Namiko Mitarai – Niels Bohr Institute - University of Copenhagen

Namiko Mitarai

Namiko Mitarai from Japan has been employed by NBI since 2009 as an associated Professor and has in the spring 2015 been awarded the prestigious Japanese elite researcher award, The Young Scientists’ Prize in the Commendation for Science and Technology.

The award is given to young researchers who have done groundbreaking or original research and have outstanding research characteristics.

Research field: My scientific focus areas include physics of biological systems, statistical physics, and nonlinear dynamics. I am very interested in how rich and complex behaviors arise in collection of many different components, e.g. how a collection of macromolecules performs a function in a living cell through physical interactions among them.

Why did you choose Denmark?

I was a research associate in Japan, and I had a chance to apply for a grant to spend some time abroad. I chose NBI as a host institute for scientific reasons. My father was a physicist who had been at NBI several times, so it was easy to convince my family that it’s a great idea. I came to visit NBI in 2006. I was extremely impressed by the research and the international environment at NBI.  My main concern was the language. It would be hard to be away from home if I could not talk to anyone other than a few people at work. However, I discovered that most Danes speak English and the international environment at NBI makes it very easy to socialize after hours. Therefore I did not hesitate to come back to Denmark when the opportunity for a position came.  It was the right move in my career and I have not regretted it.

What was your cultural experience coming to Denmark?

I did not have high resolution about European cultures – probably most Japanese don’t – I was kind of mixing up information on the entire Nordic region and maybe other small European countries. I knew my knowledge was inadequate that it was hard to tell what to expect. But there was one thing I believed: We are all just human beings and therefore the same in the end.  I guess this is a very laidback way to approach a new life, but it made things easier. I did not expect a good or a bad cultural experience up front, but I kept an open mind. Now more than 5 years have passed and I am still here because I like it.

What was challenging to you when you came to Denmark?

Overall I did not find it hard to come to Denmark, but I did of course have some challenges. I did find it hard to figure out the structural organization. Who should I ask about this and that, who takes care of this or should I do this myself? I also found it challenging to figure out administrative rules in University, just because how things work can be different from the system that I know. It is not about which is better, just it is difficult to find out the rules if you do not know what is the default.  

What would your advice be for any researcher considering Denmark?

Denmark is a very relaxing place to live. Denmark is said to be expensive, which it is, but it is not outrageous as long as you are also paid in Denmark. Copenhagen is very safe to live in and you can bike everywhere, which I like very much. I would say just try it – it is really worth a try.