Contacting Professors for the Placement Preference Form

This form is very straight forward and easy to fill in if you prepared beforehand.

Be aware that this is a long post!

Here are a couple of tips before I talk about how to contact professors:

  • Although you can apply for ANY Japanese University for this scholarship, the Japanese Government has a preference for the National Universities since they are less expensive. Make sure at least one of your options is one of these type of universities.

5-1) Field of study in Japan(日本での希望専攻分野)

What you hope will be your field of study in Japan, that is, Graduate School name and the name of your studies.

5-2) Detailed field of study(研究分野(詳細))

Summarize your research proposal in one or two lines at most.

Now, on to:

6) The university in Japan in which you wish to be enrolled.(希望する大学)

Here you are requested to write, in order of preference, the three universities you would like to attend for your studies in Japan, the name of the graduate school and the name of the professor you would like to have as your advisor.

You might think it is as easy as googling the university, choosing the graduate school, the studies, going to faculty list and choosing the professor that has the brightest of smiles. But it’s much more complicated than that.

There are several crucial factors that you should consider before writing any University and professor name in this document:

  1. Your Japanese Language: Yes, it is true that the Japanese Government offers a 6 month intensive Japanese course for those in need, but 6 months are not enough to get you from ‘baka’ and ‘kawaii’ to understanding graduate classes in Japanese.
    There are many Universities that offer complete Graduate Courses in English, although not every field of study has as many options as others.
    For example, if your interest lies in Mechatronics, you will for sure find a lot more universities that have English courses. Humanities area is the one with the least offer.
  2. Ok, so you have reviewd the endless list of Universities that offer your field of study and in the language you need. Good.Now you need to review the study plan and select those you like. This should significantly bring down the number.
  3. Now you need to review the faculty list of those Universities still in the list. Usually, professors indicate their interest areas and what their are investigating at the moment. If possible, find two or three professors from EACH university that have interest similar to yours.
    I used an excel file like this to help me keep organized:
    lista-unisDON’T CONTACT THEM YET!  I know you are eager to do it and to have someone tell you your research proposal is amazing, but first you need to read about the University’s guidlines for MEXT. Almost all universities have a dedicated page to explain how they go through the MEXT scholarship process. Read it. ALL OF IT. If they tell you not to contact a professor before passing the embassy preliminary screening, the DO NOT CONTACT THEM. If they say you should contact the professor beforehand, the CONTACT THEM.
  4. So, why 2 or 3 professors from each University?
    The first year I applied, I had to contact 12 professors to fin 3 that would allow me to write their names in the form. It was a pretty bad year:
    Two professors were taking a sabbatical year.
    One of the universities was going to close application for the next year to be able to reformulate the study plan. That took another professor out of the list.
    One of the professors told me that according to the University’s policy, I should not have contacted him before passing the preliminary selection. (this is why I tell you to follow the rules)
    One more told me he was not interested, but gave me the name and contact of another professor.
    Another 2 professors never answered me.
    Other 3 replied too late for me.I made a lot of mistakes that first year, and contacting the professors too late was one of the worst ones. I think the first email I sent was just 10 days before the application deadline. Big mistake.
  5. So now that you have your list and you know each University’s rules, contact contact those you can.
    The email should be formal, brief and clear. This is what I wrote (bolded what you should make sure to edit):

Dear Professor Washawasha,

My name is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. I am a graduate Bachelor in Cool Studies Name at the Super Universidad Patito. I have graduated with honors and were among the best 10 of my generation.

I am contacting you because I am planning to participate in the MEXT scholarship selection process of this year to be awarded in 2017.

I am very interested in attending the Name of Program, Graduate School, and Name of University in Japan. My main interest if focused on summary of research interest in no more than 3 lines.

I had the chance to review your profile at the University’s webpage and noticed that topic of interest is one of your fields of interest.

I have been researching and exploring the possibility of prospective advisers with whom I can work on this topic. I hope you don’t mind me getting in touch. I’d like to inquire whether you are currently accepting student under your supervision/lab.

If you are, would you be willing to talk to me a bit more, by email or on the phone, about my graduate school plans?  I am attaching the research proposal for MEXT to this email as well as my resumé.

I know I have yet to pass the preliminary MEXT screening in order to request a formal Letter of Acceptance, but I would be very glad and interested in being able to write your name as proposed advisor on the application form when I submit my documents this month.

I know you’re very busy so I appreciate any time you can give me.  Thank you very much,

Sincerely,

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

6. Once you contact them, just wait. I mean, you have many other things to get done meanewhile. Most of them will not answer withing 24 hours, and never on a weekend.There are some that will take a week, even a month. The agony is real. This is were you start your sleepless nights, any phone notification you receive between 2am and 12pm could be one of the professors. Some will answer that they can’t, but don’t despair, others will answer wanting to know more about you and your research, maybe even asking for a skype interview. Some other will not answer. There will also be some that will say yes from the start.

7. When you finally decide you have enough possitive answers or you can’t keep waiting for more, then you need to REALLY think about who you want as your advisor and write them in order in the form.

For those Universities that do not allow you to contact the professors beforehand, it really is a head or tails situation. Risking yourself into getting a “no” after you have passed the preliminaris screening is something that you need to think over. Are the University, the Professor and his area of interest worth it?

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