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Editorial: Expertise of young doctorate holders must be used for academia, business

  • January 30, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 7:35 p.m.
  • English Press

Specialists are necessary for technological innovation, and a society in which such talented persons can widely play important roles should be created.


The government’s Council for Science, Technology and Innovation has decided on measures to support young researchers. The government plans to create a fund to provide research expenses — about ¥7 million annually per person for up to 10 years — and improve scholarships.


These measures have come against a backdrop of a feeling of hopelessness prevailing among young researchers, who are expected to sustain Japan as a nation of technology. There are a small number of permanent jobs for post-doctoral fellows who have obtained doctorates. They are in unstable positions, such as serving in posts with fixed terms of three to five years.


It is reasonable to try to provide researchers with more financial assistance so that they can conduct thorough research.


Some students may feel anxious about their future when they see their elders struggling to make ends meet and hesitate to pursue doctoral programs. The number of students advancing from master’s courses to doctoral courses was about 12,000 in 2003, but it declined to about 6,000 in 2018.


In recent years, a high level of expertise has been indispensable in the fields drawing attention, such as artificial intelligence and information technology. Expectations are high for the talent of doctoral degree holders who have such abilities. The decrease in the number of doctorates could lead to a decline in Japan’s research and development capabilities.


Looking at the number of doctorate holders per million population, Japan is at a low level with 118, which is less than half that of Germany and South Korea. It is also worrisome from the viewpoint of maintaining international competitiveness in science and technology.


The average age at which Nobel laureates started their award-winning studies is reportedly 37. It is important to create a research environment in which young people can easily take on challenges.


Until now, Japanese universities have had a strong system of research laboratories headed by professors, and young researchers have often been busy with supplementary work and miscellaneous duties. The structure of the laboratories should be changed to promote the independence of young researchers and encourage them to research as they wish based on unconventional ideas.


In North America and Europe, doctorate holders have been highly evaluated for their specialized abilities and pursue various careers such as in government services, start-ups and research institutes. On the other hand, Japanese companies still have a lingering sense that doctoral degree holders are difficult to use because they have a narrow view of things, believing that such persons have long been isolated in specialized research silos.


How about if companies accept doctorate holders such as in long-term internships that can lead to the discovering of new talent?


Doctorate holders perhaps need to change their conventional way of thinking that places top priority on research posts at universities and to examine their career paths from a broad perspective.


Universities that foster young researchers are also required to give them not only research abilities but skills to work in companies, such as business sense and the ability to cooperate with other people.

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