The Long Term Overseas Visit Program for Young Researchers started in 2009 under former Kobe University President Hideki Fukuda. This initiative aims to support the next generation of scholars by funding outstanding young researchers to undertake long-term research projects at overseas institutions. The program is open to researchers under 45 and they must spend a minimum of 6 months abroad, although stays of a year or more are also permitted. Continuing under the leadership of current President Hiroshi Takeda, so far this program has funded the overseas visits of over 130 researchers at Kobe University. We interviewed two recent participants about their experiences.

Interview 1: Life Writing and progressive education in the UK

Associate Professor Ayako Kawaji

Graduate School of Human Development and Environment (Visiting Researcher at the University of Cambridge, March 2017 – December 2017)

Why I chose the United Kingdom

I am researching Japan’s prewar (1930s) education on Composition and Life Writing. Education is strongly linked to cultural characteristics, and school systems are different depending on the country and era. My topic used to be known in English as “Composition” but these days it’s called “Life Writing”. Research papers on Japan’s pre-war education tend to be written in Japanese, and these changes in terminology make it hard when I have to translate concepts into English.

The opportunity to apply for the Long Term Overseas Visit Program arose after I participated in a project to publish my graduation thesis as a chapter in the book Educational Progressivism, Cultural Encounters and Reform in Japan. I was invited by Professor Yoko Yamasaki (Fukuyama Heisei University), who told me, “The British publisher Routledge is planning to publish a series about progressive education, and they’re looking for participants from Japan. Why don’t you introduce education on Japanese Life Writing?” Over the next two years, including intensive residential periods, we held over 10 conferences and put together our papers (in English, of course). Former University of Cambridge Professor Peter Cunningham (History of Education Society UK Executive Committee) read my paper and gave me a lot of constructive criticism. He patiently advised me on where I should make abbreviations and where I need to expand my argument, and thanks to this I was able to complete my first substantive paper in English. I learned a lot from this experience, so I resolved to carry out further research in the United Kingdom.

Associate Professor Kawaji presenting at a seminar

The research

① Teacher training in the United Kingdom

In order to study the teacher training process, I attended lectures as part of a PGCE course (Post Graduate Certification for Education) – a course that enables university graduates to obtain a teaching license in 1 year. The course was attended by a diverse range of trainees: as well as recent graduates, there were also people who had recently finished bringing up their own children, and people aiming to become teachers after finishing a doctorate.

② Progressive education in the United Kingdom

Progressive education is a reaction to traditional styles of teaching that aim to instill something essential in children. It’s a child-centred movement that respects the child’s own wishes, so there is no set standard for evaluation. The central concern is “How do we determine that a child has been educated?” Life Writing is one kind of progressive education, and in Japan many people believe that we must evaluate Life Writing in a way that relates to the child’s way of life. There has been much debate over the question of “what makes a good piece of writing?”

It occurred to me that the United Kingdom probably has similar issues, so I collected documents related to evaluating progressive education from the University of Cambridge library, and carried out research on this topic, alongside discussions with Professor Cunningham. I plan to make more visits to the UK in the near future to collect materials and work on this project.

③ Oracy (speaking) education

In the UK the act of speaking is very important, for example in job-hunting, and oracy holds an important place among other literacy subjects such as reading, writing and mathematics. When I visited schools in the UK, I encountered oracy education that tries to address inequalities by supporting children who do not speak English as their first language. This will be my next research topic.

The book that includes Associate Professor Kawaji’s paper, with the University of Cambridge campus in the background

Research exchange

I presented my research on Japan’s Life Writing education at the University of Cambridge (UK), the University of Roehampton (UK), and the University of Lleida (Spain). Spain has a similar initiative to Japan’s Life Writing, and I compared notes with Spanish faculty members, graduate students and researchers. I was able to strengthen my ties with the University of Roehampton’s Marie Curie Fellow Meritxell Simon Martin (History of Education UK Executive Committee member and Editorial Board member of the Annals of Global History) as well as researchers at the University of Lleida.

Because of security concerns, it is very difficult for outsiders to enter schools, but thanks to an introduction from Professor Pete Dudley (President of the World Association of Lesson Studies) I was able to carry out class surveys for primary and junior-level education. I visited 18 schools in the UK, and looked at initiatives that aim to safeguard children’s rights and reduce inequalities.

As a graduate student I worked as a part-time child development counselor for three years, and met families who were experiencing various difficulties. I realized that Life Writing is not just education for reading and writing - it can enable children to overcome difficult circumstances. This realization is what drew me to research this topic. I believe that the two concerns of Life Writing in progressive education and support for child-rearing are connected in the UK. The UK is engaged in fundamental support for people who cannot understand English. Considering how Japan will become more diverse as people from different cultures increase, I think that we have a lot to learn.

Interview 2: At the cutting edge of French computer science

Associate Professor Takehide Soh

Information Science and Technology Center (Visiting Researcher at CRIL-CNRS, Artois University, France, September 2017 - September 2018)

The research

I am currently working on computation methods for solving the Constraint Satisfaction Problem (CSP). Put simply, CSP is a problem of finding an assignment that satisfies all the given constraint conditions. We know in theory that the larger the scale of the problem, the harder it becomes to solve. Because CSP has applications in many fields such as artificial intelligence, effective solving methods have been actively studied for real-world problems. For instance, applications of CSP include educational timetabling problems, sports scheduling, optimal software component configuration problems in cloud, and problems in systems biology.

In particular, currently I am investigating a solving method of this CSP by translating it into the Propositional Satisfiability Testing (SAT) problem. With this method I carry out a translation from a CSP into a SAT instance (called SAT encoding), and then use a program, SAT solver, to solve the translated SAT instance. CSP solvers using this method are called SAT-based CSP solvers. In SAT-based CSP solvers, SAT encoding is crucial as well as SAT solver. During my research period overseas, I worked on research and development of the SAT-based CSP solver with a focus on SAT encoding.

Why I chose Artois University

My family and I do not speak French, but I chose the Lens Computer Science Research Lab – French National Centre for Scientific Research (CRIL-CNRS, located in Artois University) in France because it has many CSP and SAT specialists. My host professor, Professor Daniel Le Berre, was the Deputy Director of CRIL-CNRS, and he is a renowned researcher who received the Innovation Medal in 2018 from the French National Centre for Scientific Research in recognition of his contributions to the SAT solver.

The support system for visiting researchers is very different depending on the host institution. This time there was no equivalent to a welcome center, so I was helped out by the CRIL-CNRS researchers, and relied on Google translate to create documents in French. Other than the host institution, I was helped by EURAXESS, which is a support organization beyond individual research institutions. Thanks to EURAXESS I was able to take beginner’s French language classes free of charge.

Lens Computer Science Research Lab

The results

In August 2018, towards the end of my stay in France, the results of the international CSP solver competition XCSP18 were announced. I entered two categories with a SAT-based CSP solver called sCOP that I had jointly developed with Professor Le Berre and others during my stay, and we took first place in both categories. This international competition (XCSP3 Competition) compares the performance of different CSP solvers. It has been running for over a decade, with its precursor first held in 2005. Research and development of the SAT-based CSP solver sCOP was my main project during my stay abroad, so I’m very happy with this concrete result.

During my stay, as well as CRIL-CNRS I also visited the French academic institution Ecole Centrale de Nantes. There I was able to have a fruitful discussion with system biology specialist Professor Morgan Magnin about the applications of SAT-based CSP solver to system biology. After this visit we continued to collaborate via email, and we (Professor Magnin, Professor Le Berre and I) applied for JSPS Bilateral Programs, Joint Research Projects with France (MEAE-MESRI) “SAKURA Program”. The application was accepted in January 2019, and now we’re in the process of starting our research project.

This overseas visit provided me with an opportunity to concentrate long-term on my research in an environment full of specialists, and I was able to go very deeply into issues that are normally hard to tackle (the development of the SAT-based CSP solver). I’m especially happy that while engaging with these issues, I discovered a new research issue that I’m planning to work on in the future. The relationships I have made with researchers here during my stay, starting with Professor Le Berre and Professor Magnin, will be beneficial in future research collaborations.

Everyday life in a foreign country

I realized that communication is possible even if you don’t speak the same language. I was not in an English-speaking country, but my family and I were able to live there without any significant issues.

French cuisine is delicious, and it was fun to shop at the markets. But when we lived there, I was surprised at the large number of strikes. In 2018 there was a long-term strike at French National Rail. On strike days there were still trains, but it was a limited service, and it was hard because we couldn’t predict the timetable.

I believe that long-term research overseas is an experience of irreplaceable value. You may have various concerns about it, but I highly recommend that young researchers apply to this long-term overseas visit program. If you go alone there shouldn’t be too much preparation, but if you take your family there are visas, houses and schools to think about, so I recommend you prepare well in advance.

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