As a world leader in scientific research, RIKEN is boldly tackling the challenges facing humanity; through its acceptance of outside talent (its “Brains Without Borders” receptivity), RIKEN is strengthening the world’s trust in Japan while creating scientific and technological innovations that move Japanese society, step after step, closer to sustainable development. The tasks facing humanity in our age range from problems requiring consideration on the time scale of geological history to problems we face on a daily basis in our ever-changing society. As a technically advanced and specialized institute active in a wide range of fields, RIKEN must tailor its responses to the unique nature of each issue, offering a framework that enables intensive research efforts within a time frame appropriate for each project while at the same time managing its overall operations based on sound management decisions that harmonize immutable realities with the latest vicissitudes of social trends.
It is also RIKEN’s mission to spur on the flux of talent by welcoming, nurturing, and sending outstanding researchers and engineers to new posts, like a pump driving global movements of human resources. To create new intellectual assets for humanity, it is RIKEN’s duty to design a personnel system that stimulates the flows that occur naturally in the research domain as outstanding researchers vie for better positions and build their careers.
RIKEN has always operated a fixed-term employment system as necessary and indispensable for its management. The necessity and importance of this system will not change. RIKEN’s judicious use of this system has allowed fixed-term employment to keep pace with the remarkable progress of science in response to society’s diverse demands and national policy issues, and in light of changes in the social environment surrounding researchers. Researchers at RIKEN focusing on a variety of time-sensitive projects in their area of expertise have to their credit made significant advances responding to the challenges of their times. Many of those who participated in such time-limited projects, making the most of their experiences at RIKEN, have achieved lasting prominence beyond its confines.
The high mobility of our researchers is one of RIKEN's important characteristics. From fiscal year 2019 (beginning in April) to FY 2021, on average each year 170 researchers completed their terms and left RIKEN. In FY 2022 (that is, at the end of March 2023) considerably more, some 380 employees under current (fixed-term) contracts, are scheduled to complete their terms. This surge compared to previous years has raised concerns both within and without RIKEN about their future careers; reports have circulated in the media that this could lead to a decline not only at RIKEN, but also in Japan's research capabilities as a whole. (This is addressed in the Note below.)
RIKEN’s current top management team took office in April of 2022; on taking office, they immediately assigned top priority to this issue and began planning their response. On April 15, 2022, RIKEN issued a statement reading, “RIKEN will continue to make every effort to create a superior research environment in which all RIKEN employees can work with peace of mind.” On August 17, RIKEN President Makoto Gonokami announced RIKEN's new management policy, “RIKEN's Vision on the 2030 Horizon,” which states that RIKEN will develop “research career paths that offer both stability and mobility.
Based on this unequivocally new stance, RIKEN, by promoting the following new personnel policies, will put in place an environment where all RIKEN employees can, and will, continue to make full use of their experience and capabilities.
A total of 380 employees are currently working under employment contracts whose term will end at the end of March 2023. This contingent is broken down into two categories as follows.
Of the fixed-term research employees with fixed-term employment contracts on time-limited projects, 203 (including two part-time employees [“part-time” meaning less than 37.5 hours per week]) are working on projects under the Act for the Invigoration of Science, Technology, and Innovation (formerly the Act for Strengthening Research and Development Capability) and other special provisions; their contracts will expire on March 31, 2023, without renewal, because their projects have been terminated. In addition, due to the termination of individual projects, 177 fixed-term employees (data as of April 1, 2022, include 50 part-time employees) are working at 42 laboratories that will close when their project terminates; these employees’ terms will also expire with their project’s termination. Together, these 203 and 177 employees make a total of 380.
Persons employed at RIKEN under provisions of the above-mentioned Act for the Invigoration of Science, Technology, and Innovation and other special provisions are researchers and other employees to whom applies the special exception set forth in the Act which extends from five to ten years the period during which they have the right to apply for conversion to indefinite-term employment [details (in Japanese) in the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare webpage].
Outline of New Personnel Policies
1. Project-based fixed-term employment
The limit on total length of employment will be eliminated, giving fixed-term researchers at RIKEN the opportunity to join new fixed-term research projects after their current employment term expires with the discontinuation of their current projects.
As of September 21, 2022, RIKEN is accepting applications for 175 research and technical positions in its research divisions, and with the launching of new projects, further openings at RIKEN research centers will be made public. An even larger increase in new hirings is planned, and – assuming that RIKEN is granted budgetary resources at or above the same scale as the current fiscal year to carry this out – will enable RIKEN to hire a contingent on the order of 200 researchers and engineers through recruiting at the research-center level, combined with recruiting in the framework of a new program called RIKEN’s "Transformative Research Innovation Platform of RIKEN Platforms” (TRIP, described below). During the current fiscal year, RIKEN will allow anyone, regardless of existing contract limits on the length of their employment at RIKEN, to apply for these fixed-term positions, meaning that they can apply for new project jobs after finishing their present job. RIKEN will revise without delay all rules and regulations pertaining to this change.
Allowing researchers to join a new research project without a break in their employment at RIKEN means that these employees obtain the right to apply for a switch to indefinite-term employment. As it always has, RIKEN will select with strict impartiality those researchers who are truly needed for the project: in this selection process, whether existing contract limits on applicants’ duration of employment will be altered if they are selected will not be taken into account under any circumstances.
Measures will also be taken during the current fiscal year to codify procedures whereby the President may prolong an employee’s status in exceptional cases where a major research outcome is foreseen within several years, or prolong certain individuals’ research projects if this prolongation is endorsed by their research center director or a person of equivalent rank.
2. Recruitment of more ready-to-go collaborators
TRIP (Transformative Research Innovation Platforms of RIKEN Platforms) is an ambitious program to establish connections among RIKEN's cutting-edge research platforms (supercomputers, large synchrotron radiation facilities, bioresource projects, etc.). It is hoped that TRIP will accelerate and develop pioneering research digital transformation (what RIKEN calls “research DX”), and provide an engine for social change.
Currently in the stage of preparation for its launch in FY 2023, this RIKEN-wide cross-disciplinary program is itself but a preliminary step toward the more ambitious FY 2025–FY 2031 (next mid- to long-term) plan. TRIP’s first impact on the research community will be in hiring. To get the program up and running, RIKEN will draw new talent from Japan and overseas, of course, but it will also enroll people already working at RIKEN from among those who have the most advanced needed knowledge, skills, and experience. Its core members, the Research DX Platform Development Team, about 20 from the ranks of RIKEN experts, will be chosen in April 2023. They will be joined later through ongoing recruitment of research and technical personnel as the program takes shape.
Parallel to this, a management support team working directly under the President will be created. It will consist of research personnel whose term is scheduled to end and who are assignable to technical support or to research support positions reporting directly to the President, performing such duties as management and advancement across RIKEN's entire research infrastructure, development of appropriate responses to technology for economic security and research integrity, dissemination of accurate and easy-to-understand reports on research findings, international research cooperation, intellectual property management, and other management duties that require thorough and specialized knowledge of academia’s mores and all the experience and skills they gained in their years at RIKEN. As many as 50 RIKEN employees will take on new challenges in this way, playing active roles in harnessing RIKEN’s potential to future progress.
In the implementation of these new personnel policies, we at RIKEN are focusing first on the most urgent tasks, keeping an eye on what still needs to be done to improve our personnel system and design new systems for, or before, the coming mid- to long-term plan FY2025–2031 comes into force. Upon completion of system evaluations, improvements will be put into effect immediately, without waiting for the calendar page to change.
In addition to employment-contract-related measures, we also urgently need to strengthen diversity-related measures, such as support for non-Japanese and female researchers, and research liaison support before and after workers leave RIKEN. We believe that, in addition to providing career counseling, interview guidance, and seminars, it is necessary to negotiate support for research funding at the time of transfer, in cooperation with the institution to which a researcher is moving. This is to ensure that researchers who move to other institutions and transplant their RIKEN research achievements can continue to produce outstanding research output wherever they go. By carrying out these initiatives both domestically and internationally, we will build a stronger “RIKEN network” and encourage exchanges among researchers from different countries, welcoming, nurturing, and dispatching outstanding researchers and engineers to new posts everywhere.
As Japan's flagship comprehensive research institute in the natural sciences, RIKEN will, by pursuing the tasks that only RIKEN can properly undertake, continue to generate generously the Science, Technology, and Innovation that the world demands.