Study In Japan - Engineering Grad talks to Nirali Advisory!
Updated: Apr 24
Undergrad - Mechanical Engineering in Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology
Postgrad - Masters in Engineering - Graduate School of Information, Production and Systems, Waseda University in Japan.
Current Job - Structural Analysis
I think it's not difficult to work in Japan. They definitely do need a workforce from outside as they have a declining population and are therefore very welcoming.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your Educational and Professional Background? Which college, company and role did you work in to get you where you are today? Also, tell us a little bit about your current job profile and work.
I am Heena Shah, brought up by my engineer-doctor parents in Mumbai to be independent and to keep exploring. I grew up playing lots of sports and travelling often. I studied my first two years of Mechanical Engineering at the Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology and then transferred to Manipal Institute of Technology from where I graduated in 2014.
During the transfer, I had the chance to visit Japan for a study tour where I saw how Japanese companies were so efficient and then travelled by myself for 21 days. Being at MIT gave me opportunities to be a part of so many clubs. I was the photographer at the Editorial Board and the Photography club; both, part of the management team at Team Manipal Racing, member of the swim team and I improved processes at PaperTree.
In the summer of 2013, I was selected for a paid internship through IAESTE in Montenegro where my first technical paper ever was published in a Serbian journal and followed by two more. I later went on to study for Masters in Engineering from the Graduate School of Information, Production and Systems, Waseda University in Japan. I did a 3-week internship at Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation that gave me a glimpse of actual Japanese work life. After graduating in 2017, I found a full-time remote job at my current company as a Mechanical Engineer. I do structural analysis and run simulations for them from India.
2. When and why did you decide to study abroad?
Ever since I was admitted to the Bachelor's program, I was building myself to study Masters abroad. During my first trip to Japan, I learnt how warm, polite, punctual, kind, respectful, efficient and so on the Japanese people were. They were so technologically advanced that being there was a mechanical engineer's dream. It was amazing to see how they devoted themselves to whatever they were doing. I yearned for these qualities to become a part of me.
Apart from that, I had heard that every part of Japan looked different in each season and I wanted to spend at least one year there to experience it. The study tour to Japan and the trip following it added to my plans and I was certain about continuing my education there.
3. Did you receive a scholarship? Do you recommend any good organisations/institutions that provide scholarships or financial aid?
Once, I arrived in Japan for my Masters, I learnt that I had received the Monbukagakusho scholarship which included getting 48,000JPY every month for one academic year. In the second year, I received the same news. In the first year, I also received the Waseda University partial tuition fee waiver which meant I skipped paying the main fees for the second semester. In my case, my school helped us connect with the appropriate organisations for scholarships.
4. Why did you choose that particular course in this particular university/college for your studies abroad? What was the process you went through while choosing the university/college?
After returning from Japan in 2012, I started to look for schools in Japan and I went through the process of shortlisting multiple times. I learnt over time that since education in Japan is more research-oriented, it was more about choosing the lab I wanted to be a part of than the school itself. It was also important that I found a lab that functioned in English as I wasn't fluent in Japanese. I wanted to work more on the lines of multi-criteria decision making and making processes efficient.
After a lot of research, I found only the lab of Management Information Systems aka Murata lab to match my interests from the entire country. Although I did shortlist two other labs, they were nowhere close to the one I picked first. I also applied to just this one school into this entire world and got through on my first round.
5. Any particular advice you would like to give for the application process from SOP Writing to Academic GPA to other things which you thought were important that helped you get into that course at that university?
In my case, I was only required to submit my university grade sheets along with an overview of my bachelor's thesis, future research work plan and a half a page of a recommendation by just one professor. The only catch was that each section had limited space and I had to make sure to fit all the information in it. I didn't have to write any tests or give any interviews. Something I had learnt from my friend was to think and reproduce like the university, school and lab would. Once I had picked the lab, I read through the entire university's website over and over again. Only after that, I penned down the earlier mentioned documents.
6. Were you satisfied with your choice of university? What is your most and least favourite thing about the university experience?
I was absolutely satisfied with my choice of university and lab as it taught me to do my own independent research. So the most favourite thing about my experience was being able to exercise my brain. My least favourite thing about the experience was that sometimes there would be misunderstandings due to the differences in language.
7. How was the overall campus diversity?
I studied in a special campus called Kitakyushu Science and Research Park in Kitakyushu which is the most industrial city in Japan. My campus is situated far from Tokyo where Waseda university is. The beauty of this campus is that three different universities have a school each on my campus which gives a chance for collaborative research and exchange of ideas. While the other two schools mostly had local Japanese students, mine was known for mostly having foreign students. This diversity has helped me gain more than I expected.
8. Tell us something about the on-campus faculty and resources.
Most of the campus faculty is quite senior and experienced. Our requirements for anything were always fulfilled.
9. Tell us about your journey from the first semester to the last both academically and non-academically? What was campus life like? What were the extracurricular activities on campus?
So at IPS Waseda, academically there are three options to go about the masters. First, one semester of course work and three of research; second, two semesters of coursework and two semesters of research; and third, three semesters of coursework and one of research. Most students tend to go for the first one where they do 9 or 10 courses in the first semester and in the case of 9 in the first semester, they do the last remaining in the second semester. To get into a certain lab, we have to take that professor's courses. I went for the first option with 10 courses and managed to clear all of them with a lot of hard work. They are constant tests and assignments which make sure we learn conceptually. It was eventually a cakewalk to get into the lab of my choice.
Through the second and third semester, we had to compulsorily visit the lab once a week for our seminar and the other days were optional. In the last semester, as we prepared for our defence, we had to visit the lab only once a month. But all throughout this, we had to make sure to get work done whether we were at home or at the lab. Our professor also took us on lab trips twice a year as a part of industrial research. In the last semester, we were encouraged to write at least one academic paper as the first author. We also had lab parties that included cherry blossom viewings, dinners and karaoke nights as a part of knowing our colleagues and enjoying beyond work.
Since our campus had two graduate schools and one for bachelors, the campus life was more serious but two local organisations made sure that students had a good time. We had monthly events by Wai Wai Nihongo that gave us a chance to learn about something local, something about other cultures and try different foods. There were local carnivals twice a year where students put up stalls. The gymnasium was well equipped for us to continue to be fit.
Non academically, briefly, I learnt Japanese calligraphy, Japanese language, Japanese cooking at the community centre. I worked part-time at a Japanese restaurant, made sushi at the supermarket, taught English and worked at my current company as a mechanical engineer. I taught English at kindergarten, to people of all ages, privately. I travelled through most of Japan by myself and experienced the culture deeply. I made friends from all over the world and we regularly keep in touch. I got my Japanese conversational skills to the N2-N3 level of the JLPT according to the locals. All this was only possible since they have relaxed part-time job hours, their first language isn't English and being an island country, there are vast differences in cultures.
10. How is the quality of education compared to Indian institutes? What were the gaps in both systems? How did you manage to cope?
I would say the quality of education compared to Indian Institutes is different. Education in Japan is more research-oriented that allows us to think more and almost no rote learning. It was difficult at first as our thought process is different. But I think, when you know you have to do it, with everyone in the same boat, nothing is impossible.
11. What were the career opportunities available? How does one manage to grab them?
I have realised that typical Japanese companies do want someone who can work for them for life. They also prefer people who are well versed in Japanese. Apart from that, the most important thing is to always put in the effort. If one can take care of those three, then I think it's not difficult to work in Japan. They definitely do need a workforce from outside as they have a declining population and are therefore very welcoming. There are lots of companies apart from the university that helps foreigners find jobs in Japan.
12. Any other suggestions or advice you would like to give fresher’s starting out.
Do your research and once you have found a place you want to be in, put your whole into it and there is nothing in the world that can stop you.
13. How did a study abroad help you?
Studying abroad has helped me to grow tremendously. One can get a degree literally anywhere but the reason we go abroad is to experience more than that. So I made sure to make the most out of my limited two years in Japan and grab every opportunity I could. From education to working menial jobs to being welcomed to experiencing culture, I got way more than I could have ever expected.
We hope that you have found this interview insightful. Do let us know how in the comments section below!