Organization: Professor of Emeritus of theOchanomizuUniversity, Professor of the Endowed Research Division of Human Welfare Sciences, Council Member of the Science Council ofJapan
Field of study: cell biology, biochemistry
● You had a baby when you were about to start a significant career as a researcher. How did you feel when you found out about the baby? Did you feel worried or confused about how it would impact on your research activity?
I was happy! I was so happy as I love children♪ At the time, my husband was offered to work in the United States so we moved together with our eight-month-old son. I didn’t hesitate to move at all. Once we got over there, I found out that there were more advanced systems of babysitters and kindergarten, and the baby was welcome when I took him to the work place. The only thing is that my son doesn’t remember living in theUnited Statesat all because he was too small (lol). As I mentioned in the lecture, I recommend going abroad while you are young. Western countries are good for taking a child, too.
● I heard that you were a research member at university in the United States and had a precious experience there.
That’s right. I belonged to a lab of Doctor Sarah Ratner. She is an excellent female researcher and it is said that she could have become a female Nobel Prize winner if it had been a different time. She taught me a lot of skills as a researcher (lol) and always indicated my previous way would not work out any more. For instance she advised me that being understood only by myself was not good enough and when errors were too big to make other people convinced. One day, we were having a discussion but we needed to end it by5 p.m. I was sure that I thought correctly but Sarah was not satisfied yet. The time was up for the day but both of us were not fully satisfied with the discussion. But I spent the weekend with my family, feeling totally refreshed and when I arrived at work on Monday, Sarah called me. She said “Kimiko, you were right in the discussion on Friday. I was wrong.” I was so surprised and touched to hear her words because a real Nobel-Prize level researcher like Sarah corrected herself and apologized to one of her assistant researchers like me. She was thinking over my opinion even throughout the weekend and was ready to let me know her opinion first thing on Monday! It made me realize that a vertical relationship does not define everything in theUnited States. One example is that we called each other by first names, not by job title, at the work place. It was a truly wonderful environment.
● Having such an experience should be one of the reasons that you recommend going abroad while young. Did anything happen when you decided to come back toJapan?
It was a schedule of my husband’s job. I was catching up well at work in Sarah’s lab and my colleagues suggested that I stay with my child. But I chose to come back toJapanas a whole family as I couldn’t see other options such as taking care of the baby alone or with family members living apart. After that, I spent three years of “low-altitude flight” before coming back to Ochanomizu as a teaching assistant.
● You mentioned a little bit about the time of the“low-altitude flight.” I think that anybody can have an “unfortunate period of time” in life (lol). How did you get it over in your case?
I enjoyed good food and did exercise through Japanese dance. It was helpful to have something I could concentrate on besides my job. The best thing was that I had good friends, friends to go to restaurants, friends with which to learn Japanese dancing. I also had colleagues who told me that they would listen to me whenever I needed. My husband was kind enough to listen to my grumbling the whole night and encouraged me. As I truly feel that I am blessed through encounters with people, I believe it’s very important to cooperate with or support each other.
● You went back to the Ochanomizu University after that. I was a bit surprised to learn how you chose your research theme there. You guessed the amount of research funding from your age (career) and also considered the age of your child.
Yes, I did. I was 35 years old and my child was three and a half years old. It meant that the research fund was going to be small and that I didn’t want to stay at work until late. However, the theme had to be something that could gain enough funding for students in the team. So we avoided using animals or human cultivation cells due to the high maintenance costs, then instead, chose true slime molds because we could cultivate them cheaply. High molecular weight compounds are interesting but we chose low molecular weight compounds because experiments of high molecular weight compounds sometimes could go as long as overnight. Then we started experiments to look for some low molecular weight compounds that had interesting bioactivity.
Since we got started like that, it took a long time until we had reached cyclic phosphatidic acid (cPA). It took two years to isolate an animal cell from a true slime mold as a substance that impeded multiplication (PHYLPA). Then it took another seven years to determine its structure and release a paper. The total number of schales we used was 2700. We worked, worked and worked, made an honest effort day by day. But once we started, we never had the option of giving up. That may be the key to success.
●2700 schales!! Patience is important for doing a research (phew). I believe that your “I can’t stop doing experiments” attitude lead you to the discovery of cPA. Lastly, would you give a message to female readers of researchers and future researchers?
If you have a child and want to become a researcher, from my own experience, I recommend going abroad with your child. It’s natural to have a babysitter especially in Western countries. There are some people who don’t recommend leaving a child to someone else because the child feels sad, but I think differently. Take your child to many places and let them meet with various people as I believe that it’s more important experience for the child than always being alone with their mother. Leaving a child to somebody else never means that they feel sad. So don’t worry about leaving your child and think about how to make a fruitful time when you can spend time with your child. That’s a better way both for your baby and for yourself. It’s not that you have to choose between your job or your child. Stop choosing and do whatever you want.
● Thank you very much!
Finally, I asked if there was a very last particular message.
The letter c of “cPA” is a small letter “c” because it’s c as cyclic just like as in other names such as cAMP. Some people mistakenly say “CPA,” but that’s not correct unfortunately.
Please be careful!