First of all, I would like to apologise if this is in the wrong place. I have seen questions of a similar nature posted here before, and frankly I'm rather desperate right now, so this my best bet at getting some advice.

My situation

I am doing a Master’s degree abroad at an international program at a Japanese university that is known for being 'international'. My field of study is theoretical particle physics, and I am nearing the end of my 1st year. I have been at this institute since my undergraduate years, and enrolled in the graduate program via 'entry by recommendation', meaning I did not have to take any examinations. I am also the only pure physics student in my cohort, and I am the first and only international student doing theoretical particle physics (the international program started in 2010).

I also feel like some of my undergraduate experience could be relevant to this post. For those who think it’s not necessary, please skip this paragraph. After taking general courses with other international students of different majors in the first year and a half, I started having to take specialised courses for my own major – physics. However, most of these courses simply consisted of students being assigned sections from a textbook to be presented to the rest of the class each week. At the time we had at most 6 students including exchange students at each class. There were also no exercises given out, and when we asked the lecturer for references, they would simply reply with “any introductory textbook will suffice”. One of them even told me to not ask him questions as the class in question (classical mechanics) was not his field of specialty (experimental astrophysics). I also did not realise how subpar my course was structured until I came across enough lecture materials online from other universities around the world to supplement my own learning. I also had to give 3 hour long presentations/lectures to my supervising professor and a post-doctoral researcher each week from a textbook I was told to self-study by the research lab I joined in the first semester of my 4th year. I then did research for my bachelor’s thesis under the supervision of the post-doctoral researcher for the latter half of my 4th year.

Here are a few problems I am facing:

Being in an international program, my curriculum explicitly states that lectures and research are to be conducted in English. However, language remains a problem - everyone else in my research lab is Japanese, but only 2 or 3 senior members (including the supervising professor) has enough command over the English language to engage in academic discussion with me. Although my Japanese is at a level where I am comfortable with using it in everyday conversations, I find it extremely difficult to have academic discussions, or listen to technical presentations/lectures in Japanese. As a result, there aren't many people I can go to when I have a problem related to coursework, class, or research.

In addition to this, our lab has mandatory biweekly seminars, where students take turns giving presentations on a journal article of their choice. These presentations are however all done in Japanese (with the exception of mine), and as these are mandatory, I have to sit through 4 hours of Japanese presentations every week, of which I understand very little.

To make matters worse, my current research is not supervised by my supervising professor, but by a post-doctoral researcher whose term ends this coming April. Previously, when I have had questions for my supervising professor, he would refer me to a senior member (post-doctoral researcher or doctoral student), citing that he is busy.

At this point I have the impression that he does not have much interest in supervising any of his students as they are all either being ‘supervised’ by a senior member of the lab, or are doing research alone (even for Master’s students). Furthermore, at a recent socialising event that our lab participated in, my professor openly admitted to “not actually teaching” his students, and that in our lab “students just kind of get by”, and “as for those who don’t, well…”. (This is probably referring to the 3 students that have dropped out since I joined this lab)

From what I have gathered, within theoretical particle physics there are many research sub-fields to pursue, but I do not know which are worth pursuing, or which have topics that are suitable for research at the Master’s level. I thus find this lack of guidance extremely frustrating. Unfortunately, there is no one to address these issues to.

In regards to my research topic, although this could be chalked up to my ignorance, I have felt that my research is hitting a dead end, and have at least twice brought up the possibility of moving on to a new research topic to the supervising post-doctoral researcher. Every time he simply smirks and tells me “let’s try a bit more”. This is after much discussion on what direction the current topic should be taken in, including technicalities which have so far not been solved. Only recently has he suggested that maybe we should move on to a different topic, and this is one month before I have to submit a Master’s thesis research proposal. Personally, I have been working on this topic since research for my bachelor’s thesis and have been wanting to move on to something else for a while. Note also that what I consider lack of training in my undergraduate years does not help this situation.

Attempts at solving these problems

I have thought of bringing up these issues with my professor before, but I haven't done so for two reasons:

  • I don't want these to end up as "complaints", which would eventually sour our relationship, and would be disadvantageous to me in the case that I will need recommendation letters in the future.

  • In my previous experience with my professor, he did not care and will probably take no action regarding this issue as well.

I have also thought of reaching out to researchers abroad, and the best way I could think of was to attend international conferences. However, the budget allowed for Masters students is only enough to cover expenses for domestic conferences, and I have no financial leeway for attending international conferences. There are also very few international researchers coming to give invited talks at my institution, and so I have essentially no contact with the outside world.

With these issues in mind, what can I do?

Note: Forgive me if this post was badly structured, I wrote this in haste and will be editing this in the coming days.

closed as unclear what you're asking by Fomite, Buzz, J-Kun, user3209815, David Richerby Aug 8 at 14:24

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Please narrow this down one specific question. Remove side comments outside of that specific issue. If you have more than one question to make, focus on points per thread,and link them together. I understand you have been holding a lot and suddenly you’re reaching out for help, but exceedingly long broad posts will not give you the feedback you need. Good luck, I’m voting to leave this open this time. – Scientist Aug 4 at 0:03
  • Can you improve your Japanese proficiency to the level that you can collaborate with other Japanese students/professors? I mean talk in half English (physics terms) and half Japanese? – scaaahu Aug 4 at 2:55
  • 1
    What is your actual goal? Why did you enrol in this program? – Anonymous Physicist Aug 4 at 7:11
  • @Scientist Thank you for the advice. I'll try to split my post into a few sections and tie it up somehow. – AnOnyon Aug 4 at 8:27
  • @scaaahu After being in a Japanese lab for a while, yes I have picked up some Japanese terminology, and the Japanese students also know some of the English terminology, so sometimes these discussions work out. However, it does take a lot more time, and we often misunderstand what each of our points are in the course of discussion. – AnOnyon Aug 4 at 8:28