Friday, May 31, 2013

履歴書 Challenge #2: 学歴 Graduate School Entrance and Graduation are Written Differently

In my previous post, I explained that the way to enter an undergraduate degree can be confusing for those of us with an American educational background. Further problems can occur when entering your graduate degrees. Turns out that you don't 入学 or 卒業 from your graduate degrees.  Instead, you 修士課程入学 into a master's degree and 修士課程終了 when you graduate. Similarly, you 博士課程入学 into a PhD and 博士課程終了 out of it. But in the case of a PhD, you enter it in the following format:

平成18 1 大学大学院文学研究科哲学専門 修士課程入学 
平成19 5 大学大学院文学研究科哲学専門 修士課程修了
平成19 9 大学大学院文学学研究科哲学学専攻 博士課程入学 
平成25 5 大学大学院文学学研究科哲学学専攻博士 課程修了(博士(哲学)) 

Note carefully that you write しゅうりょう using the right characters as there are two with slightly different meanings: 終了 which means completed as in done and 修了 which means finished (as in graduated).

Thus, you express your field after stating that you have 修了した from your program. In my case, that means  哲学. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

履歴書 Challenge #1: 学歴 American Undergraduate Information

One of the first challenges I am facing now is writing a Japanese 履歴書. From what I gather, this matters a great deal. Unlike the free-flowing format of American CVs, the 履歴書 has a strict formula from which deviation is unwise. In fact, it has its own JIS standard template (meaning it has an ISO-like rigidity in the format). Thus, there are thousands of copies of similar files online. Many of the first few I tried did funking things with kerning and what not. Document formatting is broadly a lost art for the Japanese. Here's one:

But the challenge I want to write about is entering American academic information in your 履歴書. Here, the problem is that American universities and Japanese universities are structured quite differently. A Japanese undergraduate student has a 大学, a 学部, a 専攻, and a 学科 all of which have a particular meaning. While my Japanese friends translate these as their university, faculty, major, and specialization, it may be better to think of the 学部 as a college in the sense of the "college of arts and sciences" in American-style university. Alas, those of you who can count will recognize there are four things there.

In writing a U.S. CV, we generally specify only two university and major, i.e. just two things. Perhaps in rare cases, people will state the name of their college within the university, but this is broadly not done and comes across strangely. Further complicated things, I did a dual major as an undergraduate student. This is not possible in a normally structured Japanese university. The reason is that you join a faculty (学部) as a 二年生 or upon entry into university. You then pick a 専攻 within that faculty. And as a third year student you join a lab (研究室) or [professor's] seminar (ゼミ) and the research focus of that will be your 学科. Consequently, it makes no sense in a Japanese university to have two majors since your central work will be from one professor in a particular specialization of a particular major.

Thus, I face two problems: (1) I have only two things to write in four spaces and (2) I need to write two things in one space all at once. I have an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Philosophy -- not a hybridization but two legitimate full majors as these are understood in American university. I spoke with a friend earlier today who suggested that I do the following to explain this:

平成11 9 ○○○ 文学部哲学学科 入学 
平成15 5 ○○○ 文学部哲学学科 卒業
平成15 5 同上 科学部化学学科 卒業

I will update if that is not correct. But the solution he suggested worded simply is this, write each major on a separate line for graduation. And this is accurate. In my case, I first selected philosophy and then added chemistry (even though that was my plan all along).

Failure #1: You Must have Your PhD in Hand

Initially, I won't be supplying the names or enough details to identify the applications. In large part, this is because the world of English-speaking academics in Japan is small, and my goal is not to alienate them or blame them for their hiring choices. But I do want to chronicle what I think went wrong in each application. To that end, I change some of the details but still convey the lesson that I learned from that failure.

I first applied for an amazingly good posting, tenure-track or tenured hires at a 国立 university. They were making several hires as part of a big push to expand their programs directed at international students (and as I later learned their programs directed at Japanese students). I was told there were approximately 40 applicants for two positions. These odds are not terrible considering several of the applicants may be unqualified or underqualified or incompetent as English speakers.

Moreover, the process was managed by a non-Japanese who had control (as far as I am aware) over the hiring decisions. I corresponded briefly with her about the positions and felt that while I was not  a perfect match for the field they were hiring for that my background and experience might give me a shot -- especially since they expressed a desire to have several faculty with different skills that were complementary -- and with a PhD in philosophy how wouldn't it be complementary to their more likely choices?

But alas, my applications was not even considered. As a first measure to cull the amount of applications to consider, they skipped over everyone who was not PhD in hand. I myself was not at the time -- though I a now and took that as a lesson to move up my defense date. Unlike America where you can hold off and a letter is sufficient to explain to the committee that you will graduate, Japanese universities and hiring committees expect a PhD in hand at the time of application.

About this Blog

My goal for this blog is to chronicle the process of finding an academic job in Japan. In the process, I hope to make this task easier for future non-Japanese approaching the job market. Apart from a from a few gaijin pot forum postings and other blogs, I have not seen any resources for the process.

I am going to make few assumptions. First, I am going to assume that you have a doctorate like I do. If you do not, there may still be a route through which you can get an academic job in Japan, but it might look quite different from what I describe here. Second, I am going to assume that you have at least some grasp of the Japanese language. If not, then your approach will need to be somewhat different. Third, I am going to assume that you are already in Japan. As with the language barrier, this may not make it impossible to find academic employment in Japan, but it will make it very hard.

As of right now, I am receiving a scholarship from the Japanese government, taking Japanese classes, and looking for a full-time academic position. From what my connections tell me, the process is complicated and time-consuming, specifically because of the role of コネ, which all of my advisers have told me are absolutely necessary for achieving academic employment here. There are several reasons for that, but at this point this feature is somewhat bizarre to me.

Thus, there's two sides to work on in finding work here: (1) connection building and (2) learning how to properly fill out the gauntlets of paperwork involved. In terms of connection-building, the key is getting admitted to Japanese academic societies (which requires the sponsorship of a current member and the possession of a PhD or proper departmental affiliation). After that, it just takes time and the awareness of people in these groups with which one drinks and socializes to build connections.

On the paperwork side, you are going to need a thorough grasp of Japanese -- but not just the language. The problem is that everything about the Japanese paperwork system is culturally ingrained and a little nuts. There are very specific things that I have failed at on the paper side in my first two applications -- but none of that really matters, because the applications were probably not even considered.  The reason is (or so I have heard) that many positions for foreigners (especially tenure-track) are decided before they are offered.