Lots has happened during the few months since my last post. Due to what happened I felt like creating a new post detailing the Monbukagakusho Scholarship awarded by the Japanese government. I just wanted to talk about my own personal case but also about the program in general. If anyone is interested in applying for the program I hope he/she can find the information provided useful.
The Japanese government and specifically the Ministry of Education,Culture,Sport,Science and Technology(MEXT) offers this scholarship. This is what Monbukagakusho means. It offers a certain number of scholarships to each country every year. In the case of Greece at 2009 it was 5 scholarships. Applying for the scholarship is easy. All you need to do is contact your own country’s Japanese embassy since they act as the representative of MEXT for your country. Actually getting awarded the scholarship though is another matter altogether. Depending on your country and how well-known the MEXT program is you will have to face a lot of competition. The number of scholarships is always but a minuscule fraction of the number of applicants.
My advice to you when you are going through this stage, the Embassy Recommendation stage is simple. Sell yourself exactly as you would for a job interview. At the time of writing at least, this stage has two sub-stages. The first is the application papers. Secondly from all the number of people who apply a small number is chosen to go through an interview. Following the interview, the scholarship is awarded to some of the interviewees.
At the application papers stage the only way to show that you deserve the scholarship is to have had:
- Good marks at your university and good graduation scores
- A presentable graduation thesis, or master thesis (depending on the program you apply for)
- Write a presentable, concrete and thorough research plan
I can not stress the third point enough. The research plan is what makes or breaks a Monbukagakusho application. It is what the examiners will be looking at for each application and your research plan should be able to distinguish itself from the rest, so that it can get at the top of the application pile and grant you an interview.
At the second stage, the interview, you can do a lot more to help your case and get the scholarship. The interviewers will include Japanese people and academic people of your own country (usually the academic advisors to the embassy) . This is a run down of my advice about the interview:
- You will be asked about your research plan so be prepared to answer any possible questions about it.
- Brush up your Japanese. If you have any knowledge of the language use it. They will ask you if you can speak it, and just show them what you can do. Unless your Japanese is top-notch don’t do the whole interview in Japanese only but when they ask you if you can speak it, show them your ability. Having the will to try and speak the language even before going to Japan will give you lots of points.
- Be presentable. You will be dealing with Japanese people and being formal is a must. Wear a suit if you can, but even if you can’t try to make yourself look as good and serious as possible
This is what I had to say as far as the application process is concerned. From here and on you will have to deal with finding professors through email and applying for universities. You can get accepted in as many universities as you want but the final decision goes with MEXT, they will decide to which university you will actually go. This differs on a case by case basis but you should know that positions in Tokyo and Osaka are always fiercely contended for so don’t be disappointed even if you don’t get in there.
Now here is the main reason why I wanted to make this post. To disambiguate a fuzzy part of the MEXT scholarship program. Even though they do warn you, and they do mention it in all the papers you get in the start most of us applicants don’t realize the nature of the program. The scholarship you get IS NOT for graduate studies. You get a 2 year scholarship to study as a research student in a Japanese university, inside the laboratory of the professor who accepted you. I can not stress this part enough. Many people (including me) come here thinking they will definitely get to obtain a graduate degree, suddenly realizing that it would be a lot harder than they thought at first or even impossible. Unfortunately there are people who do go back home without managing to obtain a graduate degree.
When you come to Japan you are what they call here a research student. By working at the laboratory of the professor who accepted you and also having the right to attend any classes you desire you are just like a Master/PhD student with the big difference of not being able to obtain any points towards a degree.
In order to become a master student while still being supported by the scholarship you have to notify MEXT that you would like to proceed to master student status in a university and actually take the entrance exams for that university. If you pass them AND if you get the actual extension from MEXT you are okay to go and can start you graduate studies in Japan. But the problem most people here seem to be facing is the entrance exams. It depends on the university, but for the top universities and especially for the engineering field the exams are fiendishly hard . Japanese people call the exams period “Exam hell” and for a good reason. With very difficult exam subjects ranging a variety of undergraduate level topics such as Math,Physics, Electronics and Computer science it certainly is hard to get accepted.
The only advice I can give here is to find a professor who shows interest in you and your work and can help you through the exams period. By university rules the professors are not allowed to actually help but even giving you a book to study or the occasional pat in the back helps. There have been students who were totally neglected by their professors and had to face the exams all alone. Needless to say the outcome was not nice. To pass the entrance exams you need to study the topics appearing at the entrance exams as hard as you can and hope for the best. Even if you don’t pass them the first time you have 2 chances in total as a PhD applicant and 3 chances as a Master applicant, so there is no need to despair. Just study harder.
As for me I managed to pass the exams of Tokyo University after a lot of hard work and finally am about to enter the Master Program from April 2011. This was actually what drove me to write this post in the first place, thinking that it might be useful to people interested in the scholarship.
Well that was my little summary detailing the MEXT-Monbukagakusho scholarship. I hope it is helpful for any potential applicants. Finally closing I would like to thank the Japanese government for providing this wonderful opportunity to both me and all the other students I have met here in Japan.