Many women active in a variety of fields work at RIKEN BRC. We interviewed 12 of these women for their insights on how they continue to flourish with work styles that fit their particular lifestyles.
In this interview, we spoke with Kimiko Inoue, a Senior Research Scientist in the Bioresource Engineering Division.
She carries out her daily research with the aim of improving cloning technology. Inoue also has a positive attitude about balancing childcare and work, and hopes to be in a position to support people in the future. She spoke to us about her thoughts on work, motivation, and hopes for the future, among other topics.
- Kimiko Inoue
- Senior Research Scientist, Bioresource Engineering Division
- In graduate school, Inoue studied mitochondrial DNA. After working as a researcher at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, in 2002 she joined RIKEN and worked on launching the Bioresource Engineering Division. Currently, she is in charge of technological development related to embryo manipulation with mice.
Struck by the potential of DNA during high school, I am now working on practical applications for clones.
One of the main reasons I became interested in the research profession was Mitochondrial Eve, which became a major topic when I was in high school. Research carried out in the U.S. showed that, by examining the mitochondrial DNA taken from people over the world and tracing back their ancestry, we would find that everyone had a common ancestor in a single woman in Africa. At that time, I was really surprised and impressed that we could use DNA to track our ancestry and also that anyone who tracks down their origin will arrive at the same woman.
Then I was really pulled in by how interesting research is, and majored in science at university. Luckily, I was able to work on mitochondrial research in the laboratory that I worked in for my graduate research. My work with the fertilized eggs of mice in this process sent me into research on cloned mice. While the field is different, the knowledge and experience that I built up during graduate student is really helpful, even now.
Cloning technology makes it possible to produce a new individual from just single somatic cell, but current technology only allows us to produce an individual from limited types of somatic cells. In the future, I hope to bring the technical capacity to a high enough level that we can produce clones from every type of somatic cells in the body. For example, if we could make clones from blood, we would be able to preserve many more wild animals and endangered species. I would like to work on practical applications for clones so that I can return these techniques to society.
The motivation and enjoyment of the research profession come from finding something new amid difficulties.
I have the sense that everyone at RIKEN enjoys their work and research, even when they are facing difficulties. That is certainly the case for me, but the pleasure of detecting a truth that no one else knows with one’s own hands is an enticement that can only be found in the research profession.
Research involves putting together your own theory and then carrying out trials and experiments, and there really are no words for the feeling and the joy when you can generate the results you expected. Even after many years of research, there are few opportunities to have this experience, but that instant when you realize that you are the only one in the world to know this truth is one of the thrills of the research profession, I think.
Needless to say, research does not always go smoothly. But I think it’s important not to give up, even if it doesn’t turn out well, and instead figure out why it didn’t work.
To this end, a daily effort is important for researchers. Unfortunately, opportunities to meet people have decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but actually, my opportunities to participate in seminars around the world, even while I am in my lab, are increasing. I am participating in various seminars and reading papers to absorb other people’s knowledge, and am always thinking about how I can use this in my own research.
However, if I fill my head with too much input, there is a risk that I will think it out in my head and reduce the possibilities before I even conduct the experiment. So I have to prize what I have observed and felt myself in daily research, not just accumulate knowledge. I think that “doubting common sense” is an essential character trait for researchers.
I want to show my appreciation for all the help I received by paying it forward to the next generation.
Actual working hours are long in the research profession, and the work is difficult, but I think a major merit is that you can adjust your schedule yourself. I slip out of work during the day for daycare and school events, and take days off when my child is sick, so this work style has really helped me out when I am particularly busy with childcare.
Also, everyone on my team is very understanding about what it’s like to balance raising a child with work, and this has helped me so much. The female members have been of great help here, and always support me, when I have to suddenly pick up him or take a day off. There have been so many times when I have felt gratitude for being able to work in this kind of environment. In addition, I’ve learned to always be aware of how I use my time as I raise him, so that I always have a “plan B” ready to go if there are any unforeseen circumstances. Now that I am less busy with child-raising, it is my turn to support others with small children. I hope to carry on the positive climate that has taken root in my team so that the next generation can work with the same peace of mind.
While he is in the upper grades of elementary school now and doesn’t require so much work, he still takes up most of my time on days off. Recently, we’ve been biking together to a park that is far away.
Normally, I feel like time is a resource given equally to all people. Going forward, I will continue to value every single day both in my work and my personal life, while enjoying his growth.