This Month’s Cono Hana-san March Issue (Part 1)
In “This Month’s Cono Hana-san” section, we will be introducing senior predecessors who have balanced various life events such as childbirth, child rearing, and long-term family care with their research activities, as well as their contribution as a role model for researchers.
In this issue we will be introducing Ms. Miho Aoyagi, a former University of Yamanashi student who currently resides at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry as a member of the research staff. Ms. Aoyagi is actually a regular reader of this section and admits that what she reads here is helpful in designing her own career!
Alma Mater : University of Yamanashi Faculty of Engineering, Department of Computer Science and Media Engineering (the antecedent of the current Department of Computer Science and Technology), Master’s and Doctor’s Course for the Interdisciplinary Education of Medical Engineering, majoring in Medical Science.
Professional Affiliation : Research Staff of the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, Cooperative Staff of the University of Yamanashi, Faculty of Medicine Research Team.
・Hello! Thank you for joining us today! So, let me start by asking you about your university entrance exams. What made you choose the Department of Computer Science and Media Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering as your future studies?
As a highschool student, I was interested in biotechnology within the field of biology and in research activities such as DNA. But I chose that department because I wanted to learn about computers and computer programming since I thought that such knowledge would become necessary in any field of studies and would become a valuable skill.
・Didn’t you consider the field of liberal arts as one of your options for your future studies?
No, not really. To a certain degree, knowledge pertaining to liberal arts or humanity can be gained simply by reading books. But when it came to computers, I was a complete amateur, even asking myself “What does programming even mean?” I wanted to learn something new and something that would be useful in my future career.
・How was it, after you actually enrolled there?
It was much tougher than I had imagined! We immediately started off with a class concerning computer language! I knew that the studies for the major I chose would center around the “development” of computer systems and NOT about utilizing them. So I braced myself for the classes I would be taking even before I entered the university. Up until then, the only time I even touched a computer was when I surfed through the internet or when I used the e-mail. For someone like me, dealing with computer programs that process logics on the computer screen was very difficult and demanding at first. Moreover, many of my classmates already had some specialized knowledge regarding computers and had some prior experience creating computer systems and assembling computers. I felt very out of place.
・Oh, that must’ve been very hard for you (>_<).
I’m not so much an adroit person as to say “a word to the wise is enough.” So I had to earnestly and intently deal with the programming process. In other words, I had to learn it the hard way. Especially during my earlier years, I had to print out the entire programming process and literally jot down the details and explanations of each command, such as “this here does this” and “that there does that”. I wrote down every single explanation of the commands in the space between the lines of each command. That was pretty much the only way I could analyze and understand how each of the commands connected with each other to build a single program. So in the beginning, it was an extremely tedious and time consuming task, and it felt as though I was going nowhere. But as the days went by, I started to understand the intricate process and began keeping up with the rest of the class. By the time we were writing our dissertations, some of my classmates came to ME for some advice when their program didn’t run correctly.
Well, yes. I also thoroughly enjoyed the basic classes and the general compulsory courses just as much as the specialized courses, so I took as many classes that I could. It’s so much fun to learn about so many different things, isn’t it♪? I earned much more than the requisite credits needed for graduation. In fact, I earned the maximum number of credits possible in our department when I graduated (Yes, I’m bragging, ha ha ha (＾＾)v ) At the time, University of Yamanashi had just merged with the Medical School and it was memorable the way many of the teachers from various classes mentioned that from now on, the field of medicine and engineering must come together to conduct interdisciplinary research.
・Afterwards, what made you decide to go on to graduate school?
It was sort of a result of so many different thoughts…For instance, many of my classmates were considering taking up a job as system engineers or programmers, but I thought that a job that had me sitting in front of the computer all day wasn’t from me. Also, after studying about algorithm at the Faculty of Computer Science and Media Engineering, I became able to organize my thoughts and perspectives of various matters more efficiently. Another thing that I realized was that my initial interest for biology and research related occupation never did go away. After all, it was something I had longed to do ever since highschool. I was also convinced that by choosing IT and biotechnology as my majors, I would be able to draw up unique ideas of my own. IT and biotechnology appear to be two subjects at both extremes and by taking up the two, I felt that it would allow me to come up with exclusive and curious hypotheses. From the perspective of research approach, IT and biotechnology seem to be at both extremes. But when you actually think about it, both computers and humans are made up of complex systems so the basic foundation is actually quite similar. I find that to be very compelling. It becomes even more interesting when you take into consideration that both of them “learn” and “grow”! One of the major technological researches to bring computers closer to humans is artificial intelligence. Since I had an interest in biology, I often compared computers and humans while I listened to my lecture classes. Processes and movements of the CPU can be compared to the processes of the human brain, and it was intriguing to inquire close into the difference of parallelism and collective behavior, as well as electronic circuits and neural circuits. That’s when I found out about the “Master’s course for graduate students outside of the Faculty of Medicine,” and it sparked me, “That’s it!”
・Going into the field of medicine from the field of computers…That seems to be quite a leap. The fields of studies are so different. Did you have to prepare yourself for this?
Yes, well, it does seem to be extreme. But I find words such as “dissimilar fields” and “out of the ordinary” quite fascinating. It seems as though I’m studying about two totally unrelated matters, but at some point, it connects. I enjoy the sense of scattered lines coming together to become a plane. Sometimes when I’m reading specialized books of various subjects, or when I’m listening to academic discussions, there are moments when I can associate them with what I learned in the past. And that’s not just between IT and biotechnology. It’s that moment when I feel “Right! What I learned back then, can be put into use here too!” In actual research activities, the process of taking apart difficult matters and resolving them in systematical, logical matter, a process that I took up in the IT field, proved to be very useful. When pursuing life science research, the skill to elucidate the inner mechanism of some sort of physiological, pathological phenomena is required. It is something like the expertise to logically perceive the content of a black box. In my case, I feel that the aptitude to subjectively consider the logical process of resolving such matters (for example, taking into consideration what kind of research is specifically needed, and imagining what sort of problems may emerge from the result) was cultivated back in my days as a student of computer science, when I was developing and putting together a computer program.
・How interesting! I guess the important point here is “the moment when lines become a plane”♪ We heard how Ms. Aoyagi continues to expand her range of knowledge with enthusiasm. In our next issue, we will ask her about the details of her present research and how she images herself in her future career! Please stay tuned!