In ‘Conahana-san of the Month’, we discuss the experiences of senior researchers who have successfully managed to balance their research/work with life events such as childbirth, child care and family care.
Today’s interview is with Professor MAO Xiaoyang, who engages in the research of computer graphics and media information science at the Faculty of Engineering.She was born in Linhai city, Zhejiang province in China, which is the cradle land of Tiantai teaching, which is the basis of Tendai that Japanese Buddhist monk Saicho brought to Japan in the Heian Period. There is quite a historical background!
Organizations: Director of the Center for International Education and Exchange, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Graduate School of Medicine and Engineering Science (Division of Engineering), University of Yamanashi
Specialty: Media Information Science / Database (computer graphics, visualization information science)
● Hello! Let me start the interview. I understand that you graduated from university in China. What was the reason you decided to go on to do a science course?
Back in those days, the science course was highly evaluated. In China, there is a proverb “学会数理化，走遍天下都不怕” which means that “anywhere in the world there is nothing to be afraid of if you are good at mathematics, physics or chemistry”. So it was regarded that “to be good at school equals to be good at science”. I didn’t want to be regarded as bad at study, and rather naturally, I went on to the science course. (lol)
● Was that so? You entered “the department of computing machinery” in the university. What was your goal when you became a university student?
In my country, it is normal that both parents have jobs, so my mother looked to me very busy with cooking and cleaning after coming back from work. Especially in winter, she had to use cold water from a communal well. So I wanted to help my parents by making a housekeeping robot at university. But in fact, I didn’t study about robots at university (lol).
● Oh, you couldn’t make it?! What did you study actually? About software or something like that?
No, no. At that time the computer was still in the early stage, and it was like perforated tapes, or something like that. The theme of my thesis was to program four arithmetic operations with real numbers, which had been possible only with integers, on a computer. I wrote a program in assembler language. In those days, “a housekeeping robot with artificial intelligence” was still just a dream.
● Oh, “perforated tapes”! It’s the history of the computer~. So you had had such a university life before you went on to the graduate school of the University of Tokyo, right?
When I took the examination for graduate school, I was lucky to take first place in the selection, and it enabled me to come to Japan by the dispatch system of the government. At first I was to go to France, but the destination was changed to Japan for some reason. Now I am happy about this change.
● France sounds somewhat cool, but are you happier to be here?
Yes♪ Thanks to that, I was able to encounter my husband, a good work environment and kind people to help me. (^^)
● Is your husband Japanese?
Yes, he is. I married him soon after I completed my doctoral course.
● Where did you know him first?
Actually, he was a member of my laboratory at the graduate school.
● What?! Does it mean that you have the same profession, and the same speciality?
Yes, now he is teaching at another university.
●Superb! But there would be a possibility of fighting because of having the same speciality. (lol)
We often argue over the topics related to research (lol). But we understand each other about how we struggle with the work, so it’s very comfortable to be together. I understand how he wants to get immersed in writing a paper, so I can cooperate with him, and we can go to academic meetings together.
● I see! You and your husband are work fellows in and out of home! It sounds great to have such partners! But wasn’t it hard for you to take care of your children when they were small?
You could say so, but I’ve been very lucky with the people around me and I got over it thanks to them. As a matter of fact, I became pregnant when I was in charge of a project in a firm. I had a strong feeling that I wouldn’t cause trouble to my colleagues, and it made me work a little too hard. Eventually it upset my health. I had planned to work just before my delivery but at a periodical check, I was immediately hospitalized, and stayed there until I and my baby were discharged. I was happy that both of us were safe but I felt really sorry that I troubled my colleagues more than I had expected.
● It must have been hard. But you wouldn’t mind it so much, do you? Your work must be important, but childbearing was more important…
After such inconvenience and my maternity leave, everybody kindly welcomed my return to work. I am fortunate to have nice people around me, I appreciate that. Then I had my second child, and again I was helped by my friends and my parents (from China) to overcome the period. Since I came to Japan, I’ve been helped by many people. The people in the department of this university have been generous and tolerant with me, a foreigner involved in child-raising. I’ve been grateful, and have always hoped to return the favor.
● People are kind to Prof. Mao maybe because she has such a courteous consideration!
Well, next time we will introduce the child-rearing practice by her and her husband.