Category Archives: International

Brains in Bordeaux

Truly understanding the brain remains to be one of the biggest problems in modern science. It is so interesting because solving this is not only technically challenging but also deeply personal. We humans are innately curious as to how things work and continuously learn and update our models about the world, yet the organ that gives us these amazing abilities is itself poorly understood. This is what pulled me to study the brain and behavior and to become an aspiring neuroscientist and neuroengineer.

The University of Bordeaux, France

Thus, amidst the global pandemic, I was determined to learn more about neuroscience. I searched online for hands-on neuroscience training courses, and found that the CAJAL Advanced Neuroscience Training Programme was an excellent opportunity. A year before the course started, I applied to the program, but I still had to find additional funding to support my travel. Fortuitously, I received an email from the Japan Neuroscience Society (JNS) in partnership with the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) about a travel grant to which I immediately applied. Thankfully I was accepted to both the CAJAL course and the JNS-FENS grant, but the coronavirus would end up delaying the course. Despite this, I was glad that the training would still be pushing through live, because I knew learning hands-on would be much better.

And I was proven right. Against all odds of travel restrictions and visa requirements, attending the CAJAL Course on Optogenetics, Chemogenetics, and Biosensors for Cellular and Circuit Neuroscience (OCBCCN) in-person was an unforgettable experience that helped me learn both broad and deep knowledge in the latest techniques for studying neurons and the brain. Furthermore, being in the Bordeaux School of Neuroscience, surrounded by facilities and people dedicated to neuroscience, was a refreshing atmosphere for me. The course directors, lecturers, and instructors were very welcoming. They facilitated interesting discussions and organized challenging projects. The students and participants were all very friendly and eager to learn. Overall, the environment was that of open-discussion and freedom to ask any questions.

At first, we introduced ourselves and our research in an oral presentation. Then we had a poster session over beers and pizza. The casual atmosphere helped break the ice and encouraged lively conversations about science. We were 20 students from around the world, and I was the only one from East and Southeast Asia. Throughout the course we would receive excellent lectures from the leading experts in the field – most of whom also attended live to have opportunities for in-depth discussions. We were taught the latest developments in optogenetics, biosensors, and optical technology applied to calcium or voltage imaging, optical neuromodulation, behavioral analysis, and many other interesting topics. I met the people whom I read from in journals, which was quite astounding. It was incredible that I could participate in scientific discussions and casual conversations with world-class neuroscientists and neuroengineers.

I also participated in 2 different hands-on projects. The first was on multi-color fiber photometry in freely-behaving animals, and the second was on ultrafast two-photon voltage imaging in vivo.  These two projects were some of the most cutting-edge techniques being used in neuroscience today. It was such a great learning experience because I was able to see the entire workflow of doing such experiments. They also taught us some additional tips and tricks, and I learned even more from performing the experiments hands-on. Since the experts were right beside me, it was very easy to get feedback and learn in the process of working. First-hand experience with the techniques allowed me to see the minute details and challenges from setting-up the experiments up until analyzing the data. We also presented our projects and results to get helpful advice and further insight from the audience.

Every day – from 9 am to 9 pm – we would spend time in the university for lectures and experiments, and so projects that would take several months were accomplished in less than a month. It was a very productive 3 weeks indeed, but we made sure to balance this with some fun as well. We only had 3 days of free time, so we used this to see the beautiful city of Bordeaux and its nearby towns. I was able to visit some historical monuments, city markets, and a light show museum. The food and drinks were wonderful, and even better was the camaraderie we formed. 

Given more time, I’m sure there was a lot more to learn and experience, but even so, the duration of the course was very well-utilized and already jampacked with great learnings and fun experiences. Near the end of the course, I remember feeling very accomplished because I was able to learn so many new things and meet new people. The course made me more eager to continue my PhD research once I got back to NAIST, and it allowed me to gain connections that may help in the future, especially when facing difficulties with my own project.

CAJAL Course directors, instructors, and students

I am very thankful to the CAJAL course organizers, directors, lecturers, instructors, and fellow students for the magnificent experience. I would also like to thank the JNS-FENS committee for helping me fund this once in a lifetime opportunity, and more importantly, for promoting international exchange. I would definitely recommend fellow neuroscientists to take this opportunity.

This experience would not have been possible without NAIST’s mission to train global researchers. I extend my deepest gratitude to NAIST, my laboratory, my sensei and staff for all the support and care they gave during this experience. I am sure my experience in CAJAL would help me, not only in my PhD, but also in my overarching goal of truly understanding the brain. This was a great opportunity for me to “Outgrow my limits”.

NAIST Study Abroad Fair 2021

Last October 9, 2021, NAIST held an online international study fair. Students from all over the world joined in a virtual gathering to learn and ask about life and studying at NAIST. Over 100 participants joined, and several of the NAIST faculty, staff, and student ambassadors attended in order to carry out the event.

At first, the NAIST President recorded a message for the event, and Masako Shimamoto, Ph.D. from the Division for Global Education gave a general introduction of NAIST. The presentation showcased the campus demographic, and as of writing, the Graduate School of Science and Technology accommodates 697 Master’s and 349 Ph.D. students, 196 faculty, and 167 administrative staff. This high staff-to-student ratio is one advantage of being in a tight-knit community like NAIST.

Proudly, NAIST is part of two flagship projects of MEXT, namely: the Program for Promoting the Enhancement of Research and the Top Global University Project. These programs fund NAIST to promote international and global research and higher education. In addition, NAIST has also produced thousands of graduate alumni who went into careers in academia, industry, and other worthwhile professions. Aside from the top-notch academics and research, Dr. Shimamoto also presented that NAIST has a sizeable international community that is well taken care of. Thus, the prospective students and applicants were very excited to know more about NAIST, and afterward, they were given useful information on the admissions process.

Each division then gave a brief overview of their research and laboratories. Prof. Taku Demura gave a presentation about the Division of Biological Science which features research areas in Plant Biology, Medical Biology, and Systems Biology. Prof. Demura highlighted that NAIST’s biological research tackles multiple levels of life from single molecules to whole organisms, and from basic to applied research. Next, Prof. Yoichiro Hosokawa gave a talk about the research of his division: Materials Science, which studies the structure, properties, and functions of materials — ranging from the subatomic scale to entire molecules and whole devices. Researchers interested in the fields of physics, chemistry, biomaterials, device engineering, and materials informatics will find a good program here with a focus on interdisciplinary photonic nanoscience. Finally, Prof. Keiichi Yasumoto presented the Division of Information Science, which was the first established graduate school in NAIST. The division offers a wide range of courses and projects covering Computer Science, Media Informatics, and Applied Informatics to any of those interested. With an internationally oriented program and the latest research facilities, NAIST truly offers a very good place to pursue graduate studies.

Finally, the most fun part of all was when the participants were able to go into different breakout rooms based on the three divisions and other extra topics. They were able to meet first-hand the faculty, staff, and students of NAIST for Q&A. Here, many of the interested students were curious about further details regarding both academic and non-academic life. Evidently, prospective students looked for a strong balance between research work and extracurricular activities such as campus life and international events. Thus, the organizers exhibited facilities such as the NAIST University Union, student dormitories, sports facilities, and leisure spaces. Overall, the event was a great way for NAIST to attract new international students and gave the opportunity for people abroad to see what life in NAIST is like despite the pandemic. This virtual event was a nice way to connect with those from far away, and hopefully, we get to see them in person once they become part of the institute we all know and love— NAIST.

Outgrow Your limits: Marge

This is “Outgrow Your Limits”, a three-part series of short interviews with the recent Fall 2021 graduates. We asked one graduate per division about their time at NAIST, and their plans for the future. This post features Margaret Anne (Marge) Pelayo, Ph.D, from the Philippines.

After the graduation ceremony last September 24, 2021, I got a chance to talk with her about her NAIST experience and perspectives.

From which division and laboratory are you from?

I’m from the Division of Biological Sciences and I belong in the Plant Stem Cell Regulation and Floral Patterning lab headed by Prof. Toshiro Ito.

When did you first set foot on the NAIST campus?

The very first time I came to NAIST was for the pre-screening internship in bio in January 2018. I (along with the other interns) stayed in NAIST for about a week during that time. Then in October 2018, I became a D1 student in NAIST.

What attracted you to enroll in NAIST?

I had already submitted several applications for PhD positions in late 2017 and NAIST was the first one to give me an offer. I decided to accept it because of the good experience during the pre-screening internship wherein I was able to go to several labs and learn first-hand what each lab is working on. It was also great to meet current students and to be able to ask them about their experiences. Also, it was always my dream to study and get to live in Japan so it was the perfect opportunity for me.

Is there any particular moment or memory that stands out for you during your stay at this university?

I stayed as a PhD student in NAIST for 3 years and there are so many moments that will always be with me and will forever be part of who I am. So it’s difficult to think of a specific moment or memory that especially stands out for me. But maybe one event that stands out (probably not just for me) that happened during my stay in NAIST and that I just have to mention is the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been quite surreal. In NAIST, in many ways, life goes on and almost feels normal but also it’s undeniable that the entire world and our way of life have changed because of the pandemic. But overall, the entire experience of studying at NAIST and living in Japan has been very special and is something that I am incredibly grateful for.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during your studies and stay here?

The biggest challenge for me is definitely the final year of my studies because aside from trying to complete the requirements for the degree, I also faced personal challenges as my family lost our Dad very suddenly to COVID this year. I was unable to go home to the Philippines because of the high number of cases there during that time (it was in March this year) and also the uncertainty of being able to go back to Japan if I did go home.

How did you overcome this challenge?

I was very lucky that I had a very supportive lab and community in NAIST. I leaned on my family and friends back home and on friends and colleagues here in NAIST. Everyone was very understanding of the situation I was going through and this helped me to keep going.

Me during a Halloween party with the small Filipino community of NAIST!

What were the factors that encouraged you to complete your degree?

I had less than a year remaining until completion and although there was an option for me to delay graduation, in the end, the best option was really to just finish and get the PhD already. This would lead to more opportunities in terms of the next steps in my career and also takes a lot of pressure off on the question of whether I will complete the degree or not.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen and current students with regards to pursuing graduate studies in NAIST?

Treasure every moment and learn as much as you can not only about science but also about yourself (dreams, purpose, etc.). Work hard but also don’t forget to enjoy the experience. There will be many moments of ups and downs but as long as you keep on going, you will find your way. Also, for international students, learn the Japanese language. No need to master it but having a grasp of the basics will certainly ease the transition of living in Japan.

Has the university helped you prepare for the next step in your life after graduation? In what way/s?

Definitely! My stay in NAIST gave me the opportunity to explore various avenues about my research and this opened up many possibilities of what I can pursue in the future.

What’s your next adventure in life?

I plan to stay with my current lab in NAIST for a few more months (probably until Feb or March 2022) as a postdoc fellow then I will go home in the Philippines for a while to spend time with family. I accepted an offer for a postdoc position in Prof. Doris Wagner’s lab in UPenn for September next year so hopefully, after spending some time home, I will be able to continue research in the US.

Outgrow Your Limits: Ter

Panyawut or most commonly known as Ter is probably one of my first international friends in NAIST as a graduate student. Ter’s graduate school’s journey is one that exemplifies NAIST motto of “Outgrow Your Limits”, as he has been able to take advantage of the opportunities in NAIST to further his research as well as his career.

After the graduation ceremony last September 24, 2021, I got a chance to talk with him about his NAIST experience and perspectives. This is “Outgrow Your Limits”, a three-part series of short interviews with the recent Fall 2021 graduates. We asked one graduate per division about their time at NAIST, and their plans for the future.

From which division and laboratory are you from?

Hello! I’m from Information Science (IS) under the Mathematical Informatics Laboratory.

When did you first set foot on the NAIST campus?

For my master degree, I came to NAIST on 27 September 2019. Previously, I did an internship from 28 May 2018 – 12 August 2018. (Same lab)

What attracted you to enroll in NAIST?

One of the things that I liked about NAIST, as an institute that has only graduate students, professors have much more time to spend with their own students’ research compared to other universities. With these advantages, I can fully focus on my projects and spend the time to develop myself. Furthermore, NAIST is an international university that has students from around the world. I have had a lot of opportunities to discuss and learn with each other about research, and their culture. NAIST provides a nice research and working environment, full computational resources, financial support, as well as support from well-known professors

Since my research is under information science, one of the important factors to achieve good results is computational resources and infrastructure. My laboratory empowers us, students, by giving us high-performance computational resources. For the financial support, it came from not only the budgets from the lab or professors but also the grants from the university that you can submit the proposal for your own project.

Is there any particular moment or memory that stands out for you during your stay at this university?

The best moment during my stay here is when I know that my own project got the financial grant from the NAIST Creative and International Competitiveness Project (CICP). Honestly, this is the first time that I set the goal of a project by myself. Generally, I did the projects that I received from my professors. This is a big step in my life given that I will conduct, design, and implement my own project with my collaborators. In the end, My team achieved our team goal and the paper of this project was accepted by The 13th International Conference on Mobile Computing and Ubiquitous Networking.

Me during the CICP 2021 event where I presented my research project on tracking table tennis stroke using Deep Learning

What was the biggest challenge you faced during your studies and stay here?

During my stay at NAIST, I think there are two main challenges that I faced. The first is “communication”. There is a bit of a language and some of the students are not well versed in English. This issue can be a cause of misunderstanding when collaborating with others or presenting publicly. The second is “mental health”. As graduate students, we need to deal with the pressures from our research. I think these two issues are the big challenges that I encountered.

How did you overcome this challenge?

For the first issue which is “communication”, my friends always try to learn and communicate with international students. Furthermore, most of our activities in our laboratory are conducted in English and that this has immensely helped in improving my language skills as well! I also reduced the language gap with my Japanese labmates and professors by learning the Japanese language.

What were the factors that encouraged you to complete your degree?

The key factors that encouraged me are “my ambition” and “support from others”. With ambition, I can challenge myself and go higher day by day. With the support from others, I can make sure that even if I fail, I still can try it again with their help. These two factors encourage me to complete the degree.

Travelling and hanging out with friends is a good way to boost your spirits!

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen and current students with regards to pursuing graduate studies in NAIST?

My advice is to “chase your dream” and “don’t give up” even if there are lots of obstacles. Keep walking if you cannot run. Keep moving forward. Even with small steps, you are going to be closer to your goal. In the end, you will succeed and achieve the thing you want some day!

Has the university helped you prepare for the next step in your life after graduation? In what way/s?

Yes. NAIST provides and organizes career opportunities such as an international job fair and career guidance. This job fair gave me information about recruiting company, the interview process, as well as the preparation. I believe that the combination of this factors has given me and edge during my job hunting process.

What’s your next adventure in life?

Since I got the offer from TikTok company in Singapore, my next adventure is how to adapt to the working and living environment in Singapore. I have lived in two countries, Thailand and Japan. The next challenge in my life is to apply the knowledge and experiences from them to my next place.

I hope that this article will be useful in some way for the one who aims to study in NAIST or in Japan. Feel free to contact me if you want more detail or discuss with me. =w=b


Are you interested in pursuing a graduate degree and eventually telling your own NAIST story? If you are, then head over here for more details!

Outgrow Your Limits 2021: Dianne

This is “Outgrow Your Limits”, a three-part series of short interviews with the recent Fall 2021 graduates. We asked one graduate per division about their time at NAIST, and their plans for the future. This post features Dianne Corsino, Ph.D, from the Philippines.

After the graduation ceremony last September 24, 2021, I got a chance to talk with her about her NAIST experience and perspectives.

From which division and laboratory are you from?

Information Device Science Laboratory (Prof. Yukiharu Uraoka), Graduate School of Materials Science

When did you first set foot on the NAIST campus?

June 2015 for a two-month internship. September 2016 for master’s course

What attracted you to enroll in NAIST?

One of the reasons why I enrolled in NAIST is that it covers advanced research areas in my field which I thought will allow me to maximize my potential as a researcher. I thought that I could advance my knowledge and skills using the many available equipment and facilities. And of course, Japan is an interesting country for me given its rich culture attracting tourists from all over the world. So, living in Japan would be an exciting experience for me!

Is there any particular moment or memory that stands out for you during your stay at this university?

If there is one particular moment that stands out during my stay at the university, it would be the graduation day. That was when my 5-year journey in NAIST finally came to an end and it was a fulfilling day for me to be able to see the product of the struggle I chose and enjoyed doing, and just to be where I wanted to be.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during your studies and stay here?

My biggest challenges during my stay in NAIST were two opposite extremes (1) the full season – having too much on the plate and (2) the empty season – failed experiments and being stuck.

How did you overcome this challenge?

First is to recognize the season and the struggle. Second is to pause/rest and reflect. And third is to keep going. I think the sooner I recognize the need to overcome the challenge, the sooner I also get back on track.

What were the factors that encouraged you to complete your degree?

“I didn’t come this far to only come this far.” The main reason why I never backed out is that I was holding on to my purpose why I started the journey in the first place. I stayed focused on my goal to complete the degree for my family, for personal development, and for all the lessons that come with the journey. I also find my supervisors and colleagues encouraging and supportive!

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen and current students with regards to pursuing graduate studies in NAIST?

I think it is a privilege to pursue graduate studies at NAIST. For me, NAIST is conducive to doing research in our respective fields. The advice I want to give to the current and incoming students is to always recommit themselves to their purpose. Attending a graduate school is definitely not an easy journey, even for very passionate people, so it is important to embrace the struggle that comes with it. An effective way to get through graduate school is to establish a good support system, may it be our friends in or outside the campus, family, or even just ourselves.

Has the university helped you prepare for the next step in your life after graduation? In what way/s?

Definitely! The training I had as a master’s and doctoral student in NAIST will be useful for pursuing postdoctoral research. Since I will be working on a related research project, I expect to contribute what I learned from my experiments, and data interpretation and analysis. I also find my manuscript/paper writing and grant application seasons useful to stay in the academe.

What’s your next adventure in life?

Career-wise, I will be staying in the academe to work as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano in Italy. While working in the academic research field, I am also excited to discover what is in this part of the world – life, culture, customs, food, people etc.

Recycling Market 2020: A Treasure Trove For New and Old Students Alike

Each year, the NAIST Global Student Network (GSK) Recycling Clubs hosts the Recycling Market with the aim of helping old and graduating students dispose of reusable and good condition appliances and providing support to new local and international students in helping them furnish their dormitory. This year’s event was hosted last April 2, 2020 at Dorm 1 East Wing. 

The GSK Recycling Club strongly coordinates with the International Student Affairs Division which allows them to inform incoming students and to schedule the event at the beginning of the semester to welcome new students and provide support at the start of their graduate studies.

Donations are usually received from old and graduating students. Lots of choices for new NAIST to student to kickstart their student life!

As a new student in NAIST, one of the initial challenges coming to a new country  was purchasing needed appliances to furnish my dormitory. Having the GSK Recycling Market was a godsend event. Not only did it reduce the financial burdens of allocating my budget to new appliances for my dormitory and at the same time, I also got to know other students and made new friends.

The line started even before the venue opened and many new students were eager to get a hold of useful items that they can use for their stay in NAIST. Given the current COVID situation at this time, the event organizers also made it a point to provide guidelines such as only having one person at a time in the storage area to look for an item, and providing hand sanitizer for the participants. 

A happy student finding the rice cooker of her choice!

Lots of items were stocked and were ready for the taking for whoever is in need of them. Students happily picked items that they needed ranging from induction cookers, microwaves, ovens, and refrigerators. GSK members readily assisted the students when handling large appliances. This year’s event was successful both in terms of donation volume and providing for the demand of incoming students. Given the huge amounts of donated items, GSK prompted a re-run the following week, on April 6, 2020. 

Getting your ideal fridge type for your dorm is always a good reason for a thumbs up!

Transitions are hard and scary especially for students coming from abroad. However, it does not have to be difficult as the NAIST community works hand in hand to provide assistance for new students to make an easier transition towards their life as graduate students.  This upcoming October 2020 marks another semester with new incoming students, we hope to see you in the next run of this event! 

Home away from Home: NAIST Student Dormitory

Graduate schools are often located several miles away from home, and sometimes demand long laboratory hours. NAIST is no different, and its on-campus dormitory is the perfect students’ haven.

There are eight student dormitory buildings at NAIST. Two are dedicated for married couples and families, while six are for single occupants. Among the six single-occupant dormitory buildings, half are male-exclusive. For the other half, some upper floors are allotted for female students. In total, there are 559 single, 50 couple and 10 family rooms available for occupation.

Every single room has a single bed, a desk with chair, and often an air conditioning unit
It is also equipped with a closet, as well as a telephone, which can be used to contact the room from a telephone unit outside the dormitory building.

A single room is about 13 m2, which includes a bed, a desk with chair, a closet, a kitchenette, a toilet and a small veranda. Shared spaces are also available in each single-occupant dormitory building. Combined bathroom and laundry areas are situated at every floor, which contains three shower rooms, three washing machines, and a coin dryer. There is also a lounge at every dormitory building, where student parties and casual hangouts are often held.

A small veranda for getting a breath of fresh air.
A toilet of your own can also be found inside.
A kitchenette with sink and gas stove is also installed. Gas supply, though, needs to be outsourced.
Laundry and bathroom areas are placed at every floor.

Rooms for married couples and families, on the other hand, are around 40 to 50 m2 large, and additionally include their own laundry space, bathroom, shoe cupboard, and a dining table. However, there are no shared spaces.   

Parking spaces are also available in all dormitory buildings. Available slots cover roughly 75% of the residents.

For the duration of their master’s or doctoral program, full-time regular course students are eligible for a slot in these NAIST on-campus dormitories. Students who can avail of a dormitory slot are mainly selected based on entrance examination results, but other factors such as distance from the students’ hometowns are also considered. Significantly priced cheaper than accommodations outside campus, the NAIST dormitory is definitely both affordable and convenient for international and Japanese students alike.

In April 2021, NAIST is set to open a shared apartment-type dormitory for Japanese and international students. Its aim is to develop mutual understanding of various cultures, which can prepare the students for entering a global society that awaits them after graduation.

International Students Tour: An Excursion in Tawaramoto Town

In a recent tour led by the Nara Prefecture International Exchange Salon, twelve international students joined other universities located in the Nara Prefecture. The tour is based in Tawaramoto (田原本町), a town blessed with great history and rich natural environment, including Karako-Kagi archaeological site (唐古・鍵 総合サイト) and Momotaro’s birthplace (桃太郎生誕の地).

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