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Message from Former JSPS Fellow (1)


My Stay in Japan as a JSPS Postdoc Fellow

Prof. Marie-Claire Lett
Prof. Marie-Claire Lett
JSPS postdoc fellow, 1987
Professor at University Louis Pasteur,
Strasbourg, France
President of "Association des anciens boursiers
francophones de la JSPS"

In 1986, I finished my PhD in microbiology at University Louis Pasteur (ULP) in Strasbourg, France. Though I had several other options to go to laboratories in the EU or US as a postdoc researcher, I finally decided to choose Japan. I still clearly recall the conversations I had with my colleagues and boss, who asked "Why Japan? What a strange idea! You should go to the States or stay in Europe." At that time, the Japanese economy was at its peak, what would later be called a "bubble." However, I personally was interested in getting to know a culture and lifestyle different from those of western countries. I also wanted to gain new experiences in a Japanese university environment.

After exchanging several letters with various laboratories in Japan (at the time there was no email), I found one working on pathogenic bacteria at The Institute of Medical Science, The University of Tokyo. I came to Tokyo in February 1987 as a JSPS postdoc fellow without having almost any background knowledge of Japan or the host group. Nevertheless, I was very lucky: I was able to easily settle in Tokyo and initiate my research with colleagues in the host laboratory. I really enjoyed life in the laboratory, as the lab meetings were kindly held in English and everybody was helpful to me in conducting my new experiments. Fortunately, I was also asked to work on one of lab's main projects, which together with my own research required pretty hard work every day. After almost a year into my stay, I was able to present my own work at an annual meeting of The Molecular Biology Society of Japan held in Kyoto. I was also able to publish my study in a good journal soon after leaving Japan. In addition, the fellowship gave me an opportunity to make many friends, enjoy daily life in Tokyo and learn lots about Japanese culture. These all became an integral part of my special background. Some 18 years after my stay in Japan, I still maintain strong scientific and personal relationships with my Japanese colleagues, while creating new interpersonal networks to promote scientific cooperation between the two countries.

In this sense, I was quite lucky to find a good laboratory even without visiting Japan prior to my postdoc stay. Not all of my French colleagues who have gone to Japan were so lucky, as some of them found it less than easy to adapt to their host laboratory. Now, it is much easier for foreign applicants to find a suitable lab in Japan by taking advantage of JSPS's short-term fellowship programs, which are very useful as they give the foreign researcher an opportunity to observe firsthand the research activities, background and (a very important point!) atmosphere of the potential host laboratory. In addition, information from the members of the JSPS alumni association "Association des anciens boursiers francophones de la JSPS" on laboratories and life in Japan can be particularly useful for French-speaking applicants preparing to stay in Japan.

Simultaneously, it will also be important for us to encourage and help Japanese students and young researchers to come to French laboratories. Thus, it is my strong wish that JSPS will continuously support exchange and promote collaborative scientific activities between Japan and France.

Prof. Lett with students in her lab   University Louis Pasteur, Institute of Botany
Prof. Lett with students in her lab
University Louis Pasteur, Institute of Botany