Student Intern Interview: Sean To

Student Intern Profile

Sean To
Internship at:
Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST)
Fall 2014

Q1Why did you choose to intern at OIST?

Sean This internship really stood out because OIST is a graduate university of science and technology and it gave me a chance to try something new, which was journalism.

Q2 What are some of your responsibilities at the internship?

Sean Very recently, I compiled a huge list of publications edited by the Communication & Public Relations Division that haven’t been accepted to journals yet. Now we are in the process of tracking down these professors to talk about the progress on their papers and we are also interviewing the professors whose research has been accepted at journals. Everything is up to us when it comes to publishing stories. We get the manuscripts – the original research publications – and I read these carefully beforehand and I try to understand them as well as I can before I go to the professor to ask questions. Then, we usually have at least two interviews. The first one is just to go over anything that I can’t understand. Then I’ll write a very rough draft and bring it back in for a follow-up interview. I’m also involved in the editing process with my managers.

We have to do everything on the website as well. So once the writing is solid and the draft is good, we send it to either the in-house translators or outsource it for translation. When we get that back and the Japanese is checked, we put the article up on the website.

Q3 What have been some of the challenges you faced during your internship?

Sean One problem is dealing with professors who are not as social as others. Sometimes you will have professors who rebuff you or are constantly busy. They might be managing one of the bigger labs and have a lot of people to monitor. Trying to get some face time with them is difficult, but it’s part of the job. So, if you can’t do that, everything in the office just grinds to a halt.

The other challenge is encountering a story that is just so incredibly technical that you feel out of your depth. I had one of those recently with a publication from the Mathematical Soft Matter Unit. About 40 percent of the paper was math – just equations. Trying to make sense of that and make it into a not just coherent, but interesting story was quite difficult. I had to really focus on practical applications and do a lot of follow-ups with the professor. We were able to finally pin down something that this could be applied towards and it came out quite nicely in the end.

I’m saving the drafts and edits that were made to all of my articles and that is something I’m looking forward to looking back on and learning from. I’m just happy this experience has made me a better writer. I thought I was a good writer when I came here, but I learned there were many things I could do to improve.

I have absolutely no regrets at all. This internship was everything I wanted and more.

Q4 What are some of the activities an intern can get involved in at OIST?

Sean After work activities are only limited by the intern’s time and interests. I joined the Aikido club, which was a subset of the greater martial arts club at OIST. We trained every Monday night for two hours. There are dance clubs, video game clubs, movie nights – the list goes on and on. Of course, there are lots of things to do off-campus as well if you can get a car. Rental cars are available for interns for free on a first-come-first-served basis after paying a one-time fee of 3,000 yen. The more friends you make, the more doors open up in terms of after work activities.

Q5 What are you planning to do after the internship?

Sean I will be going back to Tokyo to work. Probably the first job I get will be English instruction, but I’ve been able to make some connections through this internship with other universities looking at setting up programs similar to OIST. I would be very interested in getting involved in that.

I’m still considering graduate school. I’ve changed my views on what a professor is. There was a long stint where I thought I would like to be a professor, but having seen how widely variable the day can be makes me seriously reconsider. Some professors are able to split their time between research and students, while others are in meeting rooms all day and are not able to do hard science. Maybe I want to do research or maybe writing grants is something that I could be good at. This experience has given me a lot of insight that I wouldn’t have had without coming here. Talking with my peers about future career plans is good up to a point. But a lot of it is speculation. To be in a place and actually interact with people at all different levels of graduate university work was, I think, of tremendous value. I would say that is on par with the practical job experience.

Q6 How do you envision your internship experience helping you in the future?

SeanThis internship is going to narrow my focus for graduate school. Seeing the day-to-day life for Ph.D. students, post-doctoral scholars, professors, and lab technicians gives me a better idea of where I want to go and where I would be the most comfortable in an institution like this. You hear a lot of mixed stories about being a Ph.D. student, but at the same time it has really strengthened my ambitions to be a graduate student. I do very much still want to be a graduate student. I’m not sure if I will stop at a master’s or continue on to a Ph.D. or go straight into a Ph.D. program, but this experience is something that has really influenced me. Career-wise, it does reinforce the idea that I want to be involved in science. Even if I were to stay as a writer, it would be in science communications. I enjoy being well-read and keeping up with the news.

Q7 Would you recommend this internship to other TUJ students?

SeanThis internship has turned out to be even more than I had anticipated. It’s always interesting. You are never bored because one day you’re working on cellular biology and the next you’re working on quantum physics, so it’s always different. If you have even the slightest interest in science, even just a little bit, I think this is a fantastic place to be. You’re going to be around a lot of very sharp, well-educated people. You’re going to make friends with everybody, from the newest students all the way up to professors who are world renowned in their fields. So it’s a very good place to expose yourself more to science in general. I highly encourage anybody who is considering continuing their education in a science direction to come here. This has been a fantastic opportunity for me.

Note: You can read the articles Sean published during his internship here.

Sean's Daily Schedule

Time Activity
9:00 Division meeting
10:00 Web meeting with media section
10:45 Reading manuscripts in the library
12:00 Lunch
13:00 Writing or editing articles, conducting an interview, arranging interviews, or taking photos
17:30 Work ends; Aikido club

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