Friday, December 30, 2011

Butterflies and hurricanes

It's time to bring this blog out of hibernation! I should really explain what's been keeping me so busy the last few months, and for no particular reason, I'm going to do it using the hackneyed narrative device of reverse chronology.

December 28th, 16:15
Mouth dry, hands shaking, I walk up to my boss's desk. I hand him the two copies of the letter (one in each of our mother tongues) with a deep bow. He reads the Japanese, looks up, and slowly says "I understand". He then extends his hand to me in congratulation, and says "We will have to have a big party." As I return, relieved, to my desk, he informs the rest of the department that come April, Finlay will no longer be working for Nanyo City.

December 28th, 13:55
I receive an email from my good friend and Japanese whiz Isaac, containing his translation of my letter of resignation. Realising that there is now no legitimate reason to put off the deed any longer, my pulse quickens.

December 20th, 18:50
Idly chomping on an ebikatsu futomaki (breaded prawn thick sushi roll), I notice an email arrive in my inbox bearing the simple subject of "offer". Opening it, I learn that a) I've just been offered a job, and b) they require me to start on April 1st, i.e. four months before the end of my JET contract. I experience a strange mix of emotions, and feel like I may be about to regurgitate my sushi. I don't.

December 9th, 17:05
I walk out of the institute, and am greeted by a breathtakingly beautiful sunset. Across Sagami Bay, the unmistakable cone of Mt Fuji is silhouetted sharply against the orange sky. If I weren't a scientist, I might think that this was some kind of sign.

December 9th, 15:30
Dressed in my suit and clutching one of those telescopic pointers, I am giving my first ever scientific presentation as Dr Finlay Stewart. I am surprised by how comfortable and natural it feels after such a prolonged absence. Just like riding a bike.

November 8th, 22:20
After a whole day of travelling - I had breakfast in a traditional hanok in Seoul, and a dinner of sushi by the banks of Tokyo's Sumida-gawa - I finally get home. Obviously, one of the first things I do is boot up the computer, and find that I have been invited for a seminar and interview at the Graduate University of Advanced Studies (to give it its clunky English name; it's Sougou Kenkyuu Daigakuin Daigaku, or Sokendai for short, in Japanese) next month. Clearly, I have some serious reading to do.

July 8th, 07:10
I receive an email from my old PhD sensei Barbara, forwarding a job advert for the position of assistant professor in a neuroethology lab that studies colour vision in insects, particularly butterflies. Best of all, this lab is located in Kanagawa prefecture, about an hour outside of central Tokyo. This all sounds so uncannily up my street, that I decide I have to apply.

So, there you have it. I am returning to science. The contract is for five years, so if all goes well I'll be in Japan until at least 2017 (i.e. my mid-thirties!). There is also a possibility of a single five-year renewal if they are suitably satisfied with my work. As far as money goes, suffice to say that I'll be making substantially more than my current over-generous salary.

I'm really excited about going to work at Sokendai, and I can't believe how much I appear to have landed on my feet here. Typically, after a PhD, one works as a postdoc for a while. Postdocs are temporary appointments (typically three years or less), so one is always feeling the pressure to publish papers in order to land one's next gig. At least, that's the impression that I get from my postdoc-ing friends. Somehow, I've managed to skip this step, and end up in a position of relative security (although I must point out, as they very explicitly did at the interview, that it is definitely not a permanent position).

Of course, I do have some mixed feelings. Specifically, I'm feeling a considerable amount of guilt. The JET Programme, and more importantly Nanyo City, have been very good to me over the last 2.5 years. I feel really bad about breaking my contract, and ditching them as soon as a better offer comes along. The board of education took it surprisingly well; I had told them at the time that I'd applied for the job, and they seemed to understand that it represented an excellent opportunity for me that I couldn't realistically turn down for the sake of four months of ALT-ing.

My other negative emotion is sadness at leaving Yamagata and all my friends that dwell therein. In particular, this is not good news for my relationship with Amber (which is otherwise going extremely well) - our present separation of two hours by car is going to increase to six hours primarily by shinkansen.

Dammit, how have I manged to end this post on such a downer? I got a job! In Japan! Studying butterflies' eyes! Hoegaardens are on me!

Now, I think I'm going to attempt to buy a smartphone in celebration.


  1. Yaay! An update!

    And congratulations!! That is extremely good news for you!!

    Long-distance relationships suck but I used to do the commute from Yamagata to Kanagawa all the time so you guys can work it out I reckon! If things keep going well, maybe she can move to Kanagawa in August? My company is always looking!

    Congrats again!


  2. Finlay, I'm absolutely delighted for you, congratulations, you deserve it...I think; I mean, I know nothing of your qualifications, but as a person, you certainly deserve it.

    In saying that, I'm sad that you're going to be leaving us, I hope to see you for a good few shindigs before you go though.

    oh, and if you're going to buy a smartphone, don't buy an Iphone; there's nothing I hate more than someone who doesn't stand by their own principles ;)

  3. Thank you for the kind words. Don't worry about my principles; I'm writing this on my new Samsung Galaxy S2. Other than a slightly suspect battery life, it's awesome.

  4. Finlay, that is totally epic. Congrats on landing such a sweet gig - IN JAPAN! I'm somewhat relieved that your naked karaoke career shall continue unabated, although I do regret not being on hand to help out with what will no doubt be a rather massive Yamagata sendoff in April.

    Kanagawa no hou ga iiiiiiii!