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Attending the 2015 Japan Amgen Scholar Symposium

Guest post written by The University of Tokyo Amgen Scholar Jenny Lai

Jenny Lai

For the Amgen Scholars at The University of Tokyo, the Japan Symposium marked the closing of our eight-week journey. It was an exciting first day, one we had been working towards the whole summer in our respective labs, one where we could share our passions and interests with fellow scientists, professors and the community.

We met the Amgen Scholars from Kyoto University, and many of us were roommates with them over the weekend. Friendships quickly formed; conversations about our backgrounds, Kyoto versus Tokyo, and expectations for the weekend ensued. We bonded over novel research methods, mutual friends, favorite foods, and karaoke. The Japan Symposium brought together 40 young aspiring scientists from Tokyo and Kyoto for a weekend of learning, inspiration, and friendship.

Yet, the symposium was more than just Tokyo and Kyoto coming together. It was the United States, Canada, Italy, Australia, Georgia, Indonesia, England, and many other countries gathering in the name of science. The Amgen Scholars Program in Japan is the only program that accepts people from around the world, creating a global network. Science, friendship, and teamwork have no boundaries when aimed at solving problems plaguing every society. With each of our unique upbringings and backgrounds, majors and research, we were randomly teamed together to answer the question, “What can scientists do for the future of global health?”

Photo by Jenny Lai

Within our groups, we each had different ideas that built on each other, and also conflicted, but daring to disagree is sometimes how the best solutions are found. In my group, we initially brainstormed global health problems. We then categorized the problems as educational, preventative medicine, socioeconomic, policy, and therapy based. For each of these umbrella topics, we then proposed realistic and specific courses of action as solutions.

The next morning was lined with student presentations. Interestingly, each group looked at the issue of global health from a different angle. Some had a sociopolitical approach, integrating scientists in the community for more informative health policy and media representation. Others had a research approach, engineering a device that could accurately, efficiently and affordably diagnose diseases using big data. It was inspirational to hear the innovative yet practical proposals from each group, and realize how much a team of scientists from around the world who just met could accomplish in one day.

Not only were we fortunate enough to hear from each other, but also from the enlightening guest speakers Mr. Eduardo Cetlin, President of the Amgen Foundation, and Dr. David M. Reese, Senior Vice President of Translational Sciences at Amgen and a member of the Amgen Foundation Board of Directors. In the keynote speech, Dr. Reese spoke of past difficulties in turning basic science research into actual patient therapies, and how these challenges have been overcome by advances in genetics. He introduced two novel biotechnological therapies under development at Amgen, inspiring us all with the promise of biotechnology and the potential for our research to truly make a difference in the lives of patients.

While recounting my research experience with Mr. Cetlin, complete with big ideas, repeated experiments and unexpected results, he said something that truly resonated with me, “The only sure way to fail, is to not try.” Yes, research is often difficult, in which experiments fail more often than they succeed. But if one never tried, and never carried out the failed experiments, then one would also never make discoveries. Perseverance, determination, and faith in science is the key to research.

The symposium closed with a celebratory, traditional Yubata dinner cruise and karaoke, a final night of bonding with our peers, gaining advice and insight from mentors, and immersion in the Japanese culture. It was the closing, but not the final chapter. This program and symposium is just the beginning of a lifetime of friendships, coworkers, conferences, road trips, visits, collaborations, and inspirations from scientists around the world.

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.

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