Welcome to the third in a four part series of entries about my successful application for a Monbusho Research Scholarship. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading parts one and two. This entry deals with my process for filling out the application and contacting professors.
Filling out the Application
The majority of the application is pretty straightforward; names, addresses, dates, that sort of thing. You can write it in English or Japanese; I went with English. Just go over the application guidelines and follow them to the letter.
Make your application look as pretty as possible. Since I have graphic design training, I was able to import the Monbusho PDF application into Adobe Illustrator and fill in the information there, so everything had a nice, typeset look to it. If that’s not possible for you, I recommend finding a typewriter and typing up your application. Failing that, write as neatly as possible with a black pen. Proofread everything carefully to make sure you don’t have any spelling or grammatical mistakes. Print out clean laser copies of the application on a good quality paper. Separate the different copies in clearly labeled, brand new folders. Again, every aspect of your application should exude earnestness and professionalism.
You’re required to attach a passport-sized photo of yourself to your application. For mine, I dressed up in a suit and tie, and had a solemn expression; you can decide for yourself if you want to take it this far, but sticking out your tongue while wearing a lime-green tanktop would probably be a bad idea.
The application also requires you to submit academic thesis, to give applicant reviewers a sense of your work. But in the case of people applying for arts-related scholarships, an artwork example is acceptable in lieu of a thesis. I included a twenty-page excerpt on my comic book Tonoharu: Part One. On the back of my excerpt, I included an artist’s statement that tied my comic book into what I hoped to achieve by studying in Japan.
Seven pages of the twenty page excerpt I submitted can be found here, if you want to get a sense of what my work looks like.
There isn’t much to say about the main application itself, but the so-called “Attachment” part of the application is a little more demanding. This is where you indicate what you’ve done in regards to contacting professors and securing their good graces. All said and done, this is probably where I spent the most time on my application; probably even longer than on my research proposal itself. It’s also the reason I got my application out just before the deadline, because I was waiting for professors to get back to me. (All the more reason to start contacting professors early.)
I should say first of all that the way the Monbusho Research Scholarship was set up the year I applied (in 2007), you weren’t able to receive an official letter of acceptance from a professor until after you’ve passed the interview stage through your embassy/consulate. But nonetheless I would very strongly recommend you start contacting professors just as soon as possible; long before your interview, maybe just as soon as you’ve come up with a near final version of your research proposal. You don’t have much time after you pass the interview stage to get letters of acceptance from professors, so it’s important to lay the groundwork beforehand. Plus, you’re more likely to get to and pass the interview stage if it looks like you’ve already got the professors pretty much all sorted out.
The first step is to make a list of schools you would like to go to. Probably your best option here is to solicit advice from people with Monbusho experience that you’ve networked with. Failing (or in addition to) that, your best resource is a search via the internet.
There may be better options out there, but I found this website to be useful:
Type in a keyword at the top (art, painting, physics, whatever), select “Japanese Universities”, and click “search”. A list of universities and their websites will pop up. At this point, there’s nothing to do but slog through them. Many Japanese universities have English homepages, but they usually don’t have much information. Your best option, if your Japanese is up to the task, is to explore the Japanese version of the website to see which one is a good fit for you. If your Japanese isn’t good enough to navigate the Japanese pages, it might even be a good idea to enlist the help of a Japanese friend, to get there opinions about the schools you’ve tentatively selected.
For my own personal research topic, calligraphy, I found that there actually weren’t that many schools that offered a dedicated calligraphy program. And of those that did, many were teachers colleges whose only goal was to train teachers to teach calligraphy to elementary students (calligraphy is a mandatory subject in Japan, starting in third grade). In the end, I was only able to find twelve schools that offered a non-teacher training calligraphy major, so I just contacted all the schools. If your major is more general, you’ll probably have the luxury/burden of having to narrow down your list of possible schools.
Once you have a list of, oh, ten or twenty schools that look good to you, it’s time to seek out contact information for specific professors at those schools.
Personally, I decided to approach professors via e-mail, because that way I didn’t have to worry about the time difference and expensive phone calls. And it would give me the opportunity to perfectly craft my message to them without having to worry about my Japanese, and would give them a chance to think about my proposal carefully without me waiting there on the phone. So for me, e-mail seemed like the way to go.
I quickly found, forever, that unlike in the States, finding an e-mail address online for a Japanese professor was really tough. So if you’re Japanese is really good and you don’t mind racking up high phone bills, or calling at 2am your time, a phone call inquiry might be an easier way to connect with a Japanese professor.
That is not what I did, however. I stuck with my e-mail plan, and somehow managed to track down the well-hidden e-mail addresses of some professors. It took some sleuthing. For one professor, I found their e-mail address in an obscure PDF file on their universities website. For another, I found the professor’s name, googled that, and contacted them through a contact form I found on their blog. For another, I sent an inquiry through the calligraphy club at their school and got it that way; for another, I inquired through the school’s international center. And it goes without saying that pretty much all of this information was only found on the Japanese versions of their websites. So for those of you who’s Japanese is shaky, it might pay to see if you can get a good Japanese friend to help you.
At that point, I had the e-mail addresses of about ten different professors. But before I even thought about contacting them, I tried to put myself in their shoes.
When you contact a professor about serving as your supervisor, you’re asking for a lot. You’re asking them to supervise a near stranger from a foreign country for two whole years. Professor’s are usually busy, and having to supervise you will only be a further burden on their time. They would be held personally responsible if you behaved badly, so they’re taking a risk in that arena as well. When you consider all this, it’s easy to understand why many Monbusho applicants say finding a professor who’s willing to work with you is the hardest part of the application process.
So as I considered how I would approach professors, I wanted to make it as easy as possible for them; I didn’t want to give them any excuse to rejecting me out of hand. I concluded that writing in Japanese would be the best option; I figured professors whose English might be shaky would be unlikely to read through an English e-mail (and even less likely to reply in English).
So I wrote an inquiry e-mail in Japanese. My Japanese at that point was definitely good enough to write an e-mail that would be understood, but wasn’t good enough to write it in perfect, polite, humble Japanese. Since showing a high level of respect was important at that early stage, I wrote the e-mail in Japanese, and then had a Japanese friend help me edit it, to fix politeness level errors, etc. My inquiry letter was very short; just a few sentences.
So I had my inquiry e-mail. But again, thinking of things from their point of view, I figured I should also show them examples of my artwork, so they could get some sense of who I was and what I did. I decided it would be obnoxious to send large, unsolicited file attachments and clog their inbox, so I decided that the inquiry letter would contain a link to a mini, one page website about me. That way the teacher could choose to go there, and see what I was about at their leisure. Needless to say, the website was in Japanese as well. It also contained PDF links to my Monbusho application, samples of my comic and a few samples of my calligraphy.
For informative purposes, I’m providing a link to the website I designed and submitted to the professors. The PDF links no longer work, and I took out my private e-mail address, but other than that it’s exactly as the professors saw it. [Link]
Of the twelve schools I sent inquiries to, half didn’t get back to me at all, despite a follow-up e-mail I sent later. Three rejected me right off the bat, and three seemed intrigued by my proposal, and wrote back that it either “might” or “probably” would be possible for me to study at their schools. This was perfect, because it allowed me to put three schools and professors on the “Attachment” part of the Monbusho application, stating that each professor has at least expressed a willingness to work with me. Since I couldn’t get anything official until after I passed the interview stage anyway, this was about as good as I could make my application.
So with all that done, I sent my application off to the Consulate, and waited to hear back from them to see if I’d been granted an interview. Check back next Friday for the final part about that.
And if anyone out there with prior Monbusho experience feels I missed the mark in my advice, or has a different take on things, please leave a comment to this entry.
Part 1 of 4–Introduction/Disclaimers
Part 2 of 4–Writing the Research Proposal
Part 3 of 4–Filling out the Application & Contacting Professors
Part 4 of 4–The Tests, the Interview, & the Long Wait