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Updated: Apr 22

Dissertation, thesis, research paper...name it as you wish...it will keep you up at night but it will also be an enriching and exciting process. Choosing a research question is a tricky process. It would be nice if the perfect idea could just come to us and then, a clear linear process leads to a comprehensive and rich answer. Reality is different. It is a bit messier. Reading, getting excited about an idea, finding out someone has already presented it, realizing the issue is very multi-layered and complex… but when do you stop digging? What is a topic worth investigating?


A good research question should be broad enough to be useful beyond one single case and not too broad so that it is not practical. It should be understandable, appropriate for your level of study and exciting for you to research! Some useful prompts for choosing a research question can be:

  • Is your research question: clear, focused, timely?

  • Why is your research question important to answer?

  • Would the answer to your research question be valuable for anyone, are you saying something new or repeating old arguments?

  • Are you passionate about your research topic?

  • Are you able to tackle your research question with the resources, time limits and skills you have?

We asked our members to share their experience with this challenge:

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Lia Santee

"Coming up with the research question was the most difficult part of the Thesis writing process. My first step was trying to find a topic that would cover 3 important aspects: (1) Something I cared about, to make the research process more pleasant; (2) Something I had studied before or had some knowledge about, to reduce the research load and improve the overall result; and (3) Something that would have relevance (for academy or society). Having those in mind I could narrow down my options significantly. The next step was to read on the topic and see where there would be space for more research. I found it particularly difficult to match my ideas with the feasibility of it (time and resource constraints). Feasibility was a decisive factor in deciding on the research topic.


During the process, I reached out to many people, in my personal and academic life. Discussing with my advisor and other professors help me see new perspectives and find new materials to deepen my initial research. The more knowledge I acquired, the more I could reshape the question so it would better fit the content, the theoretical approach, and also have novelty. If I needed to do this process once more, I would start by reading the latest articles on some of my interests, coming up with some ideas, and then discuss them with the people around me." ________________________________________________________________________


Anastasia Gkoliomyti

“The process which brought forth my research question has not been linear. To the contrary, a lot of self-doubt and stress where, and still are part of this journey. A factor with which I struggled at first but that went on to help me shape my research focus has been my realization that research happens very differently from institution to institution, by different professors, and even more so when my western experience was contrasted with the academic environment of Japan. This context influenced me to get rid of previous expectations that had been shaped by my Greek education and pushed me to go with a complete open-mindedness to research on the grounds of my professor’s interests. In that spirit, I sensed I could benefit from my professor’s in a spirit of collaboration. The seeking of my research question soon transformed into the seeking of a research relationship. That led me to also evaluate which aspects of my professor’s research focus felt meaningful to me and would potentially give me the inspiration to develop them in a doctoral program.


I decided to approach my research efforts as a big experiment. After browsing through many calls for papers in the field of Architectural Theory and History, I was able to find calls that I felt I could propose to my professor as a starting point for us to actively engage in dialogue. Back then I was not sure what would be my focus. Now, two papers later, one to be published next month and the second having been approved for double-blind peer review have shown me that the common ground between me and my professor is our interest in Architectural profession’s mediums as practices of care in a world under threat. When I first entered my laboratory at Tokyo Institute of Technology I would never have thought I would transition from my interest in traditional Japanese architecture to the theme of Architecture as Caring. What made this shift possible was, I believe in retrospect, my spirit of experimentation that allowed me and my professor to discover this common ground together.”


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Ayu Kosashi

“I chose my research question mainly from issues that I care about the most and luckily I also had internship experience relating with the field of my research question. And then I developed and tailored it with subjects I studied in GraSPP.


I did change the topic once, because of the pandemic, I had difficulties obtaining enough resources even after changing the topic, it is still limited and I have to rely mostly on online journals. If I have to come up with a new research question for a new project, surely I will start with issues I care the most and then try to do thorough research whether the issue has been discussed enough by others or not.”




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Yuki Nakao

"I have written three academic theses in the past, and in all three cases, crafting the right research question was the most difficult task throughout the research process. I certainly became better at it each time, though, and I would like to share a simple tip that makes your thesis writing easier. (Please note that my research experience is in social sciences and humanities, so my advice may not apply to natural-science theses.)


A common mistake among many thesis writers is that they rush into building a research question prematurely. This misstep often leads to shallow research questions that one can discover their answers a few days into research. Additionally, premature research questions often lack theoretical grounding, and the research output ends up in a simple factual statement with very little generalizable, theoretical contribution.


I do not believe that it is thesis-writers’ fault that they rush into developing a research question -- students are often taught that the very first step in writing a thesis or a research paper is to discover an “intriguing research question.” Teachers do not fully explain what takes to formulate a good question, either.


My simple tip is to “do enough research BEFORE you come up with a question.”


I must explain that there are three kinds of research. The first kind is preliminary research, which is a research to familiarize yourself with your area of research. Here, you must read a couple of introductory, textbook-like books; watch documentaries (if there are any), and go to lectures on the topic. Through this preliminary research, you should learn

1) key individuals, organizations, political parties, etc. related to the topic (better to draw a relationship diagram)

2) key events and rough timeline (make sure you do not miss important laws and treaties)

3) major academic arguments about the topic and key academics


The reason why I was able to formulate a meaningful research question for my master’s thesis was because I simply had much more background knowledge about the topic than I did for the topics of my undergrad theses.


Let me summarize the ideal research process below:

  1. Research for comprehending the situation -> Formulate a research question

  2. Research for hypothesis-building -> Formulate a hypothetical answer to your research question

  3. Research for hypothesis-testing -> Either prove or disprove your hypothesis"

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Jiezel Nara

"I had so many questions I wanted to be answered. At the same time, I wanted to research something that is not thoroughly understood, under-researched, yet has so much to offer. So, I came up with a question on the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP) and energy investments in Asia and Africa. It was great because not many have written much about this signature diplomatic policy; one, because there's not much to say given how new it was, and two, the criticisms towards FOIP was similar across all analysts, that the policy is underdeveloped and vague, yet has so much promise.


Encouraged by this flexibility, I decided to write about it. However, while the topic was interesting, the fact that not much was written about the policy became a burden. There was not much reference to go on, so most were just my speculation. I struggled so much that I opted to defer my thesis defense for one semester. I then used the allotted time to think of a topic that I thought is feasible, something I would like to know more about, and one that I have a significant amount of understanding. The last point, I believe, is crucial as it allows you to brainstorm for questions that you feel are still left unanswered in your field of interest.

So, I spent the rest of the semester, which I was supposed to defend my thesis as another entire semester to learn more about my field. What I prioritized when thinking of a new theme to write about is that it should be a topic that I can include some aspects of my learning experiences in the three countries where I spent the last six semesters. It should be a topic where there would be something about China, some parts about Korea, and relevant to Japan. One mistake I made when I was making my initial thesis proposal is that I did not allow myself other options but decided simply because I know about the policy and its new. But for my current topic, I learned in class; I was interested in learning about in class; I wanted to know more about it, and it involves the three countries I studied in.


And so, I am writing about my thesis on that topic I am supposed to defend at the end of this month.


Now, if I am to write another research project, I would do better on the following:

1. Consult with those around me. They may be my classmates or professors to get some feedback. They may even redirect me to an article they have read, a contact they know, or something. I will talk about it.


2. Write something along with my interests. Seriously, it's already a struggle to write something you are passionate about. Imagine the pain of writing about a random topic you chose because you thought it's nice.


3. Make sure the topic is feasible. As I have mentioned prior, I ignored the feasibility of my subject and just wrote about it. In the end, I failed. I would not call it a waste of my time because I learned something new. But maybe I could have known about it another time.


4. Research and read. There is no shortcut to learning about the topic other than researching and reading about it. It is honestly tedious, but something everyone must go through. I would also read more papers written by other students. It can be motivating because just imagining someone else in my situation and knowing they have done it. If they can do it, there is no way I cannot; if they overcame it, I'm sure I can overcome it too, thinking.


Thank you for reading, and I wish you all the best in writing! "

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*The advice offered by WE Int. members is based on personal experiences for the purpose of fostering academic dialogue and community. We encourage all members to consult their academic handbook, advisor and other staff in their departments to make final decisions about crafting their thesis.


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WE Int., committed to lifting up women and shedding light on their work, introduces its members as part of the series #SheInspires. In this article, we introduce to you Zhiyun Du (or Zoe), a talented graphic designer and currently a student at the University of Tokyo. Zoe has been proactive in creating beautiful visuals for WE Int. events and impressed us with a professional attitude and excellent content. Do you have similar interests or want to know how Zoe developed her skills? Get to know her better from our interview below! Tell us about you

My name is Zhiyun Du. Most of my friends call me Zoe. I grew up in Shanghai, China, while I have moved and studied here in Tokyo for more than two years now. I am currently enrolled in the University of Tokyo, PEAK program, majoring in the undergraduate course of International Japanese studies.



Alongside your studies, you engage in other activities. Can you share a project you are excited about?


Besides helping with banner/poster designs for some events of WE Int, I am also a member of the Komaba Times graphic designing team. Komaba Times is an English-language magazine written by students at the University of Tokyo. My major duty now is drawing illustrations for the articles, but I will soon be in charge of the layout design when we publish the magazine’s annual volume, this year in collaboration with the New York Times.




What do you do that is important for you?


Though I have learned watercolour painting before for my high school art club activities, I only started doing digital painting and layout designs very recently after I bought an iPad and had a lot more free time staying indoor due to the outbreak of coronavirus. I am only an amateur who has a lot to learn and always feels uncertain about the quality of my work whenever starting a new project. Gradually, though, some of the fear has vanished, and I have been able to approach arts in my way. To me, painting and designing is something that makes me happy and fulfilled, hopefully, it will also bring joy to the world. This sounds like a formidable task, but I believe it’s a challenge well worth taking.


To me, painting and designing is something that makes me happy and fulfilled, hopefully, it will also bring joy to the world. This sounds like a formidable task, but I believe it’s a challenge well worth taking.



What was your motivation to WE Int.?


It was introduced by a friend, also an existing member of WE Int. She asked me if I would like to design a banner for an upcoming event of WE Int, and I said yes. I appreciate her for introducing this organization, for I have not heard about this platform before. I hope that the posters/banners I designed will attract more and more people to take part in the events organized by WE Int. On a personal level, I also hope to get to know more women who have the belief and passion to pursue gender equality and work for their ambitions.



Why do you think women’s empowerment and promoting gender equality are important?


Through observing things around me, I have noticed that it’s often to patriarchy’s advantage to exploit women’s labour in subordinate positions. On the other hand, I have also realized that even among the young generation around me, who are still studying on the university campus, entrenched and often invisible gender biases, as well as male entitlement still largely exist.


Thus, I hope to contribute to creating a society where women’s talents and ability to excel in

male-dominated arenas will not be denied. Moreover, I hope to change the misogynist social structure and prevent females from becoming their victims. I have joined a short-term gender studies program at Freie Universität, Germany. This semester, I am also taking a course on the postwar Japanese feminism movements. There is still a lot for me to learn about gender equality, and I am anticipating to participate in more events of WE Int.



Are you also working on exciting projects or do you want to apply your skills through WE Int. events? Simply send us a message! WE Int. serves you as a platform to showcase and develop your talents! #BeWomenpowered

#SheInspires



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Updated: Nov 7, 2020

September 26, 2020 – WomEnpowered International held the first event of the new Career Insights Series, a campaign designed to provide rising graduates and young professionals with access to proven professionals across a wide selection of industries and specializations. We hope to equip our members and event attendees with deep insights into different career paths, tools for job applications and career progression, and authentic reflections on what it means to step into your own potential, both in terms of professional goals and lifelong vocation.

Our Career Insights Series is also a platform for exploring the kinds of barriers, challenges, and frustrations that can face women at different stages of their careers and family life. Our goal is to give our members a safe space to ask questions and share concerns with real professionals, who are committed to women’s empowerment. At WomEnpowered, we want all of our members to be able to cultivate the knowledge and self-awareness they need to embrace their passions and build the futures they want for themselves.

We were pleased to see huge interest in this event, with the number of registrants far exceeding original targets. We hope you will continue to join us throughout our Career Insights Series! Watch for updates on our Facebook Page.


Watch the full presentation here:



In our Career Insights: International Organizations event, we invited a diverse international panel of IO professionals from around the world – Colombia, France, Japan, and the United States – and at different stages in their careers to share their experiences and answer questions. Combined, the panelists have experience working with more than 10 International Organizations in over 20 different countries, giving them the ability to speak to a wide selection of situations.

Panelists:

  • Laura Galindo-Romero CDEP Artificial Intelligence Team, OECD, France

  • Lauren Power Research Fellow & Graduate Student, University of Tokyo, Japan 2020 USA Head Delegate, Y20 Engagement Group, G20 Summit, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

  • Laurence Ravat Deputy Head of Human Resources, Bank of International Settlements, Switzerland

  • Miki Yoshimura Director of SDG Partners, Inc. Tokyo, Japan


Questions to the panelists included a professional focus, a personal focus, and a focus on women’s empowerment within IOs. A broad range of insights were shared about the application process, the contractual obligations and options, and structural mechanisms to consider when choosing which International Organization to apply to. Panelists with children and significant others also shared their experiences of international relocation with their families, and equally important point for many to think about when pursuing international careers.


Key Insights from Panelists:

Professional

  • Working in IOs offers an unprecedented opportunity for international engagement on key issues shaping the world today. You can work with people from all over the world and achieve incredible personal and professional growth.

  • When applying for IOs, it is important to have passion about and good working knowledge of the area of the organization in which you want to work (e.g. read recent publications, watch presentations from leaders, etc.). You should be prepared to write and speak to these points during the screening process when you apply for jobs at IOs.

  • You should also learn a bit about the organizational structure of your target IOs. Is it membership based? Which countries are members? Are you a citizen of a member country or a non-member country? Your nationality may affect whether or not you can be recruited for certain positions.

  • Investigate the timelines for Internships, JPO positions, and other job offers well in advance. At times it can take up to 6 months to complete the recruitment process for IOs, and there may be stipulations that you need to keep in mind (e.g. you must be enrolled in a university degree program for the duration of your internship, etc.).

  • Recruiters want to see that you have proven technical skills that are pertinent for your specific job (e.g. statistics, professional drafting experience in the working languages, econometrics, etc.), but other skills also matter. Transversal skills such as communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity are highly valued for enabling flexibility and adaptability amongst employees. Interpersonal skills and the candidate’s suitability to fit in with their team culture is also part of the evaluation.

  • IO recruiters are not only interested in what you have done, they care about your future potential too. In addition, the reason you want to work at the IO matters – How does your interest in working at an IO fit with your previous work/study experience? How does it fit with you future aspirations? Be ready to share your story when you apply!

  • Achieving longer-term employment contracts or Official contracts can be challenging at IOs because these positions are highly competitive and rarely become available. It is much more common to have internal mobility (within the same IO) or external mobility (outside of your IO) in your career when you work for IOs. This means that you can enter IOs at various stages in your career. You can exit, work in the private sector or government, or go back to university to earn another degree, and then later re-enter IOs too.

  • An important consideration for anyone interested in working at IOs is NETWORK! Find the official job boards for the IOs you are interested in. Sign up for job alerts – this will help you quickly find out when new jobs are posted. However, keep in mind that many jobs are never publicly published and rely on private networking. Follow the key leaders on social media. Attend events and read reports as much as you can. Try to get to know people working in IOs. Once you can build your network and get your name known within the appropriate circles, then it may become easier to find out about unpublished jobs.

Personal

  • International mobility is a perk of working for IOs. It is exciting and life-changing to be able to live and work abroad! The IO you work for and the type of work you do will determine the kinds of locations that you may be offered as duty stations. It can be challenging to relocate internationally when you have a family, especially if your duty station is in a developing country.

  • IOs can offer their employees generous support in terms of benefits and compensation, but more junior employees or consultants may not be given much relocation support for their partner or children. It can be difficult for partners to find meaningful employment in a new country, or even just to adapt to a new way of living.

  • When children are young, it can be easier to relocate with them. After they enter school, it can be more challenging. There are many materials online that explore how to raise children in an intercultural context – there can be many benefits!

  • For a young woman, working in an IO abroad may provide greater independence and faster career progression than working in a traditional Japanese company. Young Japanese women interested in prioritizing their careers should consider this point.

  • The friendships and networks that you can build while working at IOs are truly remarkable. They can help you find meaningful work throughout your life.

Women’s Empowerment

  • IOs tend to take great care in hiring for gender and national diversity at all levels of the organization. This commitment to diversity and inclusion is very apparent in the employee experience.

  • Employee groups within IOs will most definitely include specific outreach for women.

  • Staff Services at certain IOs may include support for family or trailing spouses, which is a huge perk.

  • The level of commitment to women’s empowerment is striking and perhaps unique to IOs at this point in time.


Advice from Panelists


“I came across a quote recently: ’Working hard for something we do not care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.’ And it is really true that as long as you follow your passion, I think you can be happy. So, don’t [make] your goal to be part of an organization… that’s not a passion, right? A passion is something that you can realize [in] your day-to-day work. So, find your passion and follow it. And if it is to solve a global problem, then working at an international organization might be one opportunity. But there are also other outlets as well, so just be true to yourself.”

- Miki Yoshimura


“If you are a young woman and you are looking at international organizations for a career, just do a bit of… boost your confidence. Be self-confident about who you are, and don’t put yourself down when you are interview by highlighting your weaknesses or all the things that you have not done. If you have a chance to go to an interview, rehearse a bit with someone who is confident and try to get some advice on how to present yourself positively and bringing forward all your skills and competencies. Very often, as a recruiter, I see young candidates – and in particular, young women – who are not so self-confident and that can impact a bit their interview performance.”

- Laurence Ravat


“I think that, as you approach this question about whether or not to work at an IO, you should feel comfortable being nervous because it is quite an adventure. It can be a bit of a risk. You might try it and you might decide [that it] isn’t working for [you]. I want to copy Miki and share a quote that I love which is: ‘Success is moving from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.’ You should not feel afraid to try something new. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s okay because you learned something. As long as you keep your passion and enthusiasm, you should just try what you have the chance to try. I believe this is good advice, especially for young professionals.”

- Lauren Power


“I think every human interaction – every single interaction we have – is a permanent interview. So, in that case, be always truthful to yourself and always be who you are. Never apologize for who you are. If you are a really good person with a passion to tackle a global problem – it doesn’t have to be global, it can be local – just follow that and lead by example. All throughout your career, but that agent of change. You are your own story. You are always tailoring your own story. Let your story speak for you, and that story will definitely lead you places. One day that story can help inspire others… and others… and others. We can all change the world by sharing our stories, inspiring others, and doing good.”

-Laura Galindo-Romero


Join us for our next Career Insights event!

Details coming soon...

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