Modus operandi in EARTH-LIFE SCIENCE INSTITUTE (ELSI), Japan – Day 0

This article appeared in the ELSI’s blog

1557567_10151911643485911_1948361252_nMay is a month where nothing really happens in Japan. It is the post-sakura season where everyone is done taking pictures of cherry blossoms and is getting ready for a humid and hot summer. I say this with tongue in cheek but there is some truth to the lull of May. People gear up for the new school and fiscal year beginning in April and slowly settle into the pattern of life by May, in relief. I joined ELSI in the beginning of May after going through their multiple interviews in January. Yes, I say multiple interviews to point to the unique way ELSI evaluates its potential newcomer, where you meet numerous people by whom you are not sure you are being judged or just having a scientific exchange. Or both. It is an unconventional way but it seemed to have worked for me much to my delight.

elsiDuring this time, I managed to get to know whom I will be working closely with and I feel lucky to be with people whom are my instant noodle expert (INE). INE are people who will be there to give you suggestions and ideas in an instant. Some of my colleagues may not be here all year long but they are nevertheless very insightful to have around when they are around. Within a few interactions, I realised how much more reading I needed to do and how I can reduce workflows in research. This I got within the first week of being here.

I was also impressed by how collaboration happens here, where fields are interrelated and you get to see the bigger picture. A young scientist often neglects the bigger picture, preferring to dig deeper. At ELSI, the bigger picture is often the talking point and this is how collaborations happen. It is slightly daunting in the beginning but it is exciting once you get it.

Right now I am facilitating in building the chemistry lab, which is almost like a “mansion” room. In Japan, a “one-room mansion” is the common term referring to a studio apartment. This is one of those Japanese terms that I have a hard time comprehending till this day. However, the limits in space will all change, as ELSI will have a new building by the end of next year. For now, we are dealing with making the best of space, which is manageable. Personally, the opportunity of building a lab is an exciting prospect to me, where we are sharing ideas on how to handle the logistics of instruments and materials in a small room. I hope that we will be fully operational by end of summer.

On the lighter note, what I find nice and admittedly a little weird is, the people at ELSI are like a family. We often have lunch together, meet for daily tea-time at 3, and we drink together every Friday. Yes, you could surmise that perhaps we don’t have many friends. However, friendless or not, some of the best discussions happen here. It is like a mix of getting to know some of the research staff and building a connection between them. We are planning to watch some of the World Cup matches together. My general advice is, don’t mix work and life together. But ELSI is an exception, I suppose.

Finally, I would like to convey my appreciation to the wonderful set of support staff we have at ELSI. They have made my registrations and other legal obligations amazingly easy since day 1. Moreover, they are always welcoming when you approach them in their office. They make a point to ask you personal questions (the nice ones), to be your friend and to make your time here a smooth one.

All is pretty good, until of course we find ourselves rooting for opposing teams when we watch the World Cup matches together as an ELSI family!