Gaining more Flexibility in Science: Pursuing International Opportunities

Hello Everyone,

To add more flexibility to our platforms for conducting scientific research, perhaps it’s time that scientists here in the US take into consideration options abroad.  This thought was spurred on by a recent trip I took to China.  I had the opportunity to see some of the university system there and how it’s become quite international.  Not only can the environment be friendly, but there is also the fact that China is spending the second most total money on R&D behind only the US(1) and has been heavily investing in a computing power that might soon outpace the United States (2).  In a previous post I said scientific research is an inherently globalized enterprise.  I think as the reputation for quality research increases in Asia this fact will only become clearer.  Certainly there are some caveats to working abroad in a large bureaucracy such as China, namely greater amounts of corruption by some academics (3).  Still, this is no reason to completely discount the possibility of US students moving outside of the US to conduct their research.

For those seriously considering moving out of the US, it’s important to consider how you’ll be perceived by the scientific community.  Students from the US are, by and large, considered top tier in terms of academics.  This means students going from the US to, for example, Europe or Asia are very valuable.  These students will have some leverage getting a position as a research professor/post doc/grad student abroad.  There is always the question, however, of coming back to the United States, if that is the ultimate goal.  I haven’t heard much downside to people doing research abroad, especially at top tier universities such as Max Planck, Oxford, University of Tokyo, etc.  A person who goes to a smaller institute might be plagued with the same prestige-bias that students who attend smaller universities in the United States suffer.  This begs the question: if you want to study or do research at a smaller university, why not try moving abroad?

One last concern about researching abroad, however, is that the research funding systems might work drastically differently in other countries.  A labmate from Poland told me that in her country there are barely any postdoc positions available.  People either go straight from graduate school to being a professor or not at all.  I’ve heard from others that there are similar concerns in other countries in Europe.  Certain institutes use a model where the PI of the lab, rather than getting tenure, has a strict term limit for their time.  This might the window for what may seem like an ideal position very narrow.  Countries such as China strictly limit career movement from university to university.  This could cause a problem if the situation in a lab sours.  If you are considering moving from the US to another country to do research please do some research into how the academic system works in that country.

Thanks for reading this time.  I hope I’ve given you something to think about and maybe at least an interest in looking into how research works in other countries.  Regardless of what happens in the world, the pursuit of science will continue to happen all over the Earth.  I would encourage you to become a part of it wherever you can!