Top>Opinion>Seminar Activities as "Intellectual Internships"


Atsushi Masunaga

Atsushi Masunaga [profile]

Seminar Activities as "Intellectual Internships"

Atsushi Masunaga
Associate Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: History of British economics

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1. The Diversification of the Role of Universities

As times have changed, universities have had to become increasingly multi-faceted. In addition, the emphasis of higher education varies depending on the perspective from which universities are viewed. Taking seminar activities as an example, let's take a closer look at this phenomenon.

2. The Original Role of Seminar Activities

Universities have traditionally had a strong emphasis on their role as institutions for training researchers. In this regard, seminars have been expected to play a role especially as a site for hands-on training (practice) for the development of future researchers. In addition, universities are institutions for producing not only researchers but also advanced professionals who will support society. When universities are viewed from this respect, the main purpose of seminar activities would be for students to acquire advanced technical knowledge and the ability to apply it through free discussion with fellow students and teachers.

Thus, you could say that the original role of seminar activities is the progressive passing down of scholarly knowledge, ways of thinking, and findings, and training in the practical application of specialized knowledge. However, the existence of students struggling to find work after graduation due to the rising college enrollment rate and prolonged economic recession has gained prominent attention, and so universities have also come to play a role in helping people acquire basic skills for succeeding in society. Given these circumstances, there seems to be a need to rethink the relationship between seminars and job hunting.

3. The Current Role of Seminar Activities

Seminars are primarily a place for experiencing the world of academia. However, if viewed as "intellectual internships," seminar activities can also be useful when looking for a job and after finding one, just like ordinary internships.

For example, in seminars, you are required to find your own research theme and independently acquire the knowledge and methods of thinking needed to explore the theme, while offering new insights into preceding studies. Through this series of experiences, students develop skills like problem-detection, logical thinking, and problem-solving.

In addition, it is essential that students engage in question-and-answer sessions (discussions) with other students and the teacher in order to move their seminar research forward. It is rare, however, for questions to spontaneously come to mind. Questions are formed only after listening carefully to others and putting in the effort to formulate them. In addition, students must quickly understand the questions that are being asked and determine the order in which each aspect of them needs to be answered in order to make an appropriate reply. This is why question-and-answer sessions are an ideal method for improving comprehension and communication skills.

Independence provides the foundation for the skills of problem-detection, logical thinking, problem-solving, comprehension and communication. For these skills cannot be acquired through a passive approach, but only by gaining experience in acting and thinking on one's own. And society clearly wants people with these kinds of skills.

Independence can be described as the "ability to use freedom effectively." While freedom produces a sense of release by freeing you from various constraints, it also triggers a sense of anxiety since you are responsible for making all of the decisions.

I think one of the reasons students worry when looking for a job is the anxiety that accompanies being basically free to choose any industry or type of occupation. In this respect, the independence (i.e., ability to use freedom effectively) cultivated in seminars empowers students to face the process of job hunting, as well as influences the extent of their potential as members of society by habituating them to trial and error and innovation.

Lack of awareness of one's aptitudes is thought to be another cause of worry for job-seeking students. However, it seems far more common for people to become aware of their aptitudes after they enter the world of work than to perfectly identify them when they are students. People do need to make an effort to gain a wide range of experiences and discover their aptitudes when they are students. At the same time, however, it is important for people to independently find their own sense of satisfaction in whatever work they are assigned, in order to continue discovering and developing the aptitudes that lie dormant within themselves after the job hunt is over. In that sense, students' experiences in seminars give them opportunities to identify some of their aptitudes while they are job hunting, as well as develop their potential for becoming people who can keep growing after finding employment by getting them to think deeply about the worthwhileness and significance of the seminar.

4. The Diversification of the Role of Seminar Activities

It's natural for students who feel a vague sense of unease about finding a job to participate in different kinds of internships. However, while students will go on to work in the world experienced during internships for the next forty years or more, seminar activities provide an invaluable opportunity that can only be experienced during their college years.

The original role of seminars is still important today. At the same time, however, the manner in which the significance of seminar activities is emphasized needs to change in response to changes in the environment surrounding universities. In this respect, the potential of seminars as "intellectual internships" will need to be clarified, and students will need to be encouraged to apply themselves in seminars with an awareness of the connections to job hunting (and life afterward).

Atsushi Masunaga
Associate Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: History of British economics
Professor Masunaga comes from Okayama prefecture and was born in 1970. He graduated from the Faculty of Economics, Chuo University in 1993.
In 1995, he completed the master's program at the Graduate School of Economics, Chuo University.
In 2004, he completed the doctoral program in Economics at the Graduate School of Economics, Chuo University and withdrew before completing his dissertation. He is a doctor of economics.
He assumed his current position in 2004.
Professor Masunaga is currently doing research on British classical economics (interpreting the economics of Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo from a financial standpoint and investigating the historical changes in the nature of the relationship between theory and policy in the discipline of economics), among other topics.
His major publications include the chapter "Malthus's Ideas on Poor Relief: The Principle of Temporary Relief and Its Practical Basis" ["Marusasu no Kyūhin Shisō: Ichijiteki Kyūsai no Genri to Jissaiteki Konkyo"] in Atsushi Komine, ed., Poverty and Welfare in Economic Thought: Theories on "Governing Society and Providing Relief to the People" in Modern Japan and Britain [Keizai Shisō no Naka no Hinkon/Fukushi: Kingendai no Nichiei ni okeru "Keisei Saimin" Ron] (Minerva Shobo, 2011).