I’ve answered quite a number of questions over the years on this particular scholarship and it remains elusive to many. Part of the issue lies with the concept of a “research student” or 研究生 (kenkyuusei) as they are called in Japan. I’ve picked some of the more common questions and tried to answer them as best I could in this article. Do let me know if you have a pressing question or if you think that my information is incorrect. Here we go.
What is a ‘Research Student’?
A research student is basically a student who does research (haha!) but is NON-GRADUATING. In other words, you will not get a degree or a certificate by being a research student.
How can I get this scholarship?
There are three routes: (i) via embassy recommendation (ii) via university recommendation and (iii) via domestic application. The third route requires you to already be in Japan so that is out for most people. For (i) and (ii), contact or look up the websites of the respective organisations (embassy or university of your choice).
How long is the period for this scholarship?
It depends on when you arrive in Japan. If you arrive in Spring (April) it will be for 2 years. If you arrive in Autumn (October), it will be for 1.5 years. Basically, it will always end on March. BUT, this can be extended given certain circumstances. Read on.
Does that mean I cannot do a Master’s Degree or PhD with this scholarship?
Relax. You can. But you have to get the scholarship extended to cover your postgrad course. This will require another selection after you arrive in Japan, most likely an entrance exam and/or interview by the department. Quoting from official MEXT documents:
I am told to choose professors, how do I do that?
First, you should decide on your topic of research. Next you can look for a university that is strong in your research field. From there, shortlist relevant departments and look for professors with publications and research that align with yours.
To increase your chances of getting a positive response…
- Do not bombard all the professors in a department with requests. Profs are humans too and have friends. They will know if a student is genuinely asking for their guidance or just trying their luck.
- Contact prospective supervisors EARLY. Last minute emails just look desperate.
- Read up on their research and see how you can contribute. Mention this when contacting them.
- Write POLITELY. Start the email with a greeting and end the email with a ‘Best Regards’ or something to that effect. Japanese culture places a lot of importance on politeness and civic-mindedness.
- Do not write essays. Keep your email concise and to the point. Refrain from asking too many questions in your FIRST email.
- If you do not get a response, wait a while before trying again. Profs are really busy and often do a fair bit of travelling. If you started early, you have no worries.
- If you still do not get a response, try calling up the department office and asking if the professor is away.
- If you feel that you have a CV that showcases your research experience/skills, you may wish to consider attaching it in your email.
- Check if the professor has had foreign students before (e.g. refer to the lab homepage and see the section on list of students).
So what do I do as a Research Student?
Technically, you are supposed to do research under the supervision of your assigned professor. However, almost all research students are encouraged to pursue a Masters or PhD and will likely use the initial period of their RS stint to prepare for entrance exams or Japanese language classes.
When does this entrance exam thing happen?
It varies from university to university but entrance exams usually occur around 2 months before the start of a semester (hence usually Feb and August).
Since MEXT scholars are flown into Japan in April and October, you usually have about 4 months to prepare for your entrance exam. And in the event that you fail or miss the first round, you may be allowed to take subsequent exams. This is subject to the professor in charge of you, of course.
Are Japanese classes compulsory?
Yes and no. It really depends on your programme and major. In my case, it was purely optional and many of my foreign lab mates don’t speak much Japanese. Most universities would have comprehensive classes for students.
If I do not wish to do a Masters or PhD, can I stay longer as an RS?
What do I actually get and what do I have to pay?
MEXT covers most of your costs. What you get:
- Round trip air tickets
- Monthly allowance (143,000 for RS; 144,000 for M and 145,000 for D. Additional 2-3,000 depending on your location)
- Exam fees paid for
- Matriculation fees paid for
- Tuition fees paid for
What you have to pay:
- Your own living expenses
- Your own rent
- Fees for things like TOEFL
- Any other obvious stuff not related to school
Is 140-150,000 yen per month enough to survive in Japan?
For most people, yes. Dorms are available usually for 1st year students and they cost anything from next to nothing to about 35,000 yen. Some special dorms (for family for example) may cost as much as 70,000 yen / month. If you choose a place like Tokyo, rentals tend to be higher especially if you are renting a private apartment. If you choose a reasonably new single apartment near the University of Tokyo for example, it would usually cost around 70-90,000 yen / month. Read more about renting here.
Food is relatively pricey but cooking is always an option. Many students save enough money to even travel during their time in Japan. Furthermore, you can work part-time if you apply for permission with the immigration bureau (28 hours a week or 8 hours a day during vacation). Minimum wage in Japan is around 650-900 yen per hour depending on location.
*Feature image courtesy of David Goehring (CC license)