IMPACT ON RESEARCHERS' CAREERS

It was clear to the JTEC panel that most researchers involved in ERATO projects were quite satisfied with their experience. The evidence gathered by the JTEC panel was largely anecdotal, but this panel was fortunate to receive a recent study performed by Professor Ken Kusunoki from Hitosubashi University. His study, entitled "Report on a Survey of Research Participant Attitudes toward ERATO," summarizes the results of polling 319 former project participants. The questionnaire was mailed only to Japanese participants who have been out of ERATO at least one year (the average was five years). He received 168 responses. The current age of respondents was slightly over 40, most having been in their early thirties when they began their ERATO experience. Of the respondents, 165 were male and three were female. Kusunoki's objective was to analyze any differences between researchers who came from industry (company-sponsored) and those classified as independent. As we shall see, most independents actually came from universities, but because employees of Monbusho are already government employees, researchers actually had to resign from their university positions in order to accept ERATO funding. Some independents also came from industry but were categorized as independents because their company was not interested in their joining ERATO, so they resigned in order to work on an ERATO project.

Kusunoki's findings were consistent with those of the JTEC panel: the vast majority would take part in other ERATO-style research projects if given a chance. His findings also confirmed this panel's notion that most of the Japanese researchers were selected rather than recruited by open advertisement. Foreign researchers, the panel believes from its own discussions, were mostly recruited. (Presently foreign recruiting in the United States and in Europe is being handled by Dr. Alan Engel. As a former ERATO participant he is able to recruit people from abroad and discuss any concerns potential researchers might have.)

Kusunoki's report identifies interesting differences between those who are company-sponsored and independents. The company-sponsored people generally have an abrupt change in their work upon coming to ERATO. Upon leaving, they again most likely will change their work. From the panel's discussions with former participants, it was quite clear that many did not like this abrupt change, and in fact many changed their company affiliation or went to a university. Independents, on the other hand, generally found ERATO research to be somewhat in line with what they had been doing before, and statistics show that they then continued along the same line after leaving ERATO.

Kusunoki uses the words "unusual experience ... relatively discontinuous with respect to their careers as a whole" for company-sponsored researchers. This JTEC panel's findings differed somewhat since while it is true that the experience was discontinuous, the panel found numerous examples that the research done under ERATO was in fact continued at the company sponsoring the individual. In one case, Nikon, the home company of the project director, began investigating a new line of potential business - X-ray lithography - based on the results of the project.

Kusunoki's report shows that applications-oriented research did not play a great role in deciding whether to join ERATO sponsorship. Some of the companies this panel interviewed verified this observation by saying that their interest in ERATO was basically twofold: (1) to provide their people an opportunity to pursue research (viewed almost as a perquisite) and (2) to benefit from the networking that their people develop with other industrial and university researchers. On this latter point, this panel questioned them about possible concerns that such networking might lead to "loss of corporate secrets." They answered that they were aware of the potential liability, but they considered networking to be much more important and were willing to take the risk.

The level of education also differed between the independents and company-sponsored researchers. Kusunoki's study found that about 50% of the respondents had doctorates, 37% had master's degrees, and 13% had bachelor's degrees. It also found that the average stay on an ERATO project was 37 months. This was also observed by the JTEC panel. Most independent researchers already had doctorates, stayed the full five-year term of the project, and went on to work in a similar research field. Company-sponsored researchers, on the other hand, generally came for two to three years at most. Many earned their doctorates or master's degrees while on the project, and some have stated that their main interest in ERATO was to obtain an advanced degree.

The JTEC panel also observed much more anxiety from independent researchers as compared to the company-sponsored people. This observation was verified by Kusunoki. In discussions, the panel found this anxiety was even greater at the time of its September 1995 visit than it had been in earlier years since, as in the United States, fewer and fewer research positions were opening up. Ultimately, researchers have to be able to find real positions in industry, government, or universities; otherwise, a perpetual group of aging postdocs will be created - a situation that currently exists in the United States.

In general, participating in ERATO enhances career potential. The development of new scientific knowledge is career-enabling: researchers acquire skills such as developing and executing a research plan, preparing and submitting research manuscripts, and in several cases, presenting their results at scientific symposia. Most researchers in the biosciences area were postdoctoral researchers who had come from university laboratories. Some were participants from industry who usually stayed with an ERATO project for a shorter term (two or three years). If they had stayed longer, they might have lost the advantages linked to seniority. Consequently for scientists from companies, ERATO provides a training program where one or two staff scientists or engineers can learn new techniques and strengthen their skills. For those coming from universities, the ERATO project is typically a stepping stone to a university position, to an industry position (infrequently), or to another postdoctoral appointment abroad. A number of researchers resigned academic appointments at universities to join ERATO projects. Often, after the project, they relocated to new university positions, and in some specific cases, have done much better at their new locations.

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Published: September 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian