Research and Life in Japan by a JSPS Fellow (20)
Hailing from Cameroon, Dr. Hervé Martial Poumalé Poumalé has been conducting research with his host researcher, Dr. Yoshihito Shiono, in the Department of Bioresource Engineering, Yamagata University under a JSPS postdoctoral fellowship since November 2008. Dr. P. Poumalé knew little about Japan before embarking upon his fellowship. However, his rich international experiences not only helped him to adjust to the new environment quickly, but also to produce fruitful research outcomes within the limited time of his fellowship.
What are you currently researching under the JSPS fellowship?
I am working on natural products chemistry, which includes isolation, characterization, chemical transformation, and biological testing of isolated compounds. Presently, I am concentrating on fungi from Cameroonian medicinal plants.
How did you become interested in your research field?
When I was young, I visited a facility that grows and processes medicinal plants. Members of the staff showed me around the facility. I was impressed with how medicinal plants can help to cure people’s illnesses. I thought that there was a great potential in medicinal plants for maintaining people’s health and allowing them to live healthy lives. So, I wanted to investigate medicinal plants and discover new medicines. The fact that chemistry is much more popular as a field of study in Cameroon than subjects like physics and mathematics might also have influenced my decision to choose it as my field of research.
How did you get to know your Japanese host researcher?
I met Dr. Shiono in Germany while I was a doctoral student in 2006. He was a postdoc at the same university and we discussed a lot of research questions. Since then, I became interested in working with him.
What is your impression of your Japanese host institution?
I was very glad to have an opportunity to do research at Yamagata University. First of all, when I came to this research laboratory, everything was well prepared and everybody was ready to accept me. In addition, my host researcher has given me his full support and the members of his lab have been very kind. Thanks to the environment they have created for me, I never have felt any culture shock at all.
Why did you choose Japan to pursue your research?
There were a number of reasons that led me to choose Japan as my destination. Needless to say, my host researcher had a big influence on my decision. Since meeting him in Germany, I kept in touch and became interested in working under his supervision. In addition, I was planning to expand my research field after having studied compounds from medicinal plants in Cameroon and compounds from bacteria in Germany. In the field of compounds from fungi, Japan has an advantage over other countries. Therefore, it was very reasonable for me to choose Japan as the country to pursue my research.
What do you think about the research environment in Japan?
My impression of Japan’s research environment is that it is well organized. I am also impressed by how hard people work. I usually work from 9 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. and sometimes to 10 or 11 p.m. Generally speaking, however, my colleagues in my lab work longer hours than I do. I’ve also found that there is a difference in the way postdocs do their research. In Japan, everybody makes the compounds they need by themselves with equipment in the lab. This was interesting to me as it differed from my previous experiences.
Before coming to Japan, what kind of image did you have of the country? Has your perception changed after coming here?
I knew little about Japan, so my image of the country was very limited. I saw kung fu as an image of Japan. Once I arrived in Japan, I found this country to be very interesting. I was especially impressed how kind and polite the people are. It felt like everybody was always ready to be helpful to others. I was also astonished to see how the Japanese are very eager to maintain their culture by preserving hundreds of years old temples and building museums. Though I haven’t yet been to Kyoto or Nara, old capitals of Japan, I am looking forward to taking my family to them when they come to join me in September.
What are your research achievements under the JSPS fellowship so far?
One of my biggest achievements was having succeeded in being accepted for a paper publication in a major journal. In my research field, it usually takes from two to four months to run an experiment. When they yield interesting results I become very happy. When my paper was published I was overjoyed, feeling that my efforts had paid off.
What do you do outside your research work?
I like to play soccer. Usually, I play soccer with friends twice a week. I also like to watch soccer games on TV. This year, I especially enjoyed watching the World Cup matches. Even though the result was not a happy one for my home country, I was very excited to watch the game between Cameroon and Japan. Other than soccer, I enjoy shopping. My favorite cities are Tokyo and Yokohama, where I often go to shop, sightsee, and visit friends from Cameroon. My other hobbies include browsing the Internet, having conversations with friends, and sometimes playing chess in my leisure time.
How was your experience in the Science Dialogue Program at a Japanese high school?
I went to a high school in Niigata prefecture. It was a good opportunity for me to introduce my research to young Japanese. I think I was well prepared for the lecture. I used many pictures to explain step by step my research with simple English so that the students could easily understand. I enjoyed my interactions and discussions with them. As it was a very good experience for me, I would like to recommend that other fellows take part in this program.
What do you plan to do after your fellowship ends?
I haven’t decided yet. However, I would like to secure a faculty position in Cameroon. I know the competition is very severe, so I might apply for another postdoc position to gain more research experience and strengthen my résumé. In any case, I want to obtain a faculty position at a university sooner or later, hopefully in Cameroon. I will keep in touch and maintain a good relationship with my host researcher. In the future, I would like to send my students to study under his supervision in advancing their research careers. I also would like to establish multi-national research projects, namely among Cameroon, Germany and Japan, with institutions where I have worked.
Do you have any advice for young researchers who may be thinking about doing research in Japan?
Well, leaving your home country to conduct research in Japan is very challenging, but it can also be very rewarding. Being well prepared and working hard will enable you to get the best results out of this challenge. The other thing you had better bring with you is a positive attitude. You will see many things that are very different from those in your country. They include customs, culture and ways people think or behave. If you are positive about everything, you can enjoy these differences and make your adjustment to this new cultural environment easily. As a current JSPS fellow, I would like for future fellows to be highly qualified and deserving to receive this competitive fellowship.
Dr. P. Poumalé is well along the path of pursuing his childhood dream to become a top researcher in medicinal plants. As in Japan, faculty positions appear difficult to secure in Cameroon. After interviewing Dr. P. Poumalé and experiencing his positive attitude, we cannot help but think he will prevail amidst the competition.
Though researchers from Cameroon are presently underrepresented in Japan, we look forward to Dr. P. Poumalé’s visit causing a chain reaction and the day when many young researches from his own laboratory in Cameroon will come to Japan, expanding scientific exchange between the two countries.