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Top>Research>Searching for Treasure during Overseas Research: Rethinking how to Return Research Results to Society


Searching for Treasure during Overseas Research: Rethinking how to Return Research Results to Society

So Sasaki
Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Environmental Economics and International Public Policy

1. What is overseas research?

The work of university faculty members can be broadly divided into three elements: education, university administration, and research. For people such as students, parents, graduates, etc., education is the easiest element to understand as interaction with students. Furthermore, since universities are organizations, most people will be able to image university administration to a certain extent; for example, entrance examinations, various committees, faculty meetings, etc.

On the other hand, the number of research fields is larger than that of faculty members of a university. Furthermore, research contents are generally extremely difficult to understand for people outside of universities (this is precisely why articles such as this one are so important). In particular, upon hearing the phrase of overseas research, some current students may recall feelings of regret such as—“My instructor suddenly disappeared due to overseas research!” and “Due to overseas research, I couldn’t enroll in my preferred seminar!”[i] However, other than the clearly stated aspect of conducting research outside of Japan, it is still difficult for students to imagine the contents of overseas research.

Currently, I am involved in overseas research in the Faculty of Economics of Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), a partner institution of Chuo’s Faculty of Economics. In this article, I hope to convey the appeal and necessity of overseas research from the perspective of searching for research themes and constructing networks on-site. Of course, every researcher has their own unique style, so this article only expresses my personal opinion.

2. Searching for research themes on-site

One appeal of overseas research is the proximity to the research site. Indeed, it may be the greatest appeal for researchers like myself who specialize in experimental research.

Professor Sasaki checks the quality of recycled plastic at a recycling plant in Thailand

As a specific example, due to import regulations on Chinese waste products, reviewing of the way of recycling which has been dependent on China is a global issue. Response to this issue is also an urgent theme in Thailand[ii], where I conduct my overseas research. The media conveys facts and government institutions implement countermeasures based on those facts. Researchers are expected to verify these countermeasures from theories, and generalize these, and then derive mid- to long-term issues.

Since I specialize in economics, it is essential that I conduct analysis based on numerical data. However, since my research focuses on waste products and recycling, there are problems in technology and quality that cannot be confirmed from numerical data alone. Therefore, it is equally important to see actual goods and learn actual conditions on-site (even if such conditions cannot be written in an academic paper).

It is difficult to fully convey the appeal of overseas research which enables researchers to act quickly by staying close to their research site, listening to on-site opinions and confirming actual goods/conditions right away. Another merit of conducting on-site research is that verifying a single hypothesis will often lead to discovery of around three new themes. In this respect, overseas research is a treasure chest of seeds for future research themes.

3. Constructing a network at overseas presentations

After inputting (obtaining) information on-site, it is only natural that researchers are expected to produce output such as academic papers and academic presentations. Academic papers can be submitted while in Japan; however, it is often difficult to find opportunities for overseas academic conferences. This is due to the difficulty of scheduling presentations because of normal administrative responsibilities at university. Overseas research gives researchers frequent opportunities to give such presentations (the only stress factor in this case is the ability of the researcher).

During the six months that I am posted in Thailand, I have been invited to give reports at international conferences[iii] held by the Panyapiwat Institute of Management (PIM), which cooperates with the Faculty of Commerce and Faculty of Economics at Chuo University. I also gave a keynote lecture[iv] at an international symposium held in Nepal by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. (Furthermore, I am scheduled to make presentations at five international academic conferences over the next six months.)

Professor Sasaki wears traditional clothing at the reception following an international symposium in Nepal

During my first visit to Nepal, I was invited to a dinner party held at the residence of the Japanese ambassador. In my spare time, I visited waste managemant facilities, and engaged in cultural exchange at events such as receptions. I also had many other enriching experiences, such as the opportunity to view Mount Everest from an airplane in flight.

Despite visiting a country for the first time and meeting researchers for the first time, there were many cases in which chats about our research activities led to us discovering that we actually had mutual acquaintances. I felt that, despite its vast size, the world is truly a very small place. That was the moment that I could form new research networks. Another appeal of giving overseas presentations at international academic conferences is the opportunity to sow the seeds of subsequent research. This also prevents research themes from being cornered into the narrow confines of domestic research community.

4. Derivative form of returning research results to society

Immediately before I left Japan, one of my colleagues returned to Japan from his overseas research post. Before I departed, he told me, “It will be the happiest period of research in your entire life.” I strongly feel the veracity of his words during my period of overseas research. (Accordingly, it is only natural that I now feel reluctant to return to Japan.)

On the other hand, the research themes and networks which one has obtained during overseas research must be sublimated into work other than research; namely, education and university administration. Upon returning to Japan, it is essential to perform such work as a derivative form of returning research result to society, which is different from forms of academic presentations and academic papers.

Some working professionals claim that “the education received at Japanese universities is useless.” However, the majority of such people are unable to answer the following question—“What did you research at university?” Abilities required for taking the first step in research include the ability to discover themes and the ability to set themes. These abilities are said to be essential in the age of artificial intelligence (AI). (However, such abilities are already required in all business categories and occupations.)

In order to provide instruction which instills students with these abilities, it is essential for university faculty to possess various areas of specialization. Therefore, each faculty member must possess experience that encompasses a wide range of research themes.

We must create new educational materials from the treasure chest of research themes obtained during overseas research. This enables researchers to make significant contributions to university education. Moreover, the research networks constructed during overseas research can be utilized in a wide range of university administration. Examples include the development of new overseas research programs, identification of international partner institutions, recruitment of foreign students, and comparative analysis of university reform.

Education, university administration, and research should not be three elements at opposition to each other. The only way that a university will survive as an institute of higher education and research is to ensure that these three elements are balanced and mesh together like the teeth of a gear. I hope that this article will help create understanding for overseas research and lead to further support from stakeholders both inside and outside our university.

So Sasaki
Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Environmental Economics and International Public Policy
So Sasaki was born in Sapporo City in 1977. He completed the Doctoral Program in the Graduate School of Economics and Business, Hokkaido University (Doctor of Economics). He worked as a Research Fellow at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, as an analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co., Ltd., and as Associate Professor in the Faculty of Economics, Chuo University, before assuming his current position in April 2018. In the 2018 academic year, he conducts overseas research as a Visiting Researcher in the Faculty of Economics of Chulalongkorn University (Thailand).
His current research themes include “Development of environmental service trade evaluation method contributing to promotion of international environmental business” (KAKENHI Grant No. 17H04722), “International comparison of automobile recycling (for East/Southeast Asia, Europe, and North/Central America)” (KAKENHI Grant No. 16H05687), “International trading of second-hand goods” (joint research with the Institute of Developing Economies) and more. Other related works include “An analysis of the relation between the non-tariff barrier of waste disposal treatment service and foreign capital companies,” “How to control the ‘unseen flow’ of reuse: Hints to emerging nations from initiatives of the Japanese Act on Recycling of Specified Kinds of Home Appliances,” “Issues With Thai WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Recycling Bill: Comparison With Other Asian Countries” and more.

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