Important: 2020 Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship Update
The format of the Field of Study and Research Program Plan changed dramatically in April 2019 with the Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship Application process. This article was based on the old form, which was valid through the 2019 University-Recommended MEXT Scholarship. If you are looking for information on the new form (valid beginning with the 2019-2020 Embassy Recommended MEXT Scholarship Application process), you can find it here.
The Field of Study and Research Program Plan is the single-most important part of your MEXT Scholarship application at the graduate level. Whether you’re applying for a research student status, Master’s Degree, or PhD, this is the single most important element that you have any control over. I’ve discussed that in a previous article, but I constantly get people asking for more details, so here it is.
So, it’s understandable that most applicants get more anxious about this form and what it should include than anything else in the application process.
Downloading the Form
First things first: If you don’t have the original form yet, the links below are direct to the files on MEXT’s website, so you can download it without having to puzzle through their Japanese website:
- Embassy-recommended MEXT Application, 2019 Edition
- University-recommended MEXT Application, 2019 Edition
Purpose of the Field of Study and Research Program Plan
In Japan, the Field of Study and Research Program Plan (研究計画書 kenkyukeikakusho) is part of any graduate school application, regardless of MEXT scholarship. There is a set format and elements that Japanese universities are looking for.
As a foreigner, you wouldn’t necessarily be expected to know all of the elements of the Field of Study and Research Program Plan, but if you do hit them, you’re going to stand out in a good way.
I’ve researched several universities’ guidelines for what they’re looking for, professors’ blogs, and prep school websites to put together the elements below. I hope they help. (My sources are available at the bottom of the article, but they’re all in Japanese).
Disclaimer: This is all only my own research and conclusions. It has not been formally vetted by any MEXT officials, Embassy staff, or grad school admissions committees, yet.
Field of Study and Research Program Plan: Formatting Notes
As of the 2018 application, the format for the Embassy-recommended MEXT Scholarship application and University-recommended MEXT Scholarship application are different, so I’ll keep the differences straight as much as possible below.
Font Size: The default font size in the Field of Study and Research Program Plan that you download from the MEXT website is 7.5 pt, which is ridiculously small and unreadable. Feel free to change it to a reasonable Times New Roman 12 pt.
Titles and Formatting: Feel free to format your Field of Study and Research Program Plan to make it more readable. I recommend titling each of the sections mentioned below and breaking it into paragraphs to make it easy on the professors. Nobody likes a big old wall of text.
If you have to add extra pages to account for the formatting, that’s OK. But don’t go overboard.
Tables, Graphs, and Diagrams: If they add to the document and are necessary to answer the questions below, go ahead and include them. But again, keep it within reason.
References: Include a list of references on an attached page. I’ll get to it below, but it’s a good thing to have.
Completing the Field of Study and Research Program Plan
1. Present Field of Study
This question previously only existed in the Field of Study and Research Program Plan format for the Embassy-recommended application process, but was added to the form for the University-recommended MEXT application process in 2018.
Recommended Heading: Research Background
Recommended Length: 3-4 sentences
Recommended Content: Describe what you have researched in the past that led to your interest in the topic you will pursue in Japan. Since MEXT requires that you study a topic that you majored in in the past, this is your opportunity to show the connection.
Make sure that you describe your interest in terms of what it will contribute to the field. This is not a personal statement. “I am interested in microfinance because my family was poor” is not a good explanation. “Based on my past research into microfinance in developing countries, I think a systematic examination of the impact of microfinance-supported entrepreneurial ventures in former agricultural areas of developed countries has impacted population movements and rural revitalization is necessary to apply effective practices both in Japan and abroad” is better.
To strengthen the statement above, you could go into more detail about why your research would be beneficial to the field in general, perhaps with an emphasis on how it could dovetail with your desired advisor’s research.
2. Your Research Topic in Japan
This section is where you will cover the academic aspect of your research (as opposed to the practical process of research, which we’ll get to later).
Recommended Heading: None. Simply center the text at the top of this section.
Recommended Length: Title and Subtitle, like it would be on a completed thesis.
Recommended Content: This is your sales copy. It needs to grab attention so your reviewers read further.
The main title is your overall theme and the subtitle is how exactly you plan to study it. For example:
The Contribution of ‘Outsider’ Expertise to Rural Revitalization Projects: An Exploration of the Yuzu Industry in Nomi City, Ishikawa Prefecture
You are not locked into using this title. Like almost everything else in your Field of Study and Research Program Plan, it will probably change once you begin your research under your advisor. But it’s still important to have a solid idea at this stage.
Recommended Heading: Research Theme
Recommended Length: One-two sentences
Recommended Content: This should take a format like “I intend to research [SPECIFIC FIELD] from [METHOD] perspective in order to [OUTCOME].” It does not need to be exact, but it does need to cover those elements.
It is important to include the intended outcome of your research. Research itself is not the goal – you should have something you intend to accomplish through it. Returning to JAIST’s example from the previous section:
This study will elucidate how specialist knowledge held by outsiders to rural revitalization projects can contribute to those projects, by examining the example of Yuzu farmers in Nomi City, Ishikawa Prefecture’s contributions to local efforts by way of surveys and interviews, in order to advance the effectiveness of rural revitalization projects across Japan.
Yes, the original Japanese is a horrible run-on sentence.
Previous Research in the Field
Recommended Heading: Previous Research
Recommended Length: Two-three sentences
Recommended Content: Describe the research that exists in the field and past approaches briefly.
This should be concise and just enough to establish that you understand the state of the field. If you can state “It is generally accepted in the field that . . .” or cite the prevailing theory with an author, that’s perfect. (Make sure that author makes it into your references).
Problems with the Previous Research
Recommended Heading: Problems in the Field
Recommended Length: Two-four sentences
Recommended Content: Evaluate the past research in terms of problems or opportunities for further exploration. Don’t be harsh or overly critical, but point out conflicts in research, examples that have not been fully explored that could alter understanding of the field, etc. Make sure you also discuss how your research will contribute to solving the problems you identify.
This section is where you establish how your research will be original.
Recommended Heading: Research Goals
Recommended Length: One to two paragraphs
Recommended Content: Your first paragraph should cover the research question you intend to answer and how – an expansion of your detailed research theme. The second paragraph should outline the possible academic and practical benefits of your research.
Remember that not everyone is an expert in your field, so try to keep the jargon out of it. You want your research to have value outside of your narrow field, so you have to be able to describe that to non-exerts.
When discussing the benefits, it would be beneficial to mention specifically how they apply to Japan, your home country, and/or bringing the two closer together.
Page 2: Study Program in Japan
Your research program plan should be a detailed, step-by-step description of how you will go about the research you described in the previous section. This is where you establish that your research is viable, especially given the time restraints of your degree.
Research Approach Introduction
Recommended Heading: Research Approach
Recommended Length: 2 paragraphs
Recommended Content: In the first paragraph, explain your research methodology (theoretical, statistical, etc.) in 2-3 sentences and why you chose this method in another 2-3 sentences.
In the second, shorter paragraph, describe how you expect your method to solve your research problem.
Specific Research Plan
Recommended Heading: Research Timeline
Recommended Length: Table/timeline long enough to cover the content below
Recommended Content: Detailed explanations of the steps you will go through in your research program (2 years for Masters, 3 for PhD).
For each step, you want to go into detail. So, “literature review” is not sufficient. What kind of sources do you plan to review? They should be in your references section already.
This is also a good place to mention specific coursework you want to take (and why), especially if you have your goal narrowed down to a single university or there are similar courses at each of your target universities.
If you plan to do field research (and you absolutely should) then “collect examples” is not enough detail. You should propose a more specific approach, including the type of examples, where you will get them, and why that approach is best. For example, are you going to do a survey study or interviews? Where? Why?
One Keio professor mentioned in his blog that he expects his advisees to do field research twice during their degree. For example, students would do a survey study first then return later for interviews to go into more detail, or do field studies in two places for comparison purposes.
Your Research Program Plan is a strategy, not a concrete plan. You are not locked in to doing things exactly this way, but having a solid plan at this point makes you look like a more responsible and dedicated applicant.
This isn’t a section of the form, but you should attach a list of references nonetheless.
Include all the books you read while preparing your Field of Study and Research Program Plan as well as the books and articles they led you to that you intend to read in the future.
List your references in alphabetical order, using the format most common to your field of study.
I put this article together based on several Japanese faculty blogs, university websites, and prep school pages. You can find those sources below:
How to Research and Craft a Research Plan
KALS Graduate School Application Prep School application advice article
Keio University Professor’s Blog
JAIST (Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) Application Advice Page
Study Channel Research Plan Writing Guide
Five Steps to Writing a Lousy Research Plan (University of Tokyo Professor’s Blog)
Before asking any questions in the comments, below, I recommend reading through the Field of Study and Research Program Plan FAQ. You can ask your questions in the comments here, on the FAQ page, or by email and I will answer them by updating the FAQ and letting you know when the answers are available.
For tips on getting your questions answered faster (and an explanation as to why I can’t always answer quickly), please read the MEXT Scholarship Application FAQ top page.
I’d also recommend signing up for my mailing list, below, to get notified whenever I have updates to any of the FAQs or new articles about the MEXT scholarship!
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