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Attending the 2016 Japan Amgen Scholar Symposium

Guest post written by Kyoto University Amgen Scholar Alex Sample

Alex Sample

The Amgen Scholar Japan Symposium was a global gathering of passionate young scientists. The Amgen Scholars Japan Program is the only one of Scholar’s three programs to accept applications from any country which leads to a very diverse group; this year 48 Scholars from 17 countries participated. This year, Kyoto University hosted the symposium, so naturally the best way to show the Tokyo Scholars the city was with a visit to one of Kyoto’s many shrines—in this case Fushimi Inari Taishita. While we gazed upon the thousands of torii gates, we shared our experiences in Japan including the best places to get ramen, how to stay cool in the heat of Kyoto, and of course, our research projects

The next day was the main event: the poster presentations and lectures from guest speakers. The first group to present was the Tokyo Scholars. This was exciting not only because I was able to see the interesting research conducted by the Tokyo Scholars, but also because they were a month ahead of the Kyoto Scholars program. The symposium was held and the end of the Tokyo program, whereas we were only half done with ours. Having seen their posters, I was impressed by the amount of work they could accomplish in that additional month; I felt that I had only just begun my research and was eager to achieve as much as they did in the following weeks. Later, the Kyoto Scholars presented their posters. I was glad to be able to share my project with my fellow Scholars as well as hear their feedback and ideas about it. While I approached my research from the perspective of a chemist, I received advice from other disciplines that I would never have thought of on my own. This is something I’ve always loved about scientific research: many scientists can combine their knowledge to create even better results.

Although there were many though-provoking lectures given on that day, there were two that particularly stood out to me. The first of these was given by Dr. Stefan Gruber, an associate professor at the Habuki Center for Advanced Research of Kyoto University. He discussed the importance of ethics and academic honesty in research which has always been of interest to me. The public has faith in science and medicine, and scientists must strive to maintain this trust with the public. If we lose this, the legitimacy of scientific research will be in jeopardy. The next lecture was given by Dr. Kurt Helge Rimkus, the head of research and development for Amgen Astellas BioPharma. He spoke about his education and career including an initially unexpected move to Japan after getting his M.D. and Ph.D. in Germany. I was intrigued by the diverse path his career had followed; he was passionate about science and was able to travel many places because of that. The day concluded with a reception where we continued our discussions of life in Japan.

The next day we visited Shimadzu Corporation and iCeMS (Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences) at Kyoto University both of which showed two different types of cutting-edge research being conducted in Japan. Shimadzu Corporation showed us around their facilities where they make analytical and measurement equipment used in many fields ranging from medicine to aircraft equipment. At iCeMS we toured their research facilities and even had a brief encounter with the Director, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, known for his Nobel prize winning research with induced Pluripotent Stem Cells. With this our symposium concluded, and we said our goodbyes to the Tokyo scholars.

Photo by Alex Sample Photo by Alex Sample

This symposium was a very rewarding opportunity. For the Toyko Scholars, it was a culmination of two months of hard work; for the Kyoto Scholars, it was a foreshadowing of what we could accomplish with another month of research time. The lectures, poster presentations, and industry visits all demonstrated the wide range of work involved in biotechnology research; from the more obvious biology research in genetics to physics research in biological imaging, all fields of science have relevancy in advancing biotechnology. In a broader sense, scientists can all do something to help better the world and add to our knowledge. The friendships I formed and experiences I had in the Kyoto Amgen Scholars Program are something I will truly treasure for many years .

To learn more about the Amgen Scholars Program, please visit and check out the #AmgenScholars hashtag on Twitter. Follow @AmgenFoundation to stay up to date with all STEM-related news from the Amgen Foundation.