PhD student and Supervisor - To Professors, Is shaming student in front of other people a fetish of yours?”

4 minute read

Published:

This blog series is of my personal opinions and experiences in grad school. My personal bad experience may not necessarily reflect the situations in most academia settings but I hope this will shed some light to people about the good and bad of academia. This is my way to vent some of my frustration in this top-down hierachical environment of the lab I am in.

Something I witness ocasionally on every Monday meetings since I started my PhD here in Japan was A particular Japanese professors like to ask “What are you try to show?”/”So what is the purpose of you doing this?” in front of other students, postdoc and associate professors. This questions are particularly directed towards some of the foreign students, in a way shaming these students publicly where some Japanese student are also looking down upon these foreign student. I am using the term foreign student rather than international student but this by itself I will explain it more later on in this blog post. Even I myself has not escape this trauma of unable to answer those question and felt ashame and even frustration as those question are supposed to be in a private 1-1 meetings and the purpose of doing a particular analysis or studies should be discussed with the professors prior as the role of that professors should have played as an advisor to these foreign students. This particular professor give all the freedoms to these foreign student “to do whatever they like” but never willing to have a serious discuss with the student to guide them properly to be a full fledge physcist/researcher. This professor has never viewed these foreign student as a colleague (though abeit the lack of experience) but a top/down view of 部下/社長 typical in a hierarchical traditional company in Japan of the old era which is different of the current ever changing research environment where such archaic environment hinders progress.

In the supposed final moments of these students, particular the year before submitting the PhD thesis. This professor will sit confortably in his own lair aka. office, and call these student into his/her office via the school telephone line whenever he likes/free without any prior apointment/discussion with the student. These student in their “final” year sometime felt dreaded when the telephone rang in the student office as the call is likely to be from that professor. Even after retirement, this professor has prefered to have an private office of his own rather than taking up a desk in the student office where there are empty spaces. In some other laboratory, I have seen retired professor sat and work in the same working space with students as not to take up resource(spaces) and allow young scientist to have spontaneous discussion with them as fellow colleague. During the time this professor as a student, this kind of environment may be the norm but the last few decades, open office set-up are more preferred where junior member felt less intimidated by the senior and more experience members.

In my undergraduate studies in the UK, student that are not from the UK/EU are commonly called international students rather than the term foreign students as in Japan. In Japanese, foreigners are called 外人, gaijin. In a sense, non-japanese are aliens in Japan which is also used for our alien registration card(在留カッド). In this unversity environment where such discrimination should be frown upon and intellectuals know for a very long time that such discrimination does not florish for the expansion mankind knowledge. However, as a foreign student here in Japan, I never felt I was part of the university or in my case, I never felt I was part of the team here in laboratory I supposed belong to. In such a small collaboration, discussion regarding the experiment should have include PhD student as a means to exposed them to such situations to better understand the process of research. But this never happened, any discussion occurs behind closed doors, and any action taken was never explained properly. Student are just there to execute the plan by this “management”. That word gaijin in kanji leterally means outsider, all this is clearly shown by how foreign student are being treated here. Foreign student/staff intake by these Japanese University are just to boost the status of these Universities in rankings and was never a mean to foster an acdemic enviroment which is supposed to be condusive and intellectual simulating in universities.