My Mext Scholarship Adventure Part 2
13 Feb 2020 - Jason Schlesinger
May 2019 was a very active month for me. The MEXT scholarship application was due at the end of the month, and I hadn’t done much in preparation at the start. The scholarship had the following requirements
- Complete the Application - easy
- Get a letter of recommendation from your current employer - easy
- Get a physical - medium
- Write a Research Plan - hard
- Get a letter of recommendation from the dean of your college - impossible
The application was mostly easy. I had to fill out things about myself, and I’m the foremost expert on me. The only things which stood out were some personal questions that made me focus on what my motivations really were.
I had no trouble getting the letter of recommendation from my current employer, and the only trouble with getting a physical came from the time constraint of needing a physical, including several tests and a chest X-Ray all within a month.
Writing a research plan was a real mountain to climb. There are a few things they don’t tell you about a research plan in the application guidelines.
- Research Plans are a format of letter which is common to all Japanese applicants.
- Research Plans require you have a somewhat decent understanding of what you’re researching.
- Your professor/mentor/PI should help you.
I must sing the praises of Travis Senzaki of TranSenz. Who writes extensively on the subject, and provides an invaluable resource to anyone trying to obtain the MEXT Scholarship. His books were instrumental in actually obtaining the scholarship. It was his guidance that let me know what format Research Plans are in, and what they should contain.
I was short on time and shorter on experience, but I needed a research plan ASAP. The research plan is sort of a mini grant proposal. You should explain your problem, how you intend to go about solving it, and explain how that will impact your field overall. Needless to say, you should know of a problem, be able to describe it eloquently, and have an idea of how to go about solving it.
At the start of this process I knew one thing: rice dies when it gets hot. That’s a problem, for sure, but too general for a research proposal. I had to narrow it down, and to do that I had to do some reading. Armed with my skeleton of a problem, and a few search terms, I headed off in any direction, and started digging up what information there was on rice, bioinformatics, and heat tolerance. I searched through papers, reviews, and chapters until I happened upon a question that nobody had yet answered.
I have to thank my wife for giving me a crash course in how to learn about a subject quickly. The process goes like this:
- Find the most recent review paper in the subject. It’s written like a magazine article and will cover what’s important right now in the field.
- Use that paper to find other papers which look like they are yielding important results.
- Find out who cited those papers to see where the field has come between the review and now.
- Once you start asking questions nobody has answered, you’re done.
Your process may vary, but this is why it can be very helpful to have your mentor help guide you in making your research plan. It goes without saying that writing the research plan before you’ve even picked a mentor can be putting the cart before the horse. While you aren’t beholden to follow your research plan, it also will be the strongest indicator of what you want to research once you get to school.
The next phase of the process was to take two language tests, and getting interviewed by a panel.