Student Experience

Ra Mason

Graduate of the Tohoku University Cross-National Doctoral Course
PhD Project title: Japan’s Recalibration of Risk: The Framing of North Korea

Ram Mason, PhD studentCan you give me a brief description of your research project?
It examined the role of media in policy formation through an analysis of how Japan has recalibrated perceived risks it identifies with North Korea. This examined state (government), market (commercial media, businesses etc.) and societal (civil society, interest groups, general public) influences and how through a combined interactive process – measurable via discourse analysis – Japan’s stance and policies, as well as public opinions, towards North Korea changed substantially during the post-Cold War period. In this sense, the project examined process (or the how), as opposed to outcomes and effects (or the what) of Japan’s North Korea policy formation.

A revised version of Ra's PhD thesis has since been published as a book 'Japan's Relations with North Korea and the Recalibration of Risk'

What is it like to be a PhD student in SEAS?
It is a great experience! It is well-structured and well-supervised time that allows you to focus intensively on your research topic, with access to world-class facilities, such as the academic libraries and databases. In my case, I was also provided with sufficient funding to attend numerous conferences and other academic events, both locally and around the globe.

Can you give me a bit of background about the Tohoku double degree programme?
The programme involves spending one year in Sendai at Tohoku University to conduct on-site research, as well as travelling to and from their affiliated institutions, such as the Social Science Institute at the University of Tokyo, and conducting interviews around Japan. I was accepted onto the programme via an application directly to Tohoku, having been recommended for the programme by my supervisor, Prof. Glenn Hook, through his affiliation with Tohoku University and their cross-national doctoral programme.

Can you tell me about your experiences on the Tohoku programme?
As with my experiences as a PhD student at The University of Sheffield, the programme at Tohoku offers a well-focused research experience, with a close group of scholars and postgraduate students. There is also ample opportunity to explore life in Japan and engage in a wide range of recreational activities at the University and elsewhere.

How has studying for part of your degree in Japan benefitted you?
It allowed direct access to key decision-makers (mostly via live interviews) who were directly responsible for actions and policies that I was researching about. This was invaluable in allowing me to gain an accurate, qualitative, picture of the processes undergirding policy formation, as discussed above. In addition, a far wider variety of Japanese language materials than were readily available in the UK could be accessed via the libraries at Tohoku and Tokyo, as well as more general sources of information from Japanese scholars and non-academic contacts. Ultimately, the experience also allowed me to develop a network of contacts within Japan, some of which have additionally helped to extend links back to Europe and elsewhere.