Why French Scientists Find Joie de Vivre in the U.S.

first_imgPARIS—The brain drain of French scientists to the United States might not be huge, but America lures some of the country’s best researchers who may never come back, concludes a study carried out by the French think tank Institut Montaigne. The report, titled French Higher Education Expatriates in the United States, sets out 12 proposals to entice French researchers to return to the fold. These include a census of French scholars abroad and foreign researchers trained in France in order to build links with the diaspora, a strong communications campaign on job offers, and clear incentives for researchers to work in France. Only a few thousand French researchers work in the United States for the moment, but the number has accelerated recently and is “worrying,” says Ioanna Kohler, policy programs director at the French-American Foundation in New York City and author of the report. Between 1985 and 2008, 2745 French students pursued their doctorates in America and 70% stayed on. Researchers represented 27% of French expatriates in the United States in 1996-2006, against only 8% in 1971-1980, and a 2007 study showed that the United States was home to 40% of the best French biology and economics researchers. The reasons for buying a one-way ticket are more than the higher salaries available in the United States, although that is a major consideration, says Kohler, citing 83 interviews she conducted with French scientists who are now or once were in the United States Other advantages to America cited by these researches are better working conditions, fairer recruitment, a competitive spirit, and the ability to devote more time to research and less to teaching. On the downside, French researchers working in the United States are under greater pressure to produce, have to spend more time raising funds, find an “Americano-centrism” in the scientific culture and, for women, are deprived of a family life, Kohler says. 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Although French expatriate researchers are interested in reform taking place in France, some of them have little contact with colleagues at home, Kohler also found. At the moment, she laments, “the absence of statistics on French scholars and researchers in the United States” is surprising-and such ignorance “maintains fears of a massive exodus of the French elite” across the Atlantic.last_img

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