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My Research Life at Department of Applied Chemistry in the Faculty of Science and Engineering

Takeshi Komiyama
Chuo University Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Research Fellow (DC2) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science

Finally, my nine-year school life at Chuo University has finished at the end of last March. I had a number of valuable experiences at university, particularly in graduate school; I made presentations at international conferences in the United States, Australia, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy, studied at the Technical University of Berlin for a short period of time, and wrote original papers and review articles. In my personal life, I married a wonderful woman and had a wedding. One day, with graduation in sight, Mr. Suzuki at the Research Grant Section of Chuo University suggested contributing an article regarding my life at graduate school, and I accepted the offer with all due respect. I hope that my article can be of help as a sample for undergraduate students and graduate students who are not sure of their future academic paths.

1. From assignment to laboratory to completion of doctoral program

A hazy idea of becoming a researcher who resolves energy issues and petrochemicals-related issues was occurring to me. Learning that those who wish to work as researchers in the field of chemistry are required to complete graduate school, I started to consider entering the graduate program in the winter when I was a sophomore. In my third year as an undergraduate student, I thought that as I planned to go on to graduate school, I might as well study in a challenging environment. At that time, the laboratory of Professor Tamejiro Hiyama accepted only two students each year, which appealed to me, and I applied for Hiyama Laboratory at the end of February when students are assigned to their respective laboratories. Hiyama Laboratory develops a new method for synthesizing organic compounds (which, simply put, is a methodology for connecting organic molecules). We are improving ourselves through friendly rivalry at the laboratory, expecting that discovery of a new reaction will make it possible to synthesize organic molecules in an unprecedented manner, which will in turn result in development of a new function.

Surrounded by the unique laboratory smell, unfamiliar experimental instruments and wonderful upper-class students, in April in my fourth year of the undergraduate program, I began serving as an assistant to graduate students at the laboratory in their experiments in order to learn experimental techniques. I was filled with high spirits and started to run experiments; however no matter how many times I tried, I failed to deliver the same results as those that upper-class students obtained, which made me feel disheartened and think that my experimental skills were much inferior. This is how I embarked on my research career. The meticulous investigation that I carried out with upper-class students revealed that the impurities that should have been removed carefully enhanced reactions in the case. In those days, I hardly understood that predictions and perceived notions are taboos for research and researchers must sincerely accept results yielded. I was just relieved to learn that my experimental operations were not the cause of the failure.

I was given my own research subject in September of the same year for the first time, which was to devise a simple method for synthesizing a certain molecule. I was provided with a goal and basically allowed to determine how to conduct the research completely on my own. Although I consulted literature and performed experiments with a great deal of thoughts while receiving instructions from upper-class students, the reaction efficiency that I obtained was just 20%. As the day for presenting my graduation research was approaching, I got panicked and carried out experiments blindly, but none of them went well. With depressing feelings, I told the instructor that I wanted to build up my own hypothesis and then examine the effect of the reaction solution concentrations. Although he did not give me a positive response, I secretly conducted an experiment, and the reaction efficiency improved dramatically, which surprised everyone in the laboratory. It is pretty obvious, but I have learned to my cost that no one knows the clear answer to any research and it is important to formulate hypotheses and use our own hands to generate results. With this result, I was offered a chance to make a presentation at an academic conference at the end of the fiscal year. I finished the year while being pressed with preparations for a presentation of my graduation research and academic conferences and sleeping in the laboratory many times.

In the meantime, I continuously received various pieces of advice, such as "do not conduct the same research as others," "come up with something that no one else can think of," "do not perform research for the sake of papers," and "draw a vision for the future," through debriefing sessions and journal club meetings (gatherings to introduce the research results of other researches) which were held once every two weeks. Therefore, after a while since I went to graduate school, I began to think at all times about what I should do to yield intriguing and meaningful research results. It is first required for researchers to grasp what has not yet been fully elucidated. Neither books nor the Internet can give answers to this question, and thus we have to find the answer by ourselves. I believe the ability to think up new ideas is essential for making a researcher. Once a person is able to hit upon ideas by twos and threes, the person will hope to carry out research into the ideas. I came to think that two years in the master's program were too short to examine whether or not my ideas were feasible and whether or not I had capabilities satisfactory enough to accomplish research on them. In the early winter of my first year in the master's program, I made up my mind to attend the doctoral program. I thought that as we only live once, I would regret it if I did not proceed to the next stage of education, and I wanted to see how far I could go (when I told my parents about my decision to take the doctoral program for the first time, they were not positive about it. They must have been deeply concerned about me, who had already spent two more years in the master's program and asked for more years in the doctoral program. That was the first time that my parents put a word in my life plan. I, however, tried to convince them a few times, and they encouraged me to take on a challenge at last. I am deeply grateful to my parents for their understanding and support).

I expressed my decision to go on to the doctoral program, and in my second year in the master's program I began taking part in discussion at the professor's office over the progress and future outlook regarding my research once every week. I was rushed into forging ahead with my research and received disapproval of my ideas for new research subjects many times (a retrospective reflection on the experiences still gives me a piercing feeling in stomach). I racked my brain and performed research repeatedly while keeping in mind the professor's favorite phrase, "do not conduct research similar to that of other researchers," and fortunately I found my way to cross-coupling reactions using a trialkylsilyl-based reaction solution, which was the subject of my doctoral dissertation. This is a result that I fortunately managed to achieve by starting off with curiosity to discover intriguing reactions. The paper that I wrote for the first time in my life was eventually accepted by Angewandte Chemie International Edition, a German academic journal, as a flash report after many twists and turns. Mercifully, I was acclaimed for my paper as demonstrated by the facts that Professor Timothy M. Swager who is a materials chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recommended my paper and it was introduced on an academic journal, Synfacts, and the follow-up report was approved and adopted as Hot Paper of the journal. In the winter of my first year in the doctoral program, I was given an opportunity to hold research discussion with Professor Martin Oestreich from the Technical University of Berlin, who came to Japan to deliver a lecture, and I received praise from him for my research. I got carried away and asked him to accept me as an international student. My request was agreed to, and I studied in Berlin for a short period of time in the fall when I was a second-year doctoral student. I came back to Japan, got a job, finished with a public hearing of my doctoral dissertation, and submitted my doctoral thesis, which has brought me where I am now. I spent my six years at Chuo University very energetically.

2. Conclusions

The Japanese word that signifies "learning" describes an act of reaching the stage where those who are superior in many aspects to you are by following their good deeds and conduct. This wise old saying left by Sanai Hashimoto, who was a Japanese samurai loyally supporting the Emperor in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate, applies well to a series of steps of the learning process at graduate school, ranging from how to come up with research subjects to how to formulate research plans, how to interpret research results, how to write papers, and how to make presentations. In the present day, when it is difficult to predict what the world five or ten years from now will look like, I believe that it could be a wise decision to attend graduate school and diligently acquire basic research knowledge and techniques.

Chuo University offers a program that supports students who make presentations at international meetings, providing them with financial aid for transportation and accommodations expenses once each year. Students in the master's program, who do not go on to the doctoral program, are rarely allowed to make presentations at international meetings, and thus, this support program often astonishes students at other universities. Chuo University subsidized the expenses that I needed to pay to study in Berlin, which I am deeply grateful for. The close friends I have made by attending conferences are my treasures for life. I would like to conclude my article by expressing my gratitude toward Chuo University that had offered me such a wonderful academic environment, and promising here to continue committing myself so that I will play a role in creating a better society.

Takeshi Komiyama
Chuo University Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Research Fellow (DC2) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
Takeshi Komiyama was born in Saitama Prefecture in 1991. He graduated from the Department of Applied Chemistry in the Chuo University Faculty of Science and Engineering in 2014. He completed the Doctoral Program for Applied Chemistry in the Chuo University Graduate School of Science and Engineering, in 2019. He holds a PhD in engineering. He studied at the Technical University of Berlin as a visiting researcher for a short period of time in November 2017. He has held a position as a Research Fellow (DC2) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science since 2018. He currently works at a chemical company. He engaged in developing cross-coupling reactions using stable organosilicon reagents at graduate school. In the meantime, he received myriad prizes and awards, including the Chemical Society of Japan (CSJ) Poster Presentation Award for Excellent Research at the 5th CSJ Chemistry Festa in 2015, the Best Presentation Award at the 71st Symposium held by the Kanto Branch of the Society of Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Japan in 2016, the CSJ Presentation Award for Industries at the 97th CSJ Annual Meeting in 2017, the Outstanding Poster Presentation Award at the 65th Organometallic Chemistry Discussion Meeting in 2018, the Outstanding Poster Presentation Award at the 22nd Society of Silicon Chemistry Japan Symposium in 2018 and the 32nd Chuo University Kenichi Shibuya Encouragement Prize in 2019. Visit here for the papers published by Dr. Komiyama.