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Apr 16, 2014

Going to Japan as a researcher (1)

[note: this is a repost, on 15/05/2015 of an article I had prepared for another version of my blog(s). It was originally posted in April 2014, so some of the information may have changed. Leave a comment below if you have a question]

There are quite a few people interested in coming to work in Japan, so I suppose some of them might be researchers looking for opportunities here [back in 2014, I was still working in Japan].
Depending on your career stage, the opportunities will be different, so I will consider three stages: student (MSc or PhD), young researcher (defined as within five years of completing your PhD) and experienced researcher (at least five years of experience post-PhD). Today, I will focus on options for young researchers.

The most obvious option, at any stage of your career, is direct hire. The main difficulty is to identify suitable positions. As always, networking is a valuable tool. If you are hoping to move to Japan, present your work at conferences in your field and try to meet Japanese attendees. They may be able to direct you to some of their contacts looking for candidates, or might even have a position in their own laboratory. My first position in Japan was the result, in part, of a discussion at a conference in Italy many years before I even considered Japan an option.

Another route to find research positions is the Internet. Websites such as Nature Jobs, Science Careers and Times Higher Education all have the options to search by geographical regions, and to create email alerts tailored to your needs. Another great resource, specific to jobs in Japan, is JREC-IN (Japan REsearch Career Information Network), maintained by the Japan Science and Technology Agency. You can filter results by region, prefecture, institution type, research field, etc., and can also save the corresponding email alerts. Very useful!

As a young researcher, another option is to find your own funding, and there are a few fellowship programs worth mentioning. The best known probably is fellowship program of the JSPS (Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science). Their website has all the information you will need. Interestingly for people who want to come to Japan long-term, the program also has a specific stream called "Pathway to University Positions in Japan". There is also a funding stream for short visits to Japan, but be careful about the impact on your eligibility if you plan to apply for a standard fellowship later on.

Many research institutes also have their own postdoctoral fellowship program for foreigners, such as RIKEN with the aptly named FPR (Foreign Postdoctoral Researcher program). If your research field has anything to do with Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Medicine or Engineering, it is definitely worth looking into. The FPR program is funding my current position, and I can recommend it. The website has all the details you need to know more about the program, check your eligibility and prepare an application.

International programs may also be an opportunity to relocate to Japan. Two such programs come to mind. The first one is the Human Frontiers Science Program (HFSP). The program is open to applicants with a Ph.D. in a biological discipline (Long-Term Fellowships) as well as those from outside the life sciences (Cross-Disciplinary Fellowships). Interestingly, HFSP fellowships offer the option to stay the full three years of the fellowship in the host country or to use the last year of the fellowship to return to your home country or to move to another HFSPO member country. I think this "return phase" option can be really useful, and it is also a feature of the other scheme I wanted to mention, the International Outgoing Fellowships for career development (IOF) offered by the European Commission through the Marie Curie Actions.
 With that program, the return phase has to take place in Europe, but anyone can apply, irrespective of nationality and current location. Several national funding agencies across Europe have similar schemes co-funded with the European Commission. In such cases, the return phase obviously takes place in the corresponding country. My first position in Japan, mentioned earlier in this post, was funded by such a program.

As you can see, there are many options if you want to come to Japan as a young researcher, and this post is not meant to be exhaustive. These positions are generally quite competitive, but this does not mean you should not try. If you know any other funding program worth mentioning, or maybe some useful online resources, please leave a comment below.