Maybe some of you wonder about this place IPMU for which we came all the way to Japan. What is this place, and what is it like?
First of all, IPMU is a model project. It is one of the five research centers funded by the WPI, a Japanese program to create internationally competitive top level research institutions. IPMU stands for Insitute of the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe. These are a lot of big words in one name. What it means is that at IPMU, researchers think about the most fundamental questions, about how the universe works and how it began. We do fundamental research here. In this moment, it is one of the few places in the world that actively invests into fundamental research.
IPMU is very new, and it aims very high. This October, it celebrated its 1st birthday. At the moment, we work in prefabs, but our new building, provided by our host institution, the University of Tokyo (Japan’s number one university), will be ready in less than a year. And we need this building very urgently, because we are still growing very quickly.
Everyone here is very excited about this new place and everyone is trying their best to make it succeed.
IPMU is special in many respects. It is special for a Japanese research institution, because its official language is English and because a minimum of 30% of the researchers must be recruited from abroad.
But it is also special as a research institution in general, because it emphasizes the interdisciplinary effort to tackle the questions of the basic nature of the universe. It is not by chance that both mathematics and physics are part of its name. So far, IPMU consists, to name a few, of particle physicists of all flavors (from neutrino experimentalists over collider phenomenologists to astro-particle physicists), cosmologists with interests ranging from supernovae to structure formation, string theorists, and mathematicians. For the complete list, see here. The main difference to other institutes is that we don’t work in fixed groups. Everyone talks to everyone. We do not firstly and foremostly belong to the work group of our field, but to IPMU. And honestly, it is quite refreshing to speak to people outside my own field on a regular basis, socially as well as scientifically.
Since one of IPMU’s aims is to attract excellent international researchers, the conditions it provides are very good. Not only the salaries are very competitive, also the research funds (i.e. travel money etc.) are generous. Many people might be worried by the prospect of moving to a country, where they cannot even read. But all the possible cliffs of living in Japan can easily be circumnavigated with the help of the large administrative staff. They know exactly what has to be done at the bureaucratic level and take care of it. All that is left for us to do is signing already filled forms. If you need to go to the city hall, they send a translator along. They pay an agency to help you find an apartment, and send a translator along to go visit the flats. And they employ language teachers that teach us intensive Japanese classes right at our workplace. Unlike at other universities, where one sometimes gets the feeling that it is the researchers’ job to please the university administration, here the administration works to make our lives easier, so we can focus on our research.
As for our every day work life, it is nearly imperceptible that we are actually located in Japan. It’s true that the percentage of Asian colleagues is somewhat higher than usual, but being a scientist is a more defining trait than nationality.
And the atmosphere among us is rather more supportive and friendly than in other places. It’s a good place for getting some serious work done. We are very happy here.