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Interview with SATOMI Susumu, President of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)

2021.04.08

The mission of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) is to carry out basic academic research without delay or hinderance, even when society is disordered or in turmoil due to impactful events. In this discussion, SATOMI Susumu, President of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, talks about responding to a variety of issues and problems, such as allocation screenings and carry-over of scientific research expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and flexible support for special researchers, etc. In his New Year's interview, he talked about how the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science will work on the 6th Basic Plan for Science, Technology, and Innovation, which starts in April.

SATOMI Susumu, President of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Credit: The Science News Ltd.)

The 6th Basic Plan states that Japan will promptly respond to changes in social conditions in Japan and overseas that are difficult to predict and will take decisive action on social reforms, and, to those ends, it is necessary to strengthen Japan's scientific, technological, and innovative capabilities, and emphasizes the importance of enhancing the academic research that is their source.

Because the JSPS is not a nationally designated research and development corporation it does not carry out research aimed at solving specific problems, but we will greatly contribute to the promotion of the Basic Plan by fostering research personnel to strengthen Japan's scientific, technological, and innovative capabilities and by promoting research grants, international exchanges, and improvements in university education and research capabilities, etc.

Support for Young Researchers

The Basic Plan emphasizes support for doctoral students. Until now, for young researchers the JSPS had established a DC (Doctoral Course Students fellowship) that provided two or three years of support for graduate doctoral students and a PD (Postdoctoral Fellow fellowship) that provided three years of support for post-doctoral researchers, and supported them from graduate school so that they could demonstrate their abilities as independent researchers. Additionally, we have established an overseas special researcher system to support overseas research activities and, since FY2019, a CPD (Cross-border Postdoctoral Fellowship) system to build an international research network while conducting challenging research. We also established an RPD (Restart Postdoctoral Fellow) system and an RRA (Overseas Research Fellowships – Restart Research Abroad) system to promote gender equality. Approximately 90% of those who experienced DC, PD, or activities as an overseas research have since taken up full-time research positions, and, considering Japan's track record for supporting research, these systems have been effectively functioning.

During the period for the Basic Plan, it is expected that support measures for doctoral students will be launched by utilizing various funds from companies, universities, and competitive funds, etc., and we would like to expand the number of special researchers so that the route through PD, overseas special researcher, and CPD from DC to tenure track faculty at research institutions such as universities, etc. will continue to function as the core system for training young researchers in Japan.

Support for Academic Research

JSPS supports grants-in-aid for all academic(scientific) research, from humanities/social sciences to the natural sciences, and also for basic to practical research. Until now, while promoting fund-raising and maintaining strict peer review, since FY2018 the examination categories, where were subdivided into approx. 400 categories, have been broadened and new examination methods such as comprehensive examinations have been introduced.

On the other hand, based on the KAKENHI (Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research) Young Support Plan, we have been working to enhance Grants-in-Aids for young researchers. For example, duplicate applications for Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research(S)/(A)/(B) are allowed in the second round of applications for Grant-in-Aid for Early-Career Scientists, and for Grant-in-Aid for Challenging Research (Pioneering), it is possible to submit a duplicate application with the application for Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B). As a result, the number of young researchers selected for Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B) has significantly increased. Furthermore, we have expanded Fostering Joint International Research (B), in which young researchers conduct joint research overseas as representatives of Japan. In 2020, Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas was reviewed in a developmental manner, and we established Grant-in-Aid for Transformative Research Areas.

Due to the measures taken so far, the new acceptance rate for early-career scientists’ researches and for supporting starting research activities has achieved almost 40%, but the acceptance rate for basic research that is applied for by mid-career and senior researchers is not high. During the Basic Plan's period, while striving to enhance support for young people, we will enhance support for researchers' entire careers so that each researcher can conduct research of a scale and on content that suits his or her career.
For grants-in-aid, we have expanded its base through sustained research and development and accumulated knowledge by supporting original research while ensuring diversity. For example, even in research that was conducted before the current COVID-19 pandemic, many research results that will contribute to the post-COVID-19 era were produced, and even just a simple survey quickly turned up nearly 100 research results. No one can predict what kind of problems will arise after the COVID-19 pandemic, and, in such a world, diverse research is considered to be an important basis for responding to problems that arise and I think that it will lead to the creation of a stronger and more resilient society. So, from this point of view as well, it will become more and more important to enhance grants-in-aid.

International Joint Research/Global Brain Circulation

The Basic Plan also emphasizes the promotion of joint international research and global brain circulation.

There are a diverse array of projects at JSPS that support the international exchange of researchers, such as bilateral exchange projects, the JSPS International Joint Research Programs, the A3 Foresight Program, and the Core-to-Core Program.

Additionally, as an international study opportunity for researchers who will lead the next generation, JSPS holds HOPE meetings where graduate students from the Asia-Pacific and African regions can interact with world-renowned researchers such as Nobel laureates, and holds the Frontiers of Science Symposium, cross-disciplinary discussions where young researchers from Japan, the United States, Germany, France, and Canada lodge together. Overseas research liaison centers, which have been established in 10 locations around the world, strive to collect academic information from each country and serve as bases for a variety of exchanges.

On the other hand, excellent foreign researchers are provided with opportunities to engage in research activities at Japanese universities, etc. through a project to invite foreign researchers.

Through various efforts like this, we want to promote the international exchange of researchers so that Japanese researchers can be positioned at the center of international research and human resources networks and play an active role.

Promotion of the Humanities and Social Sciences and Utilization of Comprehensive Knowledge

As has become apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, humankind needs to quickly respond to new values and issues, such as AI, life sciences, global warming, declining birthrates, and aging populations. As such, in the Basic Plan the natural sciences and the humanities/social sciences are closely linked, and directions that lead to solutions with comprehensive knowledge are clearly shown.
JSPS has long recognized the important of the humanities and the social sciences, and, by setting issues, has implemented leading humanities/social sciences research promotion projects and humanities/social sciences data infrastructure construction promotion projects. In these former projects, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology's Advisory Council presented the major themes from a long-term perspective of (1) the ideal form of society and humans, with an eye towards future demographics, (2) overcoming a divided society, and (3) creating value to form a new human society, that should be addressed, mainly in the fields of the humanities/social sciences, and we plan to launch a new program to promote research under them.

Furthermore, in FY2020, a human resources development project supporting a knowledge-intensive society was established to develop human resources with the culture and expertise to flexibly respond to the era of Society 5.0, and the project will be operated by JSPS.

Through such efforts, JSPS wants to contribute to the creation of comprehensive knowledge aimed at the realization of human well-being.

Additionally, the government as a whole is currently working to improve the system with the aim of securing research time and the effective and efficient use of research funds by reducing the administrative burden on researchers, and JSPS will actively respond on this point as well.

As for JSPS's projects, we expect that it will be difficult to significantly increase our total budget due to the country's financial situation, but we will continue to aim for further expansion through collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

SATOMI Susumu

Graduated from Tohoku University School of Medicine in 1974 and became a medical doctor in 1984. Was an assistant at the Second Dept. of Surgery at Tohoku University Hospital in 1982, a Harvard University researcher in 1984, a lecturer at the Second Dept. of Surgery at Tohoku University School of Medicine in 1988, a professor at the Tohoku University School of Medicine in 1995, Director of the Tohoku University Hospital in 2004, President of Tohoku University in 2012, and has been in his current position since April 2018.

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd.(https://sci-news.co.jp/). Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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