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. If you are looking for information on the old form (valid through the 2019 University Recommended MEXT Scholarship Application process), you can find it here.
Why the Field of Study and Research Program Plan Matters
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. 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:
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. It is not unique to the 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 (and I’m going to show you how, below), you’re going to stand out in a good way. This article comes from over eight months of research into Japanese professors’ websites, university websites, and talking with faculty members at the university where I work. It is the same model you will find in my book, How to Write a Scholarship-Winning Field of Study and Research Program Plan, although the book obviously goes into more detail and also helps you develop your research question and subject.
You can find my sources 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. I did have an applicant in 2018 tell me that his local consulate had recommended a previous edition of this article to him, though!
Field of Study and Research Program Plan: Formatting Notes
As of the 2020 application, the format for the Embassy-recommended MEXT Scholarship application has changed dramatically. This article covers that new format. I do not know yet if the format will also change for the University-recommended MEXT Scholarship application for 2020, but you can find information about the old format in the previous version of this article.
Length: You are limited to no more than 2 pages for the entire form! This is the most significant change from past versions and means you are going to have to be concise and focused.
Font Size: The default font size in the Field of Study and Research Program Plan that you download from the MEXT website is 10 pt Times New Roman, which is small, but given your space limitations, I recommend keeping it at that size. If you have extra space to play with, you can increase it to TNR 12 pt.
Do not bother changing the font size of the instructions – up or down.
Titles and Formatting: As you will see below, I recommend adding a few subtitles within sections to make the text easier to read. I suggest making each of the titles bold and setting them apart on a line of their own. Leave one blank line above each title, if you can manage it. You can also center then.
While you may be tempted to forgo titles and blank lines because of the length limitations, I would suggest keeping them in. White space and organization make your Field of Study and Research Program Plan easier to read. Nobody likes a big old wall of text.
Tables, Graphs, and Diagrams: If they add to the document and are necessary to answer the questions below, you can include them, but I have almost never seen a case where they added any value. The one exception to this is adding your research timeline as a table, with individual steps listed, which I recommend including as an attachment (more below).
Attachments: I recommend two attachments: The research timeline above and a list of references. I’ll get into each section in more detail below. If your particular academic field demands large diagrams or other references that you want to include as attachments, that could be possible, but consider seriously whether they are necessary or not.
Completing the Field of Study and Research Program Plan
1. Past and Present Field of Study
Your past and present field of study refers to your academic majors in any past university degrees, not professional working experience. You can only refer to a field of study from work experience if you worked as a professional researcher and are using that experience to meet the eligibility criteria for your degree program.
Here is what the section should cover.
Recommended Heading: None. Since you only have one sub-section in this question, there is no need to add titles.
Recommended Length: 2-3 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 became interested in 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 add a closing statement about why your research could benefit Japan and your home country and why Japan is the best place to pursue it.
Do not add extra lines to this section beyond what is given in the form. The most important part of your Field of Study and Research Program Plan is still to come in the next section, so you want to save your space for that.
2-1. Research Theme in Japan
In this section, you will cover the title of your intended research (or at least a narrow description of the field), as well as your research theme sentence.
Recommended Heading: None. Simply center the text at the top of this section and make if bold.
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: None. Leave one blank line under the title.
Recommended Length: One-two sentences
Recommended Content: This should take a format like “I intend to research [RESEARCH QUESTION] by examining [SPECIFIC EXAMPLE] from [APPROACH] 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 also a horrible run-on sentence.
Unlike the title, you should format this section in paragraph format, left or full justification (not centered) and not bold.
This article is only about how to format your form for submission and assumes that you have already developed your research question, example, and methods fully. If you have not done that yet, I recommend my book, How to Write a Scholarship-Winning Field of Study and Research Program Plan, which goes into detail on the process of choosing your field of study, developing and refining your questions, and also discusses formatting in much more detail.
2-2. Research Plan
In this section, you will go into more detail on the academic background of your research and how it fits into the field, as well as exactly how you plan to pursue it. This is the core of your plan and should take up the most space – all of the space that you are given on the first page as well as an entire second sheet of paper, or close to it.
Here are the subsections to include. Unlike previous questions, I recommend that you do include the titles for each sub-section. This section is long and having titles on their own lines, preferably centered, will break it up and make it easier for your reviewers to read.
Recommended Heading: Research Goals
Recommended Length: One to two paragraphs
Recommended Content: This is where you describe the academic value of your research and is perhaps the most important section of the entire form.
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 to a minimum. You want your research to have value outside of your narrow field, so you have to be able to describe that to non-experts. At the very least, I recommend opening each paragraph with a strong topic sentence that is jargon-free and understandable to any reader. You can then go into technical detail in the body of the paragraphs.
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.
Recommended Heading: Existing Research
Recommended Length: Two-four sentences
Recommended Content: In this section, you want to give a very brief introduction to the state of your field to show how your research fits into and contributes to it.
Your first sentence should describe the state of the field, particularly the most relevant studies to your own research. For example, if your field is still developing, you would state where current research stands and how you will add to it. If your research is targeting a gap in your field, then you would describe the state around that gap.
Your second sentence should explain how your research will extend knowledge in the field (e.g. by using a new method or approach, examining a different data set, contribute to resolving a conflict or gap, etc.)
Recommended Heading: Research Methodology
Recommended Length: 1-2 paragraphs
Recommended Content: Describe your research methodology (quantitative, qualitative, hybrid), specific methods, and why you chose them. In the second, optional paragraph, describe the limitations of your research and how you will account for them.
At the end of the Existing Research section, you explained why your research would add to the field. In this section, you will explain how. You should describe why the methods you chose are the most appropriate to accomplish the research goals you set and contribute to the field.
Recommended Heading: Hypothesis
Recommended Length: 2-3 sentences
Recommended Content: Present the hypothesis that you intend to test through your research.
This section will not be possible for all applicants, but if it is applicable, I recommend including it.
A hypothesis is your proposed answer to your research question that you will test. It is not a certain, final answer and in most cases, should not be correct. Professor Tajima from Keio University wrote in a blog article that if your hypothesis turns out to be accurate, then your research could be considered a 99% failure. (Keio) After all, if you already know the answer before you have even started your graduate program, then there really wasn’t any point in your research.
Specific Research Plan
Recommended Heading: Research Plan
Recommended Length: One full and one partial paragraph
Recommended Content: Description of the research steps that you intend to pursue, from literature review through publication and dissemination of your research, with references to your research timeline that you will include as attachment.
In the past, I recommended including your full research timeline in this section, but that was before MEXT limited the overall form length to two pages. Now, I recommend moving the timeline to an attachment, but you should still include a brief description here with references to more details in the timeline.
The first, full paragraph should describe your research steps in order, as well as the intended timeline for completion. For example, you could say that in your first semester, you intend to complete your literature review, experiment design, and experiment approval. Then you would go on to describe your field research plans and analysis of data. Conclude the paragraph with your goals for how you will disseminate your research, such as publication, conference presentations, and sharing through informal networks, blogging, etc. If you have specific journals or conferences in your field that you want to target, that is great!
There is no need to describe the steps involved in writing and editing your thesis in detail. That is self-explanatory.
The second, partial paragraph should describe how you intend to interact with the community during the course of your studies, such as cultural exchanges with schools and becoming involved with community groups related to your research topic or other interests.
That’s It – Sort Of
The sections mentioned above should complete the two-page form and should stand on their own to present your entire research.
Obviously, your first draft is going to need work. I recommend revising it yourself then getting it reviewed by an academic expert in your field as well as a language expert.
I do offer paid reviewing services where I go through the formatting and presentation to assess if you have presented your proposal well, incorporating all of the elements above. I cannot, however, offer an academic review, so I am probably not an expert in your field!
For more information on my reviewing services, check out the coaching link at the top of this page.
I recommend adding two attachments to your FSRPP: Your specific research timeline mentioned above and your list of sources. Each should be its own page and they should be in that order.
Attachments should not be critical to understanding your research plan. They are a place to put space-consuming references that can be understood via a quick scan. They have value in showing your preparedness, but the value is not commensurate with the space that they consume.
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).
The level of detail that you go into here depends on your field of study. For example, if you are doing social sciences research and your field research includes two phases of questionnaires and interviews, you can explain that rather quickly.
However, if you are in a STEM field and your research includes a long series of experimental processes or data analysis steps, then you would want to list each of those.
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.
You should have already described your primary research activities in the form proper, such as what kind of data you will collect and how, but here is where you slot it in to the schedule.
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.
Recommended Heading: Selected Sources
Recommended Length: No more than 1/2 page or so
Recommended Content: Bibliographical references for all sources you mentioned in the text of your Field of Study and Research Program Plan (particularly in the existing research section) plus key sources you used in your literature reviews when creating your plan.
List your references in alphabetical order, using the format most common to your field of study.
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.
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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