The Toshiba Fellowship Programme � a past Fellow's experiences

Dr Mark Thompson talks about his time living and working in Japan through the Toshiba Fellowship Programme.

The Toshiba Fellowship Programme offers up to two PhD-level researchers studying or working in a UK academic or Governmental institution the rare opportunity to gain up to two years experience in a Toshiba R&D laboratory in Japan. To give you more of an insight into this once-in-a-lifetime experience, we interviewed Dr Mark Thompson, a lecturer in the departments of Physics and Electrical & Electronic Engineering at Bristol University, about his experiences on the Fellowship Programme.

Why I chose the Toshiba Fellowship Programme

“I applied for the Toshiba Fellowship Programme when I completed my PhD in Photonics at Cambridge University department of Electrical Engineering. A senior researcher encouraged me to pursue research opportunities abroad as he said it would be a great way to broaden my research outlook and gain valuable international experience.

I have always been interested in Japanese culture and, after doing some research online, I came across the Toshiba Fellowship Programme, which gives researchers the opportunity to live and work in Japan. Reading through the experience of past Fellows and about the programme itself, it promised to provide an invaluable experience for me at that stage in my career, so I applied for a place online.

“During the application process, I was awarded a place at Bristol University as a researcher and lecturer. When I found out that I had a place, my colleagues at Bristol University encouraged me to take this opportunity to research in an international environment, as they knew this was an excellent chance to establish international links and bring back new research expertise to the university.”

My experience

“When I joined Toshiba, it felt like I was joining a new family (albeit a very big family) rather than a giant, global organisation.

“Once settled, I was assigned to a team that was researching silicon integrated photonics, and had access to state-of-the-art facilities. We worked together to research, design and test new technologies that use photons to efficiently transport information at very high speeds. These will be implemented in the next generation of microprocessors. My research involved the design, development and testing of key building blocks for this technology, with devices currently being characterised at the University of Bristol for quantum photonic applications.

“Each team was also assigned specific targets for the research they were undertaking, and this created a productive industry atmosphere and encouraged us to focus on the desired outcomes of the research. There was always an engaging sense of team spirit.

“The transition from academic to industry research was the most valuable part of the experience for me. The Fellowship opened my eyes to the different types of research an organisation undertakes compared to that of a university. For example, at Toshiba we worked in large teams rather than a self-driven environment, and the company set us end goals that we strove to meet. It was also very exciting to know that the results of my research were likely to end up in new Toshiba products further down the line. Also, with fewer industry research opportunities in the UK now, this was a very valuable opportunity to gain industry specific skills.

“I also had the opportunity to speak with some highly influential figures in the industry, including Toshiba executives, and the UK embassy counsellor for science and innovation in Japan. The Vice Chancellor of Bristol University also met with me and Toshiba during my time in Japan, so I got to share some of my experience with the university before I returned to the UK.”

Experiencing Japan

“The Toshiba Fellowship Programme is very supportive; we had help with our move to Japan so that my wife and I could make the most of our 15 months abroad. We regularly met with new friends to go skiing and on excursions. The food was amazing too – we regularly visited excellent restaurants in Japan and I even attended a Toshiba baseball game in Tokyo, watching alongside 20,000 Toshiba employees.

Life after the Fellowship

Following his time in Japan, Mark continues to work at Bristol University as a researcher and lecturer in the Departments of Physics and Electrical & Electronic Engineering with a newfound appreciation for the different types of research and the breadth of investigation that companies like Toshiba carry out.

“My time at Toshiba has inspired me to move my research into new directions. The structured, target-focused nature of industry research has also helped me understand the different ways we can examine technology and perform research. I believe the Fellowship has helped my understanding of scientific research and the possibilities open to us today.

“If you are considering an application to the Toshiba Fellowship Programme, I would strongly recommend you to go for it! Japan is a safe, friendly and exciting place to live. It was a life changing and humbling experience. The Fellowship opens your eyes to the possibilities available to us in research today, and would give you the opportunity to bring these experiences back to the UK.”

The closing date for this year’s applications is getting close – December 13th, but there’s still time to apply.

For further information please visit the Toshiba fellowship programme page.

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