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tl;dr: "Are there any professors in Humanities working in North America or Europe who have recieved their PhDs from a University in Asia (Japan in particular)?" (I'm specifically interested in Asian Studies, but any Humanities would be of interest. Also, any permanent or semi-permanent teaching position would be of interest)

I'm currently a second year masters student from the U.S. in an Asian-studies related field at a University in Japan, and am considering whether I should continue on for a PhD there. Graduate students and professors from the U.S. have more or less told me that getting a degree from Japan would be more or less "career suicide" (my words not theirs) because degrees from even well known universities in Japan are not considered on the level of well known schools in North America or Europe.

Obviously there's a lot to consider when thinking about going for a PhD, but I am specifically looking to contact people in the humanities, particularly Asian Studies, working in North America or Europe who got their PhD from a University in Asia. I'm specifically interested in Japan, but degrees from S. Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, China or even India or other parts of South or Southeast Asia would be welcome. Thank You.

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    The most common asian university i see people getting their phds from and working in the US is University of Tokyo... but perhaps that is my field. – Neo Jun 7 '15 at 23:23
  • While not an exact duplicate, many of the answers to this question address your question: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/45584/… – RoboKaren Jun 8 '15 at 1:52
  • Mind to spell out what is your question exactly? – Greg Jun 8 '15 at 6:05
  • @Greg Thanks. I added a tl;dr section to answer your question. – Tom Newhall Jun 8 '15 at 6:22
  • @RoboKaren Thanks for that. This question also was somewhat similar, but not quite the same: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/13732/… – Tom Newhall Jun 8 '15 at 6:25
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Update

I found at least one. Hikari Hori currently teaches at Department of East Asian languages and Culture of Columbia University. She received her Ph. D. in gender studies and Japanese visual cultural studies from Gakushuin University, Tokyo, in 2004

End of Update


I am no expert in Asian studies. Please take my opinion as a grain of salt. However, being a native Chinese speaker and having read some academic papers about politics and economics in Asian Studies recently, I feel that I want to say something about your question.

getting a degree from Japan would be more or less "career suicide"

This may have some truth in it if you study one of the STEM fields because many good schools in STEM fields are not in Asia. So, you have fewer choices if you pursue PhD in Asia.

But, you study in an Asian-studies related field and you go to North America or Europe to study it? This does not make sense to me. Let's say your topic is related to social economics in Japan. You don't want to study Japanese and live in Japan to observe its social economics by yourself? You go to US and read papers about Japanese social economics without seeing the recent developments in Japan and then write your own papers?

On the behalf of all Asians, I certainly welcome you to stay in Asia, speak Asian languages and then study Asia. We would all appreciate it! Thank you.

  • Originally, I wrote a long comment to scaaahu's answer, that I posted as an answer rather than a comment, but was deleted by @jakebeal because it is "poor form to use an answer for an extended comment." Basically I will just post a shortened version of my comment below instead. – Tom Newhall Jun 9 '15 at 2:26
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    I know exactly what you mean. It seems obvious that if you want to study Asia, you should go to Asia, not only to study, but to see first hand the culture, language, and "social economics" in the country of your interest. However, because you don't have to be in Asia to study Asia and because you will ultimately need present your work to an English-speaking audience, people argue that universities in the US or Europe are better choices academically. Thank you for the invitation to stay, though :) – Tom Newhall Jun 9 '15 at 2:36
  • (scaaahu posted this in response to my original answer:) +1 For your feedback to my answer. I took a quick look at Standford university Eastern Study faculty directory. Many of them hold PhD from American universities. Some of them do not list where they received their degree from. I did not look at other universities. As I said in my answer, I am no expert so I cannot provide counter- arguements against what you have heard from others in your field. But, those are pretty much in the past. Judging from the present developments in Asia, I am not sure what's going to happen in the future. – Tom Newhall Jun 9 '15 at 2:37
  • (scaaahu also asked this:) Also, a lot of PhD programs send their students abroad to do fieldwork or research under a professor at a University in Asia for a year or more during the PhD process is indeed what I saw (I happen to know one of them personally). I am curious that those PhD don't do fieldwork research after they finish their PhD? They just live outside Asia and continue to do research about Asia? Sorry to ask this kind of layman question. – – Tom Newhall Jun 9 '15 at 2:39
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    Thank you very much for finding that. I will try to contact Professor Hori. I am still hoping to get maybe a few more answers, so I don't want to mark the question as "answered" yet, but I will do so after a few days. – Tom Newhall Jun 9 '15 at 9:45
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Graduate students and professors from the U.S. have more or less told me that getting a degree from Japan would be more or less "career suicide" (my words not theirs) because degrees from even well known universities in Japan are not considered on the level of well known schools in North America or Europe.

Having done my post-graduate study in humanities at a National University in Japan, I can understand where they are coming from.

The approach is quite different. In an American/Western university, a Ph.D. program is very structured, with you taking classes in your first year, and exams, before your final dissertation and defence.

In Japanese universities, from my experience, you are pretty much left to your own devices. You may have to attend seminars, but these are student-run exercises, and you are essentially being a senpai (tutor) to the master-level students. To graduate, you need to publish at least one article in an academic journal (requirements differ according to your faculty), and the defence's I have seen were no where as rigorous as what is required in the West.

If you want to have your degree recognised, you need to go to one of the big-name universities, such as Tokyo University, Waseda, etc. They are more rigorous, and have a reputation to maintain, compared to other universities.

More than half of the faculty at the Japanese University I went to had done their post-graduate studies in America, before coming back to get tenured positions. In fact, the only Professors who had done their Ph.D. in Japan had gone to Tokyo Uni/Waseda.

So read what you will into that, but if you want to become an expert in Asia, you may want to get your Ph.D. from a Western Uni, and do exchange/post-doc/later study in Japan.

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    "The approach is quite different. In an American/Western university, a Ph.D. program is very structured, with you taking classes in your first year, and exams, before your final dissertation and defence." This is actually a specifically American perspective. European PhDs usually have no taught aspect to them, and they are generally well recognised in the US. – MJeffryes Jun 8 '15 at 9:10
  • @Whitebear Thanks for your answer. When you said you did post-graduate study in Japan, what level was that at? I'm assuming you yourself didn't do a PhD there? – Tom Newhall Jun 9 '15 at 1:17
  • @Whitebear Also, with regard to > If you want to have your degree recognised, you need to go to ... Tokyo University, Waseda, etc. I have definitely heard that before, and I should say that I am planning to go to one of the "big-name universities" (assuming they let me in, which I think I have an Ok chance of) but what I am really trying to find is evidence that Japanese humaniteis degrees are recognized outside Japan-- specifically, someone who has gotten a job outside Japan with a degree from Japan. It seems odd if there were nobody but I haven't found evidence to the contrary yet... – Tom Newhall Jun 9 '15 at 2:15
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    @MJeffryes Really? I stand corrected. I made that statement as when I was researching Ph.D. programs in Europe, such as at Oxford, there were definitely classes as part of the program. – Whitebear Jun 9 '15 at 6:42
  • @TomNewhall I did my Master's in Japan. Regarding Tokyo Uni - the program I was looking at, they only accepted 1 student in the last two years, although 20+ people applied. This surprised me. I can't say I know anyone who has done a Ph.D. in Japan and gotten a job in a Western country (they tend to get jobs in Japan - though whether that is for lack of trying, I don't know). – Whitebear Jun 9 '15 at 6:50
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Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of biases, which come from the way different cultures approach research. My understanding is that Westerners approach (Asian) history from a more ideological perspective, and are less concerned with examining lots of data. On the other hand, the way Japanese research Japanese history is very data driven, and they are less prone to make sweeping ideological statements because, well, it is complicated. Consequently, Westerners seem to think they are better historians than Japanese. I can imagine that there are similar issues in other aspects of Asian studies as well. I think the issue is that the type of research done in Japan is not appreciated well enough in the West, and this is what will cause a difficulty in getting a job in the West later. Asia is obviously the best place to study Asia.

Note: I am not in the humanities, but this is what I have gleaned from discussions with a friend who is a Japanese historian, and did get his PhD in Japan (and works in Asia but not Japan).

  • +1 For pointing out a probable cause: the type of research done in Japan is not appreciated well enough in the West. BTW, there seems to be some typo in and the are less prone to make sweeping .... Would you clarify? – scaaahu Jun 9 '15 at 3:59
  • @scaaahu Sorry, the "the are less prone" should have be "they [Japanese researchers] are less prone." Fixed. – Kimball Jun 9 '15 at 4:05
  • Well, I certainly know where you are coming from, and have seen plenty of research presentations that seem to make 'sweeping ideological statements' without being backed up by a lot of evidence. But nevertheless, the best scholars and research in my field from the US, at least understand the value of reading primary sources and have the skills themselves to be able to read and understand them. Whether they use it with the same level of expertise and to the same ends is the main question in my mind when evaluating the differences between research in the west and Asia. – Tom Newhall Jun 9 '15 at 9:41
  • @kimball I'm pretty much a noob here so I don't know if there is a way to contact someone "off list" but if you would be willing to tell me the name or give me the contact details of your Historian friend, I would really appreciate it. Thanks! – Tom Newhall Jun 9 '15 at 9:43
  • @TomNewhall I'm not saying Westerners studying Japanese history don't examine primary sources (though historical documents can be quite hard to read and impossible to obtain outside of Japan, so they typically examine much less I imagine), but I'm saying that the type of research done is different. The Western approach values theory much more, whereas the Japanese favors empiricism. Both are important of course, but people have a tendency to think that their own way of doing things is superior. – Kimball Jun 9 '15 at 12:19

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