Striving to create a research environment where diverse personnel can thrive

University News | January 12, 2022

This article was published in the Autumn 2021 issue of Litterae Populi. The full issue can be found here.

In April 2020, the Support Office for Female Researchers in the Front Office for Human Resource Education and Development (FOHRED) was renamed the Promotion office of Research environment for Diversity (Ree-D), marking a fresh start. Now that great importance is attached to diversity, as exemplified by the central premise of “Leave no one behind” under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Ree-D provides various forms of support that meet the needs of researchers, so that diverse personnel can devote themselves to their research in a better environment.

A Ree-D staff meeting. A staff with diverse experience runs Ree-D, keeping one another fully up to speed on what’s happening.

Diversity and inclusion are required in order for universities to fulfill their various missions, such as producing talented individuals who will lead society in the future, contributing to the SDGs, and developing innovation. It is essential to bring diverse personnel together and make the most of their abilities and individuality.

Hokkaido University has stepped up its efforts to increase the number of female researchers since it established the Support Office for Female Researchers in July 2006, and has achieved tangible results. For instance, the number of female teachers increased from 210 in 2009 to 337 in 2019.

In April 2020, the office was renamed the Promotion office of Research environment for Diversity (Ree-D). Professor Rika Yano, director of Ree-D, shares her aspirations: “Young researchers and expatriate academics play a critical role in furthering the development of the University. I intend to improve the research environment to support diverse personnel, all while continuing to provide support for female researchers.” Ree-D is run by a staff of eight: Director Yano, a specially appointed professor, a specially appointed assistant professor, a research fellow, three administrative assistants and a temporary employee.

Implementing various programs from the researcher’s perspective

Ree-D promotes various activities based on three pillars. The first pillar is personnel development. It offers training through job shadowing, for female researchers aspiring to senior positions, and through support programs for the promotion of international joint research and interdisciplinary collaboration. The second is improving the research environment. Ree-D helps researchers balance their research activities and life events, such as childbirth, childcare, and elderly care, by subsidizing the hiring of research assistants. The third is to nurture the next generation of female researchers. Ree-D encourages female researchers to enroll in doctoral programs, creates a community of female students enrolled in science programs, and holds hands-on events for elementary, junior high and senior high school students.

“KNIT a Network! Role Model Round-table talks” held in September 2020.

Further, Hokkaido University was selected for the Initiative for Realizing Diversity in the Research Environment (Traction Type) under the FY 2019 MEXT Grant Program for the Development of Human Resources in Science and Technology, and Ree-D has assumed a central role in promoting diversity in Hokkaido. With Muroran Institute of Technology, Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, Kitami Institute of Technology, Amino Up Co., Ltd., and Nitto Denko Corporation as collaborating organizations, Ree-D is working to develop a research environment that takes work-­life balance into consideration, in order to nurture female researchers and technicians who are leaders and to help the next generation of female researchers build career paths, among other activities.

The Ree-D program that currently has the highest demand is the one that provides human resource support to help researchers balance life events and research activities. It supports researchers who have to suspend or slow their studies due to life events such as pregnancy, childbirth, childcare or elderly care by helping them to hire assistants.   

Each call for applications for this six-month human resources support receives more than 20 applications, and male applicants have been increasing. Specially Appointed Professor Noriko Nagahori says, “This support has been welcome, as it enables researchers to write a thesis, prepare an application for external funds, or do other work as effectively as usual.” Other Ree-D programs include one introduced in response to requests from University teaching and administrative staffers for short-term preschool daycare on weekends when they have to proctor unified entrance exams. In this way, Ree-D is working each and every day to create an environment where teaching and administrative staff can concentrate on their work.

Building a key network

“KNIT” is a nickname for the Initiative for Realizing Diversity in the Research Environment (Traction Type), which is being advanced through the collaboration of six institutions in Hokkaido. The logo, above, which is based on the concept of diversity, represents various people and things of various colors and shapes firmly supporting one another, with the feel of warm knitwear, befitting Hokkaido.

Networking is crucial for promoting the research environment for diversity. To provide a forum for casual discussions among researchers, Ree-D has been hosting online “KNIT a Network! Role Model Round-table Talks” at lunchtime once or twice a month since July 2020. The aim is to highlight the diverse lifestyles of people engaged in research and university administration. “Casual conversations, such as those about the know-how and pains endured to balance parenting and research, sometimes provide new insights or hints for one’s own research activities,” remarks Specially Appointed Professor Nagahori. Director Yano concurs: “I’m also among those who began joint research thanks to a similar network. I will continue to push for networking like this, because new ideas may emerge when researchers of different fields get together.” Ree-D’s meetups to promote interdisciplinary exchanges and various other initiatives have borne fruit: 27 joint research projects led by female researchers have been launched over the past two years.

On March 3 and 4, 2020, the KNIT Research Exchange Meeting, “Super-interdisciplinary meetup” was held. Festooned with 151 posters describing research work, the venue was designed to sour lively exchanges despite the difficulty of face-to-face conversations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. From November 30 to December 4, 2020, the Interdisciplinary meetup week 2020 was held online.

Everyone has unconscious biases and preconceptions. Becoming aware of any of them will expand the possibility of one’s research and lead to the development of one’s organization, Director Yano notes. She shared some future prospects by saying, “We will provide support that contributes to knowledge creation at the University with a view to offering training on unconscious biases.”

Based on the “KNIT a network” initiative, the Promotion office of Research environment for Diversity (Ree-D) is steadfastly moving toward realizing a research environment for diversity.

This article was published in the Autumn 2021 issue of Litterae Populi. The full issue can be found here.