‘I Like Working in the University’
Tadamasa Sawada is a specialist in the psychology of visual perception at HSE. He has recently talked to the online magazine The Village about everyday Moscow, cultural differences, and doing research in Russia.
I came to Moscow a year ago when I was invited by the HSE School of Psychology. Before that I worked in various universities in the US. The last place I worked was the State University of New York College of Optometry where I was researching my main specialisation - psychophysics, computer and mathematical psychology.
I started travelling once I’d finished my dissertation at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. I wanted to gain some international experience - it’s important for academics. When I was in the USA, I started looking around at the other HEIs in different countries, including Russia. When I was a volunteer at the international department in Purdue University I made friends with some Russian students and they made a great impression on me. When HSE replied to my application I came for an interview and got a job here.
I wouldn’t say that I had culture shock when I arrived. I had lived abroad before and mixed with people from a lot of different places. There were things that surprised me of course. Like the way people behave in the metro. I was impressed by, whenever my pregnant colleague got into a carriage, some man or other would always give her his seat. He would always have a stony expression on his face though, no sign of a smile. In Japan people also give up their seats for pregnant women but in Russia it happens every time and in an instant, as soon as the woman appears. I find a lot of common features in the Russian and Japanese character. We don’t show our feelings in public either, but when we make friends with someone, we really open up to them. If someone complains about Russian bureaucracy, I tell them they obviously have no idea what it’s like in Japan.
I’m researching at the moment and teaching two subjects, Visual Perception and Attention and the Academic Seminar. During the Academic Seminar, I tell students how to carry out research, what methods to use, how to write research papers and how to learn computer programming. All my teaching is in English as my Russian isn’t very good yet. I can manage in the shops or find directions but I’m planning to take some courses soon to get to grips with the language. Most of my students understand everything I tell them. Sometimes we have problems but I think it’s because of my heavy Japanese accent.
I haven’t been here long but I can’t see any big difference between the teaching process in Russia and other countries. I think the approaches are the same. Russian research faces the same problems as research abroad. Attempts to measure the effectiveness of academics using indexes and rankings is a general trend. Whether it is appropriate is another question.
I don’t think the sanctions or the general international tensions have taken a toll on academic work. I haven’t encountered any negative attitudes to foreigners. The Japanese really are conservative people who find it difficult to accept new people in their midst. It’s hard to compete with us. My aunt, for example, has lived in the same city for nearly 50 years and her parents lived there too, but some local people still think of her as a stranger.
I’m working on two research projects, on how people perceive three-dimensional objects and on computer modelling of perception. The world we see is reflected in our eyes. Most objects are three dimensional. They are reflected in the retina as a two-dimensional image, but our brain transforms them back into three dimensions and we see the world as it really is. I’m studying that process of transformation. I came here because academic research is becoming more and more international and the question of where you do it is less and less significant. My contract is for three years and could be extended for three more when it runs out. I think I’ll stay here for the next few years. I like working in the university, my employer let’s me do what I want so I’m happy.
Full text (in Russian) is available here.
Prepared by Daria Polygaeva, The Village. Photos by Yasya Fogelgardt