University collaboration: OIST and the University of the Ryukyus

For any given project, strong collaboration is often the key to success. An important collaboration partner for the OKEON Chura-mori project is the University of the Ryukyus (Ryudai).

The Economo Unit at OIST hosts bi-annual joint lab meetings with their counterpart at Ryudai. These meetings have been great for establishing joint interests and combining specialist skills to conduct research. Currently, the two labs are planning a joint research grant application. Professor Tsuji, Professor Tatsuta and their lab have been instrumental in the process of setting up and progressing OKEON, providing advice and connections to their well-established network across Okinawa and Japan. The field centre at Ryudai has also provided permission to set up a monitoring site on their land.

What has been a challenge, however, has been involving students from Ryudai in the collaboration. Ryudai students appear to not only be intimidated by conducting research solely in English, but also the image of OIST as a global research university with unattainably high standards. Inviting students to the lab meetings was not enough to break down these barriers, real and perceived.

To improve collaboration and ensure that benefits are reciprocal, OKEON and Professor Tatsuta, a lecturer in the Agriculture Department at Ryudai planned two field class sessions in July 2016 in which third-year students would be introduced to the OKEON project and learn basic sampling and species identification skills.

The first class was introduced by Dr. Yoshimura, who explained the project from a scientific perspective.
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Then, under the supervision of Mr. Yoshida, our insect specialist, Mr. Kinjo and Mr. Iriyama, two members of the sorting team gave a lesson in sorting insects. OKEON’s sorting team is made up of six members, who are hired locally and had no prior experience or specialism of working with insects or research.

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The following week, students were taken into the field itself and took part in the sample collection process, before sketching a sample they had sorted the previous week.

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Two major achievements were made through these classes. Firstly, by tailoring the class to university students, and conducting it in Japanese, students were engaged throughout and reacted positively to the idea of using data from OKEON for their graduate theses the following year. Visiting the trap in reality, and experiencing data collection and fieldwork made the research more accessible, and perhaps more interesting.

The second positive achievement was how Mr. Kinjo and Mr. Iriyama conducted the sorting class. Having the specialist knowledge and confidence in their ability to teach university students is a testament to their hard work and demonstrates their progression and development. The sorter training programme aims to not only teach specialist environmental knowledge, but to develop responsibility, communication skills, and other skills which will be useful in any career path. Instructing university students shows their ability to contribute to society academically as well as strengthening the bridge between OIST, Ryudai and Okinawa’s local community.

In terms of OKEON and OIST, one benefit is having access to more potential students to conduct research using the large volumes of data generated by OKEON. Another is the possibility to explore different ways of collaborating across academic institutions and within society via research. This type of collaboration is currently a topic of particular interest, and in fact, JST (Japan Science and Technology Agency) took an interest in the programme and came to film the first class for a documentary on Citizen Science.

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While there is already a strong partnership between Ryudai and OIST, it can still be developed further. These classes were an important step towards expanding the collaboration to include students, and the sorting team. More links does not necessarily mean that there is greater collaboration, but in this case, a diversity of approaches has been beneficial and may result in further joint efforts between OIST and Ryudai. To see what else is going on at Ryudai in the Tsuji Lab, please click here

Ryukyu Shinpo Spin-Off Event in collaboration with OIST

Following on from the success of Dr Yoshimura’s column in the Ryukyu Shinpo, OIST hosted a joint event on Sunday 31st July featuring Dr Yoshimura himself. Attendees were able to meet Dr Yoshimura, listen to his experiences as a researcher both in Japan and overseas in the USA, and learn how to use a magnifying glass to spot different types of ants.

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Dr. Yoshimura spoke about how he became a researcher, and in particular why he became interested in ants. He discussed his experiences moving to San Francisco, working as a researcher and the difficulties he faced. One of the ways that Dr Yoshimura coped living in the USA where there was limited funding for researchers was by starting a one-man band, the Male Ants Project, and earned extra money by busking. Event participants were treated to a performance by Dr Yoshimura of the popular Sukiyaki song.

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After the talk, participants were taught how to use a mini microscope to investigate which creatures were in their own surroundings, starting with the Inner Garden at OIST. Children who were already interested in ants or looking for a topic for their summer research project had the opportunity to hear from an expert researcher. Over 50 people attended, and the event was highly successful, with children, parents and university students alike engaged and interested.

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For more information and links to the Ryukyu Shinpo Column please click here and here.

OKEON workshop for high school teachers

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「OKEON美ら森プロジェクト」における高大連携の取り組みとして、沖縄本島内の高校生物の先生方を対象に、ワークショップを開催しました。今回のテーマは、「研究者、先生方、そして生徒、三者が得する高大連携の取り組みを考える」。先生方とそれぞれの目当てや視点を共有することで、みんなにプラスになる取り組みをしたいと考えました。今回は、普天間高校、読谷高校、首里高校から先生方が参加。
当日は先生方と活発な議論が行え、今後の取組への新しいアイデアも出て、有意義なワークショップとなりました。この様子の一部は、6月23日の沖縄テレビ、夕方のニュース特集「河川・環境シリーズ」で放映されました。

We organized a workshop at OIST for Okinwan local high school biology teachers as a networking activity for the OKEON Chura-mori Project. Participants were teachers from Futenma, Yomintan, and Shuri high schools. The theme of the workshop was “How can we create a win-win relationship through University-high school collaboration?” We had a good brainstorming session and shared many ideas. Part of the workshop was broadcasted on local Okinawa news.