Studying for a Ph.D. in Japan


Regarding professor Takamitsu Sawa’s Nov. 19 article, “Make Japanese universities more or less like sumo world“: Sawa appears to want to introduce into Japanese universities a failed system of supervision that exists only in Britain and Australia for those working toward Ph.D.s in the social sciences and humanities.

In science or engineering, all over the world, it is a rule that a Ph.D. student should follow the “school of thought” of the supervising professsor and join his clan. The professor suggests a problem to be solved or a topic, and advises the student on the methods or equipment to be used. The duty of the student is to execute the instruction. In case a student is not doing well, the professor may ask another member of the clan to help him out. This way, a student normally completes a Ph.D. within four years.

Only in the social sciences and humanities in Britain are students thrown into the sea. The professor may do nothing at all but create trouble by not accepting a student’s thesis proposal. The result is about one-third of the students either give up after wasting two to three years or may take 10 years to complete the Ph.D.

Sawa seems to be suggesting that system for Japan, where there are very few Ph.D.s among professors and, as a result, the quality of theses are not up to the mark. It would be better for Japanese universities to follow the U.S.-North American-European system rather than the British system.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

victoria miroshnik