Resources: For Students and Faculty

The information in these pages is provided for reference purposes only and students/faculty should carefully review websites for the most up-to-date information; especially regarding eligibility, application process, and deadlines for other international programs or scholarships/fellowships. Links to external sites/programs are provided only as a resource and do not imply endorsement by Rice University or any other entity. Email Sarah Phillips at for questions about the resources posted on this page. 

Education Program Publications and Articles
Faculty: International Education Models & Funding
Research: Overview for Undergraduates
Research: Mentoring Undergraduates
Research: Presentation & Poster Development
Professional Development: Graduate School Resources
Professional Development: Career Resources for S&E Students (Coming Soon)
Japanese Students: Funding and Programs for International Study & Research
Japanese Students: Life in the U.S.
U.S. Students: Funding and Programs for International Study & Research
U.S. Students: Resources for Life in Japan (Coming Soon)
Topics:Intercultural Communication & Cross-Cultural Understanding
Topics: Why Undergraduate Research? (Coming Soon)
Topics: Why International Research? (Coming Soon)
Topics: Funding of Research (Coming Soon)
Topics: Women in STEM (Coming Soon)

Education Program Publications and Articles

Those interested in learning more about the international education program model our team has developed may wish to review the following resources.

  • "NanoJapan International Research Experience for Undergraduates: A Case Study for Undergraduate Science Research" in Undergraduate Research Abroad: Approaches, Pedagogies and Challenges (Anticipated Publication in Spring 2019)  

Oct. 18, 2018: NAFSA Architecture for Global Learning Series "Relating Research to Global Learning" (Recording Available for Purchase)

  • Webinar Handouts
    • PDF: Kono Group International Programs Overview 
    • PDF: Faculty Resources on Funding & Models of International Engineering Education  
    • PDF: Student Resources for International Engineering Programs 

Faculty: International Education Models & Funding

Click here to download a PDF overview of funding for and models of international engineering education programs for faculty and staff.

Research: Overview for Undergraduates

These resources were developed for students participating in our short-term research internship programs but may be useful to any student who is new to research.

Conducting a research project consists of:

  • Identifying an unsolved scientific question or an unsolved engineering problem
  • Designing an experiment to solve the problem or answer the question
  • Preparing an experiment (building an apparatus, making a sample, …)
  • Taking data
  • Analyzing data
  • Interpreting data
  • Drawing conclusions
  • Writing a paper and/or giving presentations (including posters) on the results

Your job is to:

  • Understand the purposes and methods of your project as quickly as possible
  • Learn the experimental techniques used (under the mentorship of a Japanese researcher)
  • Become a more independent researcher while being guided by your mentor and other researchers
  • Work hard, be useful, and try to make significant contributions
  • Related Articles

Do's and Don'ts

  • Dress up a little bit on the first day to show respect
  • In your first week, observe how they behave and adjust yourself.
  • Be polite, work hard, and show enthusiasm.
  • Work closely with your mentor, and adjust your schedule to his/hers.  Working hours may vary by lab and/or project. You will be expected to work in your research lab Monday – Friday during the normal working hours for your lab/mentor.  If your project requires, you may need to work late or on the weekend occasionally but you will not be required or expected to do this every day.
  • Try to show your interest in learning their language and culture.
  • Use your language skills as a bridge but also remember that interest in science/research is a shared passion with other lab members and if you are curious and ask questions about their research, even if that is not the project you are working on, you may develop stronger friendships with your labmates.
  • Participate in group activities with your lab members. Or, if you are planning to go out to dinner or do something on the weekend, as your lab members if anyone would like to join you or has suggestions for you.  They are all poor students as well so often will have really helpful, and money-saving tips!

Not backing up your research data and related files stored on your personal or lab computer is a huge risk! If is not a question if your computer/s will fail – it is a question of when it will fail.  Good data storage and back-up habits are very important for short-term undergraduate research students as you have limited time to work on your research project and loss of research data or documents could significantly delay your progress.

The personal or lab computer you are using may be old, the hard drive many not be stable, you may end up with a virus, and accidents do happen that may damage or destroy your computer.  Computers may also be lost or stolen. There was even a case of a professor from the Hawai’i who had his laptop, with years of research data and his only draft of a book in progress, stolen out of his car. Years, and years of work lost – because he had not backed up his data! (Luckily, the laptop and one of the external hard drives was returned but the second external hard drive remains missing). Don't let this happen to you! One of the best things you can do as a young researcher is develop good data storage and back-up habits.  You do not want to be the master's or PhD student who loses their thesis or dissertation research data because you failed to back up. Ask any professor or department coordinator and they will know of at least one student this has happened to. 

You should ask your host professor how they would like you to store or back-up your research data. Is there a specific computer or drive they would like you to save this data on?  Is it okay for you to save your data on your own computer/laptop or must all data be kept on a university or lab computer? What back-up system do they use/recommend?

There are many options for data storage and back-up with some being cloud based and others being hardware based (e.g. external hard drives). A combination of both can be most secure. Your home university may offer access to cloud-based data storage and back-up services for current students, faculty, and staff but also consider what may happen when you graduate or leave that position?  How will you transfer your data from the institutional cloud-based storage to your personal storage/back-up?  If the data is backed up but you no longer have access to it or the university automatically deletes the files of students who have graduated, what then? Below are some resources on data storage and back-up  that you may want to review but there are other options out there too. Investigate your options and choose what works best for you.

It is vital that during the course of your research project you keep a detailed and up-to-date lab notebook.  Your notebook is your record of the work you have done and will be helpful for you to review as you write your weekly research internship reports and prepare for your final research presentation. Ask your research host professor and/or mentor if you must leave your notebook behind (as a resource for the next student working on your project) or if you can keep your research lab notebook and bring it home with you. In some cases, your lab may want you to keep an electronic or online lab notebook or procedure guide as a long-term resources for the group/project.  

For a helpful overview of best practices for keeping a lab notebook see

Each university and research lab will have specific safety and equipment training that you will need to complete or will be given before you can begin research or use a new piece of equipment.  It is vital that you abide by all safety training and lab policies and procedures to avoid injury to yourself or others or damage of expensive research equipment.

When you arrive at your research host lab, be sure to ask your host professor and/or research mentor/s what lab safety or equipment training you will need to complete and how you can sign up if necessary.   The following general resources from Rice’s office of Environmental Health & Safety may also be helpful for you to review.

Prior to arriving at your research lab, your professor or graduate student mentor will probably send you some recently published research articles related to your topic or the work of your host lab to read. Here are some helpful articles that describe, step-by-step, how to read a scientific journal article to ensure you can get the best understanding of these advanced research topics. 

Your lab does not expect you to understand everything in the articles, rather they want  you to begin to learn and ask good questions about the research being done in their lab.  Keep a list of questions on the article/s you are reading that you can ask your host lab professor/mentor either prior to arrival via email or Skype or during your first week in the lab.  You can also ask a professor or graduate student at your home university if they can help you better understand the topics/research in any assigned article. 

If you are not familiar with the general field or topic of your summer research project, it may also be helpful to ask your host lab for recommendations of textbooks or websites that you can review to learn the basics.  You can also look for YouTube course lectures and other resources online and/or ask professors at your home university for their recommendations of what you should study to prepare to do research in this field/topics. Japanese students are encouraged to check-out a basic textbook on your research area/topic from your university library as it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the overall topic/theme of your research in your native language first.  


Literature Reviews: You may also find reading literatures reviews to be a helpful way to immerse yourself in the terminology and background of your research topic/field. Try doing a search for your topic/field name and then 'Literature Review' to see if you find any helpful overviews of current literature/research in your field.

All Rice University faculty, staff, and students – including visiting researchers or visiting students who have a Rice ID, have full access to all Fondren Library resources. If you cannot find the full PDF of the article you would like to read on your home university library, you may want to search Fondren Library's holdings.  

You can enter and use the facility in the Fondren Library with your Rice ID card and use the facilities, books, and hard copy journals while you are in the library.  As a visiting student, you are not allowed to check out books (take them home) but can access all other services. During the school year, the library is open quite late and you can find the current hours on the website.  

Searching for Articles: If you go to the main Fondren Library website, you will see a blue search bar on the home page.  To find a journal article or other resources simply type in the key words and then a list of results will come up.  For example, a search for 'Quantum Wells' reveals 282 books and 389,775 articles.  If you want to see all the books or articles, simply click the link to show 'View All Results'.  You'll see in the articles column, that there are some articles with a PDF icon for the full text.  This means that the digital version of this article is within Rice University's library holdings.  If you see a link that says 'Find Full Text' it may be possible to find the full text (PDF) of that article through online services that Rice University is affiliated with or a member of. 

You will probably need to enter  your Rice University Net ID and Password to access the PDF or affiliated services.  This is one of the most helpful ways to use your Rice University Net ID and Password as it gives you access to a huge number of electronic journals and articles that you would otherwise have to pay individually to read.  Due to copyright, the articles you save/download/print are only for your personal use. It is a violation of copyright to distribute additional hard copies of the articles or publish them online in any format.  Don't post or share these PDFs to any website, message board, social media or other online site.  You can save them to your computer and use them for your own research/personal purposes. 

For more on using the library see the Student Assistance page. There are also some special centers and collections that you can access and use at the library though access/hours to some hours may be more limited than to the general library. 

When learning about a new field/topic it can be helpful to read science and technology articles that are written for the general public.  These typically summarize or introduce peer-reviewed journal articles. The magazines of professional organizations or societies can be a good starting point for students curious about a specific topic in STEM.

You may need to be a member of these organizations to access the full archives of these magazines or you can search the Fondren Library holdings (see above) to find access to them through Rice University.  You can also often join these professional organizations as a student member for free ore a reduced price and would then, usually, receive full access to these publications. 

When you join a research lab you may not have a lot of prior background or experience in the topic/subject you may be doing research on.  Even if you have previously taken coursework or done research in a related field, you may still need more specific information on the research project you will be working on.  There are a wide array of online tutorials, talks/seminars, and lessons that may be helpful for you to review.  Here are a few places you can start looking but you can probably find many more resources by consulting Google-sensei.


“My research experience this summer has taught me that no matter how careful you are and how dedicated you are to the project, there is no guarantee that things will work out in such a short amount of time. The cells that I was culturing continued to die and thus I could not apply the physical stimulus treatment to the maturing cells. This helped me to realize that no matter how hard you work that there is still a little bit that is left to chance; that small portion can only be influenced by luck, but it is still imperative to give it your all until the very end.” ~ Janmesh Patel, 2018 NK RIES U.S. Fellow in Japan

“In my research, there were both successful experiments and those which finished as failures. The biggest thing I learned in this program was the importance of perseverance. Even if I cannot reach satisfying result, I will never lose my curiosity toward natural phenomena and the application of it toward the real world.” ~ Ryotaro Okabe, 2018 NK RIES Japanese Fellow in the U.S. 

  • Be polite, work hard, and show interest
  • There will be cultural differences; they are expected and okay.  After all, that is why you applied  to do research in a new lab – because it would be different! 
  • Don’t get too self-conscious about these differences – it will be appreciated if it is clear that you are making effort to fit in
  • Be sure you act respectfully and professionally at all times. While in a new lab (especially when abroad), you are an ambassador of your home country and home university.  
  • Maintain regular contact with your host professor and graduate student mentor about the status of your research project and any questions you may have.
  • If there are any problems please communicate with the program faculty and staff – we are here to help you! When you need additional help, seek out other mentors such as Prof. Kono, Sarah Phillips, or other trusted professors.  Don't be afraid to ask for advice and assistance! 

Research: Mentoring Undergraduates

These resources may be helpful for any student who is new to or would like to improve their mentorship skills when working with undergraduate students.

Research: Presentation & Poster Development

This section provides helpful advice for students on the development of research poster presentations and oral presentations. These resources were developed for students participating in our short-term research internship programs, but may be useful for any student preparing to present on their research.

Prior to preparing a draft of your abstract or presentation, it will be helpful to ask yourself the following questions.  Answering these questions may help you develop a more cohesive abstract and final presentation.

  1. Problem: What problem or question are you investigating?
  2. Importance: Why is solving this problem important? Why should others in your field care?
  3. Purpose: What are your objectives?
  4. Method: What experimental design or method(s) are you using to solve the problem? Why did you choose those methods rather than other possible methods?
  5. Context: How does your work fit into the context of similar work that other researchers have done?
  6. Results: What are your planned/anticipated findings? How do your results advance the field? What evidence do you have to support those results? (If you haven’t yet generated results, what results do you expect to produce?)
  7. Unique Contribution: What do you present that is new?
  8. Applications & Future Impact: What are some possible uses, either practical or theoretical, for your reported findings? What are the implications?
  9. Claim: Often a speaker will identify in a single sentence the problem, its importance, the method used to solve the problem, and the results. This is called the claim, as in the following example: This talk will demonstrate how a new algorithm that incorporates wavelet theory can decrease the number of dropped cell phone calls by 50% during peak usage hours. What is your claim for your presentation?
  10. Other Abstract Development Resources

Prof. Kono's Poster Tip

  • As in a scientific paper, the organization of your poster should follow the ‘IMRAD’ format, i.e., Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion though you should use more descriptive headings if possible.  For example, instead of 'Introduction' you could say "Why Terahertz?" if that section will give an overview or background on what terahertz science is.  
  • There should be very little text in your poster, most of the space being used for illustrations.  Crowds will gather around the simple, well-illustrated posters; cluttered, wordy posters will be ignored.
  • The great majority of bad posters are bad because the author is trying to present too much; huge blocks of typed materials, especially if the type is small, will not be read.
  • Use a variety of colorful illustrations; all kinds of photographs, graphs, drawings, paintings, X-rays, and even cartoons can be presented.
  • The title should be readable out to a distance of 10 feet; the typeset should be bold and black, and the type should be about 30 mm high.
  • Lots of white space throughout the poster is important; distracting clutter will drive people off.
  • Try to make it very clear what is meant to be looked at first, second, etc.
  • A poster should contain highlights so that passers-by can easily discern whether the poster is something of interest to them.
  • It is a good idea to prepare handouts containing more detailed information; colleagues with similar specialties will appreciate them. Print these out yourself (in Japan) and bring them with you to the SCI colloquium.

Poster Dimensions: Be sure you find out what the maximum or preferred poster dimensions and orientation is for the conference, workshop, or colloquium you will be presenting at. If you neglect to do this you may end up with a poster that is too large or small for the poster board or that has the incorrect orientation.

  • To set your poster dimensions in PPT go to File –> Page Setup and then enter the maximum width and height and select your orientation.

Orientation: The orientation of your poster (portrait/vertical vs. landscape/horizontal) depends on the poster boards that the venue you are presenting at will use.  This is why it is important to be sure of what the poster dimensions are as these will indicate which orientation you should design your poster in.  If you have questions, as the conference or session organizer or consult the detailed instructions sent to poster presenters.  

Dark/Solid Backgrounds: Avoid using a solid, dark-colored background. These take a lot of ink to print and a long time to dry.  Using a solid, dark-colored background can increase the likelihood that your printed poster may smudge.  Printing large-scale, full-color posters is expensive uses a lot of ink and paper so you will likely only want to print these once. A solid, dark-colored background can also overwhelm or take away from your research data, figures, and tables. 

Small-scale Test Print: We highly recommend printing an 8 1/2 X 11 or A4 copy of your final poster (in color) to review prior to printing.  This will help you catch minor errors or issues with your graphs, images, or charts that you may otherwise miss when editing posters on your computer.

Colors: Remember, every printer has different types of ink and the type of paper used for printing may also impact the final printed color may be different than what appears on your screen.  What looks grey or yellow on your computer screen may appear purple or green when printed.  This is another reason it is helpful to do a small version test-print as this often can give you an indication if your color choices are showing up the way you would like.

Color Blindness: Some audience members may be color blind.  Red-Green color blindness is the most common. Be cautious of using red or green as important colors on your poster, for example using them as colors for information on graphs or charts. Audience members who are color blind may not easily be able to tell the difference between these colors.  This is also why it is important to label all charts, graphs, and photos/images that you may use on your poster. 

Images: To be sure that all of your images, graphs, and charts show up in your PPT or PDF version correctly, insert them directly into your document.  If you just copy and paste the images into your poster they may not print properly from the PPT or save properly when you convert to PDF.

Logos:  Ask your research host advisor/s what logos should be included on your poster as these may include your funding sponsor/agency, host university, host lab, and/or home university. If you include logos, be sure you use high-resolution image files and scale the logo properly when re-sizing.  Most U.S. universities have high-resolution logos on their website that you can search for. 

  • For example, Rice’s logos can be found online here.

Match Title/Authors to Abstract: If you have previously submitted an abstract for your poster, be sure that the title, authors, and affiliations you list in the title section of your final poster exactly matches what was listed in your abstract.  Otherwise, attendees may not be able to easily find your poster as the title listed in the program schedule will not match the poster you are presenting.

Font Size: For examples of what various font sizes will look like when printed on a large-scale poster see this website. 

Contact Information/Email: There may be times when you have to step away from your poster. Be sure to include your email address or preferred contact method on your poster so that those who are interested in learning more about your research or summer experience can write this down and contact you. This can also be helpful if you plan to display your poster at your home university.

Acknowledgements: Most posters will include an acknowledgements section where you recognize the funding agency or program that supported your research.  You can also use this section to recognize individuals who have been especially helpful to you with your research project or program experience. Ask your research host professor/mentor if you should include any specific grant or funding agency in your acknowledgements. 


It may helpful to review sample posters from past participants in our short-term research internship programs. This is especially helpful if there are past participants who have done research on a similar topic/research area.  When you look through past posters, note what you like about the design, layout, and presentation of information and what you dislike.  No poster is perfect and there are always opportunities for improvement. 

Hosted by the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral StudiesThree Minute Thesis (3MT®) celebrates the ground-breaking research conducted by graduate students at Rice University. Developed by The University of Queensland (UQ), the competition cultivates students' academic, presentation and research communication skills. Presenting in a 3MT® competition increases their capacity to effectively explain their research in three minutes, in a language appropriate to a non-specialist audience.

Check out these videos of recent 3MT competition winners at Rice University to see how it is possible to present a thesis in such a short period of time! 

For more resources and advice on preparing brief, informative, and compelling research presentations see the Center for Written, Oral, and Visual Communication’s 90-second Thesis Resources page.

Professional Development: Graduate School Resources

These resources were developed for students participating in our short-term research internship programs in the U.S. and Japan, but may be helpful for any student interested in applying to graduate school in the U.S.

Timeline: While some institutions accept applications on an ongoing/rolling basis, most graduate program application deadlines are in November – January for admission to the following academic year in August or September.  Keep in mind, graduate programs don't select/admit students based on grades or exam scores alone.  They look at the entirety of the overall application package and your personal statement, research statement, and letters of recommendation are often more important than your grades or test scores.   

It is important to note that, as a graduate student, it is the program/department who reviews applications and decides who to accept/make offers to – not the university.   Check the graduate admissions page of the academic department/program you are applying to carefully to be sure you do not miss any important deadlines. You will typically submit your application directly to the academic department/program you are applying to.  Some schools will also have a general/university application you have to submit in addition to or along with your graduate program/departmental application.

You can apply to as many graduate programs as you like, but many students select a shortlist of between three – six programs to apply to. You will typically be required to pay an application fee to each program you apply to.  It can be helpful to prepare a spreadsheet with deadlines for applications, recommendation letters, and supplemental documents for each program you are applying to.  

Considerations for International Students

Be Curious! Ask Questions!: Wondering what life in graduate school is really like?  It can be helpful to talk with current graduate students in the U.S. to get their perspective. Ask them how they chose their graduate program/school? What advice do they have for students planning to apply to graduate school? How is graduate school different from undergraduate study? What surprised them or what do they wish they had know about graduate school prior to applying? What are their long-term goals/future plans?  If you don't know any current graduate students, email the graduate admissions coordinator in the department/program you are applying to and ask if they can put you in contact with a current graduate student in that program that you could talk to.

Here are some of the key questions you need to ask yourself before applying to graduate school: 

Why do I want to applying to graduate school? You should have a well-thought out, specific answer to this question. If your first thought is, "Why not?" or "What else will I do?" you are not yet ready to apply for a graduate program. It is also important to consider if you want to apply for just a Master's program or a joint M.S/Ph.D. program where, over the course of 5 – 7 years, you obtain your M.S. degree on your way to completing your Ph.D. 

Japanese students often complete their Master's in Japan first and then apply for a PhD to go abroad.  However, you don't have to do this.  Japanese students can just apply directly to joint M.S./Ph.D. programs abroad too after completing their bachelor's degree. 

What field/graduate program/academic department do I want to apply to?  In graduate school you apply to the specific program or department not to the university overall.  Who are the top researchers working in my field?  What are the emerging research topics in my field and which programs/departments are best in these areas?  Ask professors at your home university or current/former research advisors for their advice on which programs might be a good fit based on your academic/research interests.  

What is the timeline and how do I apply?  Have you carefully reviewed the graduate application website of the program/s you are applying to?  Have you created a spreadsheet listing the application deadline and recommendation letter submission dates for each program you plan to apply to?  Have you taken all of the necessary tests (e.g. GRE or TOEFL/IELTS if applicable)? Do you have an updated resume/CV?  Do you know who you will ask to write reference letters on your behalf and have you already talked to/asked these individuals in advance of applying? For more, see the section above on application timeline.   

What professors/advisors do I want to work with?  Have you done your homework on the type of research professors do in this department/program? When you apply to graduate school you will have to include a research statement and, in this essay, discuss what type of research you are interested in and which professor/s you would like to work with.  If you apply to a program that does not offer this type of research, you will be wasting your and the committee members time.  Visit the academic department/program website and look for links that provide an overview of their research or a list of the faculty in the department.  Then, visit each faculty member's personal/research lab website and learn more about their specific research projects.  

What are my long-term career goals? Do you want to pursue a faculty position in academia?  Work in a national research lab? Work in industry?  Be an entrepreneur?  Obtain an M.D/PhD?  You need to look for graduate programs/universities that offer opportunities that align with your long-term goals.  Talking to current or former graduate students/alumni of that program could be helpful.    Most programs should be able to provide you a list of the types of jobs/career fields/research areas that alumni are working in. You may also ask:  

  • I definitely want to do a Ph.D. but I'm not sure about career opportunities after graduation?:  Check out some of the resources on our Career Opportunities for Science & Engineering Students section, particularly the section on 'Academia or Industry for STEM Students'. You should also ask the programs/departments you are considering or potential research advisors about the career paths of their graduates.  For example, "I'm curious about career opportunities after the PhD, both in academia and industry.  Can you share with me what some of your recent graduates have done?" 
  • Is a graduate degree necessary in my field?  If yes, should I get a master's or PhD degree?  Are there mentors I can ask for advice on this? For example, trusted professors or mangers/supervisors currently working in industry?  
  • I want to work in industry. When should I go to graduate school?  Should I work for 1 – 2 years and then go back to school? If I do this, do companies in my industry typically provide funding via tuition reimbursement programs? Is there a trusted faculty mentor or mentor in industry in a related field that you could talk to for advice? You could also ask the graduate programs you are considering or potential research advisors about alumni. For example, you could ask "I'm interested in careers in industry after I complete my PhD program.  Have there been any former students who have gone on to jobs in industry after graduation?"  

How will I fund/pay for my graduate degree?  Does the program provide funding to it's students? Keep in mind that funding in STEM fields may be more common in a PhD than in a Master's program. Also, how long funding is guaranteed/provided may vary by program.  In some years, funding is guaranteed only for the first 1 or 2 years as a PhD student and then you are expected to find a professor/research advisor willing to hire you to do research with their group. You should ask the programs/departments you are considering about how students in their program typically fund their degrees. Are there any teaching or research assistantships available? Are there any external scholarships/fellowships you can apply for? If you plan to apply for loans, how long will it take you to repay those after you complete your graduate degree? 

  • See also tab on 'Funding' on this page.  
  • See also the section on Other Related Programs and Funding for Japanese Students
  • See also the section on  Other Related Programs and Funding for U.S. Students 
  • Remember, some scholarship and fellowship deadlines may be 6 – 12 months earlier than the application deadlines for graduate schools! 

Do I understand what graduate school life is like?  Graduate school is very different from undergraduate study.  Programs and professors will value you for the work/research you do; not just the grades you get in your classes (though these are very important too).  Ask some current graduate students at your home university what their experience has been like. What advice would they give on choosing a graduate school and how to apply?  What traits are important to success in graduate school?  How has graduate school been different from their undergraduate experience?  

Student Question: How different is the graduate school style in the UK (or other English-speaking countries) and US in terms of funding, evaluation (number of papers or quality of ones) and education?

Most graduate applications will require you to write at least two essays. One, a personal statement, about your overall interest in graduate school and future goals/career plans.  The second, a research statement, about the specific research topics/area you are interested in and which professors/centers at that institution you are most interested in working with.   Be sure you do your homework first as the worst thing a selection committee can say is "Great essay.  But we don't do that type of research here. I don't understand why this student applied to our program."  See the topic above on Choosing a Graduate Program.  

Always compose your essays in a Microsoft Word document and save to your computer.  Computer and internet glitches do happen and you do not want to type your essays into the online application only to have them not save properly or disappear just as you are about to submit your application.  Carefully review the application requirements and be sure you are aware of the word/character limits and if those limits include spaces or not.  

Don't forget to proofread your essays prior to submission! Ask a trusted professor/research advisor if they would be willing to read and comment on your draft essay. You can also ask any current graduate students you know for their advice and feedback.  Most universities in the U.S. will also have writing centers or career centers that may be able to review your essays.  

Some things to keep in mind when writing these essays include: 

  • Be Specific About Your Research Interests: Remember, you are writing to a faculty selection committee for admission to the graduate program in a specific academic department.  Do your research about the faculty and research topics available in that department/program.  Why are you applying to this program? What faculty in the program do you want to work with and why? 
  • University vs. Program Rankings: The faculty committee doesn't care if you want to come to XX University because it is one of the top schools in the U.S.  At the graduate level, the university ranking doesn't matter as much as what you know about the specific graduate program you are applying to.  
  • Be Direct: Clear, succinct, and direct English writing is best.  Having a native English speaker proof-read your essay will help with this. 
  • For Non-Native English Speakers – Pronouns and Verb Tenses: Using the wrong pronoun or verb tense is a common mistake that international students make when writing in English.  Have a native English speaker proofread your essay to catch these common/minor errors. 
  • For Non-Native English Speakers – American vs. British English: There are some words that are spelled differently (or may even be completely different words) in American vs. British English.  For example color in American English vs. colour in British English.  If you are applying to a graduate school in the U.S. you should use the American English spelling/words.  To check for this, change the dictionary settings in Microsoft Word to 'American English' and/or ask an American to proofread your essays.

All Students – GRE: Most science and engineering graduate programs, at both the Master's and PhD level, require you to submit GRE scores.  Some programs may require you to take a specific GRE Subject Test too.  Carefully consult the application website of the academic department or program/s you are applying to to find out what test scores are required. 

For International Students – Minimum TOEFL/IELTS Scores Vary:  The minimum required TOEFL/IELTS scores vary by university and may vary even by program/department within the same university.  Carefully consult the application website of the graduate programs you are interested in to determine what their minimum test score requirement is.  Be sure you also take the right test.  Most universities in the U.S. do not accept TOEIC scores and some may only accept either the TOEFL or the IELTS.  You can find out what is required by looking at the graduate application/admissions page of the academic programs/departments you are planning to apply to.  Even within the same university, sometimes different departments have different TOEFL/IELTS requirements so be sure to make careful note of what is needed for your specific applications. 

Typically, you will need to submit at least 3 letters of recommendation in support of your graduate application.   These letters will need to be sent to each program  you are applying to – even if you are applying to two different programs at the same university.  Letters that can speak to your research interests/experience, academic background, and specific future goals as a graduate student/researcher are best.

Do not make the mistake of asking the professor with the most important 'name' or 'reputation' in your department to write a letter on your behalf if they do not know you well.  It is better to have a letter from a professor/mentor/advisor that knows you very well than from a 'big name' in the field. 

Plan ahead and cultivate relationships with professors/advisors/mentors over time.  Don't just attend the class – visit the professor during office hours.  Discuss research topics that you find interesting with professors at your university. Ask professors or mentors for their advice/recommendations about applying to graduate school. Stay in contact with past research professors/advisors and let them know you are considering applying to graduate school and ask if they would be willing to provide a letter on your behalf.  This is all part of 'networking', or developing relationships with others in your field over time, and an important skill to learn to be a successful graduate student and researcher.  


Who should I ask? 

  • Research Advisors: At least one letter should be from a current or prior research advisor that you have worked closely with for a significant period of time.  These should be from research experiences where you have done significant, hands-on research not just experiences where you observed or shadowed someone working in a research lab.  If you have done research in more than one lab, then you can submit additional letters from other prior research advisors.  These letters should highlight what you did in their lab, your role in the project (how independent were you), your research/experimental skills, and your interest and potential as  research in the field you are applying to for graduate study.  
  • Professors: A letter from a professor within your academic department or the academic department/field you are applying to for graduate study.  This should be from a professor that knows you very well and who can speak to your research interests and desire to pursue graduate study. 
  • Prior International Experience: If you have previously studied or done research abroad, particularly in an engineering or science-related program, you should ask the research or education director/coordinator if they can write a letter on your behalf. This letter should introduce the program design, when you participated and what you did, and highlight the intercultural/language/collaboration skills you gained through the program. This letter will highlight that you can adapt to new environments and work well in a cross-cultural context; important for graduate students in the U.S. who may be working alongside students from all over the world.  For example, Nakatani RIES and TOMODACHI STEM alumni are encouraged to ask Prof. Kono if he would be willing to submit a letter on their behalf. 
  • Prior Professional Experience:  Have you previously done an internship, co-op, or part-time/summer job in a science or engineering related position?  Was this a significant, hands-on experience where you learned skills sets relevant to the field of study you are applying to or that would highlight your ability to work in a professional manner or as part of a team?  If yes, you may consider asking your manager/supervisor to write a letter on your behalf.  Students returning to graduate school after working for 1 – 2 years should make sure to include a letter from someone in their industry/field that can attest to how/why pursuing a graduate degree relates to your long-term career goals. 
  • Other Science & Engineering Related Programs/Projects: If you have other trusted mentors/advisors who are in science or engineering related fields who can write you a strong letter that speaks to you interest in graduate study, interest in research, and long-term goals they could be a potential letter writer as well. For example, were you an active leader/participant in programs such as Engineers Without Borders, Society of Women Engineers, Professional Organizations, or in K-12 Outreach Programs to help encourage more young students to pursue and excel in STEM fields?  If yes, ask the faculty advisor/director of these programs if they would be willing to write a letter on your behalf.  Student athletes may also ask their coach/academic advisor to write a letter on their behalf as they can attest to your time-management skills, teamwork, and diligence/perseverance which are all highly transferable skills to life as a graduate student.  

The professor/supervisor I talked to asked me to provide them with a draft or template letter?  Is this okay? 
Do not be surprised if the person you ask to write a letter asks you to provide them with a draft/template letter.  This is a way to help them make sure they are addressing the key/most important points you would like to them to address when editing/finalizing your letter.  For example, Japanese professors may not have as much experience writing recommendation letters for U.S. graduate school admissions so may ask you to provide a reference or template.  Or, an internship manager/supervisor at a company you have worked for in the past may not have had much experience drafting academic letters of reference.  However, recommendation letters/letters of reference should always be submitted by the letter writer directly to the program – not by the individual student or applicant.  

Most graduate programs will also require that you submit a U.S. style resume or CV with your application. Students are strongly encouraged to visit their university career services center and attend their workshops or review sessions for resumes and CVs.  University career services centers can be used by current undergraduate and graduate students and alumni and are a great resource! 

Prior Undergraduate Research: If you have previously done research as an undergraduate student, it is very important that you highlight this in a section on 'Research Experience' within your essay.  Be sure you list the full name of the host professor/research advisor, their institution, and their academic department or lab/center name.  If applicable, also include the full name of the research project you worked on.  In your bullets for this section, be sure to include specific details on what you did and the experimental/research skills you have familiarity with.  

You will be required to submit an official copy of your transcript from all institutions you have previously attended in English.  This means that you should submit transcript from your current university and any prior university you attended if you are a transfer student.  If you participated in a program abroad and received a transcript from another school it may also be helpful to submit a copy of that official transcript too.  For example, Nakatani RIES and TOMODACHI STEM alumni are strongly encouraged to submit official copies of their Rice University transcript when applying to graduate schools in the U.S. 

How do I request a transcript? Typically, you would request a copy of your official transcript through your university registrar's office.  This may need to be done in person or you may be able to submit the transcript request online.  For example, Nakatani RIES and TOMODACHI STEM alumni at Rice University can submit a transcript request through the National Student Clearninghouse on the Registrar's office website. 

Grades do matter when applying to graduate school in the U.S. but strong essays and recommendation letters may be even more important. The programs you apply to will look carefully at the courses and grades you took in engineering and science coursework and the higher the grades the better.  However, programs often do consider progress over time.  If, for example, you receive low grades in your freshman (B1) year but then worked hard to improve your grades by your senior (B4) year this will be seen positively.  Also, if you complete a Master's degree prior to applying to a Ph.D. program the grades you received in your Master's degree will be carefully considered.  

If you are an international student, you may need to send your transcripts to an external evaluator to be transcribed/translated into the U.S. grading system.  Consult the graduate programs you are applying to for transcript requirements for international students.  Or, you may just need to convert your grades into a U.S. style GPA (typically on a 4.0 scale) to enter into the online application or put on your resume/CV.  

Keep in mind, graduate programs don't select/admit students based on grades or exam scores alone.  They look at the entirety of the overall application package and your personal statement, research statement, and letters of recommendation are often more important than your grades or test scores.  But, getting good grades as an undergraduate or master's students will be extremely helpful during the U.S. graduate application process. 

Campus Visits For Ph.D. Programs: Most Ph.D. programs in science and engineering will send out initial offers of acceptance by mid-February and students (typically) have until April 15 to accept or decline the offer.  Prior to the April 15 deadline, some schools may invite potential students to attend a 'Campus Visit' that is typically a 1 – 3 day session held in late February – March.  Some program may provide travel funding/support for this Campus visit but other programs may not.   Since you may be accepted into a number of different schools, you may need to carefully review the Campus Visit dates to avoid travel conflicts and consider how much time you can spend away from your spring semester courses.  You may not be able to attend the Campus Visit of all of the programs you have been accepted into.  

The campus visit is an opportunity for you to meet with and learn more about the program, faculty, university, and city you would be living and working in for 5 – 7 years if you choose to accept their offer of admission.  This is also an opportunity for you to find out more about funding, housing, and meet/talk with current graduate students to get their advice and feedback.  Do you need more money to be able to attend or have any other specific concerns/questions?  Wondering what living in that city is like or if you'll need a car? This is the time to ask! 

There will typically be a mix of group seminars/sessions and one-on-one meetings with potential faculty in the research areas that you indicated were of greatest interest to you in the application.   This may be your first opportunity to meet with potential research advisors/faculty and you want to make a good first impression as these are the professors that may hire you and pay your graduate student stipend and tuition remissions (from their research grants) in the future.  You will also likely have the opportunity to meet with current graduate students in the program, tour campus, tour the graduate student housing, and have some evening social/networking events as well. If there is something you are particularly interested in/curious about that is not on the schedule, contact the graduate student/admissions coordinator and ask if you will have the opportunity to learn more about that or have some free time where you can talk with someone more about that topic.  

In a sense, this is your opportunity to interview the program/school just as much as it is an opportunity for them to meet/interview you in person! Students typically apply to many different PhD programs/schools and may receive multiple offers of admission. The campus visit is a way to help you decide which program/research topic/school is the 'best fit' for you. Sometimes, a student may think this program/school is their #1 choice but, after the campus visit, realize that it is not the best program for them after all. Prospective PhD students will use the campus visit as a way to make a final decision about which program/school is the 'best fit' and, after these visits, students will be expected to notify schools of their final status – do they accept or decline the offer of admission.   

Do treat the campus visit as part of the formal interview process! Be respectful and professional at all times. There have been instances where programs have rescinded/cancelled their offers to admitted students whose behavior during the campus visit raised concerns/questions about their professionalism, maturity, or ability to be successful in the program (e.g. a student getting drunk and behaving badly at a networking event and/or saying something offensive/discriminatory to another student, faculty member, or staff member).  Whether you are talking to a fellow applicant, current graduate student, staff member, faculty member, or even the departmental janitor – always be respectful and professional.  Remember, if you decide to accept the offer and come to this program these are the people you will be working with for the next 5 – 7 years!  You do not want them to have a bad first impression of you.  

What if I Can't Visit in Person? Due to timing, funding, and class/work commitments many graduate students, both U.S. and international students, may not be able to attend campus visits for all of the schools they have been made offers to. Usually, students will try to attend 1 – 3 campus visits for the programs/schools that are their 'top' choices.  Students may also ask to schedule Skype meetings with faculty/students in the other programs/schools that they have been admitted to if they aren't able to visit in person. 

I haven't applied to the program/school yet but I'm very interested in learning more about it.  Can I visit early? Yes! You don't have to wait to visit a prospective graduate school until after you have been admitted. If you will be traveling to a certain city for a vacation, family visit, or conference and one of the graduate programs/schools you are interested in applying to is nearby, contact that department and ask if you can visit and learn more about their program/research/campus.  Look for the 'Graduate Admissions' page on the university website or, if you know the program you want to apply too, visit that departmental/program website and look for their section on prospective graduate students/graduate admissions.  Email the 'Graduate Student Coordinator' or, if you can't find this person/email address on their website, contact the main departmental email address.  You will usually find this under the 'About' or 'Contact' sections of their departmental/program website.  Or, even better, ask your home university professors/research advisor if they know anyone personally in that program and ask if your home university professor/advisor can introduce you via email to that faculty member.  A personal introduction from a professor in the field can be very helpful.  

Campus Visits for Japanese/International Students: Due to budget, visa, and other travel constraints  international students may not always be invited to attend the campus visit.  However, if you can afford it, it is highly recommended that you try to visit your top programs in person. 

  • Let Them Know You Are Interested: When you receive an offer letter from a program/department, respond and let them know you are interested in attending the campus visit.  Ask them what funding is available for international students who want to attend the campus visit.  If they cannot pay for the full cost of your travel to the U.S., offer to pay for part individually.  For example, ask if they can pay your lodging, meals, and transportation to from the local airport if you pay for the cost of your international flight to the U.S.  
  • Skype 'Visits": If it is not possible for you to travel to the U.S. for a campus visit, ask the graduate admissions coordinator in your department/program if they can arrange for Skype meetings with the key faculty that you are interested in working with and/or any current graduate students in the program.  Skype is a free and easy way to get to 'meet' some of faculty and students and learn a bit more about the program. 
  • Timing: There is no one set time period when universities hold campus visits, different schools/programs within the same university might even have different dates for their graduate student campus visits.  The good news is that Graduate Recruitment/Campus Visits usually fall between mid-to-late February through the middle of March – the spring break period in Japan!  So, Japanese students don't typically have to miss classes to attend. However, it may be difficult for you to attend all of the campus visits for schools you have been admitted to. For example, one program might have their campus visit the second weekend of February, another program might have their visit the first weekend in March, and the third might have their campus visit the third weekend in March. Even for U.S. students, it can be hard to visit all of the schools they have been admitted to in person.  Instead, plan a 1 – 2 week trip to coincide with the campus visit dates for the one or two schools that are your top choices.  Then, contact the other schools you have been invited to and let them know you will be in the U.S. between the dates of (XX to XX) and ask if you can visit the school/program individually since you can't attend their campus visit days. With advance notice, the graduate program coordinator will likely be able to schedule meetings for you with faculty, current graduate students, and maybe even a campus tour.  
  • Travel Itinerary Within the U.S.: Keep in mind that the U.S. is huge and there is no Shinkansen/high-speed rail system. The fastest way to travel long distance in the U.S. is typically to fly. Driving or traveling via train or bus may take a very long time and, in some areas, may not be possible. Even schools within the same state may be located hundreds of miles away and require you to drive many hours or fly between cities. Budget and plan your trip itinerary carefully. If you are unsure about whether your planned trip itinerary is feasible, ask an American you know or ask the graduate program coordinator you have been working with for their advice.  
    • Try to group visits to schools that are geographically close to each other. For example, you could visit Rice University Monday – Tuesday and then fly to Austin, Texas to visit the University of Texas, Austin on Thursday – Friday.  Or, start on one coast and end on the other. Try to end your trip in a city that has a direct flight back to Japan to make returning home easier.  (e.g. Japan –> San Francisco –> Chicago –> New York –> Japan). 
  • Plan for Travel Delays: The #1 rule when traveling in the U.S. is to expect/plan for delays.  Plan to arrive a day before your scheduled visit in case your flight is delayed due to weather or other reasons. Try to only pack a carry-on suitcase so there is less risk that your checked luggage will be delayed or lost.  If you are checking luggage, be sure that you have a full change of clothes in your carry-on baggage just in case. 
  • Getting To/From the Airport in the U.S. Remember that airports are typically located outside of the city center and there are not always trains/airport buses you can take from the airport to the city center.  Depending on your flight arrival/departure time you may also need to plan for bad traffic getting to/from the airport. Ask the graduate student coordinator for their advice on how to get from the airport to your hotel or consult the 'Ground Transportation' page of the airport you are flying into for information on the options available at that airport. Don't forget to budget for the cost of a taxi, Uber/Lyft, or shared van shuttle (e.g. companies like Super Shuttle) for travel to/from your arrival airport if needed.  

The good news is that most programs in science and engineering provide funding for PhD students admitted to their programs.  In return for working as a graduate student research assistant, most PhD students receive a tuition waiver and stipend. This may be full funding for the entire duration of your degree, or partial funding for a set period of time. The stipend you receive can be used for your living costs.  If you are enrolled in a full-time PhD program, you will typically not be allowed or will not have time to also work as you will already need to balance your coursework, research time in the lab, writing publications, and any teaching duties. If you are in a part-time or evening PhD program you may have more flexibility to work, but this will likely delay your progress/time to completion of your degree.  In STEM fields it is most common for students to be full-time PhD students and not work outside of their research/teaching assistantship.  

Funding is not always provided for Master's students, so be sure you consult the program website and/or email to ask the program coordinator about funding options if you are only choosing to apply to a Master's program.  Financially, it may be more advantageous to apply to a combined M.S./Ph.D. program where, on the way to the completion of your Ph.D., you will also receive your Master's degree. If you decide you do not want to complete the PhD, most programs do provide an option for students to finish their Master's degree and then withdraw from the program.  This is not ideal, as doctoral programs want students to complete the PhD, but it can be a possibility for students who find that the PhD program is not a good fit after all. 

How Can They Afford to Pay PhD Students in the U.S.?: This varies by program/university but, typically, science and engineering professors are expected to pay for their PhD student's tuition waiver and stipend by budgeting these costs into their research grant budgets.  Therefore, in the U.S. system, a large percentage of each research grant goes to pay for the students who will be working on that project.  Typically, in the first year of the program the academic department or university will pay for the PhD student's cost and then, by the end of the first year, the PhD student must find a professor willing to hire them as a graduate research assistant and pay them from their grant funds. 

Cost of Living: Cost of living in the U.S. can vary widely from state to state and even within cities in the same state.  So, even if you are offered a very high graduate student stipend/salary to attend school in New York City or San Francisco, due to the cost of living, you may end up spending the majority of your budget on rent.  Or, to pay less in rent you may have to live far from campus and pay a lot to commute each day.  Some cities may not have very well-developed public transportation so you might need to purchase a car.  Ask about average rent/housing costs for graduate students at that university.  Is there on-campus housing for graduates and what is the cost?  When you move to a new city, it can be very helpful to live in on-campus housing for the first year (or at least the first semester) so you can become more familiar with the area and living costs/rents.  This also gives you an opportunity to meet fellow graduate students/make friends with people who might become potential roommates if you want to rent an apartment off campus. 

Taxes, Insurance, Social Security, & Benefits: This stipend can be used towards your living expenses but taxes, health insurance, Social Security, and other benefits  (if applicable) will be taken out of each paycheck.  Be sure you factor in the tax rate so have a more accurate understanding of what your take-home pay will be. If you aren't sure about this, ask the graduate student/admissions coordinator.  

External Funding:  Graduate students should also investigate all possible sources of external funding for their Master's or PhD program in the U.S.  Ask the graduate application/student coordinator in your department/program for information on external scholarships and fellowships that they recommend students apply to.  You can also review: 

  • Other Related Programs and Funding – For Japanese Students
  • Other Related Programs and Funding – For U.S. Students 
  • Pathways to Science: Programs and Funding for Graduate School 
  • Ask your graduate program about scholarship and fellowships available through the university, foundation, or local organizations. Most graduate programs or Office of Graduate Studies will also have a list of external scholarships and fellowships you may be able to apply for.  

Transitioning to Graduate School Life

Success in Graduate School 

Timeline to Degree Completion: During the first two years of your PhD program most students will complete most of their coursework and complete the requirements necessary to defend your Master's thesis and then 'advance' to PhD candidacy.  How long this takes and what is required will vary from program to program.  When you are working on your coursework it will be very important that you do well in those since if you don’t pass your classes, particularly your qualifying course/exam, you won’t be able to more forward with the degree. But you have to balance your coursework with your research project in your advisor/professor's lab and manage their expectations for as well.  This is not always easy to do and requires that you develop excellent time management and prioritization skills. 

How long the 'average' time to completion is will vary by program (or even by research group/advisor) so be sure to ask current graduate students who are about to finish their PhD for their advice on what you can do to finish as quickly as possible in your program.  Each students progress in their PhD program will vary though. When in doubt about your progress, talk with your research advisor, graduate committee members, and graduate student coordinator for advice and guidance.  

Print off any check-list your program or graduate student handbook has for degree completion/paperwork deadlines and post it in a place you see everyday.  Check off the steps as you complete them and make friends with the graduate student coordinator in your department.  The graduate student coordinator will help process all student paperwork and is a very important person for you to get to know! 

Time Management, Productivity, and Organization for Graduate Students 

Make use of the resources at your graduate school university to help you be a successful graduate student.  Resources will vary, but at Rice University some of the available offices/programs that support graduate students include the following. Find out if similar offices exist at your home university.  Individual academic programs/departments may also have specialized workshops, programs, or organizations for their current graduate students.  

Many graduate students plan to pursue a career in academia when they apply to or first enter graduate school. However, over time, your future plans and goals may change.  A wide array of options exist for STEM PhDs from faculty positions, to research positions at national labs, working at a government agency or non-profit organization, teaching, consulting, and industry positions. Career exploration is an important part of the graduate school process and, throughout your program, you should remain curious about the career paths of people you meet both within and outside of academia.  

However, it is important to utilize your network effectively.  If you are interested in a career in industry, your research advisor may not be able to give you the best advice as they may have only worked in academia.  However, your advisor may have former students who are now working in national research labs or industry so a better question to ask might be "Prof. XX, I'm interested in learning more about what career paths alumni of the group pursue. I know (X,Y,Z) are now professors but do you have any alumni who are working in industry or at national labs I could talk to?" 

Visit your campus Career Services Center as they will typically offer advising, CV/Resume review, and workshops for graduate students too!  If you are an international students, consult the career services center or your International Student Office about any special workshops or resources for international students seeking jobs in the U.S.  Your Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies may also offer special workshops or professional development training/resources that you can take advantage of.  

Career Exploration for STEM PhDs (Columbia University)
As a graduate student you are among the most well-educated members of society. You have tremendous strengths and transferable skills to offer employers. There are many types of careers open to PhD students—we’ve included the more frequent options for students in the sciences here.

Nature Career Articles & Toolkit

Science: Career Resources 

From How-To Series to booklets and multimedia, Science provides a wide range of career resources for science & engineering students.

5 Ways International Students Can Transition to Industry Careers in the U.S. (Cheeky Scientist)

5 Visa Options International Students Must Know to Work in the U.S. (Cheeky Scientist) 

10 Simple Rules for Choosing Between Industry and Academia (Plos) 

From Academia to Industry: A Short Guide (Nature Jobs Blog)

Global Mobility: Science on the Move (Nature) 

How to Successfully Work Across Countries, Languages, and Culture (HBR) 

Jobs are Scarce for PhDs (The Atlantic) 

Many Junior Scientists Need to Take  Hard Look At their Job Prospects (Nature) 

So Many Research Scientists, So Few Openings as Professors (NY Times) 

The Job Market: Picking Apart Your Application 

The Post-Doc Series (NatureJobs Blog) 

Too Many PhD Graduates or Too Few Academic Job Openings? (Systems Research and Behavioral Science) 

Why It's Better to be a Research Scientist in Industry than Academia (Cheeky Scientist) 

Informational Interviews: One way to explore career paths as graduate student is to conduct informational interviews with people who have jobs/careers you find interesting.  You could do this by setting up a meeting with a senior graduate student who is about to graduate to learn more about what they will do next, asking your graduate program coordinator to put you in contact with alumni who are working in industry positions you are interested in, or even send a cold email to faculty/professionals working at other universities/companies.  Conferences can also be an excellent opportunity to network with a wide range of students, faculty, and professionals in your field.  The key is to remain curious and open to many potential career and research paths.  Informational interviews can be very informal, and you might ask if someone would be willing to meet you for coffee or speak with you via phone or Skype for a short conversation. Some questions you might want to ask include: 

Work-life Balance

Relationships & Family 

Mentoring Others: As a gradate student, it is not a question of if but when you will be assigned to mentor an undergraduate student or new graduate student in your lab.  Mentoring is a very different skill than doing research and a good mentor can be a key factor in whether a young student to continue doing research or go to graduate school in that field. For more, see the section on this page about Mentoring Undergraduates.  

Seeking Out Mentors for Yourself: As a graduate student, you may also have to advocate/seek out your own mentors.  While your research advisor/professor and others in your research lab may be your primary mentor/s, it can sometimes be helpful to have mentors outside of this group as well. For example, if you are a female graduate student with a male research advisor who does not have children it may be helpful to seek out a female post-doc or professor with children to talk to about when/how to balance family life and working in academia. Or, you may be interested in pursuing a career in industry but your research advisor has only worked in academia so can't give you a lot of 'real world' advice on this subject. 

How do you find 'outside' mentors?  Step one would be to ask your research advisor/professor!  Professors often have huge networks within their research field/topic in academia but they also have many former students who have all taken different paths.  For example, "Prof. XX, I'm curious to learn more about working in a national research lab/company.  Do you have any former students working in a national research lab/company that I could talk to?".  You could also ask your graduate student coordinator, other faculty members, post-docs, or other graduate students who they would recommend you talk to.   There may also be special seminars/events organized by the Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies, Career Services Office, Graduate Student Association, or professional organizations such as the Society of Women Engineering or IEEE on your campus that can be useful ways to meet/connect with potential mentors in your field/area of interest.  

Remember, at 5 – 7 years to complete a PhD program, your relationship with your advisor/professor/lab may be the longest relationship you will have had outside of your family to date. There will be ups and down.  Good days and bad days.  Your preferred working/communication style may be very different from your advisor/supervisor. Overall, your relationship with your PhD advisor should be one that advances both your own personal goals and the labs overall research agenda and goals.  Sometimes, you may have a great relationship with your PhD advisor but have difficulties working or communicating with your fellow lab group members.  Sometimes, students do end up with a 'bad fit'.   In these situations, it is important to seek out mentorship and advice from others in your department in a diplomatic manner. For example, by speaking with the graduate student coordinator or faculty director of the graduate program.  Students can and do change PhD advisors, but this can delay your progress to completion of your degree.  If there are serious concerns about unsafe/discriminatory work environments or ethical issues consult the Office of Graduate Studies and/or human resources offices for guidance. 

There is no 'perfect' relationship in life but we can, over time, develop better relationships with our colleagues and fellow researchers.  Both sides play a role in this though and the resources below provide some helpful advice on steps you can take to try to develop as positive a relationship with your research advisor and fellow lab group members as is possible. 

Choosing an Advisor/Lab

Working/Communicating with your Advisor

When Things Go Wrong 

For most students, research is fun – writing is your thesis or dissertation is not. Most science and engineering PhD students really enjoy working in the lab and 'doing research' but can struggle with sitting down to write papers for presentation at conferences or submission to journals. It is also really hard to know when to 'stop taking data' and sit down and focus on just writing your thesis or dissertation. Remember, the goal is to complete your degree; not be a life-long graduate student.  

When your advisor encourages you to sit down and write take their advice and make use of any writing resources your university may have to help graduate students with this process. And remember, the best thesis/dissertation is a done one! 

Professional Development: Career Resources for S&E Students

Coming soon

Japanese Students: Funding and Programs for International Study & Research

Japanese Students: Resources for Life in the U.S.

U.S. Students: Funding and Programs for International Study & Research

U.S. Students: Resources for Life in Japan

Coming soon

Topics: Intercultural Communication & Cross-Cultural Understanding

These resources were developed for students participating in our short-term research internship programs in the U.S. and Japan, but may be useful to any student participating in an international research, internship, or study abroad program or those who are working in internationally diverse teams or research labs.

The cultural iceberg. Most aspects of culture are 'below the surface' and difficult to spot/identify.

Communication is a key aspect of culture that we often don’t think much about in our day-to-day lives.  But, when we go overseas, we may be faced with a culture or society that communicates in vastly different ways. Culture is a complex set of shared values, beliefs, and behaviors that are taught and learned, often unconsciously , and passed from generation to generation.  While mainly out of our awareness, culture influences how we make decisions, who and what we listen to and believe, and how we behave. Culture is not just what we can see/hear/feel/taste.  A lot of culture is unseen, ‘under the iceberg’, and reflects cultural/societal values, norms, or ideals. Culture can impact how we approach and collaborate together in teams and within the research lab.  Take a few moments to look through the topics below to learn more about communication and culture.

In 1976, Edward T. Hall developed the iceberg analogy of culture in his book Beyond Culture.  If the culture of a society was the iceberg, Hall reasoned, than there are some aspects visible, above the water, but there is a larger portion hidden beneath the surface. What does that mean? The external, or conscious, part of culture is what we can see and is the tip of the iceberg and includes behaviors and some beliefs. The internal, or subconscious, part of culture is below the surface of a society and includes some beliefs and the values and thought patterns that underlie behavior.

What does this mean for U.S. and Japanese students? First, it is important to remember that things will be different.  After all, that is one of the reasons that you applied to do research abroad isn't it?  Wanting to know what it was like to do research/science and live in a different country? You may expect the food to be different but did you know that expectations of friendship may be different too?  Have you considered how our different educational system may influence what is expected of an 'ideal' or 'good' student in each country?  These all relate to things that may be cultural values or societal norms that we can't see/feel/hear or touch – they are under the iceberg.  

When abroad, there may be times you frustrated/confused/unsure/or just feel like you don't quite 'get it' or understand what is going on.  These are the moments when it is important to step back and ask yourself, "Hmm, maybe there is something going on here under the tip of the iceberg?".  It is also important to understand your own cultural iceberg as well as the culture of your host country.  Students who have multiple cultural backgrounds (multi-racial/multi-cultural/hafu) may also find they have more than one cultural iceberg. While abroad, you will likely learn a lot about yourself and what it means to you to be an 'American' or 'Japanese' student through your day-to-day encounters with cultural differences.  These are some of the things you may want to write about in your weekly reports.  

Experiencing difference is part of the reason you signed up to go abroad, but that doesn't always make it exciting or easy.  You will have many different reactions to some of the differences, and similarities, between U.S. and Japanese culture that you experience while abroad.  A key thing to remember is that just because something is different doesn't mean it is wrong. Different cultures, societies, and people have different ways of approaching the same topic/issues/problem. 

This is particularly true since research groups, in the U.S. and Japan, are increasingly made up of students and professors from many different countries.   Therefore, even if you are a Japanese student working in a Japanese lab you may need to take some time to understand a bit about Indian culture and what is 'under their cultural iceberg' as there may be a number of Indian students working in your lab.  In the U.S., labs typically have more international students than American students, so there could be a very diverse range of cultures/backgrounds represented in your group.  Understanding and appreciating that a different approach is, well, just different, not wrong is an important first step to building bridges between and within the diverse research teams most scientists and engineers will find themselves working in.

It is also important to remember that there can be group/lab/disciplinary/organizational cultures as well. These are usually in alignment with the overall cultural values, but there can be some differences.  So, be sure you take the time to find out what your individual research lab group is like as not all Japanese research labs are the same and in the U.S. the only thing lab groups have in common may be that they are all different. 

Gerard Hendrik (GeertHofstede (born 2 October 1928) is a Dutch social psychologist, former IBM employee, and Professor Emeritus of Organizational Anthropology and International Management at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, well known for his pioneering research on cross-cultural groups and organizations. His most notable work has been in developing cultural dimensions theory. Here he describes national cultures along six dimensions: Power Distance, Individualism, Uncertainty avoidance, Masculinity, Long Term Orientation, and Indulgence vs. restraint. 

The Hofstede Insights website offers tools, consulting and training services based on Hofstede’s work in the field of business strategy, culture and change. Key among these are the Country Dimensions which enable students to learn about and compare/contrast countries using the 6-D model of national culture. You can use the website to compare cultural dimensions from 1, 2, or 3 different countries. This can be a powerful tool when you are working in a group comprised of people from different cultural backgrounds. 

High-context culture and low-context culture are terms used to describe cultures based on how explicit the messages exchanged are and how much the context means in certain situations. These concepts were first introduced by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his 1976 book Beyond Culture. According to Hall, messages exchanged in a high-context culture carry implicit meanings with more information than the actually spoken parts, while in low-context cultures, the messages have a clear meaning, with nothing implied beyond the words used.

In a higher-context culture, the way words are said is more important than the words themselves, so many things are left unsaid, relying on the context of the moment and the culture as a whole to impart meaning. In a lower-context culture, it is very important for the communicator to be explicit in order to be fully understood.

Higher-context cultures tend to be more common in the Asian cultures than in European, and in countries with low racial diversity. Cultures where the group/community is valued over the individual promote the in-groups and group reliance/support that favor higher-context cultures. Coexisting subcultures are also conducive to higher context situations, where the small group relies on their common background to explain the situation, rather than words.

A lower-context culture tends to explain things in more detail, and it is thought that this may be related to the need to accommodate individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds. A lower-context culture tends to explain things in more detail, and it is thought that this may be related to the need to accommodate individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds. Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for some specific reason. In these societies, cultural behavior and beliefs may need to be spelled out explicitly so that those coming into the cultural environment know how to behave.

High-Context vs. Low-Context

Japan is a high-context culture. To gain more insight on what this means for foreigners in Japan, read through some of the below articles.  You may also want to talk about some of your experiences with high-context vs. your more American low-context expectations in your weekly reports. 

The U.S. is a low-context culture. To gain more insight on what this means for foreigners in the U.S., read through some of the below articles.  You may also want to talk about some of your experiences with high-context vs. your more American low-context expectations in your weekly reports. 

Knowing how to communicate in the U.S. is more than just learning English. It is also important to consider how people in the U.S., typically, communicate.  This includes verbal and non-verbal communication.  One of the biggest differences is that the U.S. values direct communication and values people who “Tell it like it is.”  We’ll talk more about this during a seminar on intercultural communication when students first arrive in the U.S. but here are some resources that may be helpful to review.

Greetings in Japan 

One of the most common ways to greet someone in the U.S. is to say "Hi/Hello, how are you?"  However, this question can often be confusing for foreigners because if you try to respond by actually telling someone how you are feeling the American may look at you oddly or you may realize they have kept on walking because they weren't really expecting an answer. Why does this happen?  It's because "How are you?", when used as a general greeting, isn't really a question. It is just a social nicety and way of saying hello and often used when meeting someone you know in passing (for example when passing by someone in a building hallway).

The most common exchange when greeting an acquaintance or passing someone in the hall is:

"Hi, how are you doing today? (When used as a greeting)

  • I'm fine, thank you.
  • I'm good. You?
    • Yep, doing great.
  • Doing great! And how are you?
    • Good/Great! 
  • Good. Doing okay?
    • Yes, I'm good. A little tired today though.  

However, if you are having a conversation with a close friend or mentor and they ask you "How are you?" or "How are you really doing?" (usually in a private setting) then this is a true question and you can safely respond with a full/complete/honest answer.

Handshakes in the U.S. 

When two strangers first meet, particularly in a business/professional setting, they will typically shake hands.  Americans expect you to have a firm, but not too strong, handshake.   

Hugging in the U.S. 

It is also important to know that in the U.S., it is not uncommon for friends to hug when greeting or saying good-bye. This type of close personal contact is usually meant as a way of showing care/affection among platonic friends and the hugs are typically shorter and not as long/strong as if you were hugging your children or a loved one/family member.  This can be very surprising for Japanese students who are not accustomed to any form of close physical contact.  Not all Americans are comfortable with hugging though and you can usually tell by someone's body language.  If you do not want to be hugged, simply put your hand out as a gesture to shake hands when you see someone 'coming in' close and you think they may be getting ready to hug you.  

Small-talk with someone  you have just met in Japan is not common and may been seen as intimidating.  Indeed, people from many other countries can be confused by the American style of small talk where, for example, you might have a long two hours conversation with someone on a plane and then get up when they land say "It was nice talking to you" and walk away.  Small-talk is one of those aspects of culture that is 'under the iceberg' and might have different meanings and different context where it is appropriate in different countries too.  

There’s nothing small about the role that small talk plays in American culture. People from other countries are often surprised at how important small talk is in the U.S. and how naturally and comfortably people seem to do it — with peers, subordinates, men, women, strangers you have just met and even with superiors.

Americans are typically uncomfortable with silence and small talk can be a way to ‘break the ice’ and make conversation with those around you to ‘pass the time’. For example, people traveling together in the hotel shuttle van each day may have casual conversation about their day or what they plan to do, even though they have never met each other before and may never see each other again.  This is quite different from Japan where speaking with someone you do not know in a shuttle van, elevator or public space would be very uncommon and would likely make someone feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

In general, if someone you do not know starts speaking with you in a public space you can likely assume this is small talk and they are just being nice by talking casually with you. Overall, Americans are very friendly and like getting to know new people, especially those they believe may be tourists or visitors and it is likely you will be asked where you are from and why you are in Houston or the U.S. from time to time.

It’s also important to realize that how and when small talk is used varies by region in the U.S. too.  In large cities such as New York City, small talk is much less common than in the Southern or Midwestern parts of the U.S. and omeone’s individual comfort level with small talk can vary too. If you are uncomfortable with small talk or do not want to have a conversation with the person who is speaking to you it is okay to just give a very short or one-word answer and then turn away or begin to look at your phone.  Just as in Japan, looking at something on your phone or wearing headphones is often a cue that someone does not want to talk or be disturbed.

For more on this topic see:

Question of the Week: What About Friendship in Japan?  Are there things that American Students find confusing? 

Politeness isn't just a social norm in Japan, it is a structural part of the Japanese language.  As a beginning Japanese language learner, you will not be expected to know much keigo (polite speech) beyond the basic honorifics.  However, you may notice that people in Japan sometimes speak in different ways to different levels/types of people.  Their words they use, tone of voice, and body language may all be different.  This is an indication that someone has switched to using keigo, or polite forms, of speech.  The more advanced you become as a Japanese language learner the more keigo you will learn and use. 

Due to the formalities of the different language structures in Japan, most Japanese language teachers will a expect you to speak in a polite/formal manner with them in the classroom.  Beginning students aren't really taught keigo yet, but they are taught the proper/polite forms of everyday/normal speech.  This is because, generally, Americans and non-native Japanese speakers have a natural tendency to be too informal. Therefore, by teaching you the more polite manner of everyday speech from the start there is less of a chance for you to 'mess up' and be impolite or too informal when speaking in Japanese.  Once you get to your research lab, your labmates will likely teach you some of the more colloquial/informal ways of speaking in Japanese with your peers and, if you are in the Osaka or Kyoto, you may even learn some Kansai-ben

Honorifics – The #1 Thing Beginning Students Need to Know

Keigo – What It Is and When You Use it in Japanese 

Politeness in Japan

Attitudes to time may differ between different cultures in often quite significant ways. For example, being late for an appointment, or taking a long time to get down to business, is the accepted norm in most Mediterranean and Arab countries. Such habits, though, would be anathema in punctuality-conscious USA, Japan, England, Switzerland, Germany, etc. In the Japanese train system, for example, “on time” refers to expected delays of less than one minute, while in many other countries, up to fifteen minutes leeway is still considered “on-time”.  Concepts of timeliness/punctuality, working hard, long hours, and lateness can all vary based on cultural and societal context. Learn more by clicking on the topics below.

In Japan, punctuality is a strictly observed cultural and societal value and (almost) everything (almost always) runs on time.  There is (almost) never a good excuse to be late. You should always show up at least 5 minutes early to a scheduled meeting or event. Trains and subways are rarely late in Japan and people time their commute down to the second which is very different than in the U.S. where public transportation is often late and 'getting stuck in traffic' is a common reason for people to be 5 – 10 minutes late to a meeting or event. 

The U.S. is also a very time-centric cultural and we often assign an economic value to time.  Therefore, much of what is written about punctuality and timeliness in the U.S. is written from a business/work perspective.  You do not want to show up 'too early' or 'too late' in the U.S.   There is a strong cultural value for punctuality in the U.S. but not everything runs on time.  Public transportation, both buses and trains/subways, are notorious for being late in the U.S. and since most people commute via car, bad traffic or a traffic accident can also cause unexpected delays. 

Being on Time:  For a work/school/research related meeting it is always best to arrive 5 minutes early.  Some people may not show up though until 2 – 3 minutes before or right at the scheduled start time.  Meetings in the U.S. tend to begin with some informal greetings/conversation and won't truly 'start' until about 5 minutes after.  The meeting organizer may say, "Okay, time to get down to business" or something similar which is a cue that it is time to 'get to work' and begin discussion of the meeting agenda.  

Being A Little Late: In the U.S., as long as you arrive within about 3 – 5 minutes of the scheduled time it is usually okay.  Enter the room quietly and sit at the back if the meeting has already begun.  

  • Some professors/teachers/companies place a very, high value on starting on time and it is not okay to be even 1 minute late to a meeting/class.  Participation is part of your grade in U.S. classrooms and some professors/teachers deduct points from your daily participation score if you are late.  

Being Late:  If you are more than 5 – 7 minutes late, you are considered late. You should always call/text to let someone know you will be arriving more than 5-7 minutes late. Apologize and ask if they want to reschedule.  You also need a 'good excuse' for being this late.  For example, bad traffic or a prior meeting running late.  

  • Professors in the U.S. typically have very busy schedules.  Be sure you always show up on time to meetings with professors. If you arrive 10 minutes late for a 30 minute meeting the professor may only be able to talk to you for 20 minutes as they likely have another meeting scheduled right after. 

End Time:  It is not uncommon in the U.S. for meetings to 'run late' or past their scheduled end time.  If you have to leave the meeting/event at a set/specific time it is okay to say to the meeting organizer at the start, "I'm so sorry but I'll have to leave at (time) because I have another meeting right after this." You should then sit by the door or at the back of the room. Then, at the time you need to leave you can quietly stand up and leave the meeting/room. 

What does 'Around' or 'About' (Time) Mean?:  In the U.S., particularly when setting meeting times with other students, it is not uncommon to hear someone say, "Let's meet about/around 10:00 AM".  What does this mean? The use of the word about/around is an indication that the schedule/start time is a little flexible and that the meeting/event will begin as soon as everyone arrives.  So, for example, the first person may show up at 10:00 but the other person/attendees may not show up until 10:10 or 10:15.  As long as you are within a 10 – 15 minute window it is usually okay, but its best to arrive as close to 10:00 as you can.  

My friend invited me to a party at their home that started at 7:00 PM. I didn't want to be late so I showed up at 6:50 PM and they seemed surprised. Why?  

  • If you are invited to an event or party at someone's home it is actually considered rude to arrive too early.  The host might still be cleaning up or preparing food right up until, or even after, the scheduled start time. 
  • For these types of social events it is best to arrive on-time or even 5 – 10 minutes late.  Hosts may even tell guests, "I really need to have everyone arrive on time as dinner will begin promptly at XX time". This lets guests know that, in this case, it is not okay to be late.   
  • However, keep in mind that America is a very diverse country and your friend may have a  different time orientation.  For example, someone from Germany may expect you to arrive promptly by 7:00 PM, or earlier, and be offended if you are five minutes late.  If you are attending a party hosted by someone from India, most guests may not even arrive until 30 minutes after the scheduled start time. 
  • When to arrive at a party at someone's home varies greatly by person/family so, when in doubt don't hesitate to ask. You can always say, "I've never been invited to someone's home in the U.S. before. I know you said that the party/dinner would begin at 7:00 PM but what time should I really arrive? Or what time do most people arrive?"  If you aren't comfortable asking your host that, ask a friend in your lab who knows that person for their advice.  


Working Hours in Japan

Working Hours in the U.S. 

Some days graduate students in my lab at Rice University come in at 10:00, but some days they don't arrive until noon.  What's up?  

  • In the U.S., working hours for graduate students tend to be highly flexible, though this varies by the lab/group culture.  Graduate students may have class commitments or other meetings at different times on different days of the week. So, they may be in class on Tuesday and Thursday mornings but not in class in the morning on M/W/F.  Also, working hours tend revolve around the demands of your project.  Graduate students may work very late, or even overnight, some days on their experiments in the lab (sometimes because that is the only time they can use that piece of equipment). To make up for that long day they may come in later the next day.  They can also work on the weekends in the lab if they choose.  Therefore each day/week in a graduate students life may be slightly different.  You may need to ask your graduate student mentor what their typical schedule is and ask them to let you know if anything will change.  Schedules can and do vary.  

My graduate student at Rice University is never in their office or the lab. I need to ask them a question but never see them? 

  • If you can't find a graduate student in their office they are probably in the research lab.  But, at most U.S. campuses there is equipment that is shared across multiple groups or the entire campus, so they may be doing an experiment in a different lab or building. 
  • Also, remember that in the U.S. you don't have to be 'seen' in the office to be working.  If someone is working on data analysis or writing a paper/dissertation, they may be working on their laptop in the library, at a coffee shop, or from home where it is quiet and they can focus.  If a graduate students doesn't have any fixed/scheduled meetings or classes that day they may not always be in the lab or in their office on campus. 
  • Most graduate students to check email regularly, sometimes on their phones, so if you have an urgent question you can call/text/or email them and they'll likely get back to you.  

My graduate student/professor at Rice University told me that I should come to the lab by 9:30 each day and I'm always there on time. But sometimes I'm the only one in the office/lab and others, even my professor, doesn't arrive until 9:45 or later.  Why? 

  • Remember, that in the U.S. public transportation is very unpredictable and can often be late.  Also, the majority of Americans commute to/from work via car and if there is bad traffic due to a car accident or weather their drive may take longer than normal.  While you should always attempt to be on time, it is not uncommon for workers to be 5 – 15 minutes late due to commuting delays in the U.S. Most workers would make up for this by staying a little later at the end of the day or maybe taking a shorter lunch, or even eating lunch at their desk.  

When do people eat lunch in the U.S.?  I never know when to eat? 

  • Most workers in the U.S. do not have fixed/set break or lunch times.  While many people do eat lunch from 12:00 – 1:00 some people may eat lunch earlier or later than this depending on what time they start their workday. 
  • This means it is not very common for research groups to go to lunch together as a group.  Instead, each individual person decides when they want to eat lunch and some people don't even leave the office and just eat lunch at their desk. 
  • To save money, many students pack their own lunch bag/box and may meet up with a few friends to eat lunch together in a break room, outside, or at the student center.  You can set your own lunch time based on what is most convenient for your personal schedule.  

When should I leave work? My graduate student at Rice University said it was okay to go but she/he is still in the lab/office?  

  • In the U.S., when you are done working for the day it is okay to leave, even if your mentor/boss has not yet left.  Conversely, your mentor/professor/other student may leave when they are done for the day and you may end up being the last person to leave the office/lab. 
  • Your research project may need you to work late or on the weekends occasionally but you shouldn't feel obligated to stay late each and every night. Remember, it is not the number of hours each day you are seen in the office/lab that matters it is the results/output for the time you put in. 
  • If your mentor/professor says it is okay for you to leave that day, they mean it. It is okay.  But, if you do want to stay late to work on your research poster, read papers, or other tasks you can just say, "Oh, thank you. I just want to stay a bit latter to finish up (task) and then I'll go home".  

Everyone leaves the office by 5 or 6 in my lab at Rice University. Why do people say that American's work such long hours? 

  • Americans may not stay in the office or at work as long as is typical in Japan, but they may spend a lot of time working from home in the evening or on the weekends.  In the U.S., you do not have to be 'seen' in the office to be 'working'.   Results/output and working efficiently/effectively matter more than the total hours you spend at the office/lab each day. It is said that many Americans never stop working and we also do not have any federally mandated paid parental leave or paid vacation leave. Parental and vacation leave policies, and whether this is paid or unpaid leave, vary by employer/company.  

Working Parents: It is very common in the U.S. that both parents (mothers and fathers) will work and there are many single-parent households. Working parents tend to start their day earlier than other employees, say at 7:00 or 7:30 AM instead of 8:00 or 8:30 AM like other office employees.  Not all jobs allow this type of flexible work schedule, but it is very common in the U.S. Faculty and graduate students who are parents often have even more flexibility with their schedule as they may only need to be in the office/lab for certain classes, meetings, and experiments, and may be able to work from home if needed at other times during the day, evening, or weekends. 

To enforce timeliness, some daycares or schools will charge parents by the minute if they are late to pick up their children at the end of the day.  Due to this, working parents (both men and women) may have to leave work (often by 4:00 PM) so they can drive and arrive on time to pick up their children from daycare by 5:00 PM. Working parents often work from home on their laptop in the evening or on weekends as well.  So, just because someone leaves the office/lab at 4:00 PM, this doesn't always mean they are done working for the day.  You may receive many emails from them at 8:00 PM or later that night after they have put their children to bed.  

The study abroad roller coaster.

You may have heard that many students who study abroad go through an initial period of transition, also known as culture shock.  But did you know you can have re-entry or reverse culture shock when you return home?  Learn more about some of the cultural transitions you may experience while abroad and upon  your return home. 

Initial Culture Shock: Studying, living, and conducting research abroad is inherently stressful. Every day you are faced with speaking in a foreign language, dealing with different social and cultural expectations, navigating the newness of everyday tasks (e.g. where do I buy groceries, navigating public transportation, where can I get a haircut?, etc.). At the same time you are also conducting research in a new lab group where you may be working on a topic you have little prior familiarity with and often must try to make progress on your project in a very limited time-period.  Just one of these things is hard, all taken together can some days feel a bit overwhelming.

Feeling a combined sense of being very excited and overwhelmed/tired at the same time is common and reviewing some of these resources may help give you tips on how to deal with initial culture shock. Be sure you ask for help and assistance as needed – even minor things like where can I buy groceries or mail a letter.  The good thing about universities is that everyone on campus was once new – just like you – so no question is too simple or silly.  If you ask your fellow graduate students in your lab they will be able to give you lots of tips on adjusting to life at the university and in your new host city.  

Re-Entry or Reverse Culture Shock: Most students who study abroad expect to experience some culture shock when they arrive in their new host country.  But did you know you will also likely experience reverse culture shock when you return home?  Also known as re-entry, this is a period of time when you will be transitioning back into your normal or daily life.  Re-adapting to the 'American' or 'Japanese' way of doing things may  be harder, at times, that you expected.

Also, it's not just you that may have changed, your friends and family will have had experiences during your time abroad that you will not have been there to share.  They may be expecting you to be 'the same' and you may have been expecting home to be 'the same'. It is the disconnect between these expectations and reality that can be challenging during the re-entry period.  These feelings might present themselves in various ways:

  • Boredom
  • Difficulty talking about your experience
  • Homesickness for your host country
  • Critical view of your home culture
  • Challenges with relationships with friends and family
  • Feelings of alienation
  • Fear of "losing" the experience

Here are some additional resources you may also want to review on this topic: 


Students who have had international study, work, or research experience have a unique opportunity to capitalize on this experience in their job search. The World Economic Forum describes many of these as the 21st Century Skills Every Student Needs. Even if you were not doing anything science or engineering related while abroad, you liked learned a number of highly transferable skills such as, but not limited to: 

  • Adaptability
  • Acceptance of Different Perspectives/Ways of Being and Doing Things 
  • Dealing with Ambiguity
  • Experience Working in a Diverse or Interdisciplinary Team 
  • Flexibility 
  • Intercultural Communication 
  • Living and Working Independently ('Adulting') 
  • Problem Solving 
  • Self-Confidence

These are often call 'soft' or 'interpersonal' skills. Here are some other resources that may be helpful to you as you consider how to best highlight your international experience on your resume and/or in an interview.  Consult your campus career services office or international programs/study abroad office as they may have special workshops/programming on integrating your international experience into your career search.