Study abroad program attractive to students majoring in sciences
Wanted to see the forefront of biological research
Up to around the winter of my second year at ICU, I never entertained the option of studying abroad. I was going to proceed to graduate school upon graduation. But one day, a senior student who had been on a student exchange, strongly advised me that I should study abroad saying, "If you are planning to proceed to graduate school to deepen your studies, you should go to the U.S. where the forefront of biological research is, to find out how advanced research is carried out with your own eyes. I'm sure you will gain a lot from the experience." When I was considering studying abroad prompted by this advice, Professor Tatsuo Nunoshiba (major: biology, environmental studies), advisor of my lab, told me about a student exchange program of The College of Wooster (Ohio, USA), a liberal arts college renowned for high quality science education.
This student exchange program is focused on science fields and is characterized by giving participants the chance to draft a research plan for writing their graduation thesis and to start that research at The College of Wooster. After returning to Japan, the participants will continue their research back at ICU to complete their thesis. The period of study abroad was from mid-January to the end of August, corresponding to the winter term of my 3rd year to just before the autumn term of my 4th year at university. Unfortunately, I was not able to conduct research in the lab at The College of Wooster because they were refurbishing their laboratory facilities when I was at Wooster, but instead, I took courses for drafting a research plan for my graduation thesis, lab courses in biology, and courses to polish up writing skills necessary for writing scientific papers.
Discussions to deepen each other's understanding
The courses I took at the College of Wooster were mostly based on discussions. In the course for planning graduation theses, you are instructed to read a lot of research literature of subject areas close to the theme you chose for your graduation thesis, then discuss the theme with other students in order to deepen knowledge on the research you will be conducting, before you write an introduction of the thesis in detail. This is because it is very important that first of all you have good knowledge on the theme of your research, and that you have thoroughly thought out how you want to structure your thesis, in order for you to carry out the research. Specifically, before we started writing each section of our research plans, we were given an exemplar research plan to read together and discuss what needs to be made clear in the plan and how it should be written. The example provided us with an idea of what a good research plan should be like and the discussion helped me make clear the key points. We were also given a chance to review each other's research plan while still working on it. I learned a lot from questions asked by fellow students and discovered new things by listening to my friends' research plans.
The lab courses also involved discussions. In every class, students are asked to present the results of what he/she was doing the last time and announce plans for the next step in front of the whole class. Classmates and instructors would ask questions like, "Why do you think you got those results?" and "Why are you going to do this operation as the next step?" as each student carries on with their research.
You are always required to present and share the input information and results obtained. I found that this is really helpful. By being asked questions, you get to recognize things that you were not aware of before, and you can improve your research plan based on such new findings. This cycle of repeated learning and improvement helps deepen your own opinion and views. The experience made me realize just how important it is to hold discussions with other people.
Research in the lab and programs to improve writing skills
The biggest outcomes of this exchange program were that i) I became able to deepen my own views ii) I was able to prepare a research plan for my graduation thesis and iii) I was able to improve my English writing skills.
In a course specializing in scientific writing, we created materials for communicating scientific ideas and research findings to people who are not familiar with science. We can easily access scientific articles written by native English speakers, but they are all completed versions of the articles. It was a rare chance to get to see the process of how a scientific paper is written. I was able to closely observe how my native English speaking classmates wrote their materials. I found that people describe the same ideas in very different ways. I was able to learn many different expressions, phrases and writing styles to describe the same thing, which helped me overcome my weakness in English writing.
The student exchange program is rather short, only for approximately half a year, but lab work is included in the program, so I think it is very attractive for students majoring in sciences, who want to experience the forefront of research and who want to improve their writing skills. Moreover, The College of Wooster is a small college with an intimate educational environment, just like ICU, where you get to know most of the students and everyone has a friendly attitude. So, you won't have much to worry about concerning campus life.
In the past, I, too, was reluctant to study abroad. But now that I have learned there are things you can only learn by studying abroad, I'm glad I went. If you are considering studying abroad, but just can't make up your mind, I recommend you to go. I think you would be glad you went by the time you come back.