Anuj Patel: Kyodai Research

For my CIP, I had the chance to work in the Funahashi research lab at Kyoto University. To be honest, I was doubtful that the opportunity would come together at all. Three months is a fairly short period of time to contribute, and I certainly know nothing about animal research. Nonetheless, Dr. Funahashi exceeded my expectations immediately, not only by replying to my email but even inviting me to observe an experiment the very next week. Particularly because I also work as an RA in a lab back at home, I was excited about getting the chance to see what a lab in Japan would be like. Since I also didn’t have much experience with monkey research, I was also particularly excited about seeing these methods in use.

My main concern was that I would not have many opportunities to actually interact with my professor and the researchers in the lab, as everyone was fairly busy with their work. Moreover, without too much time or significant training, the number of things that I could actually help with were fairly limited. In the beginning, this is exactly what happened. After my initial tour of the lab, my main task was printing graphs. A lot of graphs. On top of that, I occasionally missed the memo when my professor went to conferences, and got locked out from the lab once. It wasn’t exactly the ideal opportunity to participate in society.

However, as time went on and my routine began to settle, I started to find excuses to talk with the other people in the lab. It would generally start with someone asking me if I wasn’t bored, printing graphs all day, and then the discussion would continue from there. I was finally able to have conversations! I got to hear about all sorts of topics, ranging from the added difficulty of having to publish scientific papers in English, to comments on Kyoto and Japan in general. When I brought back omiyage from Ise (which in and of itself made me feel a little bit more like a part of the gro up), we had a conversation about how many schools will go there as a class trip. As time went on, I also began to be able to contribute in more ways. I was able to help beyond printing graphs, and even got to help with the monkeys once. These sorts of experiences were not only exciting in their own right, but they also helped to create more opportunities to ask questions and speak with the other members of the lab.

This development took a fair amount of time, and it’s unfortunate that just as I begin to really start to make progress, I’m going to have to leave. I think a particularly large obstacle was having only a fairly small group of graduate students and my professor to interact with; apparently undergraduates don’t work as research assistants particularly often. I would have liked to meet more students, but given that Kyodai was on spring break, there also haven’t been any seminars or courses I could sit in on. (As a result, I’m glad that I also got to participate in KIX occasionally as well.) Overall, however, I think that my experience in the lab was a positive one. I got to maintain some sort of connection with neuroscience even while in Japan, and I got to get to know a group of interesting, friendly people.

6 thoughts on “Anuj Patel: Kyodai Research

  1. Woah. I had no idea this was your CIP. It sounds awesome. What kind of monkeys were you researching? The local monkeys like Arashiyama? If you’re allowed to disclose info, what was the research you were doing? Did you find the Japanese technical terms hard to learn? Sorry for the stream of questions, this just sounds really really cool. Did you make friends with the monkeys? 😀

    • Thanks for the comment; I thought it was pretty cool too. I’m pretty sure the monkeys are nihonzaru. The lab does recordings from the monkey’s brains using electrodes. The project that I was helping out with is basically about memory.

      For the most part, I didn’t actually need to know technical Japanese terms. A lot of English terms are used as is, and most journal articles are in English as well. It’s kind of a privilege of being an English speaker. (And Japanese Matlab is still basically English except for the menus and messages)

  2. Anuj,

    I think you had one of the most original CIP activities out of anyone. Even in America people don’t often get chances like this, so it’s even more amazing that you got to participate while in Japan.

    I also was a little afraid that the nature of my CIP would be such that I wouldn’t get much of a chance to practice my Japanese, let alone make connections with the people at my CIP. However, like you, I found that shared experiences (like enjoying some omiyage!) can really make you feel like a part of “the group.”


    P.S. I’m terrified of monkeys. They’re too human. And their fingers are too dexterous…

    • Ahaha. They’re not so scary. (Smelly, maybe.)
      I’m definitely really glad that I got to do this since I didn’t really expect it to work out. It’s great that we were both able to eventually connect with our CIPs. It took a while for me to realize that, more than the language barrier, the feeling of joining the group is the harder part of the CIP.

  3. Those monkeys will remember you forever, Anuj.

    It sounds like you had a great experiences (hoards of graphs notwithstanding), and were especially fortunate to be able to pick up some labwork while here! Did you notice any differences in facilities or procedure as compared to your experiences in the lab back home? Any differences in the dynamics between the professor and the student team?

    • Thanks!

      My experiences at home are in a lab with different methods, so in addition to the Japaneseness, the monkeys were also new to me. I was kind of expecting there to be some sort of large difference between the Japanese and American lab experiences when I started this CIP. However, it seems that there really weren’t many significant differences. Other than perhaps the occasional use of keigo, the grad student – professor dynamic seemed pretty similar. They talk about the same sorts of things: what’s happening at other labs, what equipment isn’t cooperating today, how that former student is doing, etc.