Science in Japan: Competition on Campus

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Science  04 Oct 1996:
Vol. 274, Issue 5284, pp. 43
DOI: 10.1126/science.274.5284.43


Two opposing forces--competition and cooperation--are beginning to coexist at Japanese universities as they enter an era of increased funding, increased demand for graduate students, and increased pressure to contribute to the country's economic growth. The new environment promises to be a challenging one, with great rewards for those who succeed and great risks for those who fail to keep pace.

On the competitive side, there is the unprecedented bidding for talented students, the growing use of peer review to make awards, and the emerging recognition that lifetime tenure, tiny but equitable grants, and immobility are not compatible with cutting-edge science. Those below the top tier--dominated by the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University--liken the new atmosphere to the law of the jungle: "I have to get everything for my team by myself, like a small yakuza [organized crime] boss," says one researcher at Waseda University.

But cooperation is too deeply ingrained in Japanese culture to be driven out by the latest demands on science. From high school teachers sharing their ideas on improving the precollege science curriculum to universities putting out the welcome mat for foreign scientists, increased domestic and international collaboration are seen as vital to a successful transformation of academic science.

The stories in this special section are intended to be a snapshot of life on campus and the issues affecting academic research in Japan. It is part of our broader, ongoing effort to report on the country's vibrant and growing scientific enterprise. We welcome your comments and your ideas for future coverage.

Jeffrey Mervis

Choice of Ph.D. or job

This section was reported and written by Dennis Normile, head of the Japan news bureau of Science, and June Kinoshita, a science writer based in Belmont, Massachusetts.

For more information on career opportunities, see Science's Next Wave's forum on “sTraining Young Scientists in Asia for the 21st Century.”