After being involved in undergraduate research for almost three years, working as a Japanese peer tutor for 2 years, completing a clinical research project abroad in Denmark, and browsing and researching different websites for hundred and thousand hours, I am finally here: Center of iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) at Kyoto University in Japan.
I arrived in Kyoto on June 8th, the Friday before the week I officially started my work at CiRA. My mentor, Peter Gee, offered to pick me up on the platform of the Kyoto Railway Station even though it was past 9pm right before the weekend. He walked me to the hostel that I booked for a temporary stay before I moved to the long-term apartment the next morning. He was so nice that he even bought me a bottle of iced tea and some snacks in case that I was thirsty or hungry. I was so grateful for his help that allowed me to settle in a new city very quickly and smoothly.
On Monday morning, Peter came to the place that I will be staying at for the next 2-months and we walked to CiRA together. Everything that I have seen in documentaries and on TV numerous times were all right in front of my eyes. Peter quickly showed me around the building and introduced me to the other lab members in the Hotta Lab. Everyone I met on the first day, including those from on the labs, was very nice and gave me a warm welcome. Indeed, I was very nervous going to work on that day. I was stressed about meeting and remembering a lot of new people while getting oriented in the lab in order to start working as soon as possible. With lots of new information and knowledge, that day definitely turned out to be intensive and heavy-loaded for me, but I was glad that I was able to start the experiments and to work with actual cell lines that we will need data from on the first day.
I felt extremely supported and trusted being the youngest student researcher in the lab. Peter carefully went through the possible projects and experiments I could do in these two months and asked for my thoughts and opinions on the first day. He said that the lab hopes for me to have an experience where I learn the knowledge and techniques that will be the most useful and beneficial for me. We decided that I will be working on not only the main focus of the lab, the induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) patients, but also on differentiating cortical neurons, which is closely related to my neuroscience major, previous research experience, and the research that I would like to pursue in the future.
Starting from the second day, the remaining 4 days of the first week were all packed with experiments, but I was much more relaxed compared to the first day. Surprisingly, while I still felt like I was dreaming, I adapted to life in Kyoto and in the Hotta Lab quickly. Although I received extensive mentorship and support from the lab members throughout the week, I was also given significant freedom to think and work independently just like an experienced researcher. It was a great research, academic and cultural environment where everybody is open for discussions and different opinions. I could hear active conversations not only in Japanese but also in English as a significant amount of people working at CiRA came from all over the world.
Along with Dr. Akitsu Hotta, the principle investigator in charge of the lab, the lab held a welcome party for me on Wednesday night. It was a casual pizza night where we got the chance to learn about each other a lot outside of work。
Part of the Drinks and Pizzas from the Welcome PartyIt has only been a week since I started my work at CiRA, but I have learned so much academically and experienced many new things in daily life as well.
– Xiou Wang