What a Doctoral Degree Means and How to Use It
I am immensely happy today, for finally we are able to get together here in Hayama. It is my great pleasure to hand you your degree certificate in person, not on line.
I would like to express my sincere congratulations to all of you on your graduation this year and the conferral of your degrees. I commend you for your hard work, and I would also like to express my gratitude to the academic advisors and faculty members in your departments as well as the members of your families, all of whom have supported your efforts.
I am sure that you faced various hardships due to world-wide restrictions on travel and other activities in response to the pandemic. I sincerely congratulate you on finally earning your degree today, despite being unable to visit your laboratory or gather with others for discussions, along with the various other hinderances you faced in carrying out your research. This experience of overcoming difficulties and completing your degrees in the face of such unusual circumstances will be a great asset to you in many ways in the future. Or rather I should say, I encourage you to put this experience to good use. I am sure that the challenges you faced were of that magnitude.
I am also very sure that, through extensive and in-depth research into your particular dissertation topic, you have acquired more knowledge in that field than nearly anyone else. That is what it means to be an expert. You are now an expert in your specialized field. You should take pride in that. I do not know exactly how it is in this age of Internet searches and electronic journals, but back when I was a doctoral student myself, I was at least confident that I knew what was happening, what was being revealed, what was being debated, and was in all other ways at the forefront of knowledge in my field. I was proud that I had more up-to-date, leading-edge knowledge than even my academic advisor. But what about now?
Now, it is possible to search for and read nearly anything you want online, so there may no longer be any need for confidence in that sort of thing. Nevertheless, I am sure that you are confident that, within your field of specialization, you are an expert authority keenly aware of the major challenges and the questions that are worth exploring.
However, research continues to progress. Whether or not you are able to maintain your position at the forefront of research will depend on the nature of the environments in which you live from now on.
If, moving forward, you gain the status of a scholar or researcher in your field of specialization and continue to conduct research at a university or other research institution, then I strongly urge you to maintain your position at the forefront. That route has its difficulties. However, in a sense, it is also the easy way. It will be easy in the sense that, if you take this route, you will make a living doing the same sorts of things that you have been doing all this time as a doctoral student. Choosing some other route is not quite as easy.
Roughly 60% of our graduates gain academic research positions immediately after earning their degrees. The remaining 40% move on to some other type of position. My term as president will come to an end next March. As such, as I approach the end of my term, I am now visiting each department to ask if the way I have been doing things during my term has been beneficial. As I listen to the opinions of doctoral students currently engaged in research, I have come to realize that nowhere near everyone - perhaps only around half of them - even want a position in academia in the first place. The other half, in one form or another, have been considering some other form of employment since the very beginning.
Roughly 30 years ago when SOKENDAI was founded, the university's mission was to provide the academic community with the next generation of researchers. However, the academic situation in Japan and the rest of the world has changed drastically since then. University budgets continue to shrink, and due to reductions in personnel spending, most positions for young researchers come with term limits. Even for degree holders, the only research positions available come with short fixed employment terms of five years, three years, or even just a single year. Migrating from one such position to another is a precarious way to live and is not very attractive as a future career. So, I can easily understand why people might choose not to pursue a career in academia.
At the same time, though, looking around the world at countries other than Japan, you can see people with doctoral degrees who are active in companies, government agencies, NPOs, and a broad range of other non-academic workplaces. When Japanese company presidents and other executives or the upper echelons of Japanese government ministries and agencies exchange business cards with their equivalently-ranked counterparts overseas, most of them have PhDs, whereas none of the ones from Japan have gone to graduate school. In a sense, Japan has a society in which the people in positions to make critical decisions within the society have strikingly low levels of education.
Considering this, I believe that Japanese doctoral degree holders should be much more active outside of the realm of academia as well, regardless of their field of specialization. I am not suggesting that the difficulty of finding a job in academia means that people have no choice but to try to build a career in another field. Rather, what I am saying is that I have come to believe that we should more strongly support and encourage people who are considering applying their various abilities - developed through the research they conducted in the course of earning a doctoral degree - in some other field. If you tend to view failing to find a position in academia as a form of defeat, then I urge you to change the way you think about it. Regardless of whether one pursues a career in academia or chooses to be active in some other field, both are equally desirable and open options.
The academic methodologies and knowledge that you have cultivated are extremely valuable additions to the development of your particular field within academia in Japan. However, I am not referring to that. What sorts of abilities, generally speaking, have you acquired through your specialized research? Not in terms of searching for and accumulating knowledge in a specialized field but in a more general sense.
I am sure that you have acquired the ability to take a bird's eye view of any situation and then identify where the problems lie, as well as the ability to consider how best to tackle any challenges that you face. If we were to abstract and generalize what you have acquired through your dissertation research, I am sure that these are the sorts of competencies we would recognize. Now, people seem to label these "transferable skills." Meaning that these are skills that you can use to solve problems no matter where you go.
And it always takes more than a single field's approach to truly solve a problem. All real-world problems are complex and can only be solved through the combined efforts of various related fields. It is impossible to solve these sorts of problems entirely on one's own, so it is necessary to seek help from others. What this means is that the extent of the network of reliable people that you know in specialized fields other than your own is of critical importance.
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies has researchers in a broad range of fields, from the National Museum of Ethnology through to the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK). Each of our departments is housed at a research institute engaged in world-class research in their respective fields. I hope that the graduate students studying here gain a similarly broad perspective encompassing the entirety of their field, while at the same time forming bonds with those in other disciplines so that these relationships can serve as a source of mutual strength in overcoming future challenges. SOKENDAI has provided several such opportunities, such as the Freshman Course, among others. However, due to the pandemic, those of you graduating today may have had a few such opportunities to form bonds. If that is the case, then it is very regrettable.
Even so, since you are all of a younger generation than me, I assume that you are far more adept at building relationships through various forms of social media. I urge you to take advantage of the various means at your disposal to connect with others, both vertically and horizontally, as you embark into the world of the future.
The world is facing an unprecedented number of crises, including not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also worsening global environmental problems, the war in Ukraine, and widening disparities within developed countries and throughout the world. No matter where you choose to live and work in the future, I strongly encourage you to make use of the wisdom you have gained through the research you conducted in the course of earning your degree to make the world a better place, even if just a little. I am convinced that you possess the skills to do so, and I would like for you as well to personally recognize this ability within you.
My sincerest congratulations to you today. I wish you the best in your future endeavors.