University of Wisconsin–Madison

Working Girl in a Whole New World

I spend every day of the work week in a lab, a science major’s dream. I get to work on a project for the BioChemical team of Osaka Gas and not only is it using many of the techniques I am familiar with, but I’m also learning many new ones! When I’m not doing experiments, I am reading many scholarly research articles but this is teaching me how to quickly understand dense material and then interpret it for my coworkers who are so busy with their own projects that they don’t have time to dig through all the literature on our research.

The day starts at 9AM, sounded by a bell, and ends at 5:40PM, with the same sound. In order to be in my seat by 9AM, I have to set off from my dormitory at 7:30AM for the 1.5 hour commute: 4 trains and 1 bus. After arriving to work, I still need to check in and then change into my uniform. Normally, once I am all changed, workout music begins to play symbolizing I have 5 minutes to walk to my laboratory building. (The workout music is for people to exercise before work, which I have actually seen a few members do!) Everyone is pretty on time with making sure you are already working by 9AM, and you are never late unless you were out super late drinking with coworkers the night before on occasion.

A Normal Day in the Office

At noon, another bell rings  which announces it is lunch time for everyone, and my lab members either go to our conference room to eat if they brought their own food, or go to the cafeteria. I love this idea that everyone has lunch at the same time because it has really allowed me to get to know my other coworkers a lot better by all spending at least one hour together chatting about non-work related matters. I always eat in the cafeteria (I am way too lazy to make myself lunch every day), but once we are finished eating in the cafeteria we head to the conference room to join the others who brought their own lunch. This lunchtime gets even better because we all drink coffee, or in my case tea because I don’t like coffee, and it is also customary to bring sweets into the office to share, especially if you have been traveling, so we always have  a mountain of treats to eat! My lab often talks with my about what food to try or places to go to in Japan during lunch, and so I often brings sticky notes to write all the suggestions on and in fact have the sticky notes taped up on the wall of my room so I have ideas of where to travel next at my fingertips!

At 1PM, another bell signals it is back to work. I am either at my bench working on my project or researching at my work laptop. What you can do on your work laptop is also super strict; when you are at work you focus only on work, which can be hard with such long work days but I’m starting to get the hang of it (only four months in).

The 5:40PM bell seems not to be heard by anyone at the end of the day, as my whole lab continues to work straight through it. I pack up just after the 5:40PM bell rings so I can get home by 7:10PM, but one of my coworkers commented about this the other day laughing about how “quickly” I leave work. Obviously, it’s not normal to leave right when the day ends, but this is what I am used to in America. After work, many people go to drink (and eat a little) until very late into the night. I have been invited to partake a few instances, but I am glad I am not invited out more because I could not handle coming home so late every night! I normally get home around 7:30PM, but if I go out with my coworkers I don’t expect to get home until 11PM! We also have welcome parties to welcome new members to our lab and we also have miscellaneous parties like a Kani party (see an earlier blog) and we have planned tentatively a barbeque in May.

In general, working in Japan seems to be much more intense than I am used to. Late nights and long commutes are as normal as dinner at 6PM sounds normal to me. It’s all go-go-go and I don’t know how anybody has time to see their families! I’m happy to be here, but I’m also happy I’m just an intern here. My co-workers are amazing and I cannot believe I have less than two months less to go! Right now, I’m trying not to think about it so I can focus on enjoying my time here. I feel so incredibly lucky to be a part of this experience and am learning so many new things, both in the lab and also in general. I have mostly gotten control of wielding chopsticks (thanks entirely to a co-worker who taught me how to use them every day at lunch); I bow and say the typical Japanese greetings like a natural (or so I like to think and, again, thanks to my co-workers helping me with pronunciation and helping me know when to say what); I eat anything put in front of me (which is a huge change from Chloe the picky eater a few months ago).

Expect to see a more reminiscent post in the coming weeks as my time here shortens and I am unable to hold back how much I am going to miss this internship.

Until next time!

The cherry blossoms blooming in front of the main building of Osaka Gas Laboratories