Most Japanese basic research organizations, especially universities, can be characterized as bureaucratic organizations which primarily pursue stability and continuity of research activities. Traditionally, the Japanese academic system has been somewhat rigid under Monbusho. The fundamental unit of the research organization in Japanese national universities is the chair (Koza). Chairs are grouped for administrative, teaching, and research purposes into departments. A typical chair might consist of one professor, one associate professor, two assistant professors, and several graduate students. The career growth of young researchers is pretty much limited by the Koza system, since the research direction is set by the professor.

ERATO has made a large contribution towards increasing the mobility of young researchers, in particular postdoctoral students, in Japan. It gives young researchers extraordinary flexibility for exploring ambitious ideas. Typically, an entirely new project starts when various researchers including those in companies are gathered together around a single research theme. Then, after five years, the project is disbanded. Most researchers are able to return to their parent companies or to find new positions in universities at the end of the ERATO project. However, there are still a number of researchers who have difficulties in making the transition to a career in a university or in industry. As a result, postdoctors are beginning to be concerned about exploring opportunities with ERATO projects.

Over 50% of the team members in ERATO projects were from industry. For them, the typical length of stay in an ERATO project is between two and three years. The majority of the industrial participants indicated that the company's lab did not have enough flexibility and freedom for young researchers to attempt challenging research projects. On the other hand, a few industrial researchers were able to continue their research projects in their parent companies after they returned. One young researcher from the Hotani Molecular Dynamic Assembly project was recruited by Matsushita's Institute for Advanced Research after his tenure with the ERATO project. He transferred the project both physically and in spirit and formed an ERATO-like research team in Matsushita's Advanced Research Laboratory in Kyoto. Another Matsushita researcher in the Ogata Fine Polymer project transplanted the research equipment and activities to his parent company and developed new products. The company then paid the royalty to the Research Development Corporation of Japan (JRDC) for using its technology.

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Published: September 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian