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My Time at Graduate School: Past, Present and Future

Shuhei Iimura

Shuhei Iimura
Graduate Student in the Chuo University Graduate School of Letters and Research Fellow (DC1) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
Area of Specialization: Developmental Psychology

My long journey at university will come to an end in just a few months. Currently, I am in my third year in the Doctoral Program of the Chuo University Graduate School. I recently submitted my doctoral thesis. I am scheduled to receive my PhD in psychology in March of next year. By introducing my time at graduate school, I hope to convey a glimpse of the real life of graduate students today.

My time as a graduate student and my career as a researcher

Right now, I am getting ready to embark on my career as a researcher. However, to be honest, I never planned to become a researcher. Actually, I left my hometown and came to Tokyo with the goal of becoming an instructor of health and physical education. Looking back, there were three major turning points which led me to develop aspirations for becoming a researcher.

The first turning point was my experience in providing support for education at a junior high school located near Chuo University. I engaged in this activity during my time at undergraduate school and while in the Master’s Program. Upon witnessing how the students developed in accordance with the theory that I had studied at university, I felt the true wonder of academics. At the same time, I also learned that not everything worked according to theory, which also served to heighten my interest in academics.

The second turning point was my experience with instructors and senior students who taught me the excitement of research. At a relatively early stage of my time at undergraduate school, I learned the basis of academics—“form a hypothesis, gather and analyze data, summarize results, present those results, and hold discussion.” I found this extremely interesting. During my sophomore year in undergraduate school, I applied for and participated in my first academic presentation.

The third turning point was when I learned of available economic support. I feel no need to hide the fact that I grew up in a fatherless home with two other siblings. My family was relatively poor. I paid for almost all of my tuition using scholarship loans. I have to repay an amount equivalent to a luxury automobile. Although I had wanted to enter the Doctoral Program, I was very worried. Finally, I decided that the only way for me to continue my research was to be hired by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) as a research fellow. Although being selected for employment at the JSPS is extremely difficult, once employed, employees receive a monthly stipend of 200,000 yen for living expenses and an annual grant of several hundred thousand yen for research. Luckily, I was hired by JSPS and was able to continue my research.

These turning points led me to pursue a career as a researcher.

My experience and selection of research themes

Observing the development of children is extremely interesting. In particular, it is fascinating how there are significant individual differences in development during puberty and adolescence. Even when being involved with the same students for just one year, I witnessed amazing changes. Some students grow so much in one year that their school uniforms no longer fit, while other students of the same age don’t grow much at all. There are also significant differences between boys and girls. On average, secondary sexual characteristics start to appear about two years earlier in female students (Berenbaum, Beltz, & Corley, 2015). During this period, female students appear much more mature than male students.

Depending on students, there are significant differences in the timing, speed, and orientation of development. I learned this during my experience with children while studying at undergraduate school and in the Master’s Program. Ultimately, this experience led me to select my research theme at graduate school.

In psychology, researchers often select their research themes based on their personal experiences and interest. This was true for me. Some people select their research themes based on their own insufficiencies or problems. Of course, there are also some researchers who simply conduct research according to themes assigned by their laboratory.

My research and Chuo University alumni

Each child undergoes diverse development. This is particularly clear when students change their school environment. Specifically, I am referring to when students graduate from the familiar environment of junior high school and enter high school, which is called the “transition to a high school environment.” When changing to a new school environment, students are faced with a variety of issues related to adaptation.

Upon entering a new school environment, the children display personal differences (diversity) in how they develop. Why does this diversity occur in development?—My research in the Doctoral Program is aimed at obtaining psychological evidence for this question. During my research, I conducted multiple follow-up surveys for a total of 3,700 junior high school and high school students.

This survey was more difficult than I expected. I sent letters to 137 high schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area to request permission to conduct a survey. I obtained cooperation from 5 schools (a survey participation rate of 4%). On the other hand, 49 schools responded that they were not able to cooperate, while 83 schools did not answer at all. I quickly learned the difficulty of conducting surveys in a busy school environment.

However, high school teachers with ties to Chuo University came to my aid. When I made an introductory visit to high schools that had offered to cooperate in my survey, I learned a surprising fact: Teachers who are alumni of Chuo University had persuaded their schools to participate in the survey. There was even one school that cooperated because the son of the principal was enrolled at Chuo University.

It is no exaggeration to say that my status as a graduate student at Chuo University enabled me to write my doctoral thesis. Ultimately, I was able to submit my doctoral thesis in three years. The diagram below shows the results of my doctoral research. In summary: In order to form a better understanding of child development, we must break away from the conventional developmental outlook which views the transition to a high school environment as a development risk. Instead, we must consider the transition to a high school environment as an opportunity for spurring diverse development.

In conclusion: My wishes as a graduate student

Graduate students often discuss how employment is difficult to find even after obtaining a PhD. Many graduate students continue to devote themselves to research while struggling with uneasiness towards an unclear future. This creates the feeling of walking a thin tightrope. Consequently, there is an academic paper which shows a high rate of mental illness among graduate students (Levecque, Anseel, De Beuckelaer, Van der Heyden, & Gisle, 2017). For me, this topic strikes close to home. Actually, I often received counseling from psychotherapists.

Fortunately, I received an official offer for employment as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the JSPS starting from next year. From the next year onwards, I will continue my research activities in the new environment of the University of Tokyo. The term of my post is three years. Nothing puts me at ease more than knowing that my career path and daily life are secured.

As my time in a graduate school comes to an end, I would like to make a heartfelt wish—I pray that graduate students can conduct their research activities with peace of mind.

Cited Literature

Berenbaum, S. A., Beltz, A. M., & Corley, R. (2015). The importance of puberty for adolescent development: Conceptualization and measurement. In Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 48, 53-92.
Levecque, K., Anseel, F., De Beuckelaer, A., Van der Heyden, J., & Gisle, L. (2017). Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy, 46(4), 868-879.
Shuhei Iimura
Graduate Student in the Chuo University Graduate School of Letters and Research Fellow (DC1) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
Area of Specialization: Developmental Psychology

Shuhei Iimura was born in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1991. He graduated from the College of Health and Welfare, J. F. Oberlin University in 2014.
He completed the Master’s Program in the Graduate School of Letters, Chuo University in 2016, and obtained a Master’s Degree in psychology.
After working as a concurrent lecturer at Rikkyo Ikebukuro Junior & Senior High School, he was enrolled in the Doctoral Program in the Graduate School of Letters, Chuo University in 2016. Also, he serves as a Research Fellow (DC1) at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.
His current research theme is the measurement of developmental diversity caused by changing environment from junior high school to high school, as well as the review of associated mechanisms.
His related achievements include the following: “Iimura, S. & Taku, K. (2018). Positive Developmental Changes after Transition to High School: Is Retrospective Growth Correlated with Measured Changes in Current Status of Personal Growth? Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 47(6), 1192-1207” (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10964-018-0816-7) and more.
His homepage: https://sites.google.com/view/iimurashuhei/top