid.
Since the research findings contribute to the intellectual development of humanity as a whole, the work of research is public and entails certain rules. In addition to conducting research justly in accordance with the rules, we must also develop within ourselves an ethical sensibility as researchers. Only when all researchers behave in such a way can our research findings be trusted worldwide. You can expect the upcoming Freshman Course to cover this in concrete terms.
Conducting research for a doctoral dissertation is certainly a part of "education" and all of you are "graduate students." That said, you are also early-career researchers who have embarked on a public task to contribute to the intellectual development of humankind. The eventual conferral of your degree will recognize that you are fully qualified to do so; in that sense, you are at the starting point of your career as a researcher. Therefore, although you may be a "student," I want you to begin thinking independently as a researcher starting today and to act with the awareness that you are a member of a community of researchers. This means that you are no longer in a position simply to be taken care of by someone else. It means that you, too, play a part in making the public work of research trustworthy in the eyes of the world, and that you should be aware that the quality of your own research improves the quality of research in your field. Each of you is a part of the power that we have to create a better community of researchers, so please work toward improving the research environment at the research centers and museums where your departments are located. We, the administration, hope to listen to your opinions and make the university a better place.
Beginning in April 2023, we expect to reorganize the university into a single school with a single department and 20 courses. Currently, there are six schools: the School of Cultural and Social Studies, the School of Physical Sciences, the School of High Energy Accelerator Science, the School of Multidisciplinary Sciences, the School of Life Science, and the School of Advanced Sciences. There are a total of 20 departments scattered across these six schools, and each of you entering this year belongs to one of these six schools. We intend to combine these into a single school and department, with the current "departments" changing to "courses" belonging to the single school.
From the humanities to the sciences, and even within the sciences, from the mathematical and physical sciences to the life sciences to fields closely allied with engineering, the barriers between these courses, diverse as they are, will be much lower than they are now. By making them part of the same school, it will be much easier for graduate students to freely choose classes from different courses and to receive guidance from professors affiliated with different courses.
While the organization itself will be changed in this way beginning in 2023, it is possible even now to conduct a wide range of research that spans different departments. Moreover, you can collaborate with overseas universities and research centers to conduct new types of research that extend beyond our university. It has been our goal for some time to enable students to pursue innovative research that transcends departmental boundaries, and various mechanisms have been created toward that end. I strongly encourage you to look into them to see what kinds of opportunities exist.
It is true that the methods of disciplines in the humanities are quite different from those in the sciences. Even within the sciences, the physical sciences and life sciences take different approaches on many things. Partly this is because of the differences in the phenomena that each discipline is trying to understand. Most phenomena in the physical sciences have a clear theory that forms the framework of discussion, and often the various parameters involved in elucidating the phenomena can be clearly measured. In the life sciences, the phenomena are more individualized and the overall picture more complex. In the humanities, there are few things that can be explained by simple cause-and-effect relationships, making it virtually impossible to construct a unifying theory of the whole. Such differences make it difficult to agree on a single set of research methods, presentation styles, and even criteria for establishing what is known.
At the same time, phenomena in the world are not as neatly divided as researchers sometimes believe. Indeed, the history of science reminds us that physics and chemistry have combined to form physical chemistry, while biology and chemistry have combined to form molecular biology.
The more that various phenomena are investigated in detail, the more subdivided the fields of research become, leading to the creation of research traditions specific to each of these subdivided fields. This tends to make it more difficult to understand the research in different fields and to reduce interaction and exchange among researchers of different fields. As this happens, it inevitably leads to dead ends. We must tear down the old barriers, set aside our earlier intellectual frameworks, and take on new ways of thinking and new approaches.
It is no easy thing to do, but new insights come more easily when we are young than when we are old, and so I hope that each of you will take on this challenge. I wish you all an enjoyable and fruitful future as you pursue your degree research at SOKENDAI.
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI