Globalization of Academic Research in Japan

Globalization of academic research  is a reality in the contemporary world. National boundaries are getting obliterated because of the Internet and instant electronic communication. In fact, in the last few years, there is an increasing collaboration among researchers in science, humanities, and the arts from around the world to produce results that have a global impact. In statistical terms, a report by the National Science Foundation confirms that 6,477 new international research alliances were formed in the 1990s, and this is only a fraction of the international research alliances in the 2000s.

This shows that the combined forces of globalization of academic research and and internationalization are transforming research worldwide. Research in Japan, which has had an isolated past, is also reinventing itself since the 1990s. Not surprisingly, Japan is the world’s second highest R&D spender behind the U.S. and contributes 13% of the total expenditure on R&D worldwide. This has largely been possible because of the rapid strides of industrialization in Japan.

However, the talent pool that contributes to industrialization comes from Japan’s academic institutions. Therefore, in the last few decades, there has been a conscious effort to facilitate globalization of academic research in Japan.

Globalization of Academic Research in Japan: Problems and Way Forward

Two factors that have hindered globalization of academic research in Japan are the language barrier and the lack of alignment of the academic year in Japan with the international calendar. However, both these impediments are being tackled to make Japan a truly global destination for research. Several universities have already introduced classes in English for undergraduate courses. For instance, The University of Tokyo (Todai) has launched its new all-English undergraduate programs. Further, there are more than 50 graduate schools where students can enroll for lessons conducted in English.

The mismatch in the academic year in Japan with the global academic calendar is also under scrutiny for change, although it might take some time coming because it will entail a complete overhaul of Japan’s education system. However, Todai has recently announced a four-semester plan, which is likely to start in March 2015. This will make it easier for foreign students to study at Todai from the beginning of the second term in September, and for Japanese students to utilize the summer break of June-August to study overseas. With a similar objective of attracting overseas researchers, Waseda University has also introduced four “quarter terms” as an alternative to the semester system.

Japan’s plan for international student exchange, known as the “300,000 International Students Plan,” was launched in 2008 and aims to achieve the targeted number international students by 2020. Another significant initiative toward globalization of research in Japan was the “Global 30” Project, launched by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology in 2009. The objective of this program was to establish 30 core universities for internationalization. This initiative has successfully broken down the language barrier, and a range of courses in many research fields are being offered in English at the universities.

The university is undoubtedly the cradle for pioneering research in the future. Therefore, it is important to open up Japan’s research institutions to international research talent, and to simultaneously send Japanese researchers for exposure in other countries.  Already, researchers from universities and research institutes in Japan are travelling to China, Vietnam, Russia, Hungary, Germany, France and many other countries, with reciprocal visits from those countries.

The Future of Globalization of Academic Research in Japan

These are the first steps in Japan toward an international mix of researchers, which have gathered momentum after the turn of the millennium and will yield tangible results in the next few decades. Assimilation of international researchers in higher education, backed by favorable government policies and funding for research projects, will go a long way toward globalization of research in Japan, and will hopefully take research in Japan even higher on the global stage.

Interdisciplinary research – Direct Imaging of Single Molecule

Interdisciplinary research has immense potential. I have talked about one of the major discoveries of modern science based on interdisciplinary research in my previous blog, posted on 29th July 2013 (http://blog.manuscriptedit.com/2013/07/ interdisciplinary-research-nobel-prize-chemistry-won-biologists/). Today, let us take another example, where one chemist and one physicist came together and presented us with the direct image of internal covalent bond structure of a single molecule using one of the advanced imaging tools, non-contact Atomic force microscope (nc-AFM). Image1Dr. Felix R.Fischer (http://www.cchem.berkeley.edu/frfgrp/), a young Assistant Professor of Chemistry at University of California (UC), Berkeley along with his collaborator Dr. Michael Crommie (http://www.physics.berkeley.edu/research/crommie/home), also a UC Berkeley Professor of Physics captured the images of internal bond structure of oligo (phenylene-1, 2 ethynylenes) [Reactant1] when it undergoes cyclization to give different cyclic compounds (one of which is shown in the inset picture http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2013/05/30/scientists-capture-first-images-of-molecules-before-and-after-reaction/). Chemists generally determine structure of molecules using different spectroscopic techniques (NMR, IR, Uv-vis, etc.) in an indirect manner. The molecular structures, we generally see in the textbooks result from the indirect way of structure determination, either theoretical or experimental or both. It is more like putting together various parts to solve a puzzle. But now, with this ground breaking work of two scientists from UC Berkeley, one can directly see for the very first time in the history of science, how a single molecule undergoes transformation in a chemical reaction, how the atoms reorganized themselves at a certain condition to produce another molecule. No more solving puzzle for next generation of chemists to determine the molecular structure.

HOW interdisciplinary research made it possible:

Well, it was not easy task for the scientists to come up with these spectacular molecular images. Imaging techniques such as scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), tunneling electron microscopy (TEM), have their limitations, and are often destructive to the organic molecular structure. Advanced technique like nc-AFM where a single carbon monoxide molecule sits on the tip (probe) helps in enhancing the spatial resolution of the microscope, and this method is also non-destructive. The thermal cyclization of the Reactant 1 was probed on an atomically cleaned silver surface, Ag(001) under ultra-high vacuum at single molecular level by STM and nc-AFM. Before probing, the reaction surface and the molecules were chilled at liquid helium temperature, 40K (-2700C). Then the researchers first located the surface molecules by STM and then performed further finetuning with nc-AFM, and the result is what we see in the inset picture. For cyclization, the Reactant 1 was heated at 900C, the products were chilled and probed.  Chilling after heating did not alter the structure of the products. The mechanism of thermal cyclization was also clearly understood, and the mechanistic pathway was in agreement with the theoretical calculations. From the blurred images of STM, Dr. Fischer and Dr. Crommie along with their coworkers presented us crystal clear molecular images with visible internal bond structure. This ground breaking work shows the potential of nc-AFM and unveils secrets of surface bound chemical reactions which will definitely have a huge impact on oil and chemical industries where heterogeneous catalysis is widely used. This technique will also help in creating customized nanostructure for use in electronic devices.

Again this path breaking work was possible due to the collaborative research between chemists and physicists. Hence, the interdisciplinary researches have endless potential.

References

1.    de Oteyza DG, Gorman P, Chen Y-C, Wickenburg S, Riss A, Mowbray DJ, Etkin G, Pedramrazi Z, Tsai H-Z, Rubio A, Crommie MF, Fischer FR. Direct Imaging of Covalent bond structure in Single-molecule chemical reactions. Science (2013); 340: 1434-1437

 

Interdisciplinary research – Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to two Biologists

Modern scientific research does not confine itself to any restricted boundary.  Nowadays, it is all about interdisciplinary research. In 2012, Nobel Prize for Chemistry (http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/)was awarded to two eminent biologists, Prof. Robert J Lefkowitz and Prof. Brian Kobika, for their crucial contribution in unveiling the signalling mechanism of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). It’s a lifetime work of both the scientists. Dr. Lefkowitz, an investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) at Duke University, is also James B Duke Professor of Medicine and of Biochemistry at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC, USA. Dr. Kobika, earlier a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Lefkowitz’s laboratory, is currently Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University, School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA.

Transmembrane signalling of one GPCR “caught in action” by X-ray crystallography

GTP (guanosine triphosphate) binding proteins (G-protein) act as molecular switches in transmitting signals from different stimuli outside the cell to inside the cell. However, for doing this G-protein needs to be activated, and that is where GPCRs play the most important role. They sit in the cell membranes throughout the body. GPCRs, also known as seven transmembrane (pass through the cell membrane seven times) domain proteins, detect the external signals like odor, light, flavor as well as the signals within the body such as hormones, neurotransmitter.1 Once the GPCRs detect a signal, the signal is transduced in certain pathway and finally activate the G-protein. In response, the activated G-protein triggers different cellular processes. Binding of a signalling molecule or ligand to the GPCR causes conformational changes in the GPCR structure. As a result of extensive research of 20 long years, Dr. Lefkowitz and Dr. Kobika not only identified 800 members of GPCRs family in human but also caught in action how these receptor proteins actually carry out the signal transduction with the help of high resolution X-ray crystallography. The crystal structure of ß2-adrenergic receptor (ß2AR), a member of the human GPCRs family was reported by Dr. Kobika and his colleagues in 2007.2 The hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline are known to activate ß2AR, and the activated ß2AR triggers different biochemical processes which help in speeding up the heart and opening airways as body’s fight response. The ß2AR is a key ingredient in anti-asthma drugs. One of the major breakthroughs came in 2011 when Dr. Kobika and his co-workers unveiled for the first time the exact moment of the transmembrane signalling by a GPCR. They reported the crystal structure of “the active state ternary complex composed of agonist-occupied monomeric ß2AR and nucleotide-free Gs heterotrimer”.3 A major conformational change in ß2AR during signal transduction was discovered.

Now what is so special about GPCRs? Well, these proteins belong to one of the largest families of  all human proteins. GPCRs are involved in most of the physiological activities, and hence are  the targets of a number of drugs. Determination of the molecular structures of this class of receptors not only helps the researchers to understand the actual mechanism of different cellular processes but also help them to design life saving and more effective drugs. So, in a nut shell, this scientific breakthrough was possible due to the involvement of experts of different areas of science such as, chemistry, biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology, structural biology, cardiology, crystallography.

 

References

 

  1. Lefkowitz, R. J. Seven transmembrane receptors: something old, something new. Acta Physiol. (Oxf.) 190, 9–19 (2007).
  2. Rasmussen, S. G. et al. Crystal structure of the human b2 adrenergic G-protein coupled receptor. Nature 450, 383–387 (2007).
  3. Rasmussen, S. G. et al.  Crystal structure of the b2 adrenergic receptor–Gs protein complex. Nature 477,  549-557 (2011)

 

Generating Content

After analyzing your audience and determining the purpose and format of your document, it is time to think about the content. This is where researching and thinking come in. Depending on the audience and purpose, different types of research would be relevant. For example, you may decide that interviewing would supply you with essential facts; or you may decide that doing a historical research on a topic would be more suitable; or perhaps a combination of methods would help (more on research in the next chapter). Collecting facts, however, is not sufficient. You need to think about the significance of these facts and to interpret them. This is where your skills of analyzing ideas (tracing their constituent elements) and synthesizing them (evaluating their significance in a given context) come in. The process of generating ideas tests your capacity for critical and creative thinking: your ability to imagine all possible aspects or factors of a problem. Analytical thinkers do not simply arrive at the most obvious solution to a question; they test out a range of possible answers and keep an open mind. As happens with chaos theory, sometimes information that initially seemed irrelevant proves to be the key. To be able to trace analogies between seemingly disparate topics and to suggest innovative solutions are skills highly sought in corporate environments. In fact, at the cutting edge of many industries and business endeavors, you will find individuals who are not only highly motivated and organized, but also creative and versatile in their thinking. After analyzing your audience and determining the purpose and format of your document, it is time to think about the content. This is where researching and thinking come in. Depending on the audience and purpose, different types of research would be relevant. For example, you may decide that interviewing would supply you with essential facts; or you may decide that doing a historical research on a topic would be more suitable; or perhaps a combination of methods would help (more on research in the next chapter). Collecting facts, however, is not sufficient. You need to think about the significance of these facts and to interpret them. This is where your skills of analyzing ideas (tracing their constituent elements) and synthesizing them (evaluating their significance in a given context) come in. The process of generating ideas tests your capacity for critical and creative thinking: your ability to imagine all possible aspects or factors of a problem. Analytical thinkers do not simply arrive at the most obvious solution to a question; they test out a range of possible answers and keep an open mind. As appens with chaos theory, sometimes information that initially seemed irrelevant proves to be the key. To be able to trace analogies between seemingly disparate topics and to suggest innovative solutions are skills highly sought in corporate environments. In fact, at the cutting edge of many industries and business endeavors, you will find individuals who are not only highly motivated and organized, but also creative and versatile in their thinking.

Factors of Audience Analysis

Psychographics

Psychographics refers to the lifestyle, values, leisure activities and social self-image that the readers are likely to have. Marketing research shows that people react favorably towards products and services that they see as representative of themselves. Similarly, your readers will respond differently to your message according to their values. What are their interests, opinions and hobbies’? In the rapidly changing and diversifying contemporary world, interests and values are less and less tied to demographic issues. For example, when computer games first started to develop, they were associated with a target market of young males in the 15 to 25 age group. As this form of entertainment evolved, the target market changed, and there are now computer games that attract females, older males, and other demographic groups. An analysis of the computer game market, therefore, is more likely to benefit from a psychographic examination that would see the computer game market as a special interest group, rather than a demographic.

Demographic and psychographic analysis are especially relevant in journalistic and public relations writing, where you address a wider public.

Factors of Audience Analysis

Marketing executives and consumer researchers, who have a strong interest in understanding market responses, and who, therefore, conduct extensive research in mass perceptions, take into account five factors of audience analysis:

  • Technical background
  • Status
  • Attitude
  • Demographics
  • Psychographics

Technical background refers to the readers’ knowledge (or lack of knowledge) in the topic that you are writing about. How much technical terminology should you use to avoid sounding either too condescending or too obscure? Should you begin with the big picture to put the reader into perspective, or go straight to the details that you want to focus on? Are you writing to people of the same educational background as yours (i.e. your peers), or to those of different training?

Audience Analysis

Every act of writing takes place in a new context, with a unique time, place or reader to take into account. Audience adaptation refers to the skill of arranging words, organizing your thoughts, and formatting your document to best achieve your desired effect on your target audience. Audience dynamics refers to the relationship that writers form with their readers through their style, and through the amount and structure of information they provide. The audience dynamics are effective when the readers get a sense of satisfaction that the questions raised in the text were relevant to their interests and the answers or solutions provided were convincing. In contrast, audience dynamics are ineffective when the readers feel frustrated or offended because the writer’s tone is condescending, the answers or solutions provided are simplistic in relation to the complexity of the questions, or the argument is emotive and based on generalization. To maximise your ability to achieve effective audience dynamics, assess the readers’ needs, knowledge and interest by conducting an audience analysis before writing. Audience analysis is an integral part of your research.

Choosing a Topic for Research Project

For a researcher to choose a topic for a project, it is important to consider a broad area of inquiry and interest.  This may be as broad as global eye health or personality psychology, but it should be an area that is of interest to the researcher.  However, a broad area is useful only at the beginning of a research plan.  Within a broader topic of inquiry, each researcher must begin narrowing the field into a few subtopics that are of greater specificity and detail. For example, a researcher may be interested in global eye health, but could focus more specifically on proper eye care and how it affects individuals.  Although this topic is still too broad for a research project, it is more focused and can be further specified into a coherent project.

Oftentimes, students as well as professional researchers discover their topics in a variety of conventional and unconventional ways.  Many researchers find that their personal interests and experiences help to narrow their topic.  For students, previous classes and course material are often the source of research ideas.  Furthermore, current events in politics as well as in academia can inspire topics for research.  Academic journals such as Health Affairs, Health Economics, and the American Journal of Bioethics can provide good material for new studies and E-resources such as Pubmed, Google Scholar and Philosopher’s Index are also good starting places.  Lastly, many research ideas are generated through dialogue by talking with professors, fellow students and family.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Research Papers

Every researcher wants to submit an excellent research paper at the termination of their research. Your piece of writing is the only medium that conveys your hard work to the readers. Whether you write an abstract, a research paper, research proposals or thesis, your ways of presenting the data and your writing style all together create a holistic picture of you. Owing to the utter significance of a research paper, here are some tips that can ease the complicated process of writing.

The following is a list of Do’s and Don’ts to remember as you begin to pen down your work:
The Do’s:

  1. Communicate your work clearly and precisely. Remember you are presenting a novel work done; you don’t have to write stories.
  2. Spotlight the ideas and methodologies involved. Discuss specific reasons to justify your research.
  3. Your innovative ideas and methodologies can be followed by future researchers, therefore, doubly verify the accuracy and correctness of the data you present.
  4. Your presented materials should give a thorough conception of the topic and all its aspects.
  5. Refer diverse sources of research for trustworthy and most up-to-date information.
  6. Do scrutinize your research stuff and information for reliability and present it with ample analysis and logic to show how it conveys and supports your research.
  7. Provide solid evidences and sufficient supporting arguments to reinforce your findings.
  8. Fill your paper with scientific terminologies. Write your paper with only enough detail about the research work.
  9. Maintain a track of the bibliography and references. Sort data by source or mark your notes so as to remember where individual facts came from.
  10. Proof read the paper several times. Do not hesitate to take help of your friends/peers/colleagues/professional editors in proof reading and fine tuning the paper.

And the Don’ts:

  1. Do not misrepresent yourself. Be honest to the readers.
  2. Don’t include anything that doesn’t answer the questions. It won’t lead to any new conclusion about your work.
  3. Don’t lengthen your paper unnecessarily. Relevant and to the point data is sufficient to frame your work and make your point.
  4. Don’t reveal incomplete or absurd reasons for doing the research.
  5. Don’t exceed the recommended word limits. This gives an impression that you don’t know how to follow guidelines, manage within limitations or systematize your findings.
  6. Don’t make too many generalizations. A paper full of overviews gives an impression that you do not have anything to say.
  7. Don’t write in a vacuum. Make sure that each of your findings support the cause.
  8. Don’t forget to reference any supporting material or related research done by other prominent researchers’ it augments and complements the research paper.
  9. Don’t cite Wikipedia.  Rather find an absolutely reliable source for your citations.
  10. Don’t plagiarize and always proof read your work before submission.