Studying in Japan
The first thing which will strike my more astute readers as a little strange is that I am in a laboratory at all. How do Statisticians have a lab? Well, probably really this means "research group", which in this case consists of my supervisor (Dr. Naito), his 5 honours students, and me. The honours students are a bunch of funny lads, to whom I have made passing previous reference. They are Gosuke (who has been Dr. Naito's student for some time), Masaru (who has a Canadian girlfriend), Takuma (who is striving to become a teacher), Yashiki (the poet) and Yamasaki, who will stay on next year as a masters student. The 5 of them share an office which adjoins Dr. Naito's, but because I am on the other side of the building I do not spend much time with them. I see them mostly during Seminars.
Seminars are the preferred teaching method here, where teaching of senior students is heavily focussed around what my friend calls the "Sensei System". Senior students are heavily dependent upon their teacher (Sensei) for their education, so perhaps Honours students here behave much more like PhD students than they would in Australia. A large part of their training in more complex mathematics involves preparing and giving seminars. So on Monday Dr. Naito sits through 3 seminars: Financial Mathematics, Model Selection, and Survival Analysis. On Wednesday he sits through one more: my seminar, Semi-parametric Smoothing. The honours seminars are 90 minutes long and are presented by one or 2 students, who work their way through a text book and present the material therein in detail for our delectation. In my case, I work through the details of a mathematics article, and present the more complex parts for Dr. Naito's consideration. When we don't understand things, Dr. Naito gives a brief ad hoc lecture on the material. So far since starting my PhD I have worked through 3 articles and part of 2 text books. My seminars are, in consequence of this, quite long - 2 - 3 hours a week. I have to spend most of the week preparing the materials for these.
So, it is a cauldron of activity. The Honours students also have some lecture courses to attend to, so they work quite hard preparing their seminars, doing their other homework and (of course) working part time. I spend most of my time working on the seminar, and also attend the Survival Analysis seminar on Mondays. Survival Analysis is a topic I already understand, so I can use this seminar as an opportunity to practice my technical Japanese (a whole other topic, that is!) Because I work all day Tuesday, and Friday is taken up mostly with Japanese classes, I really only have half of Wednesday, all of Thursday and half of Wednesday to prepare my seminars. This means I put in a fairly large effort on those days to catch up. It also means that since I began my PhD I have done at least 3 days' study every week, and so after 4 months I am about to embark on developing the first original work of my PhD. I'm sure this has to be close to a record (at least for someone as lazy and ignorant as me!)
Also, Dr. Naito has me writing up all I have done so far during the summer break. So in addition to doing a little extra study, I will be preparing some appendices and proofs for my PhD thesis - within the first year!
I have heard rumours that this "sensei system" can be bad if ones sensei is a complete dickhead, but I really can't see how the system differs from PhD programs everywhere in the world. As ever, the success of a PhD depends entirely on ones supervisor, and in this case it seems I am (this time at least!) in safe hands...