TESOL filter: how do I get from my MA to a PhD, via Japan?
January 27, 2011 8:27 AM   Subscribe

TESOL filter: how do I get from my MA to a PhD, via Japan?

After doing a year of a university admin job after my BA, I took over a friend's job teaching English in Japan. I was looking for a challenge, and it certainly didn't disappoint. At the time, I wasn't all that sure about what I wanted to do career-wise. Anyway after one year, I got asked to continue, and eventually stayed for 3 years in total. As it happened, I absolutely loved teaching and repeatedly got told I was good at it (by multiple students and boss). What helped was that I was the only teacher, and could cover and make materials for everything the students needed or wanted to learn, rather than follow some awful one-size-fits-all textbook.

After finally figuring out that it would make sense to follow this path, I also realised that I preferred the way life happens in Japan over the UK. The way I see it is my personality fits a Japanese mould much better than it does an English one. So, I started hatching a plan to stay.

Accordingly, I came back to the UK and got an MA in Language Learning and Education, which is effectively applied linguistics crossed with TESOL, but with a bit less of a focus on English. And, since I didn't have it already, I went and got the CELTA, which was hitherto something of a gap in the CV.

My original plan after completing the MA was to go teach in a Japanese university, or maybe an international school. But a few things have come up. The first of which is: I don't have enough cash to get back to Japan to do jobhunting within the country. With so many positions not willing to pay airfare, it really does make most sense to be in the country when applying. That way, the chances are much better of getting closer to the job I want. The alternative seems to be apply to a uni teacher dispatch company like Westgate and use that as my stepping stone back into the country, or possibly Interac and teach in schools for a year or so. However, from what I've read of these options, an MA is overkill, and fairly unlikely to give me enough freedom to teach how I want.

(An added complication is that between returning to the UK and doing the MA, I was sick and incapacitated for about 18 months. Essentially, this has made me just that little bit more determined to return to Japan, but doesn't help so much in making objective decisions. Hence this ask.)

The other issue is that since finishing the MA, I've been drawn to the idea of doing a PhD, and moving into teaching my subject area afterwards. I managed to do well enough on the MA to not be worrying about the grades, but obviously, I need to sock away a stack of cash for funding a PhD. And, at the same time, I'd like to have some more teaching experience to draw on for research and/or the actual PhD proposal. Whatever I do next, I'd like to make sure these two bases are covered.

So, MeFi, given that a PhD in education/language learning is the likely destination, how can I chart a course from here that maximises cash saving, but doesn't cramp my style teaching wise? Am I asking for too much by stubbornly keeping Japan in the plan? Is there a route I've overlooked? Please hope me!
posted by Juso No Thankyou to Work & Money (6 answers total)
I did an MA in Japan and then returned to the US for a PhD, but I considered staying on for a PhD in Japan.

This is what you do:

1) Apply for a Monbusho research grant in your home country.

2) Cultivate a relationship with a professor at your university in your home country who has ties to professors in Japan, who accepts graduate students.
2a) Ideally this professor at your university knows the lay of the land in Japanese academia very well.

3) Ask your home country university professor to introduce you to the professor in Japan via letter.

3a) Not e-mail.

3b) The professor should be one who is familiar with the process of taking foreign students or interested in doing so, so that the red tape doesn't come as a surprise.

3c) Do select a professor at a kokuritsu daigaku as opposed to a shiritsu daigaku professor in case you don't get a Monbusho scholarship and have to pay your own way.

3d) I think Monbusho stopped funding shiritsu scholarships anyway.

3e) There's no need to be in Tokyo. Away from Tokyo is probably more interesting.
4) When you apply for the Monbusho, ask the newly-introduced professor to sponsor you. He (and most definitely it will be a he) will have to write a letter on your behalf.

5) If you get the Monbusho, you will join his "zemi" for a year as a kenkyusei. After a year, take the exam for the hakase course. They might make you do the shushi course over again. Worry about that later. It's a good idea anyway. You need the time to get used to the monotony of graduate study in Japan in Japanese.

6) If you do not get the Monbusho, ask the professor if you can apply anyway to enter his zemi. The exams are in March. You'd have to pay your own way, but it will be doable if you work part-time jobs to support yourself. That's how Japanese grad students fund themselves and live well enough.

7) If you do 6) you should still be eligible for a student visa.

Note 1: I do not recommend following the above advice.

It'll get you what you say you want, but I don't think you will be intellectually stimulated in a Japanese university setting. I did my MA at a prestigious Japanese university and found the structure of the seminar stultifying.
posted by vincele at 9:08 AM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

To clarify:

I'm not ready to start a PhD yet. I would say it is at least 3 years off. And, precisely for the reason you give against it, vincele, I would choose a UK university over a JP one.

The question is more about what to be doing career-wise post MA but pre-PhD.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 12:22 PM on January 27, 2011

Did you teach at Juso Station in Osaka? I can't speak to the specifics of UK vs. Japan education, but I think at the PhD level and the MA level the content of the course is much more stimulating not-in-Japan. I did a cultural studies/anthro/history course and we spent all our class time translating books and articles word-for-word from English into Japanese. A lot were cutting edge texts, but it was very, very boring. That was in both the good and bad seminars.

At the PhD level you don't really go to classes. You just do your own thing for three years and then... Voila! You're supposed to have a dissertation.

The sempai-kohai relationships are also very strict and unforgiving. On the one hand, you are treated pretty much like any other student, without the badge of "gaijin", but on the other, that rigid structure gets old real fast. And I was in a very progressive zemi.

Also, if you want to get a PhD I think one from the UK has more cache around the world. If you want to go back to Japan there are other ways. You'll just have to be resourceful.

Anyway, I strongly recommend applying for the Monbusho scholarship. It is a great way to study in Japan if you can get it! I don't know what the actual scholarship is called anymore, but you can find it easily. It's administered by consulates once a year. There are a bunch of different types. The one I was referring to is a one-year deal that you can extend if you enter a formal research program, and you can keep extending through the PhD.

Here is a Plan B for another way to get back to Japan. Look at the websites for private universities. Check out the English language or foreign culture departments and contact the person in charge of the department (and who also looks friendly). Many of those departments have money and interest in bringing over foreigners to teach for them courses in English.

If you try my plan B, I'd target the region of Japan you are familiar with. So if it is Osaka, try the wealthy schools around Osaka. Send along a resume and cover letter in English to the person you decide upon. The person is probably a guy in his mid to late 30s who is not of a very high rank. Don't send your inquiry to the crusty old dude!

Also send a couple of short proposals for courses you might teach like "Popular culture in the UK" or "Anime in global culture" or "Spoken English in Beverly Hills Seishun Hakusho Season 2" or whatever.

Some of those schools want to expand and hire people to teach things like that but they don't know where to start.

Be sure to emphasize your experience living in Japan and your MA.

I think e-mail is fine for Plan B.

Good luck!
posted by vincele at 2:59 PM on January 27, 2011

I'm sorry I misread your clarification, please ignore irrelevant parts of my answer.
posted by vincele at 3:00 PM on January 27, 2011

Thanks Vincele. On re-read, I can see how my actual title is kind of misleading. Your information is most helpful here - more of the plan B answers from others would be most welcome!

And by the way, I didn't teach at Juso in Osaka - that's a story for another day...on my profile page!
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 3:10 PM on January 27, 2011

I taught at a university here for three years, and it seemed, in terms of job hunting, that one of the most important things to do was be a member of JALT, and attend the yearly JALT conference. For better or worse, JALT has managed to get big enough that there are regularly postings for jobs at the fall conference, though, of course, less now than there used to be. Unfortunately, this is one of those things where it does help to be here. Also, a lot of jobs seem to magically end up given to people recommended by teachers already working at the school (one of the most common questions I got, repeatedly, from many teachers at my university was 'How did you find out about this job?', since no one knew me).

As for continuing education, two of the teachers at my university were doing Phd courses through distance learning. I don't offhand know what university they were at, but for one of them, it meant flying back to England during breaks to take seminar courses. It's doable, but it's not easy.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:18 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Please help me out of a Microsoft Excel morass   |   What building is that? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.