Interview with Prof. Dai AOKI, former ERC grantee, and professor at Tohoku University

Categories: News | Meet the researchers

Tags: ERC | Japan | Europe

Biography Prof. Dai Aoki:

2000 PhD degree at Osaka Univ.

2000-2002 Postdoc at CEA-Grenoble

2002-2007 Assistant Prof. at IMR, Tohoku Univ.

2007- Researcher at CEA-Grenoble

2010-2015 ERC project (ERC starting grant 2009, NewHeavyFermion)

2012- Professor at IMR, Tohoku Univ.


- Dai, can you introduce your research interests to our readers?

My subject is condensed matter physics; in particular magnetism and superconductivity on rare earth and actinide compounds under extreme conditions. Unconventional superconductivity and its mechanisms are my interests.


- You were previously under an ERC grant in Europe. Can you tell us a bit about your professional choices, and what particular circumstances lead you to work in Europe under this grant?

I was a postdoc in CEA-Grenoble (France) for two years from 2000, and then went back to Japan to get an academic position. Since I enjoyed my research and the life in Grenoble, I decided to return there in 2007, as a researcher. I first tried to obtain an ERC grant but failed. 2007 was the very first call for ERC grants and it was too competitive for me. But I tried again two years later, and succeeded. My ERC project started in 2010.


- How did you obtain the grant? Were there specific hurdles that you managed to overcome in order to secure the funding?


When I applied to the ERC Starting grant in 2009, the proposal was followed by two-step peer review evaluation. I submitted two proposals, part B1 (12 pages for 1st step) and part B2 (19 pages for 2nd step). The proposal was evaluated in terms of “research output and track record of PI” and “research project”. I spent a lot of time to write how important the proposal is in the part of objective. The proposal should be ambitious and high gain, but also should be show promising output. It was very hard for me to write a grant proposal with that many pages. I spent almost one month to complete the proposal.

At the 2nd step, I was invited for interview. I repeated rehearsals and asked comments from non-specialists as well. At the interview, I talked about my project with some jokes. I am proud that I succeeded to make interviewers laugh during the interview!

In the end, I think the strong motivation I had to perform my research was what allowed me to obtain the grant.

Read further expert advice from Prof. Adreas Zeller on how to write ERC grant proposals


- During your time in France with your ERC grant, you used the very unique possibility given by ERC to spend time in a third country for research, by keeping your position in Japan. Can you tell us more about that: how did you manage to do it and what output was there to it?

After obtaining the ERC grant, I was offered a professor position in Tohoku University. It was a good opportunity for me, because I was thinking that I should contribute to academic community and play some roles in Japan. In order to continue my ERC project, I decided to perform my project 50% in France and 50% in Japan. I wrote a letter to ERC president to request the change of my plan, and it was authorized.

Fortunately, all equipment which I needed was already installed, because I had been there previously, doing research on actinide compounds. The cost for consumables was supported by Tohoku University under a research collaboration scheme between Tohoku University and CEA-Grenoble.


- Your grant finished in 2015. What impact did it have on your career? Also, what did this mobility experience to Europe bring to you, in terms of skill or career development?

I believe it had a great impact on my career. To get an academic position in Japan, you have to show your ability to be an independent researcher. Thanks to the ERC grant, I could demonstrate it and obtain a professor position. Because I already had my own team in France within the ERC project, it was quite easy to establish my group in Japan as a PI, too. During my ERC project, I learned how important research collaboration is for a project to succeed. Bonds that were formed then produced collaboration topics, which are still ongoing.

Watch Prof. Dai Aoki’s video: insights & tips for ERC grant writing

- From your perspective, how can/should researchers mobility flows between Europe and Japan (both ways) be improved?

I think young researchers should be more ambitious, and not be afraid of trying. Fortunately there are many grants and exchange programmes for young researchers.


- Do you have a short message of encouragement to other Japanese researchers potentially interested in applying to ERC?

Don’t give up applying the ERC even if you fail. Not only your project but also your research track record is important. Please enjoy your research and don’t forget to write papers as outputs.



Thank you for your time Professor Aoki!