Interview with Shuji Nakamura -- "The more I fall into the quagmire, the more ideas I get" (page 2)

Interview with Shuji Nakamura

Apr 9, 2001

Q: Which means that you can learn from interacting with students?

A:When I give assignments to students, they come back with answers that are so difficult that I have hard time comprehending them. Depending on the area of subject, there are times in which students know more than I do. When I recall the time I was a student, I cannot help but stagger. So, I, as professor, must always study as hard as my students. In an attempt to outpace my students, I naturally make my utmost effort, which helps me make further advancements. I figure that the reason why the students have such a high motivation is that they know exactly what they want to do after their graduation. I hired five students to be my research assistants. Most of them said to me with confidence in the first meeting that they would wnat to start up a venture business after developing a technology to create a GaN bulk board. In the U.S., I think that the more scholastic ability the student has, the more he or she desires to be independent. Most of the students, who said before their enrollment in a doctoral program that they wanted to remain in the university to become a professor, changed their mind to become more independent by the time of their graduation. Giving this fact, universities often evaluate students for admission based on their intention to start up a business in the future. Students who say, "I want to work at a large company," are often not perceived well.

Q:When the laboratory currently under construction is completed, you will start in earnest a life centered on researches. Are you now preparing yourself for the new start?

A:Yes. In order for the laboratory to come on-stream, I will need to do fundraising, while still giving lectures at the university. My research expenditure has already reached bottom. When I officially became a professor, I spent all my reserve fund that was provided by the university for the construction of the laboratory. Right now, I am tied up to fundraising and lectures. Honestly, I cannot image how busy I will be once the laboratory is completed.

Q: What you really want to do is researches. In order to do researches, fund-raising and giving lectures are necessary steps?

A:This university is very severe. It only gave me a nine-month worth salary, and I am responsible for all the other necessary expenditures. I have already used all my reserve money, and I must now make my money on my own for all my researches. The employment cost for the five students and assistants who I hired is about 200,000 dollars per year. When adding facilities and maintenance expenditures, the amount I need per year exceeds 100 million yen, which I am completely responsible for. I must make this amount of money on my own, or I will go bankruptcy.

Q: If Transmeta didn't allow you to work on Linux while working here, would you have joined them?

A:That was one of my requirements, that I'd get to continue doing Linux. I could have done it on my own time. It just helps a lot, if the company allows me to do it at work time and I don't have to worry about having to use a different Internet account for my Linux work and my Work work because it becomes fairly nasty.

Q: It sounds like doing researches as professor is the same as running a business of your own.

A:You are right. A university professor is like a company president. The top priority is always fundraising to continue researches.

Q:Compared to the time you spent most of your time in researches at Nichia, the time you can spend on researches now is inevitably much less.

A:Of course, I have little time for my researches.

Q:So, why then do you still want to stick to the university? We heard that you had been offered 500 million yen by a company as an outfit allowance before leaving Nichia.

A:What I really wanted to get was freedom. It is normal for professors in the U.S. to serve a couple of companies as consultant. What is more, they can start up a business at anytime when they achieve a good research result. In fact, about half the professors in the U.S. run their own company. As long as they have a talent, they are free to do anything. The more effort they make, the more they can make money. The money they receive from their university is like their pocket money. On the other hand, companies, especially Japanese companies, impose too many restrictions on employees wanting to do researches and businesses in their own unique ways. The employees are not allowed to ignore the orders of their company president. Maybe they can ignore them to a certain extent, but there are limits to such an attempt. This inclination gets stronger as the company becomes larger.