Sunday, January 29, 2012

Welcome to Japanese bureaucracy

After one week in Canada I returned to Japan. For two weeks. Then on Thursday, I go back to Canada.

Confused? Let me explain:

This brief interlude from my collaborative work trip in North America was to allow me to interview for a job identical to the one I already had, be offered the position, formally start and then order a computer before this was prevented by floods in Thailand.

There. Isn't that clearer? No? Well, I will elaborate but I warn you now, it's not going to help.

Our story (although I defy Disney to create something more fantastical) opens with our young heroine (totally me. It is my blog, after all) assuming the role of "specially appointed assistant professor". The "special" part here means that my salary came from the Japanese Government, not Hokkaido University, who have a scheme to support women in senior roles for three years. After that time, it was understood that I would be moved onto the university's normal tenure track (leading to a permanent position) for faculty members.

This transition was not contracted, but I was told it was a question of honour for the university to uphold the verbal agreement. Since the breaking of Japanese honour traditionally results in disembowelment, I felt there was some incentive for the people who mattered to follow this through.

A few months ago, however, in response to increased pressure from the government to increase the fraction of female employees, Hokkaido University opened a call for two tenure track positions for female scientists. It was suggested that I apply for one of these positions, since it would end any uncertainty regarding my job status in three years time and everyone could retain their digestive tracks.

[As a side note, I don't really approve of any form of sex discrimination in jobs. My concern in this case is it could devalue female researchers' achievements if it is felt they only gained their current position through having a decreased pool of applicants. Despite this, I discovered when put to the test, my morals were surprisingly easy to sweep under the nearest carpet. No one put me in a court of law.]

Even though I had been hired for my current position just months before, I still had to complete the full application procedure, including the in-person interview.

I pointed out that I would be in Canada at that time.

Everyone agreed that it was incredibly daft just to come back so that I could be re-interviewed for a near identical position.

..... but that was just the way it was.

Since a foreigner was preferred for the job and since the Japanese have an innate suspicion of foreigners they have never met, my chances at getting this position were high. This led to a problem concerning money.

New faculty members are typically awarded a large one-off sum known as a 'start-up grant'. This is for single large expenses that are needed to equip a new researcher with the tools they need to do their work, for example outfitting a new laboratory. As a theorist, my wish-list was simple: I wanted computer power. Lots of it. Think 'the ultimate question' solving stuff. The problem was that all this money needed to be spent by the end of the fiscal year which was ... March.

Everyone agreed that it was incredibly daft to spend such a large sum in a month and it would only lead to wasting funds.

..... but that was just the way it was.

Now it transpires that machines more awesome than Steve Jobs builds are manufactured in Thailand. The way it was explained to me is that the ENTIRE COUNTRY disappears under water due to floods each year around this time. Since constructing electronic equipment in such a condition presents some difficulties, an ordered machine will take more than a month to arrive. Since the earliest I could begin the new position was February 1st and the money most be spent by March 31st this left less breathing space than for a snorkelling computer engineer.

The upshot was that I had to still be in Japan on February 1st, so I could officially begin this position as soon as humanely possible and order a computer from waterworld. I booked my flights back to Canada on the 2nd.

I think maybe I should have asked for two passports while in the UK.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, r u still in Sapporo?