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President Kazuya Masu in conversation with Professor Akira Ikegami

President Kazuya Masu in conversation with Professor Akira Ikegami

President Kazuya Masu, now in his second year in office, sat down with Institute Professor Akira Ikegami to talk about Tokyo Tech's strategy for the next five years.

A shared vision to create more impact

President Kazuya Masu

IkegamiCan I just begin by saying that a lot has changed since I arrived here in 2012. Your ability to maintain momentum with reforms that were set in motion before your appointment has been impressive.

MasuSignificant reforms were initiated by the previous management team in 2016. As the restructuring of Tokyo Tech's research labs and centers — so rich in history — began, I must admit that, from the viewpoint of a researcher, I too experienced a certain sense of reluctance. As director-general of the Institute of Innovative Research, however, I understood that it was time to evolve. As I embraced this Darwinian reality, I recalled the words of a mentor from my researcher days, who once exclaimed, "No lab can remain unchanged for more than 30 years and survive!" Many Tokyo Tech researchers were and are eager to collaborate with industry partners, and our job is to better facilitate this. As president, I have focused on encouraging the Institute and its members to create more societal impact.

IkegamiWhen I heard about the new Design of Social Innovation in Global Networks (DLab), I was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps my image of Tokyo Tech as an organization that focuses on accumulating highly technical expertise was outdated. That quickly changed when you announced the idea of designing the future.

MasuAll researchers are creating the future when they make and share discoveries in their respective fields. When we started considering how we can create more collective impact, the future of science and technology and the future of society seemed to go hand in hand.

IkegamiSure. When faculty members are envisioning the future of their research, I am certain they are viewing it from various perspectives. They formulate an image of society at that particular moment in time and examine where their research falls within that broader framework.

Professor Akira Ikegami

IkegamiSure. When faculty members are envisioning the future of their research, I am certain they are viewing it from various perspectives. They formulate an image of society at that particular moment in time and examine where their research falls within that broader framework.

MasuThat's right. Additionally, when they cannot realize a research goal on their own, they seek someone with whom to collaborate. We can take that same approach to society as a whole.

IkegamiJapan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry says that we are amidst the new Industrial Revolution and on our way to Society 5.0. Is your approach in line with this view?

MasuWhen we compare the discussions held by Tokyo Tech members and partners with the Sustainable Development Goals and the concept of Society 5.0, there is certainly overlap. However, we don't use these goals or concepts as starting points for our discussions. Instead, we allow the alignment to occur naturally, as it often does.

Expanding perspectives while maintaining Tokyo Tech DNA

IkegamiThe fact that researchers themselves are taking action regarding the future is the way it should be. Orders from above undoubtedly generate skepticism, and history has shown us where that can lead.

MasuAnd such skepticism is also present within the Institute! Many Tokyo Tech members are eager to challenge each other's views on the future!

IkegamiThat is diversity!

MasuThey are highly driven, independent thinkers who want to do things differently. However, this is the kind of inquisitiveness that forms the very essence of Tokyo Tech. Throughout the recent Institute-wide workshops to sketch out our future, we focused on our shared identity, but we also encouraged the achievement of personal goals. The paths to these goals are diverse.

IkegamiSo the aim is to set goals while not imposing any particular restrictions. This has the potential to ignite sparks of interest within individual researchers as well. Is that right?

MasuIndeed. However, we want to expand the perspectives of even the most seasoned researchers. It is understandable that experts who dedicate years of their life to research develop their own styles of thinking. We want to encourage these experts to work with others, and if possible, to adopt more malleable mindsets to pave the way for increased diversity and creativity.

Striking changes through the liberal arts

IkegamiWhen I started teaching at the Liberal Arts Center in 2012, things were still at a very small scale. I guess students were curious about what my classes would entail, and there was a flood of applicants. I taught two periods a week in a large lecture hall, which was often over capacity. Student performance, however, was mediocre, and a third of my students failed. The number of applicants started decreasing year on year, dropping down to about 50. This was it, I thought to myself.

However, the Tokyo Tech Visionary Project, which kicked off in 2016, changed everything. After the first cohort of students completed the project, the number of applicants wishing to study with me increased dramatically. That trend has continued in the past two years. We are back up to 150 applicants again. Students know my courses are challenging, but they are willing to take the risk of failure!

In the past, there seemed to be a common misconception that non-specialized study should somehow be easy. The mentality was "Why should I spend time on things like the liberal arts?" That has completely changed now. The variety of books I see my students reading before class would have been unthinkable when I started at Tokyo Tech.

MasuI never saw students reading books before my classes [laughs].

IkegamiYes, and now students occupy the front rows first during my lectures.

MasuThat is fantastic!

IkegamiThings have clearly changed. I keep pushing my students like I always have, but the number of students who pass my course continues to increase.

MasuThat reminds me of Professor Atsuo Egashira from my days as a student. Egashira taught first-year liberal arts and held seminars for third-year students. These seminars were extremely tough. Capacity was limited to just 15 students, but all 15 completed the seminars. There has always been this kind of rugged DNA of determination within certain Tokyo Tech students. If the number of such students has increased from 15 to 150, then that is wonderful news.

Tokyo Tech — Dedicated to executing its strategic plan

President Kazuya Masu

IkegamiPresident Masu, you have recently formulated a five-year strategic plan to guide Tokyo Tech into the future. Could you talk a little bit about that?

MasuIn 2016, under the leadership of my predecessor, Tokyo Tech's faculty, staff, and students formulated the Tokyo Tech 2030 statement, which summarizes the identity we share. When I took over as president two years later, I thought it was important to reinforce our sense of conviction, and so I put forth a set of commitments that we can all adhere to when pursuing our shared and individual goals. Discussions with a broad range of stakeholders resulted in the creation of the strategic plan 2018-2023. The four strategic goals of this plan encourage students, faculty, management, and all those involved with Tokyo Tech to remain "dedicated to creating a better future."

In a nutshell, the Tokyo Tech 2030 statement describes who we are, our strategic plan outlines what we do, and the 2018 Tokyo Tech Commitments state how we do what we do.

Every university sets plans and goals, and to some extent publishes their achievements on websites and through other channels. However, particularly in a unique environment like Tokyo Tech, I consider it crucial to share our goals continuously, both internally and externally, and to demonstrate how the activities of our faculty and students fall within the scope of these goals.

IkegamiFor some time now, the Japanese government has been urging all of the nation's universities to carry out reforms. It seems that many educational institutions are complying with these requests, but at Tokyo Tech, this push for change appears to be coming from within the Institute.

MasuTo a certain extent, external factors served as motivation, as they often do. The education and research structures at Tokyo Tech had remained unchanged for some time. That being said, the real impetus for change came from the Institute's drive to take a more active stance, to pursue the research that we are passionate about, and to create lasting impact in Japan and the world.

Professor Akira Ikegami

IkegamiI can see the parallels with journalism. If the editor-in-chief orders us to do something, there is rarely much motivation involved. If, on the other hand, the idea comes from a journalist and those around him or her buy into the idea, everyone will give it 100 percent.

MasuThere are over 1,000 faculty members at Tokyo Tech, and while they are all encouraged to pursue their individual passions, we must work towards creating meaningful impact and achieving the overarching goals of the Institute. One of my roles is to communicate clearly these goals to all Tokyo Tech members.

From the perspective of a researcher who spent many years in the lab, I am passionate about nurturing skilled, confident professionals. However, the area where I see massive potential is collaborations with the business community. Tokyo Tech is in an excellent position to team up with external constituents and create solutions to the most challenging problems. There are of course many possible approaches and layers to collaboration. We can pair one researcher with a business partner, or commit bigger teams of experts to interdisciplinary projects. We can focus on fundamental research or offer valuable Tokyo Tech knowledge in relation to the commercialization of a product. As long as I am president, I will continue to promote this kind of co-creation with business partners.

Interdisciplinary fundamental and applied research

IkegamiI think Tokyo Tech's newly created DLab has the potential to grow into an interdisciplinary platform that promotes business collaboration, provided that it remains a living, flexible entity.

Another point worth mentioning is something that Honorary Professor Yoshinori Ohsumi continues to highlight. It may not be so obvious to the public, but fundamental research can take decades before bearing fruit. While funding may be tight, Tokyo Tech needs to forge ahead with confidence. These efforts may not receive immediate support, but they may well produce something very special 30 years into the future.

MasuThat is another reason why we must determinedly create and nurture business partnerships. In order to facilitate meaningful fundamental research, Tokyo Tech must pursue various channels of funding independently. Portions of generated through business partnerships can be directed back to fundamental education and research activities. We often speak about a cycle of knowledge, and one of the driving forces powering this cycle is industry-academia collaboration. We have to consider various ways to support the progress of fundamental research from an Institute-wide perspective.

Tokyo Tech is home to brilliant individuals such as Honorary Professor Hideo Hosono who created new materials that resulted from his cutting-edge research, applied his creations to industry, and based on those outcomes deduced how to advance further with fundamental research. I think it would be unreasonable to expect such stellar achievements from every individual. However, if we take a collective approach and utilize the diverse expertise available across Tokyo Tech, we can create an efficient cycle where our applied research guides our fundamental research, and vice versa.

IkegamiAnd researchers naturally become an inspiration to others.

MasuAbsolutely. Fundamental and applied research go hand in hand. That is why "appreciating diversity" is one of the three Institute-wide commitments. Through diversity, we can learn from and inspire one another.

IkegamiIt is a bidirectional activity. By working together with industry, we can retrace the steps back to the original fundamental research, but we can also provide feedback that can help us to pinpoint future research topics.

Gender and international diversity at Tokyo Tech

IkegamiWhere are we in terms of gender and international diversity?

MasuAt Tokyo Tech's Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI)outer, 50 percent of researchers are from overseas. According to the director of ELSI, linguistic and cultural barriers began to evaporate when the ratio of international researchers hit the 20 percent mark. That figure seems to be some sort of critical threshold, and we can look to ELSI as an example.

Women remain underrepresented in the STEM fields, and that is no different at Tokyo Tech. At the bachelor level, only 10 percent of Tokyo Tech students are female. Our initial goal is to raise that to 20 percent. Approximately 20 percent of master's and doctoral students are female. Forty-eight percent of permanent administrative staff at Tokyo Tech are female. Women also occupy 20 percent of managerial positions.

IkegamiWhen my acquaintances read a newspaper article about my decision to join Tokyo Tech, I was bombarded with jovial emails saying that I had "joined a men's college." From experience, I can now say that I have met many outstanding female students here who are full of energy and intellect.

MasuI am not surprised. Tokyo Tech strives to provide an outstanding education to all its students. We want every motivated high school student interested in engineering or science to consider Tokyo Tech as his or her first choice. Meanwhile, the Institute will continue to do its part in ensuring an environment of diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity.

Kazuya Masu and Akira Ikegami

Tokyo Tech 2030

An alternate future
The Tokyo Tech 2030 statement, consisting of spirit and action, formulated in a series of workshops by members of the Tokyo Tech community

Tokyo Tech 2030

Laboratory for Design of Social Innovation in Global Networks (DLab)

Designing our future together
By gauging the needs and desires of society through dialogue, and by designing our future together, DLab aims to create a brighter, more prosperous world.

Laboratory for Design of Social Innovation in Global Networks (DLab)

SPECIAL TOPICS

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Published: July 2019