Reader Mail

Researchers face a bleak future in Japan

Regarding the June 19 article “Flat level of research funding triggers alarm among Japan’s top scientists”: The various reasons behind the decline in Japan’s research performance, and in its university ranking have been discussed in several Japan Times articles. I want to stress a reason that is rarely acknowledged: most researchers neither have prospects for promotion nor job security.

Universities in Japan hire researchers on annual contracts renewable for up to five to 10 years, after which they must leave. No matter how successful or productive they are, the chance to get tenure, or even to extend the annual contract beyond the five to 10 years is zero. If you are still young, you might find other institution to hire you for another five to 10 year cycle.

The reason for this vicious cycle is that the Japanese government, hoping that institutions will give workers more stable jobs, enacted laws that stipulate to give workers tenured jobs when they are hired for five (for companies) or 10 years (for universities). Now universities just circumvent the law by telling researchers from their first day that their contact is annual, and is renewable for a maximum of five to 10 years. Moreover, workers’ unions in Japan are useless, thus researchers get stuck with very few options. Younger researchers move into industry, change careers and take a non-research job or take the risk of accepting another humiliating five to 10 year cycle. More senior researchers have less chance in industry or even repeating the cycle because of age and being “over qualified” for the job.

For example, I’m a 48-year-old researcher, have worked at several major Japanese universities for 15 years, have three years of research experience at the University of California with ample publications and funding, have mentored Japanese and foreign graduate students, and have collaborated nationally and internationally. However, approaching the end of a contract cycle, I will most probably be jobless soon.

Would anyone dare to recommend “becoming a researcher” as a career path for kids in Japan?

AHMED HEGAG
TOKYO

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.