A hazy idea of becoming a researcher who resolves energy issues and petrochemicals-related issues was occurring to me. Learning that those who wish to work as researchers in the field of chemistry are required to complete graduate school, I started to consider entering the graduate program in the winter when I was a sophomore. In my third year as an undergraduate student, I thought that as I planned to go on to graduate school, I might as well study in a challenging environment. At that time, the laboratory of Professor Tamejiro Hiyama accepted only two students each year, which appealed to me, and I applied for Hiyama Laboratory at the end of February when students are assigned to their respective laboratories. Hiyama Laboratory develops a new method for synthesizing organic compounds (which, simply put, is a methodology for connecting organic molecules). We are improving ourselves through friendly rivalry at the laboratory, expecting that discovery of a new reaction will make it possible to synthesize organic molecules in an unprecedented manner, which will in turn result in development of a new function.
Surrounded by the unique laboratory smell, unfamiliar experimental instruments and wonderful upper-class students, in April in my fourth year of the undergraduate program, I began serving as an assistant to graduate students at the laboratory in their experiments in order to learn experimental techniques. I was filled with high spirits and started to run experiments; however no matter how many times I tried, I failed to deliver the same results as those that upper-class students obtained, which made me feel disheartened and think that my experimental skills were much inferior. This is how I embarked on my research career. The meticulous investigation that I carried out with upper-class students revealed that the impurities that should have been removed carefully enhanced reactions in the case. In those days, I hardly understood that predictions and perceived notions are taboos for research and researchers must sincerely accept results yielded. I was just relieved to learn that my experimental operations were not the cause of the failure.
I was given my own research subject in September of the same year for the first time, which was to devise a simple method for synthesizing a certain molecule. I was provided with a goal and basically allowed to determine how to conduct the research completely on my own. Although I consulted literature and performed experiments with a great deal of thoughts while receiving instructions from upper-class students, the reaction efficiency that I obtained was just 20%. As the day for presenting my graduation research was approaching, I got panicked and carried out experiments blindly, but none of them went well. With depressing feelings, I told the instructor that I wanted to build up my own hypothesis and then examine the effect of the reaction solution concentrations. Although he did not give me a positive response, I secretly conducted an experiment, and the reaction efficiency improved dramatically, which surprised everyone in the laboratory. It is pretty obvious, but I have learned to my cost that no one knows the clear answer to any research and it is important to formulate hypotheses and use our own hands to generate results. With this result, I was offered a chance to make a presentation at an academic conference at the end of the fiscal year. I finished the year while being pressed with preparations for a presentation of my graduation research and academic conferences and sleeping in the laboratory many times.
In the meantime, I continuously received various pieces of advice, such as “do not conduct the same research as others,” “come up with something that no one else can think of,” “do not perform research for the sake of papers,” and “draw a vision for the future,” through debriefing sessions and journal club meetings (gatherings to introduce the research results of other researches) which were held once every two weeks. Therefore, after a while since I went to graduate school, I began to think at all times about what I should do to yield intriguing and meaningful research results. It is first required for researchers to grasp what has not yet been fully elucidated. Neither books nor the Internet can give answers to this question, and thus we have to find the answer by ourselves. I believe the ability to think up new ideas is essential for making a researcher. Once a person is able to hit upon ideas by twos and threes, the person will hope to carry out research into the ideas. I came to think that two years in the master’s program were too short to examine whether or not my ideas were feasible and whether or not I had capabilities satisfactory enough to accomplish research on them. In the early winter of my first year in the master’s program, I made up my mind to attend the doctoral program. I thought that as we only live once, I would regret it if I did not proceed to the next stage of education, and I wanted to see how far I could go (when I told my parents about my decision to take the doctoral program for the first time, they were not positive about it. They must have been deeply concerned about me, who had already spent two more years in the master’s program and asked for more years in the doctoral program. That was the first time that my parents put a word in my life plan. I, however, tried to convince them a few times, and they encouraged me to take on a challenge at last. I am deeply grateful to my parents for their understanding and support).
I expressed my decision to go on to the doctoral program, and in my second year in the master’s program I began taking part in discussion at the professor’s office over the progress and future outlook regarding my research once every week. I was rushed into forging ahead with my research and received disapproval of my ideas for new research subjects many times (a retrospective reflection on the experiences still gives me a piercing feeling in stomach). I racked my brain and performed research repeatedly while keeping in mind the professor’s favorite phrase, “do not conduct research similar to that of other researchers,” and fortunately I found my way to cross-coupling reactions using a trialkylsilyl-based reaction solution, which was the subject of my doctoral dissertation. This is a result that I fortunately managed to achieve by starting off with curiosity to discover intriguing reactions. The paper that I wrote for the first time in my life was eventually accepted by Angewandte Chemie International Edition, a German academic journal, as a flash report after many twists and turns. Mercifully, I was acclaimed for my paper as demonstrated by the facts that Professor Timothy M. Swager who is a materials chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recommended my paper and it was introduced on an academic journal, Synfacts, and the follow-up report was approved and adopted as Hot Paper of the journal. In the winter of my first year in the doctoral program, I was given an opportunity to hold research discussion with Professor Martin Oestreich from the Technical University of Berlin, who came to Japan to deliver a lecture, and I received praise from him for my research. I got carried away and asked him to accept me as an international student. My request was agreed to, and I studied in Berlin for a short period of time in the fall when I was a second-year doctoral student. I came back to Japan, got a job, finished with a public hearing of my doctoral dissertation, and submitted my doctoral thesis, which has brought me where I am now. I spent my six years at Chuo University very energetically.