Ask a SBer: brain drain?

So, this week’s Ask a Science blogger question is:

Do you think there is a brain drain going on (i.e. foreign scientists not coming to work and study in the U.S. like they used to, because of new immigration rules and the general unpopularity of the U.S.) If so, what are its implications? Is there anything we can do about it?

Others have already put up some excellent posts, so I’m going to take a bit of a different approach after the jump.

First, as Chad points out, this question is really made up of a number of other questions. Since I’m rather new to the faculty side of the issue, I can’t say from experience if the new immigration rules/US unpopularity have had much of an effect on the movement of foreign scientists to the US. I know that at least in my department, we certainly don’t seem to have a problem attracting foreign applicants, and there hasn’t been much of a problem getting them into the country (perhaps because Iowa isn’t exactly high on the list of terrorist hotbeds; I don’t know). We did, however, recently get instruction on import/export controls and use of “restricted” technologies (including, of all things, statistical computer software) by foreign students, so I know there has been a recent crackdown, and it has affected some departments worse than others. I just don’t know the history well enough to discuss that issue much further.

So, because I don’t generally enjoy talking out of my ass about things I’ve not researched, I’ll discuss a bit of the “brain drain” I do know something about. What’s been the main “brain drain” concern in places where I’ve been isn’t the influx of foreign scientists–it’s the efflux of native ones into other states where there is more potential. Ohio and Iowa just don’t offer a lot of opportunities for scientists. Yes, there are colleges and universities, but there simply isn’t the biotech base (and the urban culture) that one can find in a lot of other areas. So that’s been the “brain drain” that I’ve read about for many years–just working to keep young scientists in the states they were raised, rather than lose them to New York or North Carolina or California. It’s not a simple issue, and there’s no easy solution. Obviously, I left Ohio, for a number of reasons. I was vehemently opposed to the inroads “intelligent design” had made into the curriculum (since reversed, thankfully, due to the efforts of Ohio Citizens for Science and others). I also thought Ohio was just heading down the wrong path in a number of other ways, and I’m certainly not the only young, educated person to have packed up and left. Iowa’s still a hard sell for many used to big-city life and still has their own concerns about brain drain, but for me, it’s worked out well so far. The schools are good, there’s always something to do, and there are several big cities within a few hours’ drive if I start to miss traffic and skyscrapers.

4 Replies to “Ask a SBer: brain drain?”

  1. Yup, I’ve always been amazed at the number of Ohio licence plates on cars driving around the Triangle area here in NC. But the biotech is here and three huge research universities, so of course there are jobs here for scientists trained elsewhere.

    I think you have hit on something important – the internal migrations of educated people, contributing further to the political polarization of the country, the Creationists and their ilk getting stronger in their strongholds, and the Enlightenment folks congregating in their own centers. Ther e is more and more 21st century on the coasts and around large lakes, 18th century in the heartland. The two do not speak the same language, though both supreficially resemble English – the mindset is entirely different.

  2. I am also a young scientist (starting my 2nd year of PhD program) who fled Ohio. There’s just nothing there in terms of career options, and the way the state is headed I fear that it is just going to get worse.

    Shamefully for Ohio, I ended up in Birmingham Alabama. It seems sort of…backwards here at times, and I don’t think I want to stay here forever, but I would be able to if it was a neccesity-the options are there.

  3. Lots of Iowan’s have joined me up here in Minnesota. In fact at one point, I got new neighbors who went to the same university I did (UNI) a few years behind me.

    Iowa has excellent public schools and universities, but once educated, there isn’t a lot of things to keep people there. (Except the public schools and universities…)

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