Tag Archives: researchers

Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron.

France’s import of brainpower will likely make it a nexus of climate science

Macron’s Make Our Planet Great Again call seems to set France firmly on the path to becoming a green science heavyweight.

Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron.

Image credits US Embassy France.

World leaders were generally pretty cross with President Trumps’ call to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement. In particular, French president Emmanuel Macron responded to the decision with what at the time looked like a case of tongue-in-cheek trolling: by turning Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan on its head, calling for people from all around the world to “make our planet great again.”

In the meantime, it became apparent that Macron was willing to put his money where his mouth is. Working in tandem with Business France, a governmental agency tasked with promoting French businesses overseas, Macron’s administration put together a Make Our Planet Great Again website stating that “France has always led fights for human rights” and is “determined to lead (and win!) this battle on climate change.” Since then, the movement has gained a lot of traction, as well as the attention and support of people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger.

If you want to throw your hat in with the proverbial lot and contribute to that goal, there’s a link which will take you to a short survey. By the looks of it, it seems France is interested in recruiting entrepreneurs, teachers, researchers, students, NGOs, even “other”s into their fold. And researchers, in particular, are getting a lot of love.

Grants for grabs

Choose the researcher option and you’ll wind your way to a page with details on the research program and how to apply if you’re currently in the US. France is especially interested in anyone with a background in climate change, earth sciences, and energy traditions — the website defines this last one as including “renewable energies, innovative zero-carbon energy sources, energy storage, smart energy-management systems, hydrogen vector, carbon storage, electrification of vehicles, as well as human and social sciences to understand, accompany, or open options for energy transition.”

You’ll be prompted to upload a short research plan and a summary of your academic record. And then, a button graces your view. Etched upon its digital surface lie those few words that keep researchers up all night, every night: “How do I finance my project?”

The section lists the grants made available for the program, and I’m happy to say they’re quite sizable. Each grant runs for four years and will amount to between one million Euros for a junior researcher, to one and a half million for senior researchers. The lower sum should be enough to cover salary, two grad students, and research expenses, while the senior grant also allows for two full-time research staff.

With France’s grants up for grabs and the Trump administration’s efforts to cut down on climate research and spending, it’s no surprise that many researchers are interested in Macron’s program.

“Applications continue to come in every hour,” Dr Anne Peyroche, chief research officer of national research agency CNRS, told Nature.


The total grants to be awarded would sum up close to 55 million Euros. The 50 scientists selected to receive the grant money will be announced towards the end of this year.

Global mobility: science is on the move

Researchers flock to more developed, wealthier countries, with advanced research systems. The big picture of global migration shows this rather clearly, but it also shows culture can significantly skew this pattern.

Moving to the top of the pack


Yuh Nung Jan and Lily Jan are two married neuroscientists, running their laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco, for more than three decades – enough to study the geography of science world change. Initially, when they started work, they employed locals (9 out of their 11 initial employees were American). But the Jans, who emigrated from Taiwan themselves in the 1960s have increasingly attracted talents from overseas, and their team now consists of 6 Chinese scientists, 12 Americans, 2 Koreans and one researcher each from Canada, India, Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey and Germany. Their story is not unusual at all.

“There is a progressively wider geographical variety of graduate students and postdocs in most leading universities,” Yuh Nung says.

As a clear example, 40 years ago, non-US citizens claimed 1/4 of all the doctorates awarded in the US in physical sciences, engineering, mathematics and computer science; in 2010, that number had risen to 1/2. Other developed countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia have seen similar trends. Basically, you can expect almost 1 in 2 doctorates to be foreign.

It seems extremely likely (although hard to prove) that highly productive and financed research systems such as the United States have benefited from this talent import both scientifically and culturally. Being able to patch up any weakness in the homeland education system is of course a great thing for these countries – but any coin has two sides. The (let’s call them) poorer countries are very worried about losing their top minds. In the past 30 years, 1/8 of the most cited and respected researchers were born in developing countries, but over 80% of them moved to richer countries, mostly the United States. India is a perfect example in this case, but other countries, such as Romania and Taiwan are also great examples.

Globalizing science

Much like other things, science has become a global marketplace, one in which countries with well-funded and dynamic research systems take the spoils.

“Knowledge generation and research is really a borderless enterprise,” says Rajika Bhandari, who studies the mobility of international students at the Institute for International Education in New York. “Academics go where the funding is and where the facilities are.”

However, the global picture of this migration is harder to see than you might expect.

“What’s very frustrating is that there is no consistent tracking of people using the same methodology across countries,” says Paula Stephan, who researches economics and science at Georgia State University in Atlanta. “We have lots of little studies on particular groups of scientists, but no world bank of data.”

A big problem is that most ‘migration’ and ‘mobility’ discussions and studies don’t differentiate between long term and short term (a few weeks or months) relocations.

There are so many kinds of mobilities, and people rarely specify this,” says Grit Laudel, a sociologist at the University of Twente in Enschede, the Netherlands.

Stephan is one of the researchers which tried to bypass this confusion and conducted the ‘GlobSci’ survey; she and her team interviewed 17,000 researchers in four fields (biology, chemistry, Earth and environmental sciences and materials) in 16 countries about their movements. The result, as they call it, is the “the first systematic study of the mobility of scientists in a large number of countries”.

Click the pic for full size.

The results showed, as expected, big disparities in proportions of researchers who work in different countries and in foreign researchers. The United States is indeed the most open country regarding this aspect; however, proportionally, Switzerland, Canada and Australia all house more foreign researchers. India was at the other end of the table. The survey did not include China.

But on the other hand, India has by far the biggest diaspora, both in sheer numbers and proportionally, followed by, rather surprisingly, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the UK.

Itchy feet

They also identified other aspects which affect the researchers’ mobility. The stage of their careers was a significant factor, not only in itself, but because researchers who had just obtained their PhDs for example were presumably less likely to be tied down with relationships or families.

Click the pic for full size

“One take-away from a policy perspective is that if you are trying to bring people back who have studied overseas, then you should target the young because they are more likely to move,” says Patrick Gaule, an economist who studies science and innovation at Charles University in Prague.

Many economists note that the richer a country becomes, the more researchers tend to flock to it, and its own scientists tend to remain in their homeland. But wealth is not the only factor. Dynamic, competitive systems are also a key aspect here. The thing which seems to trump everything else is still a well-funded science system – and this may very well be a good thing.

After all, we need to place potent scientists in positions where they can make a difference, and even though the vision of a globalized scientific world is still a long way from happening, scientists will continue to migrate, clumping countries with better research systems, leaving the poorer ones to deal with a very serious case of brain drain.

Source: Nature

The results will be published in Nature Biotechnology

Captain obvious presents his 5 favorite studies from 2009


It’s been a busy year indeed, especially with the LHC doing it’s thing again, Hubble was repaired and there was a lot of medical research being done, even with more money being invested in advertising than research. However, last year was also remarkable for the… not so remarkable studies, to say the least. In that line, here are the best ‘Duh!’ studies that took place in 2009.

Coed dorms fuel sex and drinking


That’s right folks, coed dorms are way more fun than regular ones
I mean, coed dorms are bad, encouraging unhealthy habits that might be avoided otherwise. Detailed in the Journal of American College Health, this stunning discovery sheds new light … aww c’mon, everybody knows it: they’re the party center of the universe ! And even if nothing else, there’s hormone filled students, boys and girls, living literally meters away from each other – things are bound to happen. Nice pick, captain.

Sweets taste better when you’re high

weedzIn a study that’s completely unrelated to the previous one (cross my heart), Yuzo Ninomiya of Kyushu University in Japan spent quite a lot of time to find out what 1 in 3 students could have told you on the spot: sweets taste absolutely great after you’ve smoked some pot. What the study basically found was that “endocannabinoids both act in the brain to increase appetite and also modulate taste receptors on the tongue to increase the response to sweets”; endocannabinoids also make it impossible to read that sentence.

Large quantities of red and processed meat are bad for you


Yeah, that double hamburger is a cruel mistress, isn’t it ? Studies published in the Archives of Internal Medicine announced that consuming large quantities of such products can cause a huge number of problems, such as, well… death.

“For overall mortality, 11 percent of deaths in men and 16 percent of deaths in women could be prevented if people decreased their red meat consumption” the researchers wrote.

High heels lead to foot pain


In what is the mother of all no-brainers, a study published in Arthritis Care & Research concluded that woman wearing high heels are more likely to report pain their feet. I really don’t want to add anything more here except for the fact that as far as I’m concerned, high heels are a useless fashion trifle, and have nothing at all to do with beauty.

Child with depressive parents are affected


Unfortunately, the effect parents have on their children is underestimated and often neglected (at least partially); few things can be worse than having a depressed parent, and kids have an innate sense that allows them to feel this kind of things, even though you may try to hide it. Among others, the child tends to feel more responsible, which puts more pressure on him, more alone, and have lower expectations.