Never Let Them Go - Those Wild, Preposterous, Irreverent Ambitions
To each of you, congratulations on your admission to SOKENDAI. Because SOKENDAI is a graduate university with no undergraduate departments, everyone admitted here today has arrived from one of the many different undergraduate programs from which each of you has graduated. That means each of you has decided to leave behind the comfort of a familiar place and pursue your doctoral dissertation research someplace entirely new. Such courage and determination are to be praised. In Europe and North America, such changes in location are the norm; in Japan, for whatever reason, students and even researchers tend not to move around as much. In my opinion, not just as president of a graduate university but also as a researcher myself, this is not a good thing, so I truly admire your decision to attend SOKENDAI.
Why is this lack of movement such a bad thing? It's because a single place gives rise to a single culture that everyone then perpetuates to the point that they become inflexible and an atmosphere resistant to innovation emerges. Fresh air is always needed. In my view, this is what enables us to continually examine our current circumstances with a critical eye and empowers us to take society in a new direction.
SOKENDAI is very different from graduate schools inside conventional universities. Each of our departments constitutes a single research institute with a mission to produce world-class research in their field. As graduate students, you are sent straight into the midst of it all, treated from the start as budding researchers, and thrown into circumstances normally faced by researchers.
It is not, I suppose, an environment in which you are carefully spoon-fed everything you need to learn. In terms of student life, I think conditions here are quite different from a conventional graduate school, where you might start by figuring out basic issues like if there is a cafeteria where you can eat, or opportunities for leisure, relaxation, and sports, or what kind of consultation resources exist for times when you need help. As a graduate school built around research institutes, SOKENDAI can provide you the most advanced equipment and faculty for research in your field. When it comes to taking care of you in everyday life, it's fair to say we perhaps leave something to be desired.
Looking ahead, if you ever encounter problems or have complaints in the course of your research, do not hesitate to contact the main university headquarters. We will do everything we can to address your concerns and improve your learning environment. From the start, however, be sure to understand the peculiar nature of your place of research, namely, that it is one of the research institutes within an inter-university research institute. That means, for instance, that even if you are first-year student in a five-year doctoral program who has just graduated from college, I still want to you to take joy in the fact that you will be treated as a "mini researcher" from the beginning.
What will be the research topic around which you will begin your research? I would think it is very exciting, the position you are in. In my own case, looking back to when I began my doctoral research, I cannot tell you how excited I was! That said, given the current social context in which we conduct research today, even your choice of topic, it seems, must be one that is sure to produce results. Thinking about your lives as researchers beyond your doctoral degree, I have to admit that you face formidable circumstances--circumstances that will require you to make steady, demonstrable progress, always with an eye on your next position.
But that is not what research is truly meant to be. Research is the pursuit of things that simply fascinate you, about which you desire to know more. It is the kind of thing that produces results that no one could have predicted. Around the world and even in Japan, there was a time when funding was plentiful and all kinds of bizarre research was funded, research that researchers would continue to pursue even if it produced no immediately recognizable results.
Alas, this is no longer such a time. Indeed, if our current results-driven philosophy is taken to its extreme, we will find ourselves pursuing only those things that are sure to produce results--things, in other words, that we already know. If this happens, we will surely find ourselves trapped in a regressive spiral. Which is why it must not be allowed to happen. And so, as you conduct your dissertation research, as you add new knowledge to your field and take it to the next stage, I hope you will also nurture a desire to pursue the preposterous and forge the way to something utterly new. In terms of everyday research results, you must always make steady progress; that is a skill you must have. But I also hope you will aspire in your heart to something more--to always let your thoughts run a little wild and to dream of breaking free of the present.
Of course, whether I say it or not, such is the nature of youth, I suspect. As people age, they develop a thorough sense of the present and of what is, and isn't, possible. That comes as a result of our past experiences. Since young people do not yet have those experiences, they are capable of imagining things that past experience says are inconceivable and of taking on challenges that, for an older generation, were never before and still seem not to be possible.The future is yours to make. New horizons in research are yours to envision. For now, you are new to research and will naturally conduct your research under the guidance of your faculty advisors. In 10 or 20 years' time, however, you will be at the forefront of research, leading research to its next stages. Be that ambitious and hold onto a wild, preposterous, and irreverent spirit as you begin your dissertation research. May that research prove fruitful in many ways.
Once again, my sincere congratulations on your admission to SOKENDAI.
October 9, 2018
Mariko Hasegawa, Ph.D., President