GSo you are applying for the MEXT Research Student Scholarship and now you have reached a crucial point: you need to write a Field of Study and Research Plan. Well, I was also in your position not so long ago. I am now in Japan and am about to start my studies at the Tokyo University of the Arts here in Tokyo after successfully receiving the Embassy Recommended MEXT Research Student Scholarship.
Indeed, one of the trickiest parts of the application process was writing the “Research Plan.” We have a general impression that the Japanese are very thorough and detail-oriented. Most of the application documents for the MEXT Scholarship have a form that we can follow, with specific instructions on how to fill them out. However, this is not the case for the “Field of Study and Research Plan.” In this article, I will share with you the document that I submitted as well as the process that I went through when writing my research application.
Before jumping to the research plan sample, let me share some background information about graduate school applications in Japan. Here I hope to give you an idea on how graduate school applications might be different from graduate schools in your country and why the research plan plays a crucial role in this process.
MEXT Research Student Scholarship: Non-Degree, Master’s, Doctoral
First, let’s discuss what this scholarship is for. The MEXT Research Student Scholarship covers Non-Degree Research Students, Master’s Students, and Doctoral Students. Most of us are familiar with Master’s and Doctoral Students, but what are Non-Degree Research Students? It’s important to understand this because for the Embassy-Recommended MEXT Research Student Scholarship, the applicants are actually applying first as Non-Degree Research Students. Scholars can then “move up” as Master’s and/or Doctoral Students after passing the entrance examination of their intended graduate school.
Here it will be helpful to learn a little about the Japanese words related to higher education. Pay close attention to the kanji or the Chinese characters because it will help you understand the idea behind the terms.
- University = daigaku (大学)
- University student = daigakusei (大学生)
- Graduate School = daigakuin (大学院)
- Non-Degree Research Student = kenyuusei (研究生)
- Graduate student (Master’s and Doctoral) = daigakuin sei (大学院)
In Japan, a Non-Degree Research Student is generally a student who is enrolled in a university and is associated with a specific graduate school and department but will not earn a degree after the kenkyusei period. They report to an academic adviser who supervises their research and enrolls in classes that they would need for their research. Even though they will not earn a degree after the kenkyusei / research student period, they may continue to become a graduate student (master’s level or doctorate level) provided that they pass the entrance examination and screening of their graduate school and university.
Research Students usually pursue their master’s or doctorate degree after finishing their kenkyusei period, but some students opt to become graduate students depending on the timeline of the entrance examination and screening of their graduate school. The kenkyusei period can be from 6 months to 2 years. I was also a kenkyusei for 6 months. I wrote more about research students in these two articles: Monbukagakusho Scholarship for Research in Japan (Part 1: What is a Research Student?) and (Part 2: Stories from Research Students). Check those out to better understand the Japanese higher education system and hear about the experiences of MEXT scholars.
The Research Plan: Graduate School Applications
In Japan, most graduate school programs, for both non-degree students (kenkyusei) and degree-seeking students (daigakuinsei), require a Research Plan or proposal. A good way to think about applying for graduate schools in Japan is that you are not just applying to a university. You are actually applying to a department or graduate school in a university, and you are looking for an academic advisor in that department who can supervise your research.
The Research Plan is one of the most important documents that academic advisors take into consideration when accepting students. Hence, the Research Plan is not unique to the MEXT Research Students Scholarship application and is actually required in graduate school applications as well. The general rule is that your research plan must include the following: Purpose of your research, Background, Significance of your Study, Research Methodology, and References. JASSO’s student guide to Japan lists that graduate schools usually consider the following key examination points when evaluating research plans: Research ambition, Ability to find a topic, Ability to analyze things, Ability to think logically, and Knowledge relating to major/specialty.
If you pass the screening of the Embassy of Japan in your country, the next major step you will do is to request for a “Letter of Provisional Acceptance” from your target graduate schools. Hence, you will eventually submit your research plan to prospective research advisers. You must write your proposal with this in mind. I will get back to this point later.
Research Plan Sample for the MEXT Scholarship
Each year, MEXT releases new information about their requirements. Note that I submitted my research plan in 2018. In 2019, MEXT included in their guidelines that the Research Plan should not exceed more than two pages. However, applicants are still allowed to include additional attachments (such as a list of references, and a research timeline). For the formatting, simply follow the format of the original Microsoft Word document form. You may view and download my Field of Study and Research Plan here.
Now, my research plan is very specific. My field is in the arts, particularly in theater and performing arts and you are probably in a different field. So here are some of my tips for you as you write your research plan, whatever field of study you may be in.
Tip #1: Check the Research Plan style of your target universities and graduate school departments
Like I mentioned earlier, after passing the first screening of the Embassy of Japan in your country, you will have to request for a “Letter of Provisional Acceptance” from your target graduate schools. You will send your research plan to your prospective advisor and they will evaluate if they can supervise your research and thus, accept you in their department as a kenkyusei. Graduate schools will have different formatting requirements such as word count, font, etc. You do not need to follow this kind of formatting. Instead, analyse the style of what they require. This will give you an idea of what the department is looking for. If you write your research plan with your intended graduate school in mind, you increase your chances of getting accepted into the program and the university of your choice.
Tip #2: Do a thorough research of advisers to make sure there’s an advisor who can supervise you
As mentioned above, when applying for graduate schools in Japan, you may find it useful to think of the process this way: the essence of the application process is that you are asking for a professor in a graduate school to accept your research proposal.
Thus, looking for a research advisor who can supervise your research and your studies is one of the most crucial steps in your application. Most websites of graduate schools in Japan, especially top universities, publish up-to-date information about research advisors and their field of research. Sometimes graduate schools also publish information about the theses of previous students and the professors who supervised them. This will give you a good idea of what kinds of research plans these advisors can supervise and what their interests are.
Tip #3: Write your plan early and request for feedback from peers or superiors. If you know a MEXT scholar, ask for their feedback.
Finally, a tried and tested way of improving your work is by asking for feedback. Do not be afraid to let other people see what you have been working on. Brainstorm with current or former teachers, discuss your idea with your colleagues. Write a draft of your research plan and let others read it. Asking for feedback from people whose opinion you respect and value helps you get one step closer to producing the best work that you can do. If you know any MEXT scholars, especially scholars who are in the same field as you, don’t be afraid to ask for their feedback on your work.
I am speaking here from experience. I talked to my colleagues about the research that I was interested in doing and I asked them if they thought that this was relevant to our field. I asked a MEXT scholar about what they thought of my proposal. I further refined my research plan by sending early drafts of my work to some of my superiors. Another advantage to doing all of this is that I also got to prepare for the MEXT interview. I had to answer other people’s questions about my plans and ideas. By the time I was printing out my research plan, I was already confident that I wrote the best version of the research plan that I could possibly write.
I hope that these points will help you in your application. If you have further questions, especially about my Field of Study and Research Plan, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.