【Researcher’s Café #2】Held Successfully on June 14, 2024

The second round of the Research Café, an initiative by C-ENGINE, was held successfully on June 14, 2024, from 16:30 to 17:30. This online event brought together PhD students, post-doctoral researchers, and professionals from various fields to discuss the challenges and opportunities of conducting Research Internships while pursuing PhD degrees.

The event was facilitated by Dr. Onishi, a post-doctoral researcher in Germany, who shared his experiences adapting to cultural differences and the demands of producing research results abroad. The panel included esteemed speakers such as Prodinger, Cao, Jin, and Huang, who provided valuable insights from their experiences in balancing academic and professional commitments.

*Key topics discussed during the Research Café included:

1) The differences between research workflows in academia and industry.

2) Strategies for managing PhD studies while participating in internships.

3) Experiences of overcoming cultural and language barriers in a foreign country.

4) The financial aspects of internships include salary and support for living expenses.

– Details of the session were as follows:


[C-ENGINE] Good morning! For those joining us from different time zones, it must be early for some of you. Onishi-san, could you share the current time in Germany?

[Onishi] It’s now 9:30 in the morning in Germany. Good morning and good evening, everyone! Welcome to today’s Researcher’s Cafe. We’ll start by introducing our panelists, including myself as a facilitator, so that we can get to know each other better and understand what questions you might want to ask.
I’ll go first. I’m Mashun Onishi, a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. I work on cell biology, specifically focusing on how mitochondria generate energy and how this process is linked to aging and pathological conditions.
I’m particularly looking forward to today’s session because our panellists have unique experiences with research internships in different countries, including Japan. Let’s get excited and enjoy today’s Researcher’s Cafe! I want to hand the microphone over to Florian, our first panelist. Florian, could you give us a brief introduction?

[Florian] Thank you, Onishi. My name is Florian Prodinger, and I’m originally from Austria. I did my PhD in Japan, and during my PhD, I participated in an internship. Now, I’m working at the company where I interned, NBI(Nippon Beiboehringer-ingelheim). My PhD research was on giant viruses and their ecology, utilizing next-generation sequencings. Currently, I work with mass spectrometry in drug safety. Nice to meet you all.

[Onishi] Thank you, Florian. Next, we have Cao-san. Could you please introduce yourself?

[Cao] Hi everyone, I’m Cao from Kyoto University. I’m currently in the third year of my PhD. I will graduate next April. During my PhD course, I completed two internships through C-ENGINE. My major is hydrogen energy, focusing on catalysts for hydrogen production. Both internships were closely related to my research field. It’s great to be here with you all.

[Onishi] Thank you, Cao-san. Now, Jin-san, could you please introduce yourself?

[Jin] Okay, hello everyone. I’m Jin from China, a third-year doctoral student at the University of Tokyo. My major is spatial information science, and my research topic involves mining railway passenger behaviour to identify external factors that impact their behaviour. I interned at HITACHI through C-ENGINE and am glad to share my experience with everyone. Thank you.

[Onishi] Great, thank you. Finally, Huang-san, could you introduce yourself?

[Huang] Hello, everyone. I’m Huang, a third-year doctoral student at Tokyo Tech. I’ve also done two internships through C-ENGINE. Since I’m in an interdisciplinary major, I pursued two internships: one at Ricoh, focusing on traditional material science research, and another at NBI, working on drug formulation. My main research theme involves developing particles with a magnetic core and a tailorable polymer shell for drug delivery, bio-sensing, and catalysis. Many attendees might also be navigating interdisciplinary fields; internships are a great way to explore different research areas. Nice to meet you all, and I hope to share some of my experiences as well.

[Onishi] Great, thank you to all the panelists for introducing yourselves. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your experiences. As you’ve heard, some of our panellists have already completed one or two internships.

*What motivated you to join an internship?

[Onishi] The audience is likely to be interested in learning about the experiences and challenges faced by our panelists. So, let’s get started. I’m curious about what motivated the panelists to pursue internships during their PhDs. I know that doing a PhD is already quite tough, and adding an internship can be even more challenging. So, I’d like to know what prompted you to take on this additional challenge. Florian, could you share your experience and what motivated you to join an internship?

[Florian] I was job hunting during my PhD and was graduating during COVID-19, which caused delays in getting a peer reviewer for my last paper. I had a lot of time and thought about what to do after my PhD. To understand what working in a company would be like with a PhD, I wanted to gain some experience. Also, NBI, although not very famous in Japan, is a major pharmaceutical company in Germany. An internship there would benefit job hunting back in my home country. Since I had time to spare before graduation, I did an internship. That was my motivation.

[Onishi] That’s great. How did you decide on the research area for your internship, considering you need to align it with your PhD work?

[Florian] This part is a bit funny. I applied for an internship at NBI and attended a C-ENGINE Exchange meeting where companies introduced themselves. I met someone from NBI, and their work was closely related to my master’s thesis and PhD. I wanted to join their team, but I mistakenly applied to the wrong group initially and wasn’t accepted. I then reapplied to the correct group, and my theme involved working with data they generated, setting up workflows, and doing machine learning experiments. During interviews, I recommend discussing your skills and asking the team what they think could be an interesting theme. It’s a conversation between you and your hosting group.

[Onishi] Great, thank you. Communication is crucial in matching your research interests with the internship. Now, Cao-san, could you share what motivated you to join the internship and how you chose your project?

[Cao] During my PhD, I was also thinking about job hunting. I did my first internship in the first year of my PhD. Since I did my master course at the same university, I had some experience living in Japan. I was considering whether to find a job in China or Japan after graduation. I wanted to experience different companies’ working environments and research fields, so I did internships to decide on my future career. C-ENGINE offers longer internships, allowing more time to understand the company’s research and how my skills could be applied. After my first internship, I felt confident about working in Japan and applied for a second internship. This experience helped me decide on my career path.

[Onishi] Thank you for sharing. It’s crucial to understand the work environment before making a decision. Did you find managing two internships during your PhD challenging? Any tips?

[Cao] My situation is a bit different because I did a two-year master course in the same lab before starting my PhD. So, I had more time to collect data and publish papers. This allowed me to manage both my PhD and internships. I think having a longer timeframe helped balance my research and career exploration.

[Onishi] Huang-san, could you tell us about your motivation for joining internships and any benefits or challenges you faced?

[Huang] My main consideration was exploring different research fields to see what I wanted to pursue as a career. My two internships were in different fields related to my research, allowing me to explore my interests. For example, my first internship was in conductive ink, which was related to my undergraduate studies. The second was supposed to be in drug delivery systems, but I worked on a project closely related to my research theme due to internal changes. I appreciate that NBI adjusts the research themes based on skills, which was very beneficial. Internships offer a “free trial” of your future career, allowing you to test different fields without commitment. They also build confidence and help you understand your capabilities.

[Onishi] That’s an excellent perspective. Internships indeed help in deciding between academia and industry. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Aspiring researchers need to know the motivations and challenges of internships to make informed decisions.

*Language issues during the Research Internship

[Onishi] Cao-san, did you also experience differences in the working environment, particularly regarding language?

[Cao] Yes, in my second company, most employees were Japanese and expected me to speak Japanese. It’s helpful to have some Japanese language skills for internships in Japan. Some companies provide an English or Chinese SPI test as part of the application process, but others only offer a difficult Japanese SPI test. Improving your Japanese reading and writing skills for these tests is beneficial.

[Onishi] I see. Thank you, Cao-san, for that insight. Now Jin-san, what motivated you to join the internship, and did you face any language or communication challenges?

[Jin] Sure. My research on railway passenger behaviour is closely related to the industry. I wanted to know how my research could be applied in a real-world setting. C-ENGINE offers long-term internships, which are great opportunities to complete a short project. I applied to HITACHI because it’s a top maker of railway systems. Regarding language challenges, although my position didn’t require Japanese, the interview was partially conducted in Japanese. I presented my research in English while responding to Japanese questions. Despite the language barrier, the bilingual environment at HITACHI helped, as many team members were also learning Japanese.

[Onishi] That’s a unique challenge. Did you find other international members at HITACHI, and how did they manage with the language?

[Jin] My team had three international members, and a bilingual working environment was common. Many people started learning Japanese after joining HITACHI, creating an inclusive atmosphere.

[Onishi] Thank you, Jin-san. It’s encouraging to know that language barriers can be managed.

*Difference of C-ENGINE research internship from the one listed on the company’s website.

[Onishi] So maybe we can hear from all the panelists now. Does anyone from the audience have any questions?
Someone asked if the Research Internship program differs from the one on the company’s website. What is special about doing an internship through C-ENGINE? Does anyone have an answer?

[Huang] I think the internship programs offered on the company websites generally aim for master’s graduates and undergraduates. These are usually short-term programs, lasting one or two weeks, meant to give a general feel of the company’s atmosphere. However, all the internships in C-ENGINE are research-based. You’re researching the company for at least one month, sometimes up to three months or even longer. This is fundamentally different because you need more time to adapt to the company’s environment and contribute to their research. That’s why C-ENGINE internships are described as “Research Internships.”

[Onishi] Doing a Research Internship gives you more time to acclimate to the company’s environment and dive into detailed work. That’s a significant difference between C-ENGINE internships and those on company websites.

*How did you convince your PI to let you join the internship?

[Onishi] I’d also like to ask the panelists about managing their PhD courses and internships. How did you convince your PI to let you join the internship? Since doing a PhD and an internship simultaneously means you might be away from your lab for some time, how did you handle that? Did anyone face difficulties in discussing this with their PI?

[Florian] Yes, it was a bit difficult for me. When you sign up for an internship with C-ENGINE, you need your PhD supervisor’s permission. When I signed up, I was in a waiting period with nothing to do in the lab, so my supervisor was fine with it. However, the situation changed his mind later because we got replies from peer reviewers, and he suggested I publish more quickly. However, since I already had his initial approval, I went ahead with the internship. It depends a lot on your supervisor; some are very supportive, while others might not be in some cases.

[Onishi] Thank you for sharing. It really depends on the PI and your environment. I’ve also heard of PIs who support internships as they see them as valuable career opportunities for PhD students. Did Cao-san and Jin-san have any issues discussing this with their PIs?

[Cao] My professor didn’t worry much about what I did as long as I submitted the required data by the deadline. He was fine with me going for internships or even returning to China. He’s very busy and doesn’t supervise me closely, so as long as I deliver the results needed for papers or graduation, he’s okay with me arranging my time as I see fit.

[Onishi] I see, that’s great. How about you, Jin-san? Did you face any difficulties?

[Jin] I didn’t have a direct conversation with my PI. I wrote a detailed message explaining why I wanted to join the internship, the topic, and how I would manage my time. He was fine with it and respected my decision. I asked him about extending the internship to three months or even half a year, and he left it up to me. The internship was part-time, only three days a week, and closely related to my research topic. So I could manage both my research and the internship simultaneously.

[Onishi] Great, thank you. It’s wonderful to hear that your PI was supportive and that your internship aligned with your PhD research.

*Income from Research Internship?

[Onishi] Jin-san, did you receive a salary for your internship? Someone in the chat asked about the financial aspects of internships in this program. How did you manage housing, food, etc.?

[Jin] Yes, I received a salary from the company. Some companies provide salaries for long-term internships, which are different from some short-term internships listed on their websites. This internship can also count as credit for our university, which is an additional benefit. While I can’t specify the amount, it was more than any other part-time job.

[Onishi] That’s great to hear. Does anyone have more information?

[C-ENGINE] We’d like to add that some companies in the C-ENGINE network offer financial support for living expenses like food and accommodation, but this varies by company. The financial details and policies are available in the IDM, so please check there for individual information.

[Onishi] I see, so it’s important to check each company’s policy beforehand. That can help you decide which company to apply to. Thank you all for sharing your experiences.

*What are the differences between the research work at the company and the work in the lab?

[Onishi] We have many questions in the meeting chat right now. Here’s one for Florian: Someone wants to apply for an internship at NBI specifically and is wondering about the difference between the company’s research work and the lab’s work. Florian, can you comment on this?

[Florian] Sure, it’s specific to bioinformatics, but I hope it’s also useful to others. The main difference between research in a lab and in a company is the “Goal.” In academic research, you often aim to publish a paper, looking for novel findings to get you into a high-impact journal. In a company, you typically have a very specific goal before you start the research. Sometimes, this goal might seem trivial or not as interesting, like safety studies or data generation. For example, determining if a drug is safe to test in humans is a clear, predefined goal.

In academic research, the questions are more open-ended because you must write a comprehensive paper about your findings. If you are interested in an internship at NBI in bioinformatics, you will likely encounter me again, as I often interview candidates. We are always looking for students, so please apply if interested. You can reach out to me on LinkedIn; I’ll post my name in the chat so you can find me.

Regarding another internship in health data analysis, I’m not sure about that one, so please reach out to the respective contacts. Don’t be shy and doubt yourself; companies are generally happy to hear from interested candidates.

[Onishi] Thank you for answering the question. It’s always important to ask the company directly if you have questions. Jin-san and Cao-san, did you also notice differences between what you did during your internship and your PhD research at the university?

[Cao] In my case, my professor only requested that he get the data by the deadline, so he was fine with me doing an internship. At the company, I focused on applying my research skills to specific tasks, which differed from my academic research’s broader, exploratory nature. The company environment required more targeted and time-sensitive work.

[Jin] For me, the internship was part-time and closely related to my research topic, so I could manage both. I found that the structured nature of company research, with clear goals and deadlines, differed from the more open-ended and exploratory academic research. Additionally, internships can lead to early selection for job applications, which is a great benefit.

[Onishi] Thank you both. Florian summarized it well: in corporate R&D, you have specific tasks and deadlines, whereas academic research allows for more exploration.

*Post-PhD individuals can apply for research internships?

[Onishi] Great, thank you. Jin-san, do you have anything to add about the differences between academic and industrial research or any additional benefits of internships?

[Jin] Internships offer several benefits, such as potentially reducing the number of interviews needed for a full-time position. The application period varies by company; I applied in June, interviewed in July, and started in October. Also, it’s worth noting that for post-PhD applicants, it’s currently possible to apply for C-ENGINE internships, although it hasn’t been common yet.

[Onishi] Thank you, Jin-san. C-ENGINE, can you confirm if post-PhD individuals can apply for research internships?

[C-ENGINE] Yes, there have been some cases, but they are not common yet.
We will post these unanswered questions on our website as the Researchers’ Café report, so please check there for more information.


[Onishi] After spending an hour in this Researchers Café, we’re now reaching the scheduled time. Let me briefly summarize.
I was looking forward to this Researchers Café because I know how tough it is for non-Japanese people to pursue a PhD while doing an internship and job hunting in a different country. I feel the same way, as I’m a Japanese post-doc researcher in Germany. Adapting to the cultural differences and environment has been more challenging than I expected. In addition, as a post-doc researcher, I need to produce results and publish papers, which is very demanding.
Today, all the panelists shared their valuable experiences of struggling with and overcoming these challenges. I’m confident that today’s Researchers Café has been very interesting and informative for the audience. I hope it helps you all advance your careers or consider what you can do during your PhD courses.
That’s my summary. Now, I want to hand the mic back to C-ENGINE.

[C-ENGINE] Thank you for today’s meaningful and fruitful event. The Research Café is a series event, and the next round will be coming up soon. Please register on IDM.
Thank you everyone for joining us today. We hope to see you again at the next round. Have a good evening, and goodbye!




#305, Centro Culture Italo Giapponese, 4 Yoshida-Ushinomiya-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto , 606-8302, Japan
PHONE : 075-746-6872, E-Mail : contact@c-engine.org


メールアドレスが公開されることはありません。 が付いている欄は必須項目です