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July 12, 2013

Exploring neural networks at the single-cell level

photo of Charles Plessy

Charles Plessy, Unit Leader

Genomics Miniaturization Technology Unit, RIKEN Center for Life Science Technologies

How did you join RIKEN?

I first came to RIKEN for an interview in the spring of 2004, a time when all the cherry blossoms were in bloom. When I was moving to Japan after taking up the position, I bought a one-way ticket and put all of my belongings into two big bags, ready to begin what has become an open-ended adventure for me.

Why were you drawn to RIKEN?

When I saw an advertisement for a postdoctoral researcher at RIKEN, the line “the gene network in the neural network” fascinated me.

I was impressed by the level of professionalism that I encountered during my recruitment process, and the discussions I had with the researchers I met at RIKEN further inspired me to become part of the organization. I knew that RIKEN had a culture of great diligence, and that did not deter me at all.

What is your current field of research?

I still focus on the gene network as part of the bigger neural network. Over the years, we have significantly improved our technology to be able to monitor gene activity and infer regulatory networks, allowing us to elucidate the interactions between specific factors. Now that my team is gaining an insight into such networks at the single-cell level, we are looking to apply our technology to brain samples.

What is the best thing about working at RIKEN?

RIKEN is a research center where one can dedicate themselves to science with minimal distraction. The work environment is really conducive to research. I have access to excellent facilities and equipment, and other forms of support such as assistance with administrative duties. Furthermore, there is no requirement for me to undertake teaching duties, meaning that I have more time and energy to focus on research.

What has been the highlight of your time at RIKEN so far?

Undoubtedly, it was winning the 2011 RIKEN Research Incentive Award and receiving it from Ryoji Noyori, president of RIKEN.

Incidentally, that year also brings back many poignant memories of the Great East Japan Earthquake. I am full of respect and admiration for the patience and resilience demonstrated by the people of Japan during that difficult time. The solidarity and support shown by people from around the world was also very heartening.

What would you say to other people considering joining RIKEN?

photo of Charles Plessy in the lab
© 2013 RIKEN

RIKEN provides plenty of support to foreign researchers, allowing them to begin their new life in Japan with ease.

When I first arrived, the International Cooperation Office provided me with temporary accommodation at International House on the Wako campus, giving me ample time to find a permanent place to live. Everyone I have met at RIKEN has been friendly and encouraging, and it helps tremendously that all discussions and research are conducted in English.

I would say that RIKEN is definitely a place like no other in which to fulfill your hopes and vision, and to imagine and realize projects that would be hard to do elsewhere. If you are considering becoming a part of RIKEN, do not be afraid to think big!