When selected, each individual PRESTO researcher receives „30 million (approximately $300,000) in research funds over the next three years in addition to their salary, laboratory rental, insurance, and administrative costs, which are borne by JRDC (the total budget for each project averages $600,000). For a typical Japanese researcher, a PRESTO budget is ten times larger than an otherwise normal research allowance. For three years, he can pursue the research on his own initiative, unfettered by tradition-bound bureaucratic constraints, free to travel to attend conferences overseas, with a substantial amount of funds. This is very attractive indeed, even when compared to U.S. standards for single individual grants given to university faculty who hold teaching positions.

The principal qualifications for the application are that the researcher reside in Japan and that he be able to conduct research in a Japanese environment. No consideration is given to age, sex, nationality, religion, beliefs, parent organization, or educational background. Although most PRESTO researchers appear to be in their late thirties, the panel was told that some are over sixty.

Unlike their counterparts in U.S. universities, Japanese university researchers, even assistants, instructors, and assistant professors, are tenured employees of the universities. Many stay at the same institution, getting old without attaining the coveted titles of kyoju (professor) and jokyoju (associate professor). Many researchers, under the rank of jokyoju in the universities, who have wanted to pursue their own area of research interest but were long limited by their superiors, have even proposed to resign from their tenured positions to accept PRESTO assignments. They are willing to move out of their familiar research environments into completely new sites, thus starting from scratch to build entirely new laboratories.

Some industry researchers, hired during the bubble days of the Japanese economy when many companies set up research laboratories, mostly for cosmetic purposes, to encourage any basic research remotely connected to company products, have been feeling a dramatic cooling of company interest in their research in the recent economic recession. They have jumped at the opportunity to continue their research offered by PRESTO. The situation is even true in some national research institutes where research focus has shifted.

But the majority of proposals from universities and national research institutes are for researchers to explore, on a part-time basis, new areas of research either by improving their existing research capability or by adding new equipment such as mass spectrometers, scanning tunneling microscopes (STMs), atomic force microscopes (AFMs), micro-beam reflective high energy electron diffraction (µRHEED) systems, or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) systems, each costing as much as $100,000, well beyond traditional funding levels.

In order to facilitate the program and assist these selected researchers, JRDC sets up a research field office consisting of a research manager, an administrative manager, and clerical staff, the expense of which is supported separately by JRDC. The specific function of the field office is to assist in procuring laboratory equipment, solving space rental problems, submitting patent applications, organizing meetings and the annual plenary conventions, and making travel plans.

While the mentor plays an important role -- providing researchers with general scientific guidance as well as indirect or psychological assistance, visiting each of them once or twice a year for face-to-face meetings -- the most vital role is played by the research manager. He maintains constant, very close touch with researchers via visits, telephone, and e-mail. In fact many PRESTO researchers have attributed the success of their research to good research managers. These research managers are usually retired personnel directors of large corporations who are very relaxed and kind, intimately familiar with the day-to-day problems of researchers.

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Published: September 1996; WTEC Hyper-Librarian