Content of the study program
By using the Top Global University Project (SGU), I undertook study abroad for approximately four months at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pennsylvania, America. During my stay, I was accepted in a research group led by Dr. Kris Kitani of the Robotics Institute and Dr. Chieko Asakawa of IBM Research, where I worked on research supporting people with visual impairment.
We proposed and set up a movement support system for people with visual impairment, the purpose of which was to avoid collisions between visually impaired people and pedestrians in crowded environments. We conducted an evaluation experiment in which the proposed system was actually used by visually impaired people at an international airport and confirmed that the number of collisions between pedestrians and the visually impaired people was reduced substantially through the use of the proposed system. Furthermore, although the period I was supported by SGU was three months, my stay was extended by a further three weeks (the cost of the stay was covered by the local laboratory), and I submitted the details of our research in a paper to CHI, the greatest international conference in the field of human-computer interaction. Although it was a short stay of four months, it was thanks to the generous support of the local researchers, that I was able to achieve everything from the proposal of the system through to writing the paper, as an entire research project. (The paper was selected by CHI without issue, and is scheduled for presentation in Glasgow, Scotland in May 2019.)
My experience abroad
To me, this was my first experience of staying a long time overseas, not to mention of living alone. Fortunately, I have many seniors in my lab in Japan who have experience of living overseas for long periods, and because the support in the SGU program was comprehensive, I was able to carry out my advance preparations without any problems. Even after I arrived at my destination, I was blessed by support from the people around me, and could spend my time comfortably, with no inconvenience. Pittsburgh is a somewhat lacking in terms of tourism, and there are few temptations, so it is the best environment for throwing myself into research. If I had just one recreation, it was the beer that is produced by small breweries, called microbreweries (what we call ‘craft beer’ in Japan). There were two other researchers in the lab that love beer, so with them, I would go around the breweries whenever we had to stop our research for some reason (in particular, the beer I drank when research stopped, such as after the evaluation experiment ended, was exceptional). (The photograph shows me healing my fatigue from daily research with some delicious Pittsburgh beer).
Influence on my future career
Before my study abroad, I intended to find employment after I graduated from my Master’s course, and never considered candidacy for advancing to a doctoral course. However, during my stay, I was asked numerous times by various people “are you interested in going onto a PhD?” and began to think about it as an option. I think the fact that I was able to have this experience of advancing my research together with world-class researchers, and submitting a paper to a top conference, has had a substantial impact on me.
I am extremely grateful for the support I received from SGU for my stay. I was able to dedicate myself to my research activities without harbouring any financial concerns, thanks to the support of the SGU program. It was impressive, in that every time I spoke about the details of the support I was receiving, at my destination, those around me were surprised at the level of generosity. It was not only monetary support either; I am grateful as well, to the kind support of everyone at SGU, beginning with Mr. Ikeda. Without this support, I feel I would not have been able to realize this stay overseas. I ask that you continue this kind of support system into the future, so that many more students are given the chance to be actively involved in research abroad.