Academic Life in Todai

Hi, good to see you again! (Pretend that I am a famous author :))) )

Well, it’s been more than 1 semester for me living in Tokyo and studying at The University of Tokyo (Tokyo Daigaku-Todai). In previous posts I often talk about my life here, mostly my daily life and personal experience in non-academic field. Now I want to share about the “hard skill” I studied in this place.
Probably several of you are or used to be a university student. Do you remember how does it feel when you learn something new? It was exciting isn’t it? Moreover, return to school also means that I have new activities after I dealt with my previous job.
I am taking civil engineering course here because I belong to one of laboratory under Department of Civil Engineering. But, in reality, for graduate student, we have no obligation to take courses in civil engineering. We are free to take any courses here. Even if you want to take social class, it is allowed. But considering your research in your field, of course you need to take courses that support your research field. For my case, I have 30 credits to be fulfilled within this two years study. Ten of them are for thesis research, so I should fulfill 20 credits from courses.
When I was in the 4th year of my undergraduate study, I had assigned to a particular sub-major of civil engineering: geotechnical engineering. At that time I only took classes that related to that sub-major. For a short time, I didn’t think that I would graduate as civil engineer even though my research was in geotechnical engineering. I felt a distinction  at that time. But, in this university, although I have being specialized into geotechnical engineering, I feel no distinction as civil engineer student. Here the education system, communication and information exchange between each  research group works well. Civil engineer department appears as an integrated system linking each lab and research institute. Therefore it creates such atmosphere that made us eager to learn more. Beside common civil engineering subjects, I also studied GIS, disaster mitigation and even climate change and environmental engineering. Why? Because they are belong to civil engineering works too. 
The environment I face here proves my hypothesis years back: “Geotechnical Engineering will not be improved without collaboration with other fields.” We can also take more general statement: “Civil Engineering (C.E.) will not be improved without collaboration with other fields.” I feel researches in C.E., particularly geotechnical field are approaching the limit of this science. Almost every soil and earth phenomenon has been known. So, we should extend that boundary by extending our research methodology by collaboration with other field. The closest example is our research group. We are working on landslide mitigation by studying unsaturated soil mechanics, sensors (which utilize MEMS-microelectromechanical systems) and also communication and information system which we need to send packages of information from monitoring device to server.
I think those example of the integrated research in my department depicted what Todai is. Todai is a research university. Almost all department and school for similar research theme are integrated. As a public university, it also receive some projects from government. So it played an important role in Japan’s advancement in science and technology.
Back to my academic-daily-life…
Laboratory Seminar
In my lab, we have a laboratory seminar (in Japanese: Lab Zemi) every week. On that day, all students have their own turn to present their researh progress. It is an opportunity to learn others research subject and at once practice our public speaking skill. Sometimes university and lab will held join seminar, public lecture or inviting guest lecture (from company or other university) for us. That is precious opportunity to get known another person interests and experiences. Trying to make a full use of it by attending and exchanging business card afterwards will give us a good chance in the future I believe. 
Study Trip
Another interesting part is, sometimes we will have a field/study trip. And Todai will not hesitate to spend money for it. For example, during my first semester here, I have ride Shinkansen for 2 times (round trip) for investigation trip to Tohoku, and university expensed  for that (FYI: sometimes Shinkansen ticket is more expensive than airplane).  For other occasion such as lab trip, sensei also subsidize us for our expenditure. International office section or faculty also occasionally announce a study trip to some interesting places such as JAXA (Japanese NASA) in Tsukuba and cultural spot around Tokyo. We need to check about this news frequently through university website and students mailing list.
Precious Experience
So, I took a conclusion from my first several months here, maybe it also applies for other person who get a scholarship: “We should make a full use of our chance here. By getting some money called scholarship, it is a chance to gain lot of experience. Both hard and soft skill. Do not hesitate to spend money for an experience you won’t get twice in your life. Study hard, play far, pray to the max.”
Me and Ram, my friend from Nepal, in the middle of discussion after the class. Candid shot by other friend.
Workshop on Urban Resilience Engineering, held by School of Engineering, Todai. This workshop  invites a wide range of researcher from different field (IT, electrical engineering, nuclear engineering, civil engineering, energy, social science) from worldwide institutions (IBM, UC Berkeley, KTH Sweden, Imperial College London, MIT, ParisTech and ETH Zurich). It was interesting to learn their point of view and their presentation style!

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