Cell Architecture Laboratory, Kimura Group HAYASHI, Hanako

Dr. Hayashi Hanako enrolled in the Department of Genetics at SOKENDAI (Graduate University for Advanced Studies at the NIG) upon completing her master’s course in another university. She chose Kimura Group’s laboratory, whose research was completely different from what she had done up to her master’s course both in content and methodology. Starting thus almost from scratch, she succeeded in obtaining her doctorate in three years. Upon graduation in 2011, she landed a research scientist’s position at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB). We interviewed her and asked her about her reason for choosing the NIG, its virtues, and her current work.

Sharing interesting research, regardless of one’s specialization

Why did you choose the NIG?
I was attracted by Prof. Kimura’s work, his approach to morphological construction and his research principles that encompass not only cell biology but engineering and physics as well. Before coming to the NIG, I was involved in research that was intended to build the foundation of nano-level measurement and analysis equipment. But since I was also interested in biology, I switched to a laboratory that specialized in cell biophysics when I was working toward my master’s degree. In fact, I have been interested in biology ever since my childhood. I used to be intrigued by the diverse and complex structures of plants and animals on the beach or in the mountains, wondering how those structures were made. This feeling of wonder gradually developed into strong interest in cells, shapes of living organisms, and how they are related to functions. When I first read Prof. Kimura’s paper, his way of thinking stroke the right chord, making me want to do research with him. So I actually didn’t know much about the NIG. I chose Prof. Kimura’s laboratory, which happened to be at the NIG.
What are the research principles that encompass cell biology as well as engineering and physics like?
They boil down to the questions “what design principles exist in cells?” and “what is the dynamic foundation that determines design?” To tell you the truth, my interest in morphological construction originates from Lego bricks. I used to play with them a lot when I was a child, and I still do even today when I have time. I find it fascinating that identical components can be assembled into many different structures. Living organisms largely differ from buildings in that the components of living things undergo dynamic morphological changes. I found Prof. Kimura’s research, which aims to elucidate the design principles of dynamic morphological changes, very stimulating. After I joined the laboratory, I learned that Prof. Kimura also liked Lego. Perhaps our starting points were similar.
How was your impression of the NIG, and how was your student life?
I felt that there were many professors who were enthusiastic about teaching. Prof. Kimura and I had countless discussions. Outside the regular classes, there were many opportunities to let the entire NIG know about your research and receive feedback, such as the Progress Report (*1) and the Poster Session (*2). English classes (*3), which were part of the regular curriculum, provided another great occasion to present your research. You were supposed to learn how to present research in English, using your actual research as materials. Since classes were open to all, not just students, there was a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere, where people, regardless of their nationality or status, would come to listen to some interesting research even outside their fields of specialization.

To be honest, I don’t think that my English improved dramatically because of those lessons (laughter), but I don’t hesitate to present my research in English or take part in discussions in English. I believe that it was thanks to the English lessons that I was able to actively engage in discussions in English at scientific conferences that I attended overseas while I was at the NIG.

Being true to my own style among all kinds of researchers

It’s often said that post-doctoral researchers have difficulty finding employment and that you’re financially better off with private-sector jobs. You have become an institutional researcher upon leaving the NIG. What’s the reason for your decision?
I’m open to the possibility of working in the public sector. At the moment, I still have so much I want to do by way of research. I hope to continue doing research in an environment that would allow me to do interesting research and realize my research goals. If there is such a place abroad, I would love to go abroad to study.
I have almost never been made aware of gender differences. At the NIG, there are all kinds of researchers. Some display strong leadership and involve others around them in their projects, while others are more focused on themselves and continue their research steadily on their own. Some are women, and some are men. I don’t want to be too concerned about what the others might be thinking of me. I want to be true to my style and do my research that way.

Start over again and again; the NIG for those who truly enjoy research

What are the NIG’s positive attributes, in your opinion?
At the NIG, it’s easy to meet and talk with experienced specialists in and outside your domain because the seminars are actively attended by professors and scientists whom you can’t otherwise get to know. Those interdisciplinary interactions were in fact extraordinary. I feel very grateful for the open atmosphere at the NIG which allowed me to learn a great deal from more experienced scientists about not only specific matters relating to research but also the significance of doing research, what it means to be a research scientist, and so on. On the other hand, some people should be forewarned that Mishima has very little urban entertainment. As for me, I really appreciated that environment. I love mountain climbing. So I enjoyed hiking and going to the hot springs with others (laughter).
What would be your message to future graduate students at the NIG?
I had a hard time finalizing my orientation. I believe that while you’re a student, you should just go ahead on the path that appeals to you without thinking too much about minor advantages and disadvantages because you can still start over again and again. Still, your very final decision should be made after thorough consideration in all aspects and leave no room for excuses to yourself. For people who take true pleasure in research, it’d be a good idea to consider the Department of Genetics at SOKENDAI (Graduate University of Advanced Studies at the NIG) as their possible choice.

This interviewer sensed a parallel between one of the NIG’s characteristics, the absence of boundaries between laboratories, and Dr. Hayashi’s personal principle of listening to others attentively without prejudices in order to get to the true meaning of each message. She has continued to do research while fully enjoying it – this is probably because of her natural attitude, being true to herself in all she does, be it presenting her papers, interacting with overseas researchers, or looking for employment. Let us hope that Dr. Hayashi, who has walked into her researcher’s career with light yet steady steps, will realize all her researcher’s dreams one day.

(*1) Progress Report
In accordance with the NIG’s educational principle of instructing each graduate student with the entire faculty, each student is assigned to a Progress Report Committee which is composed of four faculty members selected in consideration of the student’s wish (the student’s academic advisor cannot be included) and which advises the student on research and other academic activities through individual interviews, oral presentations and discussions. The objective of this educational system is to broaden graduate students’ vision.
(*2) Poster Session
Held twice a year, the Poster Session enables graduate students to present their research projects on posters to be viewed by all the NIG researchers. This is the occasion on which students can discuss their research with the faculty members and researchers outside their Progress Report Committee and receive feedback and advice.
(*3) English classes
English classes are mainly taught in a dialogue style by instructors who are native English speakers to train students in skills required for scientific presentations and discussions. The classes reinforces not only linguistic abilities but also logical thinking essential for scientists.