Special Programme in Science (SPS)

SPS student's summer programme in the University of Tokyo

Ann recently spent her summer abroad in the UTokyo Amgen Scholars Programme. The Amgen Scholars Programme offers research opportunities at world-class institutions in the U.S., Europe and Japan. As of now, the Japan programme is the only one which accepts students from all over the world.

In the University of Tokyo, she had the privilege of working under Prof. Akimitsu Okamoto in the Okamoto Laboratory located on the Komaba campus. During her time there, she also had the honour of being mentored by two graduate students, Kenta Kohyama and Yuya Moriyama. The Okamoto Laboratory is a multidisciplinary laboratory focused on research combining life science with synthetic chemistry. As an SPS student, this was especially pertinent to her due to the emphasis SPS places on interdisciplinary learning.

As the Amgen Programme welcomes applicants with backgrounds in science and engineering, she also had the privilege of meeting people from different disciplines and being acquainted with their work. The entire research project culminated in a symposium comprising one minute, one slide oral presentation and a poster presentation on her work in the detection of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, an epigenetic modification with possible implications on gene expression. The write-up below is a reflection of her experience in the University of Tokyo.

My Summer Abroad in the University of Tokyo

Never would I have imagined that I would be micropipetting DNA into microcentrifuge tubes amidst a background of chirping cicadas on a fine summer day in Tokyo. Ever since my first foray into Studio Ghibli films at a young age, I have been fascinated with Japan and Japanese culture. Thus, it was a no-brainer for me to apply to the UTokyo Amgen Scholars Programme which combined my passion for science with my love of Japan.

The Amgen Scholars Programme offers research opportunities at world-class institutions in the U.S., Europe and Japan. As of now (and fortunately for me), the Japan programme is the only one which accepts students from all over the world.

In the University of Tokyo, I had the privilege of working under Prof. Akimitsu Okamoto in the Okamoto Laboratory located on the Komaba campus. The Okamoto Laboratory is a multidisciplinary laboratory focused on research combining life science with synthetic chemistry. As an SPS student, this was especially pertinent to me due to the emphasis SPS places on interdisciplinary learning. During my time there, I was working on the detection of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, an epigenetic modification with possible implications on gene expression. As a Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Economics (PCME) student who had never taken H2 Biology, this was unfamiliar territory. Thankfully though, the experience of working in a biology laboratory during the practical sessions of SP2174 eased my transition.

The Okamoto Laboratory is helmed by Prof. Okamoto and is divided into three sub-groups. Research in the Okamoto Laboratory was in general quite similar to that in Singapore as the same scientific method of inquiry formed the backbone of the research project. During my time there, I had the honour of being mentored by two graduate students, Kenta Kohyama and Yuya Moriyama. It was amazing to be mentored in person by the authors of papers that I had been reading prior to my stint in the Okamoto Laboratory. My mentors introduced me to the techniques and skills required to carry out my experiments, and as with SPS mentors, they were also present to give suggestions when I was having difficulty interpreting unusual results. Unlike the mentorship offered in SP2171 and SP3172, there were no scheduled meetings with my mentors and I usually just approached them when I was facing problems. As my mentors had been in the Okamoto Laboratory since they were fourth year Bachelor students, they were very familiar with the laboratory and provided a unique insight into the advantages of staying in the same laboratory and working on related projects for an extended period of time.

Research in the University of Tokyo was a very interesting experience as there were some customs in the Okamoto Laboratory that were foreign to me. Changing shoes before entering the laboratory is a must in the Okamoto Laboratory and it was something that I had to get used to. Friday mornings were allocated to cleaning, with the whole laboratory coming together to clean the area with each person being assigned a task based on their sub-group. Not unlike SPS, omiyage or souvenirs from laboratory members were something we looked forward to with snacks often being devoured within days. These were things that I would not have experienced had I not gone to Japan.

As the Amgen Programme welcomes applicants with backgrounds in science and engineering, I also had the privilege of meeting people from different disciplines and being acquainted with their work. The UTokyo programme was dominated by life science or biology majors as like in SPS. Thus, listening to them talk about their work was not as alien as it would have been if I had not been initiated into biology projects during the SPS congresses. The entire research project culminated in a symposium comprising one minute, one slide oral presentations and poster presentations.

It was definitely not all work and no play during my time there. On weekends, if we were free, we would visit places of interest in Tokyo and beyond. It was definitely interesting listening my fellow programme mates talk about their experiences in their home countries and their universities during these trips together.

All in all, this summer spent doing research in the University of Tokyo was an unforgettable one. I would encourage anyone with the opportunity to do so to apply for overseas research attachments as it was truly an eye-opener to observe how research was conducted in Japan. I have learnt and done so much, and met so many wonderful people during my time there. This is an experience that I will treasure for years to come.

Wee Wen, Ann

Figure 1: Tokyo University's Hongo campus clock tower.

Figure 2: Tokyo University's Komaba II campus clock tower.

Figure 3: Visiting National Diet Building during one of the official excursions

Figure 4: Ann is trying out yumomi, a traditional method of cooling down the hot spring water, during her mid-review presentation session cum excursion in Kusatsu