2017: Sawa Shimokawa

Sawa Shimokawa
Hometown in Japan: Fukuoka
University in Japan: Osaka University
Major & School Year: Civil Engineering, B1
Host Advisor: Prof. Jamie Padgett, Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering
Host Lab at Rice Univ.: Padgett Research Group

Why TOMODACHI STEM @ Rice University?

My dream is to engage in the improvement of infrastructure in developing areas around the world. In order to make my dream come true, I believe that it is necessary for me to improve my English ability. Furthermore, I want to assist as many people as possible by utilizing my engineering skills and education. For those reasons, I decided to participate in this program. Although I have never conducted engineering research, I have a strong interest in it. The United States has many people from different backgrounds and I want to conduct research in such an international environment. I believe this experience will inspire my curiosity related to engineering and motivation towards English. I’m most looking forward to communicating with female professors and students because there is no female professor in my department. I would like to ask them about their daily life in their laboratories.

Goals

  • Learn about engineering in more detail
  • Recognize the situation for female students and researchers who are majoring in engineering
  • Do my best in conducting my research
  • Improve my English ability
  • Comprehend industry-university collaborations in the United States

Post-Program Reflections

  • My favorite experience in the U.S. was … visiting NASA. I’m interested in space, so NASA trip was wonderful memory I have never experienced. Among a lot of interesting things in NASA, I was most inspired by manned flights of other countries. After I came back to Japan, I’m still interested in this topic, so I will learn about it more.
  • While I was in Houston I wish I had … been to more museums. I heard that there are many museums around Rice University, but I had no time to visit them because I was busy for conducting research.
  • While I was in the U.S. I wish I had …. had more time to spend with participants. I think they are not only kind and funny, but also hardworking and attractive people. The more time I spent with them, the more I missed them. Their was of thinking and their opinions were really interesting to me. I learned a lot of great things from them. They are like my friends, sisters and teachers.

Excerpts from Sawa’s Weekly Reports

Week 01: Arrival in the U.S.

I was excited because it is the first time for me to visit the United States. I was surprised at the car and bus speeds in Houston because people here drive very fast, and sometimes we are shaken because driving is a little rough. Then I remembered a heartwarming fact in Japan. In my university, we can get on campus buses to go to other campuses for free. One day I noticed that a bus driver announced where we would go and what time we would arrive at destination not only in Japanese but also in English. This would be because these days, more and more students from abroad come to our university and he tried to tell them as well as Japanese students. I think it is interesting that I could realize good aspects of my country by knowing other country’s cultures. I would like to find a lot of interesting things about the United States and Japan during this program. Speaking of Rice University, I have already known the fact that squirrels live in Rice University’s campus from last year’s weekly reports, but they are much cuter than I had expected. In addition to squirrels, there are beautiful birds that I didn’t see in Japan. I came to like Rice University immediately because of these cute animals.

Breakfast in our hotel, I like waffles! ~ Sawa Shimokawa, 2017 TOMODACHI STEM

I think the most helpful event in the first week was the networking brunch with Japanese professional women. I told the professional women about my experience in Japan and they kindly gave me a lot of advice and encouraged me to try hard and improve myself. I was really moved, and their wonderful messages made me feel positive; I was able to learn a lot of things from the brunch. During this discussion, I thought about my situation as a female student in Japan. As female students majoring in engineering, we are often asked whether we feel lonely or not, and what it is like to study among many male students. When someone asks me these questions, they seem to be trying to compare males and females. However, in my opinion, we are studying not “among” many male students but “with” many male students, and I have a lot of nice friends regardless their gender. It is true that the ratio of female students in engineering fields still isn’t large, but I think it isn’t accurate to jump to conclusion that we have difficulty studying with male students because of our ratio. We study our engineering fields because we want to study them. Considering this fact, we are the same as other male students in engineering.

Question of the Week: Why are there a lot of buildings under construction in Houston?

  • Houston’s economy is very strong and there is always a lot of construction and new buildings going up.  Also, in Houston many of our buildings aren’t very historical or architecturally important so when the building gets too old and doesn’t ‘work’ well anymore it is often easier to tear down the old building and put a new one up in its place.  In the U.S., lots of construction and building is usually a sign that the local economy is doing well and there are likely to be lots of business and other opportunities in that area.

With my professor, Dr. Padgett in her office. ~ Sawa Shimokawa, 2017 TOMODACHI STEM

Research Internship Update
My mentor is Navya and she is a PhD student in Dr. Padgett’s lab. Dr. Padgett is really kind and she and Navya decided my project. Navya and other PhD students in the lab lent me some interesting mechanic books. I have just learned about moment of inertia in my university, so it was really interesting for me to study them in English. I have already learned about circle, but not about other figures. In the textbooks, there are a lot of interesting calculations that I didn’t know, and studying them inspires my curiosity. Although it is difficult for me, I really enjoy solving integrations. Before I came to the United States, I was really worried that I can’t achieve anything because I‘m a still freshman and what I know is really limited. However, there are some things I can understand, and studying what I have already known by English textbooks is interesting. When I study them in English, I can learn many new things that I can’t find in Japanese textbooks. I realized that it is true that studying in English is more difficult for me, but it broadens my horizons because there are many more books and papers written in or translated into English than in Japanese. I didn’t know studying English gives me such a chance to learn. After I entered my university, I heard that many people say that learning English is important for engineering students, but I couldn’t understand the reason clearly because I never knew of the advantages of studying in English. However, now I’m motivated to learn English better to study engineering.

What I was surprised about in my laboratory was the fact that most students are not master students, but PhD students. I asked them and I was surprised that PhD students get salary since they are assigned after graduation even though master students have to pay high tuitions to the university. I think this style is attractive for students because they don’t have to pay money, on the contrary, they can receive as compensation for their research. Since they earn money from their professors, it is natural for them to study very hard for the society in order to make their research useful. I think this attitude is easy to combine to industry-academia collaboration.

Before coming to Houston, I read the overview of Dr. Padgett’s research group, and I told her what topics I was most interested in. I was interested in mechanical structures, so I read books related to it. This week, Dr. Padgett and my mentor lent me some textbooks of bridges and mechanics. I sometimes had difficulty remembering terms in English because it was not until I met my professor and mentor that I could borrow the books and start studying by English books. Even though I prepared for my study in Japan, I didn’t do that in English, and now I spend time reading books in my lab. I think this is a really waste of time because I could do this even in Japan. Therefore, I strongly recommend Japanese students prepare for their study not only in Japanese books but also in English books.

TOMODACHI STEM Tip: Prior to arrival in the U.S., it can be helpful to ask your host professor or mentor if there are any research articles or textbooks that they recommend you study on your own.  If they suggest an English textbook that you do not have, you can ask one of your home university professors or check in the university library to see if you can borrow a copy of the book.  You can also see if you can order the textbook online via Amazon or other booksellers.

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Week 02: First Week at Research Host Lab

This week, we were also invited to have dinner at the Consul General of Japan’s residence. Can you see photos of the Emperor and Empress on the piano behind us? ~ Sawa Shimokawa, 2017 TOMODACHI STEM

Since I spent most of my time reading books and solving calculations, I talk with others only when I have questions. In addition, I can’t meet my professor and mentor till March 20th, so I hardly talk in my lab. I had difficulty talking with others in English, so I asked some other Japanese students at Rice University to give some tips about my concerns. Then one of them advised me to admit the fact that I’m not good at English, and talk with as many people as possible in English. In Japan, when we study English, it seems that reading and writing are more important than listening and speaking. I had a little confidence in reading and writing because I practiced them a lot to enter my university, so I was surprised to realize that this fact makes my situation difficult because I didn’t want to admit that my English isn’t very good. However, once I accepted this fact, I feel a little relieved and I can enjoy conversations as non-native English speaker. Now I would like to talk with a lot of people in English.

NASA: A slight error of this beautiful structures may easily make everything destroy. I was even awed the passion and pride of scientists and engineers here. ~ Sawa Shimokawa, 2017 TOMODACHI STEM

What I was excited the most about this week was the NASA Space Center Houston trip! I do love space, and I was really happy to visit there. When I visited the training center for astronauts, I saw a very large national flag of the United States was on the wall. Moreover, each rocket and module was drawn the national flag and the word “the United States.” Then I realized that American people and people working here are very proud of NASA. However, I was jealous of NASA and the United States at the same time. I thought that Japan is famous for its high-technology, but we never succeeded in a manned flight. I’m interested in involving in the invention of rockets, and I want to see astronauts come out safely from rockets drawn the Japanese flag and the word “JAPAN” someday (see JAXA for more on Japan’s Space Program). I took part in the tour with 3 participants, and I found that we enjoyed the tour from different points of view respectively. For example, I enjoyed watching structures and the other paid attention to materials used in space and so on. Sharing those views was interesting for me.

Research Project Update

My office in my research host lab ~ Sawa Shimokawa, 2017 TOMODACHI STEM

In this week, I mainly spent reading about bridge engineering and solving the moments of inertia. In order to conduct my research, I need to understand the moment of inertia. So, I solved a lot of integration problems, and I often had a hard time getting right answers. When I was confronted with those problems, I thought studying my major in English takes much more time and effort than in Japanese. I naturally had to study mechanics in detail because only one word can make me confused, and I can’t study further. However, because of this difficulty, I naturally study harder than in Japanese. Therefore, I thought that learning in different languages like English has an interesting effect in terms of education.

Furthermore, I had difficulty learning definitions or theories in English because they include a lot of unfamiliar words. However, I also realized an interesting fact while studying. When I see unfamiliar words and I can’t understand the meanings no matter how hard I try, finally I search them in Japanese with Google. It is embarrassing, but I had never done such a thing while studying in Japan. I thought that it was enough to remember only theorem or handouts from professors to get high scores and good grades at examinations, so I just used a formula even though I didn’t understand each theorem perfectly. By searching it by myself, I understood well. Thanks to the difficulty in learning in English, I sometimes felt very happy and smiled towards my laptop when I succeeded in understanding what they represent.

My project’s overview is below,

  • Showing the problem of bridge aging/deterioration
  • Indicating that truck traffic is becoming heavier and understanding the reliability of aging bridges under truck loads
  • “Work”/”Modeling”, illustrate some typical bridge girder cross sections (like I-shapes); compute typical cross section properties for the as-built/pristine girder (like the area and moment of inertia);
  • Show some reduced/corroded sections and re-run the computations.

Question of the Week:  In Japan, people like to contrast art and sciences, and they think students majoring this different two majors have very different characters. Is there this kind of strange habits in the United States?

This is a very good question that you may want to ask people in your labs about to see their opinion.  If you talk to undergraduates at Rice, you may find that it not uncommon for students to have two (or even three) majors in totally different areas.  However, due to the degree requirements for engineering and science students it can be more difficult for S&E majors to get a second major in a very different field since this means that they have to take many more classes.  This may not be possible due to conflicting times/schedules of classes between different departments.  So, in the U.S., it is more common for students to have one primary major, say Electrical Engineering, and then minor in a different field like Business for example.  Minors typically require fewer credits/courses than a major does.

There is also a growing appreciation within engineering education in the U.S. for the importance of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math).  That creativity, curiosity, and innovation are vital foundation skills for all technical fields and we should foster more engagement between STEM and the arts. For more on this see these websites:

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Week 03: Interview With Female Researchers

First, I asked Navya who is PhD student in my laboratory.

Please tell me about merits and demerits about studying engineering as a minority, a female researcher.

I agree that female researchers are fewer than their male counterparts in engineering, especially Civil Cngineering. However, I have always had the good fortune of having a close female friend or colleague or even boss. At Rice University, I have not faced any disadvantages or advantages of being a female student and I am proud of that. My advisor, Dr. Jamie Padgett is a very successful female researcher and that proves that gender does not play a role in research.

But, I assume the situation may be different if there was a lot of experimental work involved. As a civil engineer, experimental work involves a lot of labor and as females, we have physical disadvantages. As for advantages, I have been given opportunities to be part of department committees as they require a female student’s perspective often.

I have one suggestion to increase the number of female students in engineering fields. This is industry-university cooperation, because we can help female researchers from both aspects of industry and university. Do you agree with this opinion and do you have other opinions to encourage females to major in engineering? Tell me your opinions and its reasons.

I do not agree with the suggestion fully, partly because industry-university cooperation already exists. And secondly, females in industry and university have already chosen their respective fields and may already be qualified engineers.

My suggestion would be to increase school outreach activities so that high school and middle school students can see successful female researchers in universities and get inspired from a younger age, that is, before they choose their careers.

When I talk with someone whose major aren’t engineering, they are sometimes curious about my situation and try to ask me about negative aspects of studying with male students because they may think it is difficult and hard for female students to study among many male students. However, I don’t want them to have such negative bias because the fact that we meet many male students means we have not only negative memories but also a lot of wonderful memories thanks to male students. Have you ever met wonderful male students or professors or researchers or bosses in engineering fields? If you have met, please share me with your interesting story.

Most people, both male and female, I have encountered throughout my engineering career have been wonderful. There are always one or two people who may not have the best attitude, but I do not think that was because I am a girl. Having said that, all my colleagues and fellow graduate students at the Civil Engineering department at Rice University are wonderful. I regularly eat lunch and dinner with them, even if I am the only female present. In fact, I have never been aware of being the only female in their company. I believe that you can always find good colleagues irrespective of their gender.

Second, I asked Dr. Padgett who is my professor about my questions.

Please tell me about merits and demerits about studying engineering as a minority, a female researcher.

There are two advantages I think. First, it is easier for female students to get scholarships because of their smaller number. Also, there are some scholarships that recruit only female students. Second, female students are outstanding in both good and bad ways because we are unique. For example, they may be remembered better by professors. While, the disadvantage I think is that I never met a female professor all the way through my undergraduate, master and PhD degrees. I wanted to talk and ask how to balance about jobs and having a family. Also, I haven’t had any female mentors.

I have one suggestion to increase the number of female students in engineering fields. This is industry-university cooperation, because we can help female researchers from both aspects of industry and university. Do you agree with this opinion and do you have other opinions to encourage females to major in engineering? Tell me your opinions and its reasons.

Both female and male students will receive benefits having close relationships between university and industry because they can get some practical perspectives and know about future career path. I’m not sure that industry-university cooperation has specific benefits for women, but they will expose more female mentors in the engineering industry fields.

I sometimes heard that once we go into industry, we spent about 10 years to build own career. This means, generally speaking, we have rare chances to have babies till our 20s or 30s. As one suggestion for this problem, what do you think about having babies during PhD student?

That’s interesting. I didn’t have babies because I was too intense, too busy and I needed to focus on my PhD degree. Thinking back on it, having babies would be possible but challenging. Compared to industry, a university schedule is more flexible and maybe you don’t have much control of your time or working hours in industry. But in a university, you are also expected to be very committed to your study and work. So, it is challenging. I think that the reality for women to be successful in industry and academia or to apply for the PhD program, and to have babies, they need help, a lot of help. So, I guess it depends on what is your opportunity to get support. You must figure out how to get support, for example from your husband, from your family, or pay for someone. During PhD, I might not have as enough help and support as I receive here now as a professor. Maybe I couldn’t has afforded to pay for a nanny when I was a PhD student. If you have a mother or family member who is coming to help for you or you can pay for nanny, maybe you can have babies earlier.

For me, it seems that it is more difficult to balance both work and family if we work in industry than staying in academia. What do you think about it?

That’s interesting. I think both are challenging to balance either way, and everyone has challenges finding balance. But I appreciated Rice University’s nice family policy and nice maternity leaves. Although I don’t have personal experiences working in industry, according to articles, industry’s maternity leaves would tend to be shorter and the family policy isn’t so generous as in universities. This would be some of the disadvantages of industry compared to a university. I think that studying in a university is demanding and timing is challenging, because most people would like to be tenured, so having a child is also challenging as a university professor and sometimes conflicts with timing.

With the flower shop owner, Yumiko, and me. We bought beautiful a lily here. ~ Sawa Shimokawa, 2017 TOMODACHI STEM

Reflections on My Interviews
Through the interviews, I again realized that we seem to have more difficulty than males in terms of having babies. Then I remembered that once I asked my mother how she could bring up her three children. It was really difficult for me to understand why she tried hard even though she seemed to be very exhausted. But when I asked this question, she smiled and said that it is true that she had more difficulty leading life because of us, but it is also exactly right that she had great pleasure thanks to us. I still can’t understand her feelings completely, but I feel that all working mothers I met seemed to be proud of working and being their children’ mother like my mother. And what I found is the happy fact that all of them love their children from the bottom of their hearts. Their positive

Some lab members visited Texas Department of Transportation! ~ Sawa Shimokawa, 2017 TOMODACHI STEM

attitude and deep affection toward family make me take my future career outlook as a positive one. I would like to conclude this topic by saying that it is true that we seem to have difficult when we want to balance between work and family, but from my experiences of meeting many wonderful mothers, it also seems that we can experience very happy and great things thanks to family.

Research Update
I worked on solving the problems my mentor sent me via email. The problems show that 15 years after the bridges are built, corrosion will start slowly and moments of inertia will decrease. This means that it is easier to rotate bridges. That is, bridges will break down easily. This fact seems to be clear and many people agree with it. However, what we want to do is to compute moments of inertia and to show numbers in a quantitative approach. After my mentor comes back, I will make graphs using this week’s date.

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Week 04: Research in the U.S. vs. Research in Japan

I have never conducted research before, so I will talk about what I thought about it and how Japanese students reacted about my experience as a Japanese undergraduate student. When I said to my friends or people around me that I would participate in this program, most of them said that it was too fast for freshman to conduct researches, and that there was no achievement that I could accomplish. In fact, I understood their feelings well because it was me that fully realized that my ignorance of research and the fact that I even didn’t started studying my major yet. However, I think this conversation really reflects the attitude towards conducting researches in Japan. I think that most undergraduate students in Japan think that they will do research to get a master’s degree, and to get a job. I think this attitude isn’t good because research is something that will be done not with purposes to get a job, but with researchers’ curiosity. In addition, I could learn about an important idea. Before I came here, I thought that researchers should get and show good results. However, now I realized that they do their research so that they can learn what they know from the results, and how they make the best use of the experience. I was happy not only to do research but also to learn from this fact from this experience. This also means that even though I’m a freshman, there are a lot of things I could learn from experiencing a research.

Most students believe that even though they have interest in some fields and they want to study hard in laboratories, they are not qualified for them to participate in conducting research. What I think is serious is this reflects not only researches but also daily learning in Japan. I think there are many students who can’t find what fields they want to study. When I listened to an architect’s lecture, he said that the older grades of students become, the less shiny their eyes are. I think the reason why he said such a thing may be that if students are assigned without knowing what research is, and having passion towards their study, it is easy to imagine they lose motivation. If more and more undergraduate students experience this research system, I think both students and professors will receive benefits.

Question of the Week
I think one of the reasons why Japanese students get their master degrees is that they need master degrees to get a job. I wonder how large the percentage of Ph.D. students who would like to go industry like Japanese students.

  • You may want to consult Google-sensei to see if you can find data or reports on this topic that may have been published by MEXT, JSPS, or JST.  This topic was also discussed in a 2011 Nature article on “Education: The PhD Factory“.

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Final Research Poster Presentation

At the RCQM-TOMODACHI STEM poster session with my mentor and a member of my lab. ~ Sawa Shimokawa

My research project title is “Reliability of Aging Bridge Girder” (PDF) and my host lab is Padgett Research Group. My host professor is Jamie E. Padgett, and my mentor is Navya Vishnu. I have two motivations of my topic. First, bridges are becoming worse because of effect of aging. Second, I would like to find out the effect of aging of girder. In order to conduct my research, I learned about the idea of moments of inertia because I can show how bridges are affected by corrosion over time by using theorem of parallel axis.

I enjoyed communicating with a lot of people at the poster session. ~ Sawa Shimokawa

In my conclusion, I indicated that if bridges lose some thickness because of aging, moments of inertia will decrease. And this means that the reduction in member size affects the capacity of the bridge. Finally, this can lead to bridge collapse. It would be easy to expect that bridge structure is subjected to aging, but what I did was to show this expectation in a quantitative way so that everyone easily understands the reliability of bridge girder. As a future work, this research will utilize to consider the effects of maintenance and inspection, to consider about aging reinforced concrete bridge piers as well, and to incorporate time varying properties in time dependent reliability and life cycle models.

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Week 05: Science & Technology Policy Study Tour

The Einstein Memorial and famous equations in Washington, DC ~ Sawa Shimokawa

Thanks to this program, I was able to notice that there are many alternatives for me about my future career. Getting a Ph.D. in the United States is one of them. I was too ignorant about studying abroad, so I assumed that it would be very expensive, and getting a Ph.D. is only possible for geniuses because I thought that it would be very difficult and beyond my ability. However, I heard about a lot of scholarships for those who study abroad and I also could learn that Ph.D. students in the U.S. (in most

At Lehigh University ~ Sawa Shimokawa

STEM fields) get salary from their professors. It would be a little rude, but I would like dare to say that Japanese Ph.D. students I met were not genius but hard worker. I don’t know whether I can be like them, but their untiring efforts inspired me very much. Thanks to them, I think that if I don’t know whether I can manage to accomplish my studying abroad, I should do that anyway. Then, I thought that what I can do after I come back to my university. In my university life, I laugh with my friends and studying in class, and have a part-time job. That is, I ‘m a very normal undergraduate student. Therefore, if I tell people around me about my experience of this program, my impression will really impact them. I think we are most interested in learning from our friends stories and experiences. I know a lot of students who are interested in studying abroad but assume that it is impossible for them. This attitude was totally same as what I was.

When I visited the Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC, I saw a Zero Fighter for the first time. And when I visited the WWⅡ Memorial, I saw writing admiring the fact that America won the World War Ⅱ. When I visited U.S. Capital Building, I saw photographs of soldiers who died during their duties. Every time I thought about wars at the anniversary of the end of war in Japan, I naturally thought that they are the old past events, and I focused on praying for the current peace in Japan. However, I felt that the United States includes more realistic meanings. Even now, there are many soldiers who fight against something. Since I didn’t see the army in my daily life, It was a little shocking for me to see many children being excited about U.S. army.

Question of the Week
Why is it unknown and uncommon for Japanese undergraduate students to get Ph.D. in the United States?

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Final Report & Tips for Future Participants

When speaking to a family member, what would you say were the most important things you learned from the TOMODACHI STEM program?

I have to say to my family member that my future plan has totally changed. Before I came to the United States, I never expected that I would get interested in Ph.D. programs in the United States. What I learned from TOMODACHI STEM Program was that I have a lot of alternatives if I try hard. While I’m in Japan, I tend to think that I should follow the same path as many other students. This would be because it is easier for me to obey and imitate others. But once I learned about how to collect information, how to ask other people and what to do to achieve my goal, I felt that preparing for my specific purpose is challenging and interesting. There are a lot of things I learned from the TOMODACHI STEM program, but what I think is the most important thing is that I could learn the attitude to consider my future alternatives.

When speaking to a professor, what would you say were the most important things you learned from the TOMODACHI STEM program? How might this experience make you a better graduate student in the future?

I learned that being convinced of my study is important not only when I do research but also for learning in my daily life. When I was in high school, I often said that it is not enough to know how to solve problems, I have to be able to solve actually. However, I feel undergraduate students are in opposite situation. They can do something, but they don’t seem to know about it well. That’s is, since I’m an engineering student and we often consider practical methods, I think that we focus on theorems and formula and try hard to memorize them without understanding their proofs and definitions. They can calculate and get the right answers, but they don’t know correctly what their results represent or what their results can be useful. During my research experience in Rice University, I learned that it is natural to do calculations, but what is more important, I have to understand the definitions well. I realized that when I understand the definitions, I could enjoy my learning better than when I didn’t know about them well. I would like to make use of this important lesson not only in graduate school but also in my university life.

When speaking to a student at your university, what would you say were the most important things you learned from the TOMODACHI STEM program? Why should other undergraduate students in Japan apply for this program?

After I came back to my university, I decided to conduct further research in my university’s program because I found a lot of questions thanks to the TOMODACHI STEM program. Friends around me were surprised at me, and they said that you can do that because it is you. However, when I’m told so, I always explain to them that as you know, I’m not good at calculations, and it takes me a lot of time to understand our major study, but I believe that research is allowed for those are motivated and willing to study hard. Most of them like to learn their major and enjoy taking classes every day. I hope they regard undergraduate research as more available. This point of view is the most important thing I can tell my friends and other undergraduate students.

If you are a freshman and wonder if you should apply for this program, I strongly recommend you do that. You may be worried if you can conduct research of your major or if you can communicate with researchers in English, or others. But I hope you challenge yourself because I could manage to finish this program although my English wasn’t very good and my major knowledge was miserable. I think we sometimes need not only ability but also courage. Once you are accepted, you should just try hard to enjoy this internship. Now that we are living in the global society, it isn’t rare to go abroad. What I think is important is what is your position when you go abroad. If you are majoring engineering, I think going abroad as engineers is the very best part of us. If you are interested in it and search for it, you will be surprised the fact that there are many programs or internships we can participate in them as engineering students. I think experiencing research is valuable because most of us will have to do that in the future regardless of the purposes. If you feel that conducting a research is a little difficult, you should find at least what fields you are interested in as concrete as possible.

What is one final question that you still have about the U.S. or research in the U.S.?

I know female students and researchers in engineering fields are drawing an attention. In Japan, the number of male students in art or literature departments is also smaller compared to female students. Why the males less get noticed? What makes the difference for taking up them as problems between engineering females and art males? Is there the same situation in the United States?

  • In the U.S. there are actually more women than men enrolled as degree-seeing college students, so in higher education overall there are fewer men than women. Just as in Japan, in the U.S. there are fewer male students in fields like education, nursing, and social work. There are also fields like psychology where women outnumber men 3 to 1 in terms of doctoral degrees. National Public Radio did an interesting article on this topic of gender breakdown across majors in 2014. Interestingly, data from the national study abroad survey conducted by the Institute of International Education, Open Doors, also shows that more women than men study abroad in the U.S. were data from the most recent report shows 66.6% of U.S. students studying abroad are women.  In fields where there are large gender discrepancies you will typically find specialized programs, scholarships, and mentorship networks designed to increase the participation of the underrepresented gender.  These are typically done at the level of various professional organizations/societies as well as within individual academic departments/programs in higher education.
  • What is concerning for STEM fields is that, from K-12th grades, female students perform on par with male students in STEM fields in standardized tests.  However, discrepancies begin to arise in college (bachelor’s) and by graduate school there is a huge disparity between the numbers of men and women pursuing STEM degrees. It continues to grow through post-doctoral positions and into faculty positions as well; particularly in engineering fields and computer science.  So this is why there is an emphasis on not only encouraging more women to pursue STEM majors as undergraduates but also trying retain more female students in master’s, Ph.D., and professional positions in academia and industry. To learn more see the National Girls Collaborative Project. You can also read about a longitudinal study that was done tracking both male and female STEM graduates from 1979 that also found retention of women to be much lower than men over time. The American Council of Education has also release a series of reports look at retention and career progression of women in higher education in all fields, including STEM.
  • This issue of retention is likely why you see more programs being developed at the university level to not only recruit female majors but also encourage them to pursue graduate study and, ultimately, careers in STEM fields. Retention is also an issue in female-dominated fields like education, but there the challenge is retention of all teachers as, due in large part to low pay in the U.S. and a pereceived lack of respect for education as a profession.
  • Also, while you may not see many organizations or groups devoted specifically to men in a specific fields (there is no Society of Male Engineers for example), the reality is that due to the historical legacy of gender disparities in many fields most professional organizations were established by men and their membership and leadership structures have been historically dominated by men; though this is changing today.  This why other specialized organizations and societies such as the Society of Women Engineers or National Association of Black Engineers were established, to give a voice to and leadership opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups in these fields.

Tips for Future Participants

Pre-Departure Tips: I wish I had known more about how to contact in English on email. I was sometimes surprised at the English way of sending email because their message was really direct and I was sometimes upset. Also, I recommend future participants bring business cards, compression socks and leave-in conditioner.

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