Recently I have a lot of people approaching me for a career advice. It makes me realize that my career path – being both academic and practitioner – may not be something that you find a lot in Japan. In a hope that this may help some of those students, people in their first jobs, or those who are wondering whether or not to change their jobs, here are things I find really exciting about my job in the academia (@ the University of Tokyo).
The first part, definitely, is to be inspired by the endless passion and dedication of students and young researchers. Their potential is limitless. It is nothing but my pleasure when I see students coming into my class without any background knowledge of what I am interested in, be it international law, human rights, rule of law, policing, accountability or UN Peace Operations, giving it a serious try and getting to excel in these subjects. It is very rewarding to connect these young talents to the world I know – the world of the UN, human rights and Peace Operations. Amazing to hear that so many students tell me now that they are interested in the International Committee of the Red Cross or the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I have always thought that none of the topics I am/we are tackling can have much impact unless we have the younger generation to be the central part of it. One of the classes I teach is now drafting a submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures. After almost four years at the University of Tokyo, I have a group of students and graduates that I have no spot of doubt to become the core of these movements.
The second part, and in fact I do hope I can say this is the first part by next year, is the freedom to research and make contributions on any topic of my choice. We have a large space for choosing what to research, how to research, who to research with, what results we produce, what to make public or how to fund our research. The only restriction at the moment is time. Even with that restriction, I do appreciate it very much that I can research on anything. I am also surprised and very grateful for a lot of opportunities for joint research projects. Last year, I had a joint research with Dr. Marsha Henry of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on accountability of sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peace operations, and this year I have a joint project with Dr. Roisin Burke on the UN-AU cooperation on accountability of sexual exploitation and abuse (this is the opening seminar for the joint project). I had numerous seminars and collaborations with academics and practitioners. I am very highly appreciative of the support of the Mission of Japan to the UN and UN Victims’ Rights Advocate’s office in the organization of High-Level Panel on sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peace operations last year. In fact, one of the senior participants in the Panel mentioned that it was amazing that a Japanese university-related fund is funding our High-Level Panel conversation, in collaboration with the Japanese Mission. I am also very thankful for the cooperation that we, at the International Law Training and Research Hub, are able to have with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This academic freedom is something that I absolutely treasure. Once my academic curiosity/desire to contribute to a topic of international affairs grows on something, I can freely think…’ok, how do I go about it?’, instead of ‘what may be obstacles?’. Then it is just a matter of priorities.
Of course, there are things I miss about my past careers in the UN – mainly with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN peace operations. The biggest thing I miss is the contact with people for whom we try to provide protection. Having faces and voices around, for whom we are trying to work. Seeing the small but concrete changes we make on people’s lives. Being with humanitarians. Seeing the steady progress in countries we work. Of course.
There are plenty of options in front of you, and in fact, in front of all of us. There are good parts and not-so-good parts for any decisions you make. For me, what leads me has always been ‘when do I feel most excited?’ Currently my gut says dive further into the world of international law and accountability. The first sense of what I would like to do in my life was in my high school days: ‘this world is not fair!’ Whatever I do in whatever job, I would like to be contributing to correcting that.
So, in short, what I would say is to follow your passion. Don’t only dream about it, but make it happen. In order to make it happen, believe that you can make it happen. I close this rather informal blog post with the phrase I got from my former PhD supervisor:
‘Go out and effect changes!’