Ms. Yoko Tomo
Hometown in Japan: Kagashima
Home University in Japan: Kyushu University
Major & School Year: Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, B4
Research Host at Rice: Prof. P.M. Ajayan, Materials Science & Nanoengineering
Research Project Title: 3D material from 2D and 1D (PDF)
Why TOMODACHI STEM @ Rice University?
My dream is to work overseas as a scientist or an engineer and to achieve results, which make human beings happier. The TOMODACHI STEM program will give me various opportunities. First, I can study nanoenginnering at Rice University. I’ll meet many great researchers and students there. I’m most interested in how students to spend in their laboratories, to conduct researches, and to try hard for their dreams. I’ll actively talk with them about school lives and futures. These experiences will motivate me. Second, I can also come in touch with foreign cultures and academic policies. I’ll go to museums and parks, and participate in culture activities positively. It will broaden my horizon. After this program, I’ll keep in tough with people who I’ll meet in the U.S. and take part in international research activities. I convince that I’ll get valuable experiences to help achieve my dream and that this program will be a turning point for my life.
- Making a many friends: I’ll actively communicate with many people and form connections with them.
- Improving my English language skills: I’ll become to understand what he or she says and to tell what I think correctly and smoothly.
- Learning American cultures and histories: I’ll go to various places, for example, museums, eat something, and participate in activities.
- Gaining research experiences: I’ll learn how to conduct researches, to approach difficult questions, and to present results clearly in English through activities at Rice University.
Questions I have About Research or Life in the U.S. – Prior to Departure
- How do students spend their school lives and think their futures?
- What skills are important to get great research results?
- What do I need to do in order to work abroad as a scientist or an engineer in the future?
Excerpts from Yoko’s Weekly Reports
- Week 01: Arrival in the U.S.
- Week 02: Critical Incident Analysis
- Week 03: Research in the U.S. vs. Research in Japan
- Week 04: Final Week at Rice University
- Final Research Project Presentation
- Week 05: Science & Technology Policy Study Tour in Washington, DC
- Final Report
Week 01: Arrival in the U.S.
My initial reaction to the Houston was that there were few pedestrians and that almost everyone drove a car. Houston isn’t a tourist spot but business district, so there is not much public transportation. A lot of people have their car in Houston and we were often caught in a heavy traffic jam on weekdays. On the other hand, I saw that many tourists were walking around in San Francisco when I went there two years ago. I was so excited that I could touch other cultures and get other experiences in Houston than in San Francisco.
I was able to eat more kinds of food in Houston than I expected, but they were always as oily, sweet, and large as I have expected. Rooms and furniture were also larger than Japanese ones. I understood the reason why people who went to Japan from U.S. sometimes said like that something in Japan was tiny and cute.
My initial reaction to Rice University was pretty beautiful! There were trees, flowers, grass, and a fountain. Buildings were traditional. On the other hand, buildings at universities in Japan are modern. The difference of building styles between in the U.S. and in Japan is very interesting. I was very amazed to see Rice gym and student coffee shop. Rice gym had various exercise equipment and we could play many kinds of sports there for free! I have never see such a great gym. Rice students ran the student coffee shop. We could buy a cup of coffee at a low price. It tasted great. I also noticed a difference in what girl students wore. In Japan, many girls were always dressed up and made up, but Rice students wore casual clothes, which is less stressful than Japanese girl’s styles.
I was surprised at Rice students’ school lives. Many graduate students brought their lunch box in order to keep their money and eat more healthy. They came to their lab early morning and don’t leave there until mid night. No students slept in a class or lab. My mentor said that sleeping in a lab was stupid. In my university, many students went café terriers to eat lunch or dinner and some students came to a lab afternoon and took a nap. I thought that graduate students in U.S. used their time better than Japanese students and that café terrier in my university was easy on the purse and convenient. Universities in U.S. conduct many great researches and I expected that they had a lot of newest devices. However experimental devices in Rice University were older and the number of them was smaller than in Japan.
During the first week of the program we had many events and activities. I thought that the lecture by Prof. Kono and a discussion with Japanese graduate students were very helpful and motivated me. They gave a lot of advice and information such as what graduate school in the U.S. was like, the importance of getting a doctorate in the U.S., and how to become a PhD student in the U.S. Before I these lectures, it was common for me to go to the same graduate school as a university where I got a bachelor. However after these lectures, I could change the way of my thinking and broaden my choices. It is a choice for me to go to abroad in order to get a doctorate.
I also made new friends in Rice, Lisa and JJ. They participated in Nano Japan. They showed us around Houston and talked about their school lives and themselves. I also met a great PhD student. Her name is Keiko Kato. She is a student assistant for the TOMODACHI STEM program and also one of PhD students in the Ajayan lab. She is cheerful, positive, and a hard worker. She gave me a lot of advice and always helped me. I respect her very much.
Research Project Overview
I’m working in the Ajayan Lab, which is involved in the department of material science and nano engineering. My professors are Prof. Pulickel Ajayan and Dr. Robert Vajtai.
On my first day in the lab, I met Dr. Robert Vajtai. He was so cheerful that I felt relieved. He wore a plaid shirt and no tie. I was a little surprised to see him because such a casual fashion wasn’t seen at universities in Japan. Professors in Japan always wear a formal suit and a tie. I introduced myself and he gave an overview of research in the Ajayan Lab. After the meeting, I met Mr. Kaushik Kalag, who is one of PhD students in the lab and Kota’s mentor. He showed Kota and me around labs and gave us a safety lecture. There were a shower and a first aid kit in every lab in order to respond to an emergency as soon as possible.
On my second day in the lab, I met my mentor. My mentor is Mr. Peter Owuor. He is from Kenya and joined Ajayan’s group in 2014 as a PhD student. He is bright and smart. He told me to study some key words; carbon nanotube, nano clay, nano composite, exfoliation and functionalization. Studying key words is important for me, because I have to understand these words before I started a research.
On my third day in the lab, Peter explained and demonstrated a dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA). We can research a mechanical properties, in particular a viscoelastic behavior of polymers by using a DMA.
My research topic is “3D material from 2D and 1D.” 3D material is a nano composite. 2D material is nano clay. 1D material is carbon nanotubes. We are going to make some samples by mixing carbon nanotubes and nano clay in a polymer. This method is bottom up assembly, which is one of the strategies for making multicomponent materials of nanostructures. By using it, we can control components and a sample size, and sometimes make materials more cheaply than by using a top down assembly. After we make nano composites, we are going to research its mechanical properties by using a DMA.
In the first week, I noticed that some professors often the left doors of their office open. Keiko told me that opening a door showed that you could feel free to visit their office. On the other hand, in Japan, a door of professor’s office is always closed. I thought that there were less hierarchical relationships between professors and students in Rice than in Japan.
There are many students working in the lab. Most of them came from Asia. They were very kind and spoke to me in a friendly way. We talked about our own background and research. I taught Japanese to Chinese student. I often ask them, “Why did you decide to come to Ajayan lab?” and “What do you want to do after you get a master’s degree or a doctorate?” They had various plans in the future. They broadened my horizons. What I’m studying in Rice is different from what I have researched in Japan, but I’m sure that it is a great opportunity and my experiences in the lab should be useful and valuable for me.
Question of the week
Why would many students like to be a PhD student in the U.S.?
- Foreign students come to study for an advanced degree in the U.S. for many reasons. For some, it may economically attractive to be a PhD student in the U.S. since, particularly in STEM fields, most students in the U.S. receive a tuition exemption and stipend in return for work as a research assistant or teaching assistant. Some choose the U.S. for its well-respected graduate education system which allows students a great deal of self-efficacy and freedom to explore interesting and cutting-edge research areas. Some choose specific schools in the U.S. because of their strong PhD program in their chosen field of study or because they want to work with a particular professor at that school. For some, having a PhD from a U.S. university might make them more competitive for finding a job back in their home country. Some hope to stay in the U.S. and find a job here after graduation, either through the OPT program or if they can get long-term sponsorship for a work visa. They may also just want to study abroad in the U.S. and experience its educational and cultural environment. If you ask international graduate students why they chose to do a PhD in the U.S. you will probably receive many different answers that are combination of many things listed above and some things that are specific to that person. There is no one reason why students choose to study in the U.S., rather there are as many reasons as there are international students in the U.S.
Week 02: Critical Incident Analysis
I’d like to show two examples of cross-cultural communication.
I was shown three hospitalities in Houston. First, Lisa and JJ gave me hospitality. They took us to a famous shopping center on one day and their favorite ice cream shop on the other day. They were busy students but they gladly showed us around Houston. Second, a staff in a hotel gave me hospitality. Every morning he said to me “Good morning. How I you? O-ha-yo-u!” with a smile. “O-ha-yo-u” means good morning in Japanese. He is not Japanese. I was glad to hear the Japanese word from him and had an affinity with him because he was interested in Japan and tried to get along with us. He also prepared some special cups of grapefruits for us for breakfast because we love grapefruits. Third, a clerk in an ice cream shop gave me hospitality. She let us to try many kinds of ice creams for free. We also could buy the largest cup of ice cream at the same price as a smallest cup of one. Japanese clerks are often said that they have hospitality called “O-mo-te-na-shi” in Japanese. I agree, but I think that some O-mo-te-na-shi are different from these hospitalities that I was given in Houston. In Japan, clerks are sometimes very kind to customers by the book, not but from bottom of heart. From this experience, I think that sharing foreign cultures and language is important in order to get along with foreigners and I’d like to give such a great hospitality to others from bottom of my heart.
I did face language barriers in the lab. It was the first time for me to research abroad. Moreover the department of Materials science and NanoEngineering, in which I am studying at Rice, is different from the department of Mechanical and Aerospace engineering, in which I was studying in Japan. Studying in a different department is exciting for me, but there are many English academic words, that I have never heard. I often didn’t know how I could say something in English and felt regret. I also had a scary experience in the lab. When I was making samples, a graduate student came to the lab, smelled the atmosphere, and said, “You have to leave here! It smells dangerous!” I had already stayed in the lab for more than two hours but I didn’t notice a dangerous smell because it was getting dangerous gradually and I lost smelling. After I left the lab, a few graduate students discussed the cause, but I didn’t understand chemical sentences. I didn’t figure out the cause of the dangerous smell and I was really scared. My mentor said that it was safe, but I couldn’t be relieved completely. From these experiences, I strongly thought that it was very important to communicate in English in order not only to discuss but also to protect my life for emergency. I have to improve my English language skill both in a daily life and in academic fields.
- Lab Safety: Each university and research lab will likely have specific safety and equipment training that you will need to complete or will be given before you can begin research or use a new piece of equipment. It is vital that you abide by all safety training and lab policies and procedures to avoid injury to yourself or others or damage of expensive research equipment.When you arrive at your research host lab, be sure to ask your host professor and/or research mentor/s what lab, safety, or equipment training you will need to complete and how you can sign up if necessary. The following general resources from Rice’s office of Environmental Health & Safety may also be helpful for you to review.
- Rice University – Laboratory Safety Training Workshops
- Rice University – Laboratory Safety Overview
- Rice University – Biological Safety
- Rice University – Chemical Safety
- Rice University – Radiation Safety
- Rice University – Laser Safety
Please also watch the following videos:
Research Project Update
In the second week, Peter and I made many kinds of samples. First, we measured the weight of CNTs and Nano clay. Second, we mixed carbon nanotubes in dimethyl form amide (DMF) by using a magnetic stirring and a sonication. We added nano clay and mixed it again by using a magnetic stirring and a sonication. We also added Polycarbonate and mixed it by using a sonication. We mixed the sample in order to exfoliate CNTs, nano clay and Polycarbonate. CNTs hold together by van der Waals forces and pi stacking. DMF and ethanol are often used for exfoliation of CNTs. After mixing the sample, we spread it in a thin layer and left it for a day. Evaporation occurred and we got a nano composite film in the next day. I also made other samples. I mixed glass bubbles, glue and deionized (DI) water and I made three kinds of no functionalized nano composites. Each sample had 2 ml, 4 ml and 6 ml glue respectively. Finally I made three kinds of functionalized nano composites. I mixed glass bubbles, glue, DI water and silane. As with no functionalized nano composites, each sample had 2 ml, 4 ml and 6 ml glue respectively.
After we got these nano composites, we studied their mechanical properties by using a DMA and a thermo gravimetric analysis (TGA). We can study changes in physical and chemical properties of materials when they are heated or cooled by using a TGA. Peter demonstrated how to use it.
On Friday March 5th, my mentor Peter took me to a welcome party. The party is a reception for new students, who were accepted as graduate students in the department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering. The party was held at Valhalla, the bar for graduate students and public space in front of the bar at Rice University. I drank two cups of Texas black beer and ate a hamburger for free! They tasted great! I was really surprised that there are two bars for undergraduate students and graduate students inside Rice University.
Every Friday evening some students, who are 21 or older, go together and enjoy drinking with friends there. At the party, I met Prof. Pulickel Ajayan. It was the first time to see him. He was so busy that I couldn’t see him in the first week. He was cheerful and welcomed me. I was pretty lucky and happy to talk with him because I wondered I could never meet him before I leave Rice. I also enjoyed talking with Chinese graduate students and Turkish graduate students. We introduced our own countries and cultures. We also talked about our plan after getting a doctorate or master’s degree. One student said that he would work as a post-doc in the U.S. for some years, go back their home country and become an academic. Another student said that he would work at a company. My mentor said that he would like to work as a consultant. I thought that I could create more options in the future when I get a doctorate in the U.S. I had a great time with them in the party!
Question of the Week?
Why is there no convenience store in Houston?
- It is true that convenience stores in the U.S. are not very convenient at all compared to Japan. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the U.S. is a largely car-based society which means that convenience stores are usually attached to gas stations and are located along busy streets in places convenient for drivers to quickly stop off for gas and buy a cup of coffee, soda, or snack to eat while driving. This means that while convenience stores do exist in the U.S., they are typically not in areas convenient for pedestrians and only have items for sale that can be easily eaten while driving. This is particularly true in Houston which is very much a car-based city with limited public transportation and many other cities across the U.S. too. Second, if you are in a major urban city such as Washington, DC, New York City or Boston you will find there are more small shops or pharmacies that are located all throughout the city, oftentimes near a subway station or bus stop so that it is convenient for pedestrians commuting by public transportation. These may not be convenience stores in the Japanese sense, but could be pharmacies like CVS, Walgreen’s or Duane Reede that have a wide array of items food and snacks, small grocery-like stores which in New York City are often referred to as bodegas or small carts or shops located in a subway station. It really varies by city/location.
- There actually is a small convenience store at Rice University in the Student Center called the RechargeU and one reason we picked the Residence Inn Medical Center hotel is that is located right next door to a grocery store that is open 24 hours per day making it convenient to quickly shop for food, toiletries, or prepared food at any time. Its not quite as convenient as in Japan, but we tried to make it as convenient as possible for the TOMODACHI STEM students. 🙂
- Fun Fact: Did you know that 7-11 actually began as an American company? Even though today there are more 7-11 stores in Japan than in the U.S. For more fun facts about 7-11 click here.
Week 03: Research in the U.S. vs. Research in Japan
I have a little bit different experience than I had expected. First, I’m living a regular life in Houston. I come to Rice at 8:45 AM, have a lunch at 12:00 AM and go back to a hotel at 6:00 PM every weekday. Almost all PhD students in a lab come in 9:00AM and go back in 9:00 PM, if they have a lot of work. I think that PhD students manage their time well. Second, It was more difficult for me to discuss in English than I had expected. There were many words that I could tell in Japanese but that I didn’t say in English. I have to continue to practice a communication in English after I go back to Japan.
I noticed some differences in a U.S. approach vs. a Japanese approach to academic research, education, or teamwork.
The first difference is in the approach to academic research. An approach of my topic in a lab is more simply than a topic that I did in Japan. In the topic that I’m working, we can make samples only three steps; mix, spread and dry, and study its properties by DMA. It was very simple procedure but idea is very interesting. The second difference is in the approach to education. Seminars held by other professors are held once a week in the department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering at Rice. On the other hand, such a seminar is held only once a month at my university in Japan. Rice PhD students have many chances to broaden their academic knowledge. Moreover Rice students present better than Japanese students because they have presentation classes and practice hard but because Japanese students don’t often have to do this. The third difference is in teamwork. Many PhD students at Rice often discuss each topic both in a lab and in a meeting. However Japanese students hesitate to tell another opinion to older people and some of them are unwilling to discuss. Moreover it is usual to collaborate with other research groups in the same university but it is unusual in Japan.
I believe academic research in the U.S. is valuable for me. Great students and professors come to the U.S. from all over the world. High-level research is conducted. When I study with them in such a competitive circumstances, I would be often motivated and work hard. The experience will help me to work as a scientist or an engineer in foreign countries in the future. I would also be more independent from my parents because I could get money. Generally, it will take five years to get a doctorate. In Japan, some PhD students, who don’t get scholarship or fellowship, depend on their parents for five years because they have to pay school tuition and living expenses. However, in the U.S. professors pay me money to work as a research assistant, so my parents don’t have to support me. However, I must face a language barrier that I have never found in Japan. It is important to discuss in English, so I have to brush up my English communication skills.
Research Project Update
In the third week in a lab, we got data for my final presentation. I studied mechanical properties of three kinds of samples by using a Dynamical mechanical analysis (DMA). One sample was made of poly vinyl amid (PVA). Other two samples were nano composites. One nano composite was made of PVA and nano clay. The other one was made of PVA, nano clay and CNTs. These samples ware prepared by my mentor Peter before I came to Rice University. Peter explained and demonstrated how to prepared a sample and how to use a DMA. After the explanation, I cut these samples and researched their mechanical properties by myself. I did a tensile test in which samples were pulled at a constant strain rate and finally broke. I did tests in two kinds of strain rate (0.1 % strain rate and 0.25 % strain rate) and got stress strain curves. A stress strain curve is valuable and important because it tells various mechanical properties. At low strain rate (0.1 % strain rate), a sample were pulled slowly and relaxed, so stress strain curve increased gradually. At high strain rate (0.25 % strain rate), a sample was pulled quickly and didn’t have much time to relax and finally broke, so stress strain curve increased rapidly. These results showed that mechanical properties of nano composites depended on a strain rate and also appeared remarkably in a nano composite that was made of PVA, nano clay and CNTs. Peter calculated young modulus and fracture stress from the stress strain curve at 0.25 % strain rate. We discussed these results. What has been the most rewarding research experience in third week is getting good data: the stress strain curves that were similar to what we had expected.
I also joined a 90 Second Thesis competition on Friday. It was an event in which Rice graduate students presented their research topics within 90 seconds. 40 graduate students participated in this competition from various departments, for example, bioengineering, physics, ecology, chemistry and so on. It was a first time for me to see presentations of graduate students in the U.S. They were very good at presenting. They often used good body languages, eye contacts and emphasis. They talked about their research topics. I have learned mechanical and aerospace engineering in Japan and material science and nano enginnering in the U.S. so I didn’t have technical knowledge of other departments. However most of all presentations were easy for me to understand. It was helpful for my final presentation.
Question of the Week
How is a job hunting in the U.S.?
- The U.S. has a very flexible job search process with students able to apply for internships or jobs at any time. Internships and jobs are announced based on company needs and are usually posted through the university career center or promoted via job or internship fairs on university campuses. For example, the Rice University Center for Career Development is a resource that current undergraduates, current graduate students, and alumni of Rice can use at any time to find jobs via their databases or find resources helpful to the career/job search. All universities in the U.S. have career centers to help their students and alumni.
- Many U.S. students apply for internships with industry or part-time jobs in their chosen career field to gain experience even before they have graduated from their bachelor’s course. Sometimes, companies recruit full-time employees from among the students who have done well in the internship program. However, it is not a requirement that you do an internship to get a job with a company or in your career field. You can even apply to a totally different career field from what you received your undergraduate or graduate degree in if you want. There is a great deal of flexibility and mobility with careers in the U.S. and typically an employee will work for 5 – 7 different companies over the course of their career and even switch career fields.
- Some students do not find jobs right out of college though and may continue to work in part-time jobs or entry-level jobs that are not in their chosen career field. If the economy is very bad when the student graduates, it may be harder for them to find a job right away. However, STEM majors generally have an easier time finding a good job right after graduation than students majoring in humanities, social sciences or other fields. Click here to read more.
- Students with PhDs in STEM typically hope to get a job as a professor or researcher but this is very competitive as there are few academic jobs available each year. Increasingly, universities are providing more advising to students on non-academic career paths for PhDs too including this very good resource offered on Columbia University’s Career Center website. If you search Google for “Non-Academic Jobs PhD STEM” you will find many other articles and resources too.
Week 04: Final Week at Rice University
In the final week in the Ajayan lab at Rice University, my research had already finished so I prepared for my final presentation everyday. When I thought back my research experience at Rice University, I miss to research mechanical properties of some of samples that I made but that I hadn’t tested by using a dynamical mechanical analysis (DMA) and a thermo gravimetric analysis (TGA). I researched mechanical properties of nano composite; for example, Young modulus and fracture strength by using a DMA. However, if I had more time for a research and used DMA and TGA, I could have tested more samples and studied other properties. I wanted to continue my research more. Moreover, I wanted to discuss more with the students and professors. It was hard for me to talk about our research in English fluently, so I’ll practice hard and try again in the next time.
During these four weeks, I came to study both in English and in Japanese. If I study in English, I can learn how to tell something in English and it is easier to discuss them in English. If I study in Japanese, it is easier for me to understand. So I think it is important to study both in English and in Japanese. I also came to try to understand then meaning of each procedure well. When I didn’t tell why I did, I noted and studied it after that.
My experience at Rice University had many impacts on my future career goals. Through the research experience in the lab, I’m strongly feeling again a lot of fun when I’m experimenting and researching about this I don’t know. I also noticed that I liked to do research and discuss with various people, who had different backgrounds. So, I’d like to work as a scientist or an engineer all over the world. In order to achieve this career goal, I should brush up my English language skills, work hard and produce great results after I go back to Japan.
Other than my research internship experience, I met many people and they gave me many advice. In particular, Rice students always helped me. In this program, I had many chances to meet Rice students, who are not only the U.S. students but also Japanese students. The U.S. students showed me around Houston. I had dinner, hung out and went shopping with them. I could learn about Houston life and how the U.S. students’ school life were from them. Visiting students from Japan showed Rice colleges and invited us to a party. They told me what differences there are between the U.S. universities and Japanese universities and what they are going to do after they graduate. Japanese PhD students also took us dinner and held a panel discussion for us. They told me how to advance to a U.S. graduate school, how to prepare for studying abroad, and what their research lives are like. What I talked with them was really helpful and changed my thinking of future academic and career goals.
Question of the Week?
Why are many people in the U.S. always positive?
- Here is a good article on this very question: “What Makes Americans so Optimistic?”
- Here is another article on “25 Traits Foreigners Admire About America” that also lists optimism along with some other positive views about Americans and life in America.
Final Research Project Presentation
On Friday, March 18 all TOMODACHI STEM students gave a research project presentation at Rice University. To the see a PDF of the student’s presentation click on the project title below.
Research Host at Rice
Prof. P.M. Ajayan, Materials Science & Nanoengineering
Research Project Title
3D material from 2D and 1D (PDF)
Week 05: Science & Technology Policy Study Tour in Washington, DC
On March 19, we left Houston and arrived Washington DC. It was the first time for me to go to Washington DC. Many office workers and tourists were walking around. There were many large buildings of administrative organizations and financial institutions, museums, monuments and national parks. Washington DC has useful public transportations; Metro and buses. I thought it looked like Tokyo.
In Washington DC we learned about science and technical policy in the U.S and we went to the JSPS Washington DC office, George Washington University Center for International Science & Technology Policy and visited Howard University. At the JSPS Washington DC office, we heard a lecture about what scholarships they were granting and how or when we could get them. I noticed that they were supporting not only researchers who went abroad but also ones who came to Japan. I had not known that they were giving KAKENHI and GAKUSHIN and that KAKENHI were basically prepared for basic researches before. The sentence that left an impression on me the most was that “Japanese people think negative points at first but that the U.S. people always think positive points, so Japanese people start more lately than the U.S. people.” I agreed with that. I had tended to make much preparation in order not to lose. That was good in a case. However I thought that it is more important to just try and seize opportunities. In addition to JSPS, we heard lectures at George Washington University and Howard University. Unfortunately we couldn’t visit the NSF because of a fire at metro station which shut down the subway route we needed to take. I was looking forward to it the most, so I hope that I would have another chance.
We also participated in a joint day with the TOMODACHI Met Life Women’s Leadership Program on March 24. There were many activities, for example, a policy proposal workshop, Japanese women’s career panel, STEM career panel, presentation workshop and networking dinner. I learned that it was necessary to listen and to understand others’ backgrounds, what they said, and what they wanted under negotiation from policy proposal workshop. I noticed that it was important to tell my opinion when I would work in the U.S. from Japanese women’s career panel. I also learned how women were working in STEM fields. The words that left an impression on me in STEM carrier panel were “self-actualization”, “flexible” and “open mind.” I felt that it was not easy to pursue a STEM career because there were few women, but there were various ways to work and opportunities for women. Their stories motivated me.
On the other hand, we enjoyed sightseeing time with 10 TOMODACHI STEM students and Sarah. We visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, had a tour of the White House, and visited the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and Georgetown. I had been looking forward to visiting the National Air and Space Museum for a long time, so I was happy to go there and see the “Wright Flyer”. Next time I’d like to go to Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. I happened to see the oldest house in Washington DC at Georgetown. I love George Town. It was a little old and very beautiful town. I enjoyed walking around, shopping and eating a cupcake and homemade ice cream with my friends. We also watched a NBA basketball game. It was exciting. March 25, which was the last day in Washington DC, was Makiko’s birthday. We planed a birthday surprise and celebrated her birthday together at night. We spent much time together in Washington DC and made many precious memories.
Question of the Week
Why can we visit to Smithsonian museums for free?
In this essay, I was reflecting my experiences in the U.S. overall. On February 21, I met TOMODACHI students at Narita airport. They were so cheerful that I could get along with them soon. When I arrived in Houston, I felt the different atmosphere from California, which I visited two years ago for studying English. There were many cars running, few pedestrians and tourists walking around, and a lot of large buildings, for example, medical centers in Houston. I felt a little bit lonely at first. However, people in Houston, especially at Rice University, were very kind and friendly and I really enjoyed in Houston and at Rice University.
I worked with Peter at Ajayan Lab. I researched mechanical properties of nanocomposites by using dynamical mechanical analysis (DMA). Nanocomposites, which are often made of nano materials and polymer, are light and strong, and have much resistance to corrosion. We can also make them easily by only three steps; mix carbon nanotubes, nano clay, and polymer, spread them in a thin film and dry. We conducted tensile tests and researched the mechanical properties of nanocomposites. Finally, we got good results. This study was interesting and I’m sure that it could contribute in many situations; for example, a nanocomposite could be an alternative material to carbon fiver composites, which are used for aircrafts.
At the lab, I talked with some PhD students and learned not only how to research but also how to spend time when I would become PhD students. PhD students in the lab were smart and friendly. They often spoke to me; “Hi! Are you a new student? I’m ~. Nice to meet you.” They also told me what they were studying, why they decided to study at the lab, and what dreams they had in the future. I surprised to hear their dreams, because they had various goals; to be an academia, a researcher, a developer, and a consultant. They motivated me. In particular, Peter, who is my mentor, told me a lot of important things; to read articles about science every day, to manage my time well, and to communicate with anyone positively. He had many friends and much knowledge. His explanation was always easy for me to understand. He also told me that PhD was hard but lots of fun. I really respect him. I was glad to meet and work with him at Ajayan lab. I’m also grateful to Dr. Robert Vajtai and Prof. Pulickel Ajayan. I noticed that it was exciting and interesting for me to research and experiment through the internship at the lab and that I like to work with people, who came from all over the world. I’d like to return to the U.S. and work as a researcher in the future.
I had various experiences other than in the lab. I went to Jonson space center, rodeo amusement park, and rodeo carnival. At Johnson Space Center, I saw the Apollo mission control. I was really surprised because it was smaller than I had expected. There were many mission patches on the wall of Apollo mission center, which told me that many astronauts challenged missions and gave people dreams. I also enjoyed seeing exhibits and an experimental show. I had wanted to visit Johnson Space Center for a long time, so I was really glad to make the dream come true.
At the Houston Rodeo, I rode a roller costar that was the craziest one I had ever ridden. I was surprised that such a huge rodeo amusement park was built only for rodeo. It was the first time to see a genuine rodeo, which was cool and exiting. In spite of it being a weekday, it was crowded with lots people. I sometimes saw some people, who were dressing up as cowboys at the Residence Inn, where we were staying. I thought that carnivals were on a large scale in the U.S.
I also met many people other than in the lab. Lisa and JJ, who were Rice students and members of Nano Japan, showed us around Houston. We went to shopping, to ice cream shops and dinner. I also played video games with Lisa in JJ’s college. They were kind and great friends of mine. If I had not met them, I couldn’t have enjoyed Houston like that. I also met Japanese students at Rice University. Natsumi, who was an exchange student from Keio University, invited me to her college. We had lunch at a cafeteria and saw how Rice students were living in colleges. There was a cafeteria, a music room, a game room, and common space in each college. Some students studied together, and others prepared for parties. It looked like “Hogwarts School of witchcraft and wizardry.” I wish I could have stayed there when I was an undergraduate student. Keiko was a Japanese graduate student and a member of Ajayan lab. She was caring and bright. Before I went to Houston, she helped me to prepare for the program. In Houston, she helped me all time and gave much advice, so I was relieved in Houston thanks to her. I sometimes consulted my future path with her. She always listened to me carefully and told her opinion and experience. I respect her.
I had various experiences, which were not only researching at lab but also cultures all time in Houston. I also formed great connections with many people. I’d like to keep in touch with them.
After the four weeks in Houston, we went to Washington DC. There were many large buildings, which were museums, administrative organizations and financial institutions, in Washington DC, which looked like Tokyo. Many tourists, business people were walking and public transportations were useful. In Washington DC, we went to JSPS, Howard University, George Washington University and learned the science and technical policy in the U.S. Unfortunately, we missed to visit NSF, because of a fire at a metro station. At JSPS, we heard a lecture about scholarships, which they were granting. I noticed that there were many kinds of scholarships and that I could be supported when I would advance to a graduate school. We also heard lectures and looked around Howard University and George Washington University. Moreover, we participated in TOMODACHI Day. I met 47 girl students, who were participated in TOMODACHI MetLife Women’s Leadership Program, and learned how women could demonstrate leadership and how women would pursue careers in STEM fields. I got along with women, who were active in other fields. It motivated me.
I also enjoyed sightseeing with TOMODACHI students and Sarah. We went to National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of natural history, white house, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and Georgetown. Georgetown, which was one of the most favorite towns that I had ever been to, was traditional and beautiful town. I wish I could live there. We enjoyed shopping and eating cupcakes and homemade ice creams. We also celebrated Makiko’s birthday on March 25. I had the great time with TOMODACHI students and Sarah in Washington DC. I think that it was the most valuable things to meet them and spend the 5 weeks with them in TOMODACHI STEM Program @ Rice University. I was really happy to get along with them. They are so great friends that I’d like to keep in touch with them and to improve together by encouraging each other forever. Thank you so much and I love all TOMODACHI students!
After I came back to Japan, I shared my experience with my colleague, friends, and family.
When speaking to a professor, I said that I noticed that I liked to research and work with various students, who came from all over the world, and that I’d like to produce great results when I’d be a graduate student in order to work as a researcher in foreign countries in the future. I also told him that I considered getting a doctorate.
When speaking to an employer when I work in the future, I will say that the program was the turning point of my life and told me the interest of researching and how to work in STEM field.
When speaking to students at my university, I said that I had great time in the program with TOMODACHI students and Rice students, who had various goals, were studying hard in the world and motivated me.
I’m sure that TOMODACHI STEM program @ Rice University got many experiences and connections, which were broadened my horizons, and got some goals; to communicate in English fluently, to work as a researcher in foreign countries in the future, and to return to the U.S. for researching. I’m very glad to have participated in the program and met many great people. I’d like to keep in touch with them in the future, and never forget what I learned, felt and thought through the program.
Finally, I was grateful to Prof. Kono and Sarah. I appreciate for their acceptance to my participation and supporting us all the time in the program. I had the best time ever in TOMODACHI STEM Program @ Rice University. Thank you so much.