The 3 Year Plan

Next month I graduate from The University of Texas at Austin with a bachelors degree in linguistics with departmental honors. In September I start my graduate studies in the same department at UT, where I’ll be working on my masters degree with a specialization in computational linguistics. The original plan had been to apply for the PhD program at UT after completing my masters degree, but now my plans have changed. The new plan: Keio University.

When I went back to school in the summer of 2004, I declared myself to be double majoring in computer science and Japanese. However, I discovered two years later – after finishing four semesters of Japanese and a handful of the undergraduate CS courses – that I wasn’t devoted enough to either of those majors to be able to complete a degree while working full time and raising a family. Luckily though, I took an introductory linguistics class in 2006 and discovered that I really enjoyed linguistics, so I switched my major at first to Japanese and linguistics, and then to English and linguistics, and then finally to just linguistics. But that didn’t mean that I wasn’t still interested in CS and Japanese. In fact, I found that my linguistic interests gravitated towards computational linguistics and Japanese linguistics.

I’ve had a long time interest in studying abroad in Japan, which recently led me to start looking for linguistics programs in Japan. Unfortunately, I don’t speak nearly enough Japanese to attend a Japanese university where all the courses are taught in Japanese. However, a handful of universities in Japan offer “international” degree programs now where the language of study is English. The Japanese government is providing grants and scholarships to promote these programs – especially at the graduate level – because they want to bring more international students into Japanese research universities.

While digging through lists of international graduate programs, I came across the program offered by Keio University’s Graduate School of Science and Technology. The admissions information mentioned the need to seek out an advisor before applying to the university and it provided a convenient link to look through the list of professors. While looking through this list, something interesting caught my eye:

Ohara, Kyoko Hirose Associate Professor

Research Area:

Cognitive Linguistics / Corpus Linguistics / Lexical Semantics / Contrastive analysis of Japanese and English / Natural Language Processing

Keio University

While I had seen plenty of professors with “Natural Language Processing” listed before, they were usually researching machine translation, speech recognition, or some sort of human-machine interface, usually involving robotics. However, Ohara-sensei’s research is exactly the sort of thing that I am currently working on. In fact, she is in the process of producing a Japanese version of FrameNet, which is the annotated corpus I am currently using for my honors thesis research. Also, I discovered that Keio is Japan’s top private university and was the first university in Japan, opening a few years before the Meiji revolution occurred (it is named for the era that came before the Meiji era, which was called the Keio era).

I emailed Ohara-sensei and spoke with my current advisor about the possibility of studying at Keio after I finish my masters degree. So far it looks very promising. My main deficiency is my lack of a solid understanding of Japanese. Although the program is in English, and my dissertation would be in English, I would still be studying the linguistics of Japanese, and therefore I need a much better grasp of the Japanese language. However, it will be at least 3 years before I finish my masters degree, which will give me plenty of time to improve my Japanese to a sufficient level. I also plan to do my master’s thesis on a topic involving Japanese linguistics that will allow me to make use of the Japanese FrameNet project, which should hopefully help my chances of being admitted to Keio.

After confirming that this would indeed something that I could actually do, I spoke with my wife and daughter about it and they are both onboard with the idea, as long as it is actually feasible. I’ve discovered that the Japanese government has a scholarship available to international graduate students (the same one I mentioned above) that will pay for 3 years of tuition (which is the normal length of time that a PhD takes at Keio) and provide the student with about a $1,000 a month stipend. The scholarship is competitive, but I will try to get it and hope for the best. My wife was also won over by the fact that the school mascot is a unicorn!

The Keio Mascot
The Keio Mascot

The campus I would be attending is in Yokohama, so housing should be less expensive than in Tokyo proper. Also, we hope to teach my daughter as much Japanese as possible before then and then put her in the public school system so that she can experience the culture more closely and hopefully learn to speak fluent Japanese.

Of course, this is all very preliminary at the moment, and nothing is certain. However, I’m quite serious about it and I really think it is going to happen. I’m really looking forward to spending a few years in Japan. It would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

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