School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Melissa Bredow

Ph.D candidate, Biology

melissa bredow

Melissa Bredow and members of the lab in Japan

Melissa Bredow - A Scholarship for Research in Japan

by Marielle Hawkes
October 2015

Melissa Bredow's first trip overseas was about as far as you can go from Canada. Thanks to a scholarship from the Japanese Society for the Advancement of Science, Melissa traveled to Japan for three months to conduct research on the antifreeze proteins found in some hardy cereals. Freezing causes cellular dehydration, rupturing of cellular structures and cell death. However, the antifreeze proteins (AFPs) in hardy cereals allow for survival below -10 degrees Celsius. As a PhD in Biology student at Queen's University Melissa is trying to identify the novel AFPs that protect plants from freezing. Her work has important agricultural uses, identifying the novel proteins would allow for the creation of more freeze tolerant crops. In a country like Canada, where the weather can be very unpredictable and it can snow in August, the ability to create better cold-acclimated plants would be valuable. For Melissa going to Japan to conduct lab work for her research was imperative, many of the materials and technology she needed were not available in Canada.

Before leaving for Japan, Melissa attended an orientation provided by the Japanese Society for the Advancement of Science on the topics of language and culture. She, along with the other program participants, mostly researchers from the United States and Europe, participated in intensive Japanese language training, training on eating etiquette and general lessons on what is socially acceptable. Japanese culture is very different from Canadian culture, therefore the orientation was essential in giving Melissa an idea of what to expect.

The language barrier was probably the most difficult part of studying abroad for Melissa, and she wishes that she had learned more Japanese before leaving. Thankfully, most people in Japan are excited about the opportunity to practice their English and were friendly in helping her find her way during the, many, times she got lost. In the labs most researchers need to be able to publish their work in English so they are able to at least read English. However, some things still get lost in translation and all you can do is just laugh about it.

The expectations on graduate students are quite different in Japan than in Canada. In Canada, graduate student are often able to be more flexible with their schedules, there is a certain amount of freedom in scheduling lab work, testing or research time. In Japan, students are expected to work 12-13 hours a day, seven days a week. Melissa was warned about this during the orientation and she was advised that it was best to just adapt to the host's schedule.

The hectic schedule didn't mean that there was no time for fun. The host lab was incredibly welcoming and brought the students to different local festivals, restaurants and unique sights such as limestone caves. The funding from the scholarship that Melissa received included money for travel within Japan, which Melissa used to explore the country from all the way from North to South.

If you are interested in applying to an international research scholarship Melissa's advice is to "Make your science very accessible, the research needs to be universally applicable."