Studying Overseas to Make the Dream of Becoming an Astronomer Come True

Posted on September 22 , 2022
Freshman student
Department of Science and Engineering,
Graduate School of Science and Engineering
Doctor's Program of Fundamental Science Course
Kanto International Senior High School, Tokyo, Japan


Mr. SHEN from Taiwan, is conducting research into astronomical phenomena as a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Science and Engineering. In our interview, he talked about how he has been studying at AGU to deepen his knowledge of astronomy while also experiencing a different culture. He also shared with us his vision for the future

Deciding to study at AGU to conduct research into space, of which I had long been a fan

I have been dreaming of becoming an astronomer since I was a child. It began when I encountered a pictorial book on the solar system at the library when I was an elementary school student. The book sparked in me a fascination with the vastness of space and all its mysteries, and I have been a fan ever since.
I began to consider studying abroad as I wanted to broaden my perspective by interacting with different types of people and experiencing a different culture. Japan, meanwhile, had long been a place that I had wanted to visit, having grown up watching Japanese anime and TV dramas, such as the Mobile Suit Gundam series. I chose to study at a senior high school in Japan and before graduating I talked to my homeroom teacher about which university to attend. According to my teacher, AGU had multiple space-related laboratories and its Sagamihara campus, where the College of Science and Engineering was located, was very close to The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency(JAXA)’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science. Moreover, my teacher said that AGU had concluded an agreement on the Cooperative Graduate School System with JAXA and provided an optimal environment for space-related research. I therefore decided to study at AGU’s Department of Physics and Mathematics. (In academic year 2021, the Department was reorganized and divided into the Department of Physical Sciences and the Department of Mathematical Sciences.)

At AGU, I began to attend classes on astronomy in my junior year. Specifically, I attended the Space Physics I and Space Physics II classes, which were taught by Professor SAKAMOTO Takanori. I am now conducting research under the professor at the SAKAMOTO Laboratory. In those classes, I learned how interesting it was to study astronomy, which had long stirred my imagination, and was further motivated to conduct astronomical research. I also enjoyed listening to Professor SAKAMOTO share the latest space-related developments. It was so exciting. I remember thinking, “What am I going to learn from the professor in today’s class?”
After enrolling at the University, I was eager to start conducting research into space as soon as possible and was impatiently waiting for the moment when I became a junior and able to attend the classes on astronomy. However, after starting to conduct research at the SAKAMOTO Laboratory in my senior year, I recognized the following: in order to understand astronomical issues, you need to have a broad-based knowledge of fundamental physics, including quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics and the theory of relativity. AGU’s curriculum is designed to let students acquire this kind of basic knowledge across a range of fields before they start their junior year so that they can subsequently apply their knowledge to conduct research in their respective fields of specialization. In hindsight, I really appreciate the curriculum.

Daily embracing the challenge of elucidating mysterious astronomical phenomena

At the SAKAMOTO Laboratory, for the elucidation of gamma-ray bursts, we are undertaking development activities as a member of the HiZ-GUNDAM X-ray observation satellite working group established under JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, while also conducting analysis of the observation data obtained from NASA’s Swift satellite. Gamma-ray bursts are massively energetic explosions that radiate gamma rays. Although it has been 50 years since the discovery of the phenomenon, the source of the energy and the radiation mechanism are yet to be clarified. HiZ-GUNDAM was selected to be a candidate project from among the small satellite projects proposed to JAXA in response to its public solicitation, and the HiZ-GUNDAM satellite can actually be launched if the project is finally adopted by the Agency. I chose to study under Professor SAKAMOTO mainly because I wanted to engage in the development of a satellite, and I have been participating in the development project since my senior year at AGU. The project team started the activity by examining the performance of the cameras to be mounted on the satellite and we are now working on the establishment of a method to process the observation data gained from the satellite. It gives me great satisfaction to be every day conducting absorbing research toward a shared goal with other members of the project team.
I started to study the Japanese language from scratch after graduating from junior high school. Even now, as a doctoral student, I need to take painstaking care in order to write easy-to-understand Japanese sentences with the right grammar and wording. My mother language, which is Chinese, has few honorific expressions and it is therefore difficult for me to choose Japanese words that are polite enough to express due respect to others. When I write a paper or make a presentation, I ask Professor SAKAMOTO for advice also about the Japanese language expressions. Since enrolling at the Graduate School, I have been serving as a teaching assistant (TA) for the “Basic Experimental Physics” classes and by teaching students as a TA, I can train myself to make easy-to-understand explanations in Japanese.

Watching the launch of a rocket with other members of the Laboratory

I need to conduct research from an objective viewpoint, for which I have developed a habit of listening to various opinions of others. By learning about different opinions, I can often recognize what it takes to improve myself, which in turn could lead me to try something new. I can now take this kind of approach because by studying abroad I have learned that you can be more flexible in your thinking by being exposed to different values.
Thinking it important to also be able to offer insights into my own field of research from the perspective of other academic fields, I have been proactively studying subjects outside my area of specialization at the Graduate School, including liberal arts subjects. In particular, the Global New Economy class, in which I learned about how economic factors shape the world, left a lasting impression on me. I had already been interested in what was going on in the world, and the class encouraged me to pay even more attention to global economic news. At AGU, I have these kinds of opportunities to deepen my knowledge across a range of fields, not just my own field of specialization, which is really one of the most enjoyable things you can experience at AGU.

For details of Mr. SHEN’s research (his activities conducted in the field of astrophysics at the SAKAMOTO Laboratory and AGU’s activities in the aerospace field), click here.

Treasured memories of art club activities

I enjoy painting pictures and I had already attended a painting class when I was at kindergarten. When I was an undergraduate at AGU, I belonged to the University’s art club, known as “AOVI.” The club was conducting activities at the Aoyama campus, and I was therefore able to make friends with students specializing in humanities at the campus through the club activities, whereas I would otherwise have had few opportunities to interact with these students. I had a great time in the club activities, including painting a picture on a large board with other members until late at night for the university festival and organizing an event. Being in AOVI thus gave me memories of my time as an international student that I continue to treasure.
At the SAKAMOTO Laboratory, I was also able to demonstrate my painting skills for an event. Specifically, for the “Gamma-ray Bursts in the Gravitational Wave Era 2019” international academic conference, which Professor SAKAMOTO helped organize, the Laboratory was tasked with the creation of a poster, and I painted a picture for the poster. I hear the poster was highly acclaimed by the sponsor of the event and people from other universities. Subsequently, the College of Science and Engineering purchased the right of use, and the picture that I painted for the poster is used in various ways even now. I created the poster soon after joining the SAKAMOTO Laboratory. At that time, I needed advice from my seniors for everything I did at the Laboratory, and it was great to be able to make a contribution to the Laboratory through my painting.

Creating a poster for the international academic conference

Giving substantial support to help international students take on challenges

As an international student, thanks to the substantial support extended by AGU, I am now contentedly absorbed in my doctoral research. In particular, the staff at the University’s International Center are always giving me helpful advice, including on how to update my visa and cautions about every little aspect of daily life in Japan. I have always been reassured by their kind support. Also, I have been able to receive scholarships for international students from the University as well as from external organizations. When I was a master’s student, I received the Aoyama Gakuin University Global Scholarship for International Students and also a scholarship from The Moritani Scholarship Foundation. Now, as a doctoral student, I am receiving support for my research under the AGU Future Eagle Project as well as being granted the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology(Japan Student Services Organization)Honors Scholarship for Privately Financed International Students. I feel thankful for all the support—both psychological and physical—that I have received.
Having thus been supported by lots of people in Japan, I wanted to do something for other international students and so served as a tutor for international students in my sophomore and junior years at the University. As a tutor, I mainly supported exchange students from Thailand, including organizing a house party for them and going camping with them in my free time, thereby deepening our interactions and also having new experiences myself.
After completing the doctoral course at the Graduate School, I aim to become an astronomer, as I have long dreamed of. However, as a result of studying overseas, I now have another goal, which is to pass down my knowledge and experience to the next generation, thereby making a contribution to society. Specifically, I want to organize a hands-on event in which participants from around the world can enjoy the wonders of science in order to help more people develop a greater interest in science. I also want to support people who intend to study overseas and to eventually create an international NPO for developing specialists who can help solve a range of social issues from a global perspective. First of all, I will work to turn my dream of becoming an astronomer into reality and then I will conduct the aforementioned activities by making use of the knowledge that I have accumulated as a scholar.
I know it feels uneasy to think about leaving your home country. However, AGU will provide you with an environment in which you can take on the challenges you want with peace of mind, while also experiencing Japanese culture. I would urge you to study overseas to become internationally minded and to expand your possibilities.

Department Enrolled

Department of Science and Engineering,
Graduate School of Science and Engineering
Doctor's Program of Fundamental Science Course

The Graduate School of Science and Engineering consists of one department and eight special courses. This research system enables students to study not only their area of specialty, but also to learn cutting-edge research from other fields of study and research that cuts across fields. In order to respond to the various complex and diverse modern issues of science and technology, such as environmental energy issues, we have prepared a flexible education and research system that is not bound by previous research areas.
Focusing on mathematical science, theoretical physics, and astrophysics, the course extends to new fields such as complex systems. The specialty studies cultivate students' abilities to build models and solve problems for a range of issues.