We asked Ms. Miyagaki about why, during high school, she wanted to study materials science, what kind of activities she become involved in during her years at university, and what kind of work is she involved in now.
With an interest in manufacturing she focused on materials science.
At that time, I was a high school student and thinking about the ahead of me and I had the rather vague idea that I wanted to be involved in manufacturing. But I didn't have any confidence concerning engineering and science, and didn't understand what it was all about. So it wasn't as though it was my goal from the beginning. It was when I read the open campus poster that was posted in one of our classrooms that this awareness of what I wanted to do underwent a big change. The open campus was for Tohoku University's Department of Materials Science and Engineering. There was this key word 'inventing new materials'. Until then, the image of manufacturing was about changing the shape of something that already exists and then making it easier to use. However, if you create the material, you create the very thing itself and I didn't know such a world existed.
And so I went to the open campus. It was the first time I saw the university research world and found it completely engrossing. I was given "The World's Strongest Magnet" (although I passed it on at a later open campus). As we were told to be careful when handling the magnet, I took it home feeling a little nervous. Before that, I checked out the university's facilities and also talked a lot with current students.
I decided that the way for me to go was Tohoku's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, so I thought about how to enroll. The AO Entrance Exam began the same year as I was to do my exams. To put it simply, I was recommended by a teacher that “it's better to increase the number of times you are able to take the exam, for even if you fail, you can challenge it once again" so I took the AO entrance exam. During the interview section of the exam, I managed to relax and felt that I made a strong case for my ambitions. I was happy to find that when I met one of the interviewers who was a teacher at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, he remembered who I was. I felt like fate was at work.
A Rich University Life
After entering university, I got a lot out of areas that fall outside of the classroom, like my part-time job and club activities. I gained a lot of different experiences through my part-time jobs, including tutoring, serving, working at restaurants and I feel I learned a lot about society. I also joined the students association lacrosse team. At high school, I was on the badminton team and so I wanted to do some sort of physical sport at University. Compared to other sports, there are not very many people who do lacrosse so there is a strong feeling of comradeship. It was really exciting to manage and conduct tournaments. I'm still a lacrosse referee to this day and at each game I go to throughout the country and the chance-meetings I have there, I have the opportunity to sow a seed of exchange. I wouldn't be who I am today if it wasn't for all the people I have met through lacrosse. Since I had to take the 6:00 AM morning train to university, there were times I was late to class, but in the end I managed to find a balance to get my school work done.
I began specializing my studies around my third year at university. One of the best things about studying at the Materials Science and Engineering department was being given such a large scope of knowledge about materials. You can take a wide-range of lectures on the subject since there are so many Materials Science teachers. Although, if it is necessary, you can gain knowledge starting from when you become employed, if you study hard or even just a little during university, your reaction to the field's vocabulary will differ greatly. For example, although there are a lot of classes concerning iron, as I work for an automobile company, I need to have knowledge of iron in its basic form. And so when the time came, I was like, ah, wait a minute, I did this at university!
Laboratory Assignment and Laboratory Daily Life.
The research I was involved in, to put it simply, was magnetic film - which meant dealing with a film so thin you cannot even see it. At the beginning I had no idea about specialization, I had no specialized knowledge, I couldn't use the equipment, nor did I know how to deal with the findings I made... I learned everything from the senior students. You do everything yourself during research: you yourself make the thin film and you yourself measure it. You make mistakes. Just when you know for certain your research will bear fruit, you end up destroying the sample, for example. Since you are working in a world involving a film that is is so small you cannot see it, just a slight error and it is destroyed.
We worked frantically around the clock. Research doesn't always give you results. When thinking about my time there, I think I did a good job. But, research is not especially difficult because you are a woman. Although I hear people say that because they had stamina they could endure, people who are not confident in their physical strength also find their own special way to succeed in their research.
Materials Science and Development Events, Laboratory Events, POSTECH
The laboratory is really cozy. Because it's the longest time that you are with people and because you eat together, you look like a family. While you are waiting for an experiment, you talk about things, and not just about the research. You talk about daily life, topics in the news, and personal topics like girl talk.... anything. Every day was fun. It was easy to maintain your own motivation levels because everyone there is so motivated.
And there are a lot of events, too. Welcome and goodbye parties, cherry blossom parties and sports tournaments. You even get invited to your teacher's home. Everyone practices together when there is a sports tournament coming up. There is a Materials Science and Engineering track and field tournament and when it nears everyone runs together at night. I also trained for this. It's better to not merely research but also to move your body around. It is a great chance for you get refreshed, for companionship to develop, and for the unity within the laboratory to blossom.
For my Materials Science and Engineering activity, I participated in POSTECH during my third year. I was interested in this because you get to go to Korea, and I have liked English since I can remember. I was in charge of introducing our laboratory. Within a very relaxed, exchange type of atmosphere, I had the opportunity to present in English and it was really fun. I was really surprised to find that there are a lot of female students in Korea. At the time, I was the only girl student on this side of the exchange. On top of that, their English level was really high. But what really surprised me was that there still is military conscription in Korea. There were students who just came back from putting in their time. It as a bit of a culture shock.
An interview about research methods after finding employment.
I was employed by Toyota Motor Corporation after my masters. This year is my third year at the company. My job is to think about things like product design, what kind of equipment is necessary at the factory to create such products, and how to increase the manufacturing efficiency of these products. I have to learn more than what I had specialized in up to that point, including a lot of new knowledge and know-how of key-features of the company. As you'd expect, you have much more responsibility as a member of society than you do as a student. This is because your actions influence your own station at work, the stations around you and a whole lot of people. Also, at university you can do research at your own pace, in the real world, you have deadlines. The public release of a car has a decided date in the automobile world, and a whole range of different stations at your company are working on the same schedule to meet this date.
Work is fun. The atmosphere is good, and you get to learn every day. Although I'm the lowest ranking member on the project, I have things that I am in charge of, and as a representative I have meetings I need to attend. I feel the daily weight that the comes with the sense of responsibility.
But looking back now, I think the reason I have fun is because I had the experience of researching back in university. At university it is deeply ingrained into you how to problem-solve and how to present your process that lead to your results. If a problem arises, you search for the reason behind it - you think you should try this, then with the result of this test, you say to yourself, of course that was it and then you take action to solve it in this particular way... it is this chain of sequence of solving a problem you get to do at university, and it is so fun.
You can use this method no matter what company you work for. There are others here at Toyota from Tohoku University's Department of Materials Science and Engineering. But what they are in charge of is completely separated from me. No matter what field you go into, I believe there is a cross section in society that your knowledge can be of use. In reality, there are a lot of people at Toyota who have a really good image of Tohoku University's Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
A final note for high school students:
At high school it all started with how I wanted to be involved with manufacturing. I entered Tohoku University's Department of Materials Science and Development and began my studies, then I gained employment... all of this has now come to pass. And now, there is something else that I am really looking forward to.
From here on, what I have been engaged in at work will see the light of day. You know the saying 'to make a line'? Well, we are going to clear out a factory, and in it we will line up new equipment that I thought up, and in real life, things will flow through it. And then, the things born from this line will be shipped to customers' homes. I am extremely excited to witness the moment things begin to flow through this 'line' which I created - to witness the moment things begin to be produced, for I have fought all these days for this.
Manufacturing can deeply move you and I think that you will experience such a feeling through research at university. During my time at university, I myself did a lot of things that have proved beneficial for life, for myself, and as a result my life is more exciting because of it. The department of engineering and science is a perfectly suited environment where you can deeply feel and see manufacturing happening. The teachers are warm and will go out of their way to help you, and you will not be let down if you put your hopes into Tohoku University's Department of Materials Science and Science. For I did that, and I had a totally fun student life. I hope many of you decide on Tohoku University. Sendai City as well as the location of the campus, Aoba-Yama, are wonderful places.
(Conducted 2008, July)