Do International Posts Boost Researchers' Job Prospects?

The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, September 17, 2015 | Go to article overview

Do International Posts Boost Researchers' Job Prospects?


Anxiety over overseas work overlooked as academy vaunts global mobility, study suggests. Jack Grove reports

Independent, adaptable and often highly talented, internationally mobile researchers are a prized commodity in academia.

Equipped with doctorates, new ideas and a steely work ethic, these go-anywhere academics are integral parts of laboratories at most top universities, with institutions vying to attract top talent to their campuses.

In return, these academic nomads enjoy the chance to work with other top-level researchers, and in many cases, to use better equipment and receive a better salary than at home.

The result is usually better science, with huge benefits accruing to individuals, institutions and the wider knowledge economy. One in four Nobel prizes awarded to Americans between 1990 and 2000 went to a migrant researcher, while half of Silicon Valley start-ups include a foreign-born national as a founder.

But does this pleasing narrative - a win-win for individuals and institutions - tell the full story?

Many are starting to ask whether international mobility is an unalloyed good for researchers, whatever the advantages for employers.

"In many countries it is actually detrimental to your career if you have been abroad because [then] you do not have time to move up [the career ladder in your home country]," explained Miguel Jorge, lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Strathclyde.

Dr Jorge, who has also held full-time research positions in the US and his native Portugal, has been involved in the Voice of Researchers initiative, which seeks to capture the views and experiences of the estimated 2.2 million researchers working in the European Union.

Many who have spoken at the initiative's conferences feel their careers have been harmed, rather than enhanced, by moving abroad, said Dr Jorge, who was speaking at the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference, held in Manchester on 8 and 9 September.

"These researchers are often those from countries where academic inbreeding is common and staying within the system is highly valued," he said.

This anecdotal evidence is backed up by the finding of several major studies, such as the EU-commissioned More 2 survey, which polled more than 14,000 researchers in 2013, Dr Jorge said.

It found that 54 per cent of researchers had worked abroad, but 31 per cent felt that their overseas stay had harmed their career progression. …

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