Increasing the visibility of female researchers at our university.
#2: Dr. Aurora Tsai's Experience
Q. Which country are you from? Which department are you in?
A. USA. English Department, Center for Global Communication Strategies, ALESS/A Program.
Q. Could you tell us about your journey from enrolling as a university student to your current post?
A. I went to Boston University, taught English in Kumamoto Prefecture for two years, then did my Masters at the University of Hawaii, and my PhD at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania (USA). After graduating with my PhD I did a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Georgia Institute of Technology for a year. Then I came to the University of Tokyo to teach in the ALESS/A program.
Q. Why did you choose UTokyo? What was the most attractive point to you? What do you think are the shortcomings - if any - of being a researcher at UTokyo?
A. I really liked the working environment in the ALESS/A Program and the collaborative meetings/support we provide each other. The professors in this program are mostly foreigners from various parts of the world.
Q. Do you have any role models? If so, how do they inspire you?
A. Two role models I have in my field of Applied Linguistics are Dr. Ryuko Kubota and Dr. Lourdes Ortega. I admire their ability and drive to push our field in the direction of social justice--an incredibly difficult feat in a field that was established by white European approaches to research that often views minority identities/experiences as a source of undesirable bias or removable outliers.
Q. Where is your favourite spot on campus?
A. Since I was hired right before we went online, I haven't had a chance to explore campus yet!
Q. Give us three keywords to describe your life as a researcher at UTokyo.
A. Disciplined, passionate, connected.
Q. In one sentence, what is your research topic? Would you mind sharing one exciting moment or one fascinating thing about your research?
A. I examine intersections of race, language, and identity, focusing primarily on the experiences of multicultural and multiethnic language users. I am particularly interested in the ways language is used to negotiate identity, justify discrimination, and perpetuate ethnoracial and gender inequalities.
I wouldn't call it fascinating, but it is quite shocking to see how often multicultural and multiethnic language users feel rejected from one of both of their cultures because they do not speak the same as "native speakers", or "monoracial" monocultural monolingual members of their societies. This type of monolingual bias and comparison to native speakers has had an extremely negative effect on the way most people view their second language speaking abilities.
Q. Have you faced (or are you facing) any difficulties as a researcher? How did (or do) you overcome them?
A. I had many difficulties as a PhD student and I still don't feel safe talking about these difficulties even now. However, I can say that going to therapy, talking with other grad students who were facing similar issues, and support from professors who cared about me really helped.
Q. Have you faced any difficulties in balancing your private life and research?
A. It is a real challenge to balance work with raising a small toddler. It was extremely difficult during the beginning of the pandemic because many daycares (hoikuen) shut down or had limited hours. Now they are open and it is an incredible life-saver. I really wouldn't be able to feel capable of pursuing my career without daycare, and I'm incredibly grateful that we were accepted into one, since it is quite competitive in Tokyo.
Q. Imagine you have a little sister who is about to start a journey as a researcher at UTokyo. What message or advice would you give to her?
A. I would advise her to find support groups/circles/friends like Toward Diversity, Tottoko Gender Movement, Women Empowered International, and others. If you are a minority, it is important to have a place to go to feel "normal", comfortable, and respected. It doesn't necessarily have to be a minority group, but it helps to be with others who can empathize with the way one's cultural behaviors and language use may not match the dominant cultural norms.