Global Talent at NEC Labs – Yadong Pan
January 7, 2019
Biometrics Research Laboratories
Lifestyle in Japan
― How has living and working in Japan been like?
Living in japan has been one of the most comfortable things I have experienced. Just by looking at see the blue sky, breathing the fresh air, people greeting and smiling at each other, you can understand why I say that. Although the unique Japanese culture sometimes trigger us to change our mind, daily life and work. But I think the core things does not differ a lot from other countries. You have to keep thinking and keep working hard regardless of where you're living.
― What are the major differences between living in Japan and China?
The natural environment is really good in Japan, and as you may know, China faces a big problem of air pollution. And in Japan, you can see peoples' smiles and greeting everywhere. I think that is one important factor that makes Japanese culture unique.
― How do you commute to work?
I don't live very far from the office. It takes me 30 minutes to walk to work, I take it as a form of daily exercise.
― What is your favorite thing about living in Japan and why?
I like to travel around the country to experience nature. Although Japan is not a huge country, it has many nature sites that are magnificent. Some places I have visited are Kinugawa and Beppu in Kyushu these are very beautiful places.
― Do you have a favorite place in Japan?
I lived in Tsukuba for five years while studying in university, so that is my favorite place. Although it isn't a nature spot but I have a lot of good memories in there.
― What is your favorite Japanese food?
I like sushi. It is like the representation of Japanese food.
― Have you had any negative experiences while living here, any obstacles you face? Eg, anxious/nervous about something?
Yes, the earthquakes, it worries my parents. I hope that severe earthquakes, like the one in Kanto seven years ago and the one in Kyushu two years ago, will never happen again. I was receiving my certification from my university when the earthquake happened.
― Do you know any other languages besides Japanese? What are they? How frequent and when do you use them?
I like to watch soccer and the German national team is my favorite. I'm trying to find some time to learn the German language. I speak mandarin Chinese, English, Japanese and I can understand a little Cantonese. I used to speak English more while in university. Since joining NEC, I speak Japanese most of the time now. Of course I speak mandarin at home with my family.
Experience working at NEC
― What are some of the challenges your job presents?
Our research team is now challenging one of the most difficult things in Artificial Intelligence (AI). We are trying to fill the gap between behavior sensing and behavior understanding. Because only by understanding people behavior in a complete environment, can the AI be used frequently and flexibly. That requires the information to be integrated from different perspectives. Sometimes we do not only apply engineering knowledge, we would also need to refer to the knowledge of psychology and cognitive science.
― How about challenges as a researcher?
To discover and generate new knowledge. So that future researchers are able to use this what we have created to build much more high quality AI devices.
― Share an interesting/significant/memorable event while working here.
Recently, I've created a new methodology in my research field. However, people don't believe in it yet. As a researcher, I am glad to receive critical or negative feedback and will try to find more evidence to persuade them that my methodology works. This is the path towards generating new knowledge. It is common for few people to believe in you at the start, but you have to work harder and try to find more evidence to persuade them.
― How do you like your colleagues? How is it like working with your manager? Has he/she helped you in any aspect?
Yes, my colleagues are all smart people. I really appreciate my mentor and manager, they have been teaching me a lot. Like how to keep a balance between doing researching and starting a business.
― Are there any particular skills or personal attributes that prove to be effective for your job/this field of work? How are they effective?
Research and programming skills are crucial. Presentation skills also very important as we often need to present our ideas to the audience where they can understand and in a limited time. Our audiences may not be in the same field, so our presentation has to be clear and easy for them to understand. The passion for challenging news things is also a positive attribute to have in this field of work.
― Would you say knowing the Japanese language is crucial prior to joining NEC? (Language barrier)
Many people speak English here. However, I strongly recommend people to learn and practice Japanese before joining, I think it is essential.
― Did you know Japanese before coming to Japan?
I learned a little bit before coming to Japan. But I only learned more Japanese after coming here, the environment is very important for learning new language.
― Do you have any tips for people who want to better learn Japanese?
Remember it takes time, but watching Japanese TV everyday helps a lot. Try not to rely on subtitles, instead listen and try understanding what they are saying. Never hesitate or be afraid to speak the language or make mistakes.
― Who would you recommend to join the team?
People who are passionate on challenging new things, people who have philosophical way of thinking and always wanting to discover new things.
― In what ways has since joining NEC changed and developed you as a person/career wise? Are there any takeaways?
Before joining the company, I was purely a researcher in university. Now I have some experience towards product and business. I really appreciate my managers and the guidance they provide, and they have taught me a lot on how to do business work. I was surprised when I first join NEC, I was assigned some business related work. Although there are many things I can improve on, the experience I gain at work is very precious.
― Is your work primarily individual or predominantly in groups/teams? Has this helped your team-working skills?
I think both, I am at a position where I cooperate with members from other sub-teams, and I am trying to integrate the information and experiment results from all of them. So that is team work and but at the same time, I can improve myself.
― Are there any efforts made by the company to contribute to its employees' personal and professional development?
Not yet as I just started my career last year. But in the second year, I will be visiting some companies and institutes to find ways for cooperation and to learn how to start business. I am looking forward to that. Also, we have a rule called the 20% rule. It allows researchers to use 20% of their time to conduct research in their personal interests. Many people do that in order to extend their research field. Therefore, there are many good original ideas and notable contributions.
― Why did you choose NEC how did it appeal to you?
The Central Research Laboratories (CRL) have gone through big efforts to recruit PhDs and I am one of them. CRL have paid much attention to foreign researchers, therefore I believe the environment and the resources provided would help me have a global vision. I believe that would be very helpful to my career.
― What plans do you have for the future? Do you have any career goals?
AI technology is addressing the intention of millions. Currently AI is still facing a big challenge because it is not quite adjustable or autonomous under complex environments, For example, the intelligent driving car recently had some accidents. This means that under complex environments, there is still a lot of room for improvement. My short term goal is try to find ways to make AI adjustable and autonomous under complex environments. In the long term, I would like to start my own business. But I have to first gain enough knowledge and power. Now I've just started my career and I still have a lot to learn.
― What kind of company you will start up?
I think AI and medical care can have very good fusion. I would like to introduce AI to medical care.
― Has working in NEC help you achieve that? How so?
After my experience after a year in NEC, I believe that I can have good cooperation with this company. I will keep updating my achievements here, and hope that some of my achievements will have a good impact to the society.
― If you could tell one person thank you for the person you become today, who would it be and what did they do?
I would like to thank my former professor, Kenji Suzuki, from the University of Tsukuba. I got my PhD under the guidance of him. I met him when I joined the lab where we worked together for more than five years. I really appreciate him and I've learned a lot from him. He is very smart and philosophical. He taught me how to be a successful person. You can see the wisdom in his smile and that is very attractive. He also taught me presentation skills. In our PhD program, presentation ability is one of the three pillars, he trained me in expressing my ideas clearly in a way that others can efficiently understand in a limited time.