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Learning to trust myself

Profile of Jemma Kim

Jemma Kim
Master of Laws (2004), Doctor of Laws (2008)
Jemma Kim is currently a Senior Assistant Professor at the School of Global Japanese Studies, Meiji University.
*The text below is an English translation of an article published in an email magazine by the Career Support Office, Hitotsubashi University in December 2012.

 Kim completed her master’s degree in the Department of Regional Studies of Japan, International Graduate School, Korea University in 2000. She came to Japan in 2001 and after studying politics at the Graduate School of Social Sciences, Tokyo Metropolitan University as a student under the Japanese Government (Monbukagakusho) Scholarship program, she entered the master’s program of the Graduate School of Law, Hitotsubashi University in 2002, and advanced to its doctoral program in 2004. She completed the doctoral program in March 2008 (course doctor; theme of her dissertation was “Domestic politics regarding Japan’s FTA Policy”). Her supervisor was Professor Ryo Oshiba.

After working as a COE researcher in the Graduate School of Law, Hitotsubashi University, from 2008 to 2009 and as an assistant professor at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University, from 2009 to 2011, she became a full-time instructor at the Faculty of Foreign Languages, Kansai Gaidai University in April 2011, while working at the same time as a visiting assistant professor at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University.

Kim’s research theme is international relations, in particular, politics and economy related to Free Trade Agreement (hereinafter referred to as “FTA”) in East Asia. Her major publications include “Domestic Politics regarding Japan’s FTA Policy - An Analysis of the JSEPA Negotiation Process,” Hitotsubashi Journal of Law and International Studies 7 (3), 2008, “Governance reconsidered in Japan: Searching for new paradigms in the global economic downturn,” Korean Journal of Policy Studies 25 (1), 2010, an edited book “Globalization and Asian Regional Integration” (Keiso Shobo, 2012), and a co-authored book “Development of Asian Regional Integration” (Keiso Shobo, 2011).

* The following interview article has been edited for the purpose of the e-mail newsletter.

Starting point of her academic career in Japan

Q: Ms. Kim, how did you start your study in Japan?

A: I came to Japan as one of students under the Japanese Government (Monbukagakusho) Scholarship programs. As information to help the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) assign a supervisor to me, I submitted a proposal on multilateral security, which was my research theme in the master’s program at Korea University. Then the MEXT introduced me to Professor Jun Ishida in the Faculty of Law, Tokyo Metropolitan University, (currently, a professor at the University of Tokyo) as my supervisor. At the time, I didn’t know that he was such a renowned scholar.

Q:You entered the master’s program of Hitotsubashi University after studying in the graduate school of Tokyo Metropolitan University for one year. Did you already have a plan to become a researcher at the time?

A:Since government-sponsored foreign students can receive a scholarship until they complete their doctoral programs (up to seven years), I naturally planned to advance to a doctoral program from the beginning. I completed a master’s program in Korea, so I wanted to directly enter a doctoral program. Although the system is different now, at the time, there was a tacit understanding that foreign students cannot receive a MEXT scholarship unless they go through the entire process, that is, they start from being research students and go on to a master’s program and then finally to a doctoral program. Moreover, while I had studied politics and economy in the Department of Regional Studies of Japan, International Graduate School, Korea University, I thought that my basic knowledge on international relations was not sufficient, and my supervisor advised me that I should first acquire a thorough understanding of the basics in international relations. So, I decided to start from a master’s program to learn the basics.

Q: Did you already have a plan to complete a doctoral program and work at a Japanese university when you entered the master’s program?

A: No. My first plan was to earn a PhD in Japan, but I did not have any idea after that. I decided to find a research job in Japan when I was in the fourth year in the doctoral program.

Q: What made you want to work in Japan?

A:Recently, so many Koreans study abroad and earn a graduate degree in Japan or in the United States. Therefore, even if they come home with a doctoral degree, it is extremely difficult for them to find university faculty positions. Besides, compared to Japan, public recruitment is so rare that it is said that getting a job through public recruitment is as difficult as going through the eye of a needle. When I was a doctoral student, I was advised to first obtain some work experience in Japan before going back to Korea to seek a faculty career, which made me decide to find a job in Japan. After I started working in a Japanese university, however, I found that the research environment in Japan was far better than that in Korea. Since I had no trouble adapting to Japan as I had lived here as a child and feel like living in my second hometown, not in a foreign country, I have come to think that I should live here permanently.

Dig deeper and share research results in multiple languages

Q:Let me ask you about sharing your research achievements. The reason why you write your paper in English is for the sake of your future career?

A: Since I specialize in international relations, I thought writing papers only in Japanese would narrow my academic horizons. This is why I have written my papers in English, Japanese, and Korean. No other particular reason.

Q: Where and how did you acquire academic English writing skills?

A: I always liked English and participated in English training programs and student exchange programs when I was a university student. However, I think I acquired English writing skills mainly by reading many English references. I also think that I acquired the skills through two years of graduate study at Korea University where all courses are conducted in English. I had to make presentations and write reports in English and so, I think that these two years of study served greatly to improve my English skills.

Q: Despite the fact that many foreign students choose their countries or regions as themes of their papers and that you specialize in international relations, you chose Japan as the target of your research. Could you tell us why you chose Japan?

A: I used to think that I came to Japan, so I should study Japan. At the time, I was interested in Japanese politics and economics, particularly policy decision makers. Therefore, it was natural for me to choose Japan as the subject of my research and in research on such a theme, I cannot obtain substantial results unless I stay in Japan long enough. However, I do not intend to limit my research to Korean or Japanese FTA policy. I plan to thoroughly pursue Japan’s FTA policy as a theme for my doctoral dissertation and after earning a doctoral degree, I will expand my research target to the comparison between Korean FTA policy and Japanese FTA policy. To tell the truth, I intended to make a comparative study of FTA policies between Korea and Japan at the beginning. However, my supervisor told me that it is very difficult to carry through a comparative study, and that for a doctoral dissertation, students should make a thorough pursuit of a theme in a restricted area. I agreed with my supervisor’s views and decided to focus only on Japan for my doctoral dissertation.

Q: When foreign researchers conduct regional research, I think that they inevitably become conscious of researchers in the target region. By restricting the target of your doctoral dissertation to Japan, how did you leverage your advantage as a foreigner?

A: I didn’t think that way, because I thought that quality is what counts most in dissertations. However, people around me told me the same thing, such as “If you choose Korea as your research target, you can finish a dissertation much faster” and “You know there are many researchers who do research on Japan.” However, my research involved the process of policy making and almost no other researchers have used the method of interviewing policy decision makers in the field of Japanese FTAs at the time. In this sense, I thought I had an advantage. Other advantages as a foreigner are that I was able to interpret what interviewees said more objectively and that the interviewees, who were directly involved in the policies of Japan, lowered their guard against me because I was a foreigner. I think these are some of the advantages of foreign researchers researching on Japan.

Maintaining a balance between job hunting and research activities

Q: Let me ask you about your job hunting activities. You first worked as an assistant professor at Waseda University. What do you think were decisive factors in hiring you?

A: In the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University, there was a global COE for East Asian studies called the Global Institute for Asian Regional Integration. While I was employed as an assistant professor specializing in economic integration, I think my experience in FTA studies served as the most decisive factor in hiring me. I heard later that my being a Korean and my good Japanese and English proficiency were also highly appreciated.

Q: How may research jobs other than the assistant professorship at Waseda University did you apply for?

A: I submitted a huge number of applications. Since the term limit for my job at the Hitotsubashi COE was one year, I submitted 12 to 13 applications for research jobs during the term. I sent applications if there was any glimpse of hope, although some seemed to have almost no prospect for me.

Q: Did you mean that you began applying for research jobs after you became a Hitotsubashi COE researcher?

A: When I became a COE researcher, I did not think about the future at the beginning. I thought I had to write papers since I had not published many papers before then, so I committed myself to writing papers for about one year. But as the end of my term at the COE approached, I suddenly realized that I needed to find my next job and consulted my supervisor about my future. The supervisor said that I needed to continue both research and a job search. I sent applications to Japanese universities and for postdoctoral positions in the United States. It was a hectic time. I wished that any one of them would offer me a job.

Q: You said you did not apply for any research job during the first year as an assistant professor. Was it because you were too busy with educational and research work?

A: I didn’t apply for any jobs because I was too busy with my research. Moreover, I had a strong desire to publish my papers. For the first year, I had objectives to attend big academic meetings, such as the meetings of the International Studies Association in the United States, the world’s largest association in the field of international relations, and make a report at the meetings of the Political Studies Association in England and the Korean Associations of International Studies, under the support and grant of the COE. I thought that unless I accumulated academic achievements, I would not be able to go anywhere from there. I was also working on a co-authored book at the time, so I decided to commit myself to my research for the first year. I thought that if I tried applying for research jobs and doing research at the same time, I would not be able to complete either of them. Since it takes so much time and energy to apply for jobs, I decided to concentrate on my research.

Difficulties in and ideas for conducting classes in English

Q: Next questions are about your current job. How many course hours do you teach per week at Kansai Gaidai University? How many of these classes are given in English?

A: I have eight course hours per half year and teach all classes in the undergraduate program for freshmen to seniors in English. I teach classes on international relations, regional studies, and a special lecture on FTAs.

Q: I think it is not easy for students to take classes or study liberal arts and major subjects in English. What difficulties did you have in teaching these classes in English?

A: I have a class on international relations for freshmen. While I want to teach it thoroughly, students, who have just graduated from high school, are not familiar with English classes, and they don’t know what international relations are all about to begin with. They all look puzzled at the beginning. So, I try to repeat the same thing again and again in each class. For example, I present a study schedule for the entire semester at the beginning of each class and then explain the content of what they will learn on the day. In other words, after showing them what they will learn in the semester, I point out the topic of the day by saying, “Today, we will learn the second item” or “This is what we will learn today” to position them in the right place. I make it a rule to teach theories first and then specific cases. Students in the class have varying levels of English proficiency: there are foreign students, Japanese students who have returned from abroad, and “pure” Japanese students who have never lived abroad. Since most students are not native English speakers, I used to teach easy-to-understand items by using simple terms. I soon realized, however, that it was not the right way. So, I decided to teach everything I wanted to teach in each class and then tried to explain it in an easy-to-understand manner, such as by using Apple Inc. as an example or using illustrations and photos. It is very difficult to teach difficult subjects in an easy-to-understand manner. However, it is the responsibility or duty of teachers.

Use affirmative words and listen to others’ opinions

Q: In closing, would you give some advice to your juniors?

A: What I really want to tell my juniors is that words do have power. When I was a graduate student, I always talked about depressing things with my seniors who were unemployed PhD holders, such as “What if I cannot complete my doctoral dissertation” or “What if I cannot find a job after obtaining a PhD?” My attitude was negative as I often thought that I would never make it. I think you should stop talking negatively. It is important that you make yourself believe in yourself or autosuggest yourself to success by using not negative or pessimistic words, but affirmative words.

 Another important thing is…I think now that I was a real FTA geek during my graduate school days. I studied only FTAs. While I concentrated on the topic as I was very much interested in it, I think now that it is not a good practice for a scholar. When I participate in a study group not related to FTAs, such as a history group, I find that there are many things that I don’t know, which is embarrassing as a scholar. So, I encourage my juniors to read a wide variety of books while they are graduate students and listen carefully to the reports of other researchers. Since each member in a seminar has different interests, listen to what they have to say. I think that it is a good practice for you to choose and read at least one main research report or paper from the preceding studies listed in a resume. By doing so, you can naturally accumulate knowledge related to your specialized and surrounding fields. I think that what talks in the field of research is the number of papers you have read.

 Once you obtain a degree and became an independent researcher, no one will give you advice on your research work. As an independent researcher, I am responsible for carrying out my research, and I am expected to know everything about it. However, when you are in the doctoral program, you can get lots of advice from different sources as you are still students, which will help you deepen or expand your analytical framework for research. If you keep looking at your own research all by yourself, you kind of forget the significance of others’ views. However, since I often experience that a simple comment from a person in a different field points to the core of my problem, I advise you to maintain a network of personal connections and keep a positive attitude toward your research.


What most impressed me through this interview was Ms. Kim’s sincere attitude toward research and education and unflagging effort toward her goals. I believe that you can learn a lot from Ms. Kim, who continues ongoing efforts toward research of higher quality without being content with her talent in language skills, including Japanese, Korean, and English. In the midst of society where finding a research job is becoming increasingly difficult, you need to maintain a positive attitude and continue absorbing specialized knowledge and conducting your research diligently without getting pessimistic, as Ms. Kim has told us. I hope that this interview has communicated the significance of an insatiable desire for research and tolerance for different views. While it is difficult to maintain the researcher ethos in the midst of severe competition that also prevails in the academic world, Ms. Kim’s advice seems to show a way to go back to our original purposes.

Interviewer: Yutaka Sato (Instructor, Career Support Office)