A Bridge between Young Asian Scientists by Sakura Science Program
Systems Neuroscience Prof. MUSHIAKE, Hajime
Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine (TUGM) accepted 15 short-term trainees from East Asia with the support of the "Japan-Asia Youth Science Exchange Program in Science" (SAKURA Exchange Program in Science), implemented by the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) in April 2014. This program was held in cooperation with Tohoku Tabunka Academy (TTA) on Nov 9–16, 2015, following the success of the same program in 2014. Last year, TUGM accepted 30 short-term trainees from East Asia; three of them are now in graduate courses at Tohoku University.
The fifteen trainees accepted, seven women and eight men, included undergraduates, graduates, and young researchers from eight universities and institutes in China, South Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia. During their stay, the trainees received laboratory training and tours of Tohoku University facilities. The participants also visited the affected areas of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Professor Hajime Mushiake, Department of Systems Neuroscience, who accompanied the trainees, reports his experiences from the SAKURA Exchange Program in Science, 2015:
Planning Sakura Science 2015
The Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) launched the “SAKURA Exchange Program in Science” or “Sakura Science Plan” in April 2014. The mission of this program was to facilitate short-term visits of competent Asian young people to Japan and to increase the interest of Asian students and young researchers in studying science and technology at leading Japanese universities. When this program was announced by the JST we believed that the SAKURA science program would help to promote an “open door policy” at Tohoku University. Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine (TUGM) joined the SAKURA science program in collaboration with Tohoku Tabunka Academy (TTA), an incorporated foundation that supports short-term study in Japan from abroad.
Our version of the SAKURA science plan is unique in that we provide an opportunity for the participants to visit their preferred laboratories at TUGM, with preferences based on the mutual research interests of the laboratories and individuals. Prior to the visit, interested individuals provided a written English description of the reasons for, and motivation behind, the selection of their laboratory.
Announcements about the 2015 Sakura Science Plan at Tohoku University were sent to more than 12 of our partner universities and institutes in China, Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia to recruit competent young students from a number of institutes in various Asian countries. This year, the number of participants was limited to fifteen. Through careful evaluation of their application forms and by matching their research preferences to the availability of various laboratories, we finally selected 15 participants from 22 candidates.
Welcome to Tohoku University and Autumn-colored Sendai city
The main aim of the program was to provide the participants with a four-day visit to their chosen laboratory. All laboratories warmly welcomed the participants and allowed them to join various laboratory activities; we were especially grateful to the laboratories for their hospitality. Participants also visited the Tohoku Medical Biobank and observed the latest technology and facilities for a large-scale genomic cohort study. They attended lectures on the importance of and advances in individualized medicine and visited skills laboratories housing various types of medical simulators for clinical skills training. The participants visited Katahira campus, a main campus of Tohoku University, to see the preserved lecture room of Lu Xun, a leading figure of modern Chinese literature who studied at the medical school of Tohoku University from 1904 to 1906; Lu Xun is a symbol of friendship between Tohoku University and China. During this campus tour, all participants seemed to understand the three missions of Tohoku University: the “Research First” principle, the “Open Door” policy, and “Practice-Oriented” research.
After the four-day laboratory visit, the participants left Sendai to visit the disaster area of Ishinomaki and toured Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital, a designated disaster hospital. On the weekend, they toured Matsushima Bay. They explored the hot springs at Sakunami, with its beautifully colored autumn leaves. They also enjoyed local cultural activities (making Kokeshi) at Akiu and Japanese cuisine.
Closing ceremony and the beginning of new relationships
On 16 November, the last day at Sendai, a report meeting was held. Each participant briefly summarized his or her laboratory activities, including research or any other exciting experiences. Everyone appeared to be satisfied with their research experience and appreciated the hospitality they had received during their stay. Each participant received a certificate from Dr. Katagiri, Associate Dean of Medical Sciences and Ms. Oshitani, president of TTA. We believe that the visit had allowed the participants the opportunity to develop a better understanding of their mentors’ research interests and direction, as well as to cultivate friendships with other participants. We were very happy to hear that some of the participants had expressed their intention to return to Sendai. In the closing remarks, Dr. Katagiri emphasized the importance of integral medical research from basic and clinical perspectives.
Everyone involved agreed that the Sakura Science Plan provides a basis for developing close relationships based on mutual trust and respect; thus, the closing ceremony was not the endpoint, but the beginning of new relationships and future collaborations.
We are grateful to all of the TUGM faculties for joining the Sakura Science Plan 2015 and especially appreciate the continued efforts of the international exchange support office and public relations office. We also appreciate the person-centered care provided by TTA staff members, particularly from volunteers Yujiao Yu and the undergraduate medical students. Finally, we express our gratitude to all the participants of our programs. We hope that continuing this type of short-term visitation program will raise awareness of TUGM programs among Asian youth and increase the rate of enrollment of foreign students in the future.