Life for foreigners

Life for a Foreigner Working and Living in AIST and Japan

Changing research labs can be difficult, and moving to a foreign country is certainly tough. So, moving to a research lab in a foreign country certainly appears to be a significant challenge without necessary support and information, but in our group, you can rest assured. We have the knowledge, experience and people to make this transition as easy as possible. As a result, we have become a highly international group, composed of people from Japan, America, Canada, France, and China. In fact, one of the team leaders is from the United States, Don Futaba, and you can contact him regarding any questions about living or working in AIST and Japan. Below, we have assembled some basic information and resources on this subject.

Where can I go for foreigner assistance?

We completely understand that living in a foreign country is challenging, particularly without an appropriate support system and resources. In our lab we can offer assistance at all levels, beginning with me who can help you adjusting to the lab life (and life in Japan), our secretaries who can help you with the Japanese system and can also speak English, and the AIST International Center (AIC), who can help with more formal issues, such as passport issues, housing, visa/passport issues. With all these resources, we can support you in all aspects of your life from private life, lab life and daily living. We have had a number of foreign researchers, and they all were able to set-up their lives smoothly.

The AIST International Center (AIC) is an official office of AIST who has an entire staff for international support. They assist foreigners with various affairs, such as finding housing, visa application, re-entry permits, general living, registering researchers' children for school, etc and is located on the AIST site (conveniently located 3 minutes by foot from our lab).

For more information: http://unit.aist.go.jp/ga-po/aic/.

What is AIST?

AIST stands for National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and is the largest government-funded research facility in Japan. Approximately 2,500 researchers and 5,500 visiting researchers (600 post-docs) work here.

Where are you located?

The CNT-Application Research Center is located at the main AIST site, called Tsukuba Central in Tsukuba. Tsukuba is approximately 50 km (30 miles) from Tokyo and can be accessed easily by train (43 min) or bus (60 min). (For more information on AIST, access, facts, mission, etc: http://www.aist.go.jp/index_en.html)

What language is spoken in the center?

Being an international group, English is the common language (but the Japanese members will be happy to speak Japanese with you anytime). While some meetings with companies and other groups may be in Japanese, all important information can be conveyed to you in English.

What are typical working hours for post-docs in your center?

We require that researchers work during normal daily hours to maximize the communications between members, to ensure personal safety, and to optimize the use of all our group's human resources. On the other hand, AIST does not allow overnight manned experiments for safety reasons. Basically, we expect post-docs to possess sufficient professionalism to maintain their research progress and pace independently.

How long is the contract?

The contract team is one year and renewable. We expect post-docs to stay for 2-3 years to allow sufficient time to achieve their goals of significant and impactful science.

What is the possibility of becoming a permanent staff scientist?

While there are no guarantees, because our lab garners significant attention within AIST for our research achievements, the probability to be promoted for post-docs with good results to staff scientists is substantially higher than elsewhere within AIST. Within the past 10 years, 7 post-docs have been promoted (one being a foreigner).

I have no experience in nanomaterials or nanotechnology, can I work in your center?

Yes! If you have experience in this field, that is fine, but if you do not, that is also fine. As mentioned in the center overview, our center is highly interdisciplinary with diverse experience from surface science, optics, mesoporous materials, inorganic chemistry, etc., and we believe that diversity in knowledge strengthens our group activity so we can pursue diverse research directions, and we can learn different things. We even have one geologist (whose knowledge has been strangely useful on many occasions!) and one who studied planetary formation at NASA. The important attribute among our team members is the drive to learn and grow as scientists.

Can I visit the lab before deciding?

Absolutely! In fact, we encourage you to visit our lab to get a first-hand view of our lab facilities and meet our group members. After the appropriate documents have been received and reviewed and depending on request, our lab can invite you to visit so that you can make an informed decision.

Who can I ask questions BEFORE I move to Japan?

Both AIC and I, Don Futaba, are available to answer questions BEFORE AND AFTER moving to Japan.

Where can I live before I find an apartment?

AIST has short-term (and inexpensive) guest houses for researchers upon request. In fact, if you wish, you can choose to stay there while you are making the transition to your new life in Japan.

Is the cost of living high in Tsukuba?

This is difficult to answer in an absolute sense. For a one bedroom apartment, rent ranges from $400-800 USD depending on location, size and the age of the apartment. For example, I lived about 1.5 km from AIST in a one bedroom apartment (50 m2), built in the 1970s, for about $ 500/month.

How much is the salary?

The salary range (USD 40-50k).

Where can I learn Japanese?

AIC and the city of Tsukuba (and many others) offer classes on Japanese language from basic to advanced. AIC Japanese language classes, being partially supported by AIST, are the most convenient (being located at AIST) and inexpensive.

Additional link about Tsukuba City (all sites are in English):