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Like every core-enthu guy, I shared the dream of pursuing graduate studies from some of the top universities in my field. However, getting an admit at The University of Tokyo (or Todai) seemed to be a distant dream with numerous obstacles. Through this post, I try to share you my experiences to help you plan an important step for your career and avoid some common mistakes. I was fortunate enough to make a decision to pursue a career in research/engineering quite early in my bachelor studies. I still vividly remember looking into some of the best graduate programs in materials science and engineering, with Todai being one of the very few Asian universities among other American universities. With rich history and technological edge in materials engineering, I decided to apply for the university’s master program (IME Graduate program).

With no core projects or an internship experience in hand, accompanied by a low CPI score, things seemed pretty impossible initially. Fortunately, I had a bit more time to work on and improve my profile. A research internship at Germany and my BTP project gave me a sneak-peek to the research world of materials science, if not develop all the necessary skill-set. These experiences also helped me choose research labs for my graduate studies. In Japanese universities, it is necessary to find professor who is willing to supervise you for your master studies before you make the application. I recommend students to start this process as early as possible (~6 months before application deadline). With a couple of rejections, I finally found my supervisor. Finding your supervisor is winning half the battle. Hence, it is very important to apply to labs where you not only have deep interest to carry research but also have relevant skills and knowledge to apply in. I was lucky to find an amazing supervisor and a lab with many international students.

With few months remaining for the application deadline, I prepared the documents (eg. Research proposal, resume, recommendation letters, BTP project etc.), and submitted the standardized tests required (eg. GRE). Unlike an American university, Japanese university analyze your research ideologies in great detail rather than shuffling applications based on standardized tests. 9th February 2016, I received the admission offer! I made my application only to this university (simply, Japan enthu :P), but I strongly recommend students to have few more options. After passing the selection process, I was given all the assistance required to prepare documents (eligibility certificate, Visa, medical etc.) by the administrators of the program. However, finding the accommodation in Japan from India is quite challenging. Every student is assigned a tutor by the supervisor to find a suitable accommodation and also complete all necessary paperwork after coming to Japan.

A couple of weeks after the convocation I had to pack-up for Japan. Realizing that insti-time is over and leaving those inseparable friends was the hardest part to work on. Japan can be extremely intimidating in first place. Although I had no prior Japanese skills but learning a few keywords can help a lot. After coming to Japan, I found tons of paperwork needed to be completed. I was dying to find some English characters into the paperwork for ‘international’ students. It can be very frustrating to deal with so many formalities in your initial days. However, my tutor, supervisor and the administrators were extremely helpful in every possible way. For my master program, most of the students wrap up the courses in their first year and focus on research in the second year. With university getting more internationalized, many courses are now being offered in English.

My program also gave me the liberty to take courses in multiple departments. The classes here have very optimized student to professor ratio with more emphasis on class participation and reports, rather than exams (welcome to graduate school :P). This system really helps you choose classes that really interests you and motivates you to a learn a topic in more detail. I also found these classes as a great way to socialize with students from many different countries. With first year having less pressure of research, it’s a great time to explore the country and the culture. The university also organizes trips, parties and events to help us know more about their country. So, first year – explore, learn and socialize! After wrapping up the courses, it was time to start focusing on research. My research was focused on Perovskite Solar Cells, finding strategies to improve the device performance and stability. With an easy access to advanced fabrication and characterization machines, along with great supervision, the quality of my research was mostly dependent on my motivation and effort I put in.

However, I was assigned a Korean assistant professor (or, co-supervisor) (and trust me, a Korean boss is something you never want to have!). Under his supervision, I was taught that life is short, and an effort like hell needs to be put in to have an edge over others. The first six months of my second year was complete with sleepless nights, long working hours along with many rough moments. Many graduate students, independent of university location and nationality, can face this problem. It is important to keep yourself motivated and understand that it’s a learning experience. Throughout these experiences, I was able to exercise a sophisticated research roadmap and learned to use advanced characterization and fabrication tools. With a firm determination of gaining expertise in materials engineering, I was able to grow through this phase and saw my project work being scripted into a manuscript, ready for publication! As I entered my final semester, it was time to dive into the job-hunting process. Finding a job in Japan of your choice is extremely difficult without Japanese skills. However, industrial opportunities are countless if you can speak Japanese. Hence, I recommend students, who plan to apply to Japanese universities/companies to start learning Japanese back in India itself.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Looking back into my last 20 months of graduate studies, it was extremely challenging, but a rewarding experience. Tokyo is a great city, and also the safest in the world. Todai is hugely respected in academic arena. Moreover, living in a Japanese culture changes you a lot. You learn to strive for perfection, dedication and simplicity. With an access to some of the most advanced technologies for research, I have almost no boundaries to dig deeper into the world of materials and collaborate with some of the smartest minds. However, in the end, it all comes down to loving your research topic and think how it can help achieve your goals. It’s also necessary for students back in IIT to not feel discouraged to apply to universities if they do not have a great CPI or a foreign intern tag. IITs are extremely respected in research world. Try to look for alternatives, chat with professors to discuss a research topic of your interest and make that application happen.

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