Research and Life in Japan by a JSPS Fellow (22)
Hailing from Pakistan, Dr. Rashid Manzoor has been conducting research with his host researcher, Dr. Ayato Takada, in the Research Center for Zoonosis Control, Hokkaido University, under a JSPS postdoctoral fellowship since August 2010. After obtaining his master’s degree in Pakistan, he decided to come to Japan as a PhD student. He has now been in Japan for over seven years.
What are you currently researching under the JSPS fellowship?
I am working on elucidating the mechanisms by which different host-proteins interact with the influenza A virus polymerase proteins and influence interspecies transmission of influenza A viruses.
How did you become interested in your research field?
Influenza A viruses infect a wide range of hosts including humans. Annually, thousands of people die from seasonal flu. In addition, human fatalities are caused by influenza epidemics or pandemics such as Spanish flu in 1918. Economic losses incurred by avian influenza in the poultry industry have been considerable. Moreover, the zoonotic (animal-human transmission) potential of these viruses and the consequent effects can also be devastating. These facts and my experience of observing avian influenza outbreaks in poultry in Pakistan led me to choose this field as my area of interest. I decided to do research on the mechanisms whereby these viruses cross the species barrier and adapt to new hosts. Information gained through such research can be very helpful in developing strategies to combat this menace.
Why did you choose Japan to pursue your research?
In Pakistan, we have an impressive image of Japan, its people and its technology. I worked as a researcher in a research organization in Pakistan. Depending on the nature of the work, I often had to refer to research papers. Most of the time I found that part or all of the research had been conducted in Japan. When awarded a scholarship for PhD study, I was given the option to choose a country, and selected Japan without hesitation. Now, I feel really satisfied with that decision.
How did you get to know your Japanese host researcher?
I was a PhD student under Dr. Kida who is a very famous researcher on influenza in Japan. During that time, I had an opportunity to attend a WHO workshop, where I met Dr. Takada and discussed different aspects of my research with him. He gave me very nice suggestions. So, later when I had other chances to converse with him, I found him to be a talented, humble and kind-hearted person. Therefore, I decided I wanted to work with him. Immediately after receiving my PhD, he offered me a postdoc position leading to my JSPS fellowship.
What is your impression of your host institution?
The Research Center for Zoonosis Control (CZC) was established within Hokkaido University in 2005. The laboratories of CZC are furnished with state-of-the-art equipment and are run by very motivated and zealous staffs. The working environment is very friendly and supportive. I am really grateful to my host researcher and colleagues, who are very cooperative and helpful in solving my problems even outside the lab.
Generally speaking, what is your impression of Japan’s research environment?
Japanese universities are among the best in the world, and they have produced many eminent scientists. I am really impressed by the fact that everybody, whether student or teacher, works very hard and with passion.
What are your research achievements under the JSPS fellowship so far?
Currently, I am looking for host cellular proteins that interact with the influenza virus polymerase proteins and am trying to figure out the role played by them during influenza virus replication. Fortunately, I have found some interacting proteins, so now I am planning to write and submit a research paper for publication in a scientific journal.
What do you think of life in Japan—its culture and customs?
Obviously there are cultural differences between Pakistan and Japan; despite them, I like the Japanese lifestyle. I have found people, although shy, to be very nice and caring. The way customers are treated by store clerks is really impressive: They are humble, polite, and always ready to help. Festivals are celebrated with an exuberant spirit. I have participated in some of them, and have unforgettable memories of those moments.
Before coming to Japan, what kind of image did you have of the country? Has your perception changed after coming here?
I did not know much about Japan except that it is a technologically very advanced country. Then, I learned a little about Japan just before my departure in a crash course on Japanese culture held by the Japanese Embassy in Pakistan. After coming here, I discovered that despite their country’s technological advancements, the Japanese people have been able to maintain their cultural values. I appreciate this very much.
By the way, you live in Japan with your family. Is your family happy with your decision to come here?
Yes, my family is very happy in Japan. When I came, it was only with my wife and one son. Now, we have two sons and a daughter. They really enjoy the life in Japan, though my wife is busy taking care of them. The Pakistan community in Sapporo helps my family; and thanks to the Internet, we can even buy halal foods through online shopping.
What do you plan to do after your fellowship ends?
I want to work in a university as a teacher and share my experiences with the students. I believe teaching is a bi-directional learning process. A teacher while imparting knowledge simultaneously learns a lot from the students.
Please give some advice for young researchers who may be thinking about doing research in Japan?
Well, I strongly suggest that they come to Japan as the research environment here is very good and supportive. The major problem that a foreigner may encounter in Japan is the language barrier, which can be a cause of frustration. Therefore, I would recommend that they study Japanese by, for example, taking lessons, which will not only enable them to communicate with people but also to understand the culture and live in harmony.
After a short conversation with his host researcher, we were convinced that Dr. Manzoor is a very talented researcher. He has already had three co-authored papers published in a major journal at an early stage of his career, and is on pace to advance his research further. As mentioned, he expressed a strong desire to educate aspiring young researchers, along with a willingness to spend considerable time in the classroom while presumably continuing his own research pursuits. His passion for both research and education will surely help to foster excellent young researchers capable of seeding their research endeavors.