Building an international network, collaborating with colleagues from a world-renowned research institute, developing new scientific expertise, and embedding yourself in an exciting foreign culture are certainly lofty goals for any graduate student. For six Kent State University Anthropology students who’ve been given the invaluable opportunity to participate in the summer research program over the past few years at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University it’s truly been a home run.

Now, under the direction of Anthony Tosi, Ph.D., associate professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant will allow Kent State to expand this international relationship and provide even more opportunities for graduate students in not only Anthropology, but Biological Sciences as well.

The $298,000 International Research Experience for Students (IRES) grant will allow 18 graduate students (six students each summer) to travel to Kyoto University in Japan to study non-human primates as models for human evolutionary history at the world-renowned Primate Research Institute (PRI) over the next three years. They will conduct studies focused on morphology, genetics, neuroscience and primate behavior.

Tosi’s colleagues in the Department of Anthropology will serve as co-investigators on the NSF IRES-funded project, including Richard Meindl, Ph.D., professor and graduate coordinator; Owen Lovejoy, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Human Evolutionary Studies; and Mary Ann Raghanti, Ph.D., professor and chair.

Developing the collaborations

Stemming from discussions Tosi had with his Japanese colleagues at the PRI before 2015, the collaboration began and has since continuously received support from the NSF and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

“We realized that we could be the catalyst for the development of collaborations in the next generation of American and Japanese graduate students,” Tosi said. “We thought that if we could get these students together in the same laboratory, side-by-side, then they would likely become friends, they would exchange research ideas, and they would hopefully develop collaborations that would carry them far into their future careers.”

The students received smaller-scale, individual grants to travel to Japan and have been building relationships with their Japanese colleagues, and even co-authoring research journal articles. Past participants in the program include Anthropology graduate students Emily Munger, Cody Ruiz, Danielle Jones, Kristen Hirter, Heather Lawrentz, and Rose Leach.

“Even though it’s an entirely different country, all of the students and researchers have the same enthusiasm and interest in the same cool primate and human evolution topics,” Jones said.

“By having an opportunity to do research in a foreign country, students get an early in on establishing an international collaborative network for their research,” Raghanti said. “That’s going to help bolster their careers.”

About the Primate Research Institute

Japanese Macaques
The PRI is home to more than 40 faculty and welcomes students from all over the world. The institute houses 12 different species of primates, more than 10,000 skeleton specimens of more than 100 different species and a biomaterials library with samples unavailable anywhere in the United States.

“Kent State has been a fairly prominent department in the United States in terms of understanding human paleontology and the group at Kyoto is a long-established and very large group with enormous facilities in terms of both skeletal and living primates, which we’ve never had available here,” Lovejoy said. “I think the addition of the Kyoto collaboration will be a really great boon to the student experience here.”


The student experience

During their time in Japan the students got the chance to travel around the country and experience a wide variety of research and cultural activities, including observing Japanese macaques in their natural habitat; eating soba noodles and vising the Togakushi shrine near Nagano; and visiting traditional Japanese tea gardens and Buddhist temples with seated zazen meditation.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to see a different culture other than what you’ve been used to your entire life,” Graduate Student Rose Leach said. “It’s a great way to expand your ways of thinking and doing research and interacting with other people on a daily basis.”

Rose wearing yukata
Rose learns koto

While working at the PRI, Cody Ruiz got to see how other cultures do science, especially the Japanese culture. “It’s really similar,” he said. “People are working hard, long hours, and I appreciate that and try to employ that here at Kent State.”

“The students come back and they just have more presence in my lab meetings,” Tosi said. “They’re not afraid to ask more questions or direct the discussion down different avenues, and they’re very helpful to their lab mates.”

For more information about Kent State’s Department of Anthropology, visit

POSTED: Thursday, October 10, 2019 - 5:22pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, December 11, 2019 - 4:30pm