The Globalization of Science


Recently I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the globalization of science. Several articles have appeared in my infostream, highlighting various aspects of this complex issue, and how it affects all of our professional lives.   

A recent post on ScienceCareers.org argues that the structure of training, not inadequate funding, is causing young American scientists to look abroad for opportunities (http://blogs.sciencemag.org/sciencecareers/2011/05/matthew-stremla.html).  Beryl Benderly points out that the number of available tenure-track positions remains small relative to the number of people earning PhDs.  Funding increases don’t solve this problem, they instead encourage professors to use more graduate students and post-docs to conduct their research, without considering where those new scientists will find employment.  With increasing numbers of scholars and science students overseas, leaving the United States looks more and more attractive.

“International Experience” in the 2010 November 22 issue of C&EN (http://pubs.acs.org/cen/employment/88/8847employment.html) talks about the rise of western-style research parks and universities in Asia and the Middle East, which are enticing young faculty to move abroad.  Strongly supported with funding, they have state-of-the-art facilities, generous start-up packages and a significant fraction of US expatriates on staff.  In addition to attracting eminent scientists, these institutions can be great places for new graduates (including graduates students and post-docs) to start their careers.  Without an established research group to move, and fewer community ties, it can be easier for young scientists to move and gain international experience.  While the number of European and Asian scientists who work in the US is still much greater than the number who go the other way, Americans are becoming more comfortable with the idea of going overseas. 

These overseas institutions are doing quality research.  The Royal Society recently reported (http://royalsociety.org/policy/reports/knowledge-networks-nations/?f=1 an increasingly multipolar world, the rise of new scientific powers such as China, India and Brazil, and the emergence of scientific nations in the Middle East, South-East Asia and North Africa. In addition, science is becoming more interconnected, especially internationally. For example, over 35% of papers published in 2009 included international collaboration, up from 25% 15 years ago.  China has now surpassed the United Kingdom as the second largest producer of research publications, and is on track to pass the United States by 2013, and Brazil, India and South Korea have also had significant increases.  In addition, the Nature Publishing Index 2010 (http://blogs.nature.com/news/2011/05/the_rapid_rise_of_chinas_resea.html) quantitated the dramatic rise in the number of papers with authors from China being published in Nature research journals.

For those who are considering a career in industry, overseas experience can be valuable as well. “Western Graduates Head to China for Internships” (Wall Street Journal 2011 May 31 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303745304576354963157118104.html) describes how potential employers value “those who can demonstrate a willingness to move out of their comfort zone” and challenge themselves, both of which are evidenced by taking an internship in another country.  Some internships are only a few weeks or months long, but still demonstrate cultural awareness and a willingness to relocate.  Since most companies are now part of the global economy, having first-hand experience with other cultures and other ways of doing things can be valuable information to bring to a new company. 

If all this intrigues you, it’s time to start your own International Job Search, as described in The Chronicle (http://chronicle.com/article/Conducting-the-International/127553/).  They suggest attending conferences overseas, cultivating international contacts, and familiarizing yourself with employment systems in other countries (when positions are advertised, local job titles and terminology, cultural differences in presenting talks, and so on). 

There are a couple of easy ways to get started, no matter where you are.  If you’re going to be at the ACS national meeting, there will be an Onsite Career Fair on Sunday, August 28 through Wednesday, August 31.  And if you’re not going to be in Denver, you can attend virtually (see www.acs.org/vcf for all the details).  Register now and get your resume into employer’s hands. 

In addition to the Career Fair, the ACS meeting in Denver will also host a Groundbreaking Global Networking Opportunity!  in the ACS booth (Expo Hall) on Tuesday, August 30 from 4:00-6:00pm. At 4:150pm Bonnie Coffey, a networking guru, will present “Networking 101—Making Your Contacts Count” to a live audience that will also be webcastvirtually . Immediately following this presentation, the ACS booth and the Virtual Networking Lounge will enable onsite and offsite attendees to interact.  Check and see if your local ACS section is hosting a networking receptions concurrently with the ACS Global Networking Reception – and if not, attend on your own or volunteer to organize one.  All of these local events will be linked together in order to create the ACS’s largest networking event ever.  Don’t miss it!

Opening up the world to science means more competition, but also more opportunity for cooperation.  Even if you don’t want to move to the other side of the world, technology makes it possible for you to find out about, and collaborate with, scientists from all corners of the planet.  Virtually every country in the world is now getting into science –there really is a world of opportunities out there. 

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.

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