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MATS Student Voices: the Kyoto Experience and PhD Success

Jun 02, 2020

Within the frame of the MATS mobilty programme and the Heidelberg-Kyoto Joint-Degree (JDTS), students at the HCTS have the chance to spend time in Japan as exchangees. Some of our present and former students have shared their insights on how the experience abroad has contributed to expanding their expertise in different fields and kick-starting their academic career.

The opportunity to study abroad at Kyoto University has provided the MATS students with a diverse range of experiences, and many of them have decided to pursue doctoral studies after their study exchange. In what follows, we report some of our recent graduates´ impressions on how the MATS and Kyoto experiences have been valuable for their personal development and academic pursuits.

Elizabeth Sun, a MATS graduate in 2018, was offered admission to U.C. Berkeley, Columbia, Princeton, and the Carolina-Duke Joint Programme in German Studies; she opted for a PhD in German Studies at U.C. Berkeley. Elizabeth speaks highly of the methodological and linguistic training received at Heidelberg and Kyoto in preparing her for doctoral studies in the U.S:

Eschewing notions of cultural boundedness, the transcultural approach of MATS highlights the fluidity of lingual and societal processes. This gave me an edge when I applied for doctoral programmes in the U.S. The fact that I can take up coursework in German in other departments also demonstrated that I was proficient in the language. Besides that, studying at Kyoto University allowed me to achieve confidence in Japanese, while renewing my interest in the exciting cultural history of Japan. As a future researcher in the field of German Studies and Comparative Literature, I intend to maintain such a transcultural outlook as I delve into critical texts on cultural and migration studies.

Datong Qiu, doctoral student at the Department of History of Heidelberg University and a Heidelberg-Tohoku Joint-PhD student, spent his exchange year in Kyoto between 2017 and 2018. Datong cites the fieldwork trips conducted in Japan and the academic networks built during his time in Kyoto as crucial for his current academic pursuits:

I conducted two fieldwork trips to Hakodate together with Prof. Steven Ivings and my classmate Rashaad Eshack, which have been extremely useful for my current PhD project. I also had the chance to present at and attend numerous academic conferences as well as workshops through the Heidelberg-Kyoto network and the International Research Centre for Japanese Studies. Thanks to that, I experienced how scholars in Japan conduct their research and engage with each other. The material I collected and the professionals I met during this exchange year is what prompted me to further pursue an academic career.

Rashaad Eshack, who has been awarded the Quick Japan and the World Graduate Scholarship by the University of Cambridge, also credits his time in Kyoto as having proved essential to the pursuit of a PhD position in Japanese Studies:

During my exchange, I had the chance to build relationships with professors based all around Japan, which would eventually be helpful for my research objectives. As my research focuses on migrant experiences, being in Kyoto allowed me to highlight the flows and dynamics of migration across the Pacific. Spending time in Kyoto during my graduate program not only helped me legitimize my interest in Japanese Studies, but also gave me an edge over those applicants who had studied in Japan only at a bachelor´s level. I think my time at Kyoto University was fundamental to my growth as an academic because it set me on the path I am pursuing right now.

Shangshang Wang, who has spent an exchange semester at Kyoto University in 2018 and is going to complete her MATS degree this year, has already been offered a doctoral position at LMU Munich’s Centre for Global History. For her, Kyoto was a great place to nourish her interest in Japanese intellectual history while accessing first-hand research materials:

I applied for this programme because I had a strong interest in Japanese modern thought. In particular, I am fascinated by how the Kyoto School of Philosophy transcended Western learning and constructed its original system of thought drawn upon Eastern classics and the practice of Zen Buddhism. In Kyodai, I was able to access abundant first-hand material and take courses on modern and contemporary Japanese philosophy.

Lisa Xiangming Chen, an inaugural Heidelberg-Kyoto joint-degree MATS student who graduated in 2019, will be starting her DPhil in Art History at Oxford University this year. She believes that the Kyoto year was critical in expanding her area knowledge and in shaping her research directions:

Art historical research relies heavily on first-hand contact with, and the close study of, visual and material sources. Being in Japan gave me the possibility to conduct such studies while expanding my database of visual forms. The shape and direction of my master’s thesis have greatly benefited from this approach; the supervision I received from both Heidelberg and Kyoto offered challenging and thought-provoking perspectives that I consolidated throughout the thesis project. This type of training has certainly prepared me for my doctoral research project.


Heidelberg University and Kyoto University are members of the "HeKKSaGOn-Consortium," an alliance of six leading Japanese and German universities that aims at improving collaboration in research and teaching and supporting the exchange of scholars, scientists, postgraduate students, and doctoral candidates.

Within the current framework, Heidelberg MATS students can choose to either spend one (or two) exchange semester(s) in Kyoto, or to be enrolled full-time at Kyoto University through the Heidelberg-Tohoku Joint-degree programme. For more information about study abroad opportunities in Japan and our institutional partners, please visit the areas dedicated to mobility and the Heidelberg-Kyoto Joint Degree programme.


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