Global Research Awards Showcase China’s Gains and Efforts to Retain Scientists

Discussion in 'China' started by cir, Jan 25, 2012.

  1. cir

    cir Senior Member Senior Member

    Dec 28, 2010
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    Published: January 24, 2012

    BEIJING — China’s government has thrown billions in recent years into building a top-notch research establishment, hoping to keep its best scientists working here and lure back those who are abroad.

    Now comes a hint that that effort is beginning to pay off.

    The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the world’s most prestigious research foundations, announced Tuesday that it was honoring 28 biomedical researchers who studied in the United States and then returned to their home nations. Each will receive a five-year research grant of $650,000.

    Seven — more than any other nation — are from China.

    “They’re incredibly energetic, extremely smart, highly productive and accomplished,” Robert Tjian, president of the institute, said of the Chinese winners in a telephone interview. The 28 are receiving the institute’s first International Early Career Scientist awards.

    Founded in 1953 by the eccentric industrialist Howard Hughes, the institute, headquartered in Maryland, is one of the largest philanthropies supporting biomedical research. With an endowment of $17.5 billion, it dispenses about $700 million a year in grants to more than 350 researchers.

    Portugal and Spain are each home to five of the winners of the new award. Dr. Tjian said those nations and China have made unusually strong efforts to excel in biomedical research. Italy and South Africa had two winners each, and Brazil, Poland, India, Hungary, Chile, South Korea, and Argentina each had one. The number of applications submitted by scientists from China was matched or nearly matched by scientists in some of the other eligible countries, the institute said.

    Four of the seven Chinese winners work at China’s new National Institute of Biological Sciences, which is led by an American-educated scientist, Wang Xiaodong. The remaining three work at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, the Wuhan Institute of Physics and Mathematics in Hubei Province, and Nankai University in Tianjin.

    Their research disciplines range from cell genetics to cell proteins and cell mechanics; from immune systems’ behavior to the human genome.

    The international awards are an offshoot of a similar Hughes Institute program aimed at promising American scientists. The vast bulk of Hughes grants go to American-based research, Mr. Tjian said, but officials wanted to encourage work in other nations that are supporting high-level science and encourage collaboration between scientists in different nations. They also hope to promote American research tenets — challenging conventional wisdom and authority; rigorous discipline; transparency — abroad.

    The number of winners from China, he said, reflects China’s “big investment in research” as well as other factors.

    “Young people go where they can flourish the best,” he said. “And those countries have been able to attract young scientists trained in the U.S. to go back.”

    “That’s a big hurdle. It used to be that people thought people came here and never went back. But I think now that is starting to change.”

    Some of the award winners agreed. “I think it’s very obvious in recent years, and we’re very happy to see that,” Wang Xiaochen, a former doctoral student at the University of Colorado who is now at Beijing’s National Institute of Biological Sciences.

    While many if not most Chinese doctoral students who choose to remain in the United States after their studies, she said, in China, “I don’t have to apply for a grant,” while in the United States “the funding situation already is very tough.”

    “I think I’d have opportunities, but I’d have to spend a lot of time applying for funding. Here, I don’t have to apply for my own funding. So it’s an easy decision for me,” she said.

    Competing for research financing serves a purpose, helping identify worthwhile projects. The United States remains by far the preeminent scientific research locale, financing more than one third of research and development worldwide last year, according to the Battelle Memorial Institute, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, and manages 14 American research laboratories and one in Switzerland.

    But a 2010 Battelle report stated that American spending on research was reaching a plateau, while China was overtaking Japan as the second-largest financier of scientific work. Over all, the report stated, the United States spent close to $396 billion on research and development in 2010, compared to about $141 billion in China.

    China’s expenses are rising quickly — about 9 percent in 2010-11, the report estimated — while American spending was projected to rise at a 2.7 percent rate.

    Many federal research agencies received budget cuts last year, including the White House Office of Science and Technology, which was sliced 30 percent after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives expressed unhappiness over American scientific exchanges with China.

    The chairman of the House committee supervising that budget, Representative Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, called such exchanges “a bilateral program with Stalin.”
  3. cir

    cir Senior Member Senior Member

    Dec 28, 2010
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    Anyone see "brute force" at work here? :rofl:
  4. cir

    cir Senior Member Senior Member

    Dec 28, 2010
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    China: The gates are open

    Jane Qiu 1

    Published online25 January 2012

    This article was originally published in the journal Nature

    There is a wealth of fellowships and postdoctoral openings in China for foreign researchers who aren't afraid of culture shock.

    Jacob Wickham knew just a few words of Chinese and still struggled to use chopsticks when he first set foot in Qingtongxia, a remote village in western China. In 2008, Wickham, then a PhD student studying insect biology at the State University of New York in Syracuse, had a fellowship from the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI), part of the US National Science Foundation (NSF). He was in China to study the Asian longhorn beetles plaguing tens of thousands of hectares of poplar trees that had been planted to slow desert encroachment. The experience gave Wickham the chance to network and identify research topics relevant to both China and the United States.

    His work in the field and his brush with Chinese culture made such an impression on Wickham that he decided to pursue postdoctoral research in the country. Two years after his EAPSI fellowship, he returned to China on a three-year postdoctoral grant from the NSF's International Research Fellowship Program, studying insect species — in particular the Japanese pine sawyer beetle — that are pests in China and could become invasive if accidentally introduced to the United States. He now works at the Institute of Chemistry in Beijing, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

    Alongside landmarks such as the Forbidden City in Beijing, prospective postdocs will find opportunities in environmental science, palaeontology and other areas.

    Opportunities abound

    Wickham is one of a growing number of scientists seeking to jump-start their careers in China, attracted by the country's new research infrastructure, expanding scientific community and thirst for talent. There were 127 applicants for the CAS Fellowship for Young International Scientists in 2011 — an increase of 41% since 2009. About 67% of applications are successful.

    China has unique ecological problems that make it attractive to environmental scientists, plenty of fossils to draw palaeontologists, and high investment in clean technology, which encourages climate-change research. Postdoctoral research in the country, especially in these areas, could help young scientists to forge collaborations, make contacts and get training in specialized techniques. Foreign researchers will have to cope with language challenges and culture shock, but the experience can be enriching both personally and professionally.

    For several years, the Chinese government has been attempting to end the country's brain drain, luring home-grown scientists back from overseas and encouraging young talent to stay put. More recently, it has also sought to draw foreign researchers to its shores. The best funding mechanism is usually a fellowship (see table), because salaries at Chinese institutes are often lower than those in Western countries, and Chinese granting mechanisms can't easily be applied to foreign scientists.

    CAS and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) both offer Fellowships for Young International Scientists to freshly graduated PhD holders and more experienced postdoctoral researchers of all nationalities. Applicants must contact a principal investigator in a Chinese lab, explain their project and request that the investigator submit an application on their behalf. CAS also runs a joint fellowship scheme with the Third World Academy of Science (TWAS), to support postdocs from other developing countries.

    Foreign agencies run programmes, too. Each year, EAPSI provides more than 30 US PhD students with first-hand research experience in mainland China (it also sends researchers to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand). Students spend a week learning about Chinese language and culture in Beijing, before a two-month stint doing research at institutes of their choice. They can also visit other universities and institutes across the country. Options for researchers from outside the United States include the Science and Technology Fellowship Programme in China (STF China), run by the European Union (EU), or initiatives from national funding councils.

    Many foreign postdocs say that working in China is far from easy. In daily life, the language barrier is the biggest challenge. “Simple tasks, such as opening a bank account and going out to do some shopping, are not that simple any more,” says Andy Tsun, a British immunologist who has been working at the CAS Shanghai Pasteur Institute for two years.

    The EU's STF China fellows receive six months of language and culture training in Beijing at the start of their placements, with short trips to other parts of China. “It's a great innovation for this kind of programme,” says Sébastian Chanfreau, a French chemical engineer who spent two years at Nankai University in Tianjin. Chinese placements are “certainly a daunting experience for people who don't speak Chinese and know little about the culture and the way of doing things there”, he says.

    However, language is not necessarily a problem in the lab or field. Many Chinese researchers speak English well, so foreigners can usually communicate with their colleagues. Meetings of teams that include international researchers are often conducted in English. Of course, more complex communications could be tricky — foreign postdocs acting as supervisors should make sure that instructions are fully understood, to prevent time or work being lost.

    Jacob Wickham enjoyed his PhD research in China so much that he returned for his postdoc.

    Red tape

    What really baffles most foreign researchers in China is how science is done and administrated. “It definitely takes some time to understand how another culture conducts science in aspects ranging from grant administration to working in the lab and field, and organizing conferences,” says Daniel Joswiak, a US glaciologist who has been working at the CAS Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research in Beijing since 2008. “You have to be very proactive.”

    Postdocs often need to take the initiative when collaborating or learning about a colleague's work. And researchers may need to be forceful to get permits and approvals to work in politically sensitive areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang. To study pest problems, Wickham had to navigate first the State Forestry Administration and then the provincial forestry bureau. Regulations can be vague and difficult to decipher, and the officials in charge may not be in a rush to process the request. It is essential to monitor each step of the process. “The hierarchical structure can be challenging,” says Wickham.

    Foreign scientists may find it difficult to plan field projects ahead of time. In many countries, researchers are used to knowing months in advance exactly when they are going into the field, where and for how long. But often in China, “everything is done at the last minute in terms of planning field sites and working with the local government”, says Wickham.

    In the lab, however, forward planning is essential: reagents often need to be shipped from overseas, which might take more than a month. This can be frustrating for Western scientists who are used to next-day deliveries. “You have to plan ahead,” says Tsun. “If you have a change in project direction, it will take a while to get things going.”

    There are also restrictive rules for importing and exporting cell lines and transgenic animals, which can also slow things down and complicate international collaborations. “You need to be able to share reagents in science. It's also a way of validating results,” says molecular biologist Jannie Danielsen, who has been working at the CAS Beijing Institute of Genomics since early 2011, on a fellowship from the Danish Council for Independent Research.

    The Chinese work ethic often makes an impression on foreign researchers. “It's humbling to see people working so hard,” says Tsun. He says that half the Pasteur Institute is sometimes still in the lab after 7 or 8 p.m. — something that Tsun rarely saw during his PhD research at the University of Oxford, UK.

    But hard work doesn't always translate into creativity. Many of the students “haven't been trained so much in using their knowledge to generate new ideas and find new solutions”, says Danielsen. “They work extremely hard and very long hours, but I am not sure whether they are able to step back a bit and reflect on the results.” Wickham says that the science is often highly managed by professors, and researchers are not encouraged to take risks or learn from their mistakes.

    A different world

    Foreigners may find that some practices are anathema to their usual customs. Most academic institutions in China offer financial rewards for getting papers published in journals with high impact factors — often thousands of dollars for the first and corresponding authors (see Nature 441, 792; 2006). Such policies threaten to make competition unhealthy and discourage people from working together and exchanging ideas, says Sarah Rothenberg, an environmental scientist who has just joined the University of South Carolina in Columbia after three years at the CAS Institute of Geochemistry in Guiyang. “Science has become a totally different game there,” she says.

    " It definitely takes some time to understand how another culture conducts science. "

    Despite the differences, all the researchers contacted for this article say that their Chinese colleagues went out of their way to make them feel welcome and help them to sort out logistical issues such as housing. The country's ample research funding also helps. “There are problems with money everywhere but China,” says Chanfreau. “I was often told, 'Money is not a problem, just get what you need'.”

    Some foreign postdocs have taken the opportunity to experience Chinese culture outside their research. Chanfreau, for instance, helped to initiate an EU–China science-communication project in Beijing, akin to the international Café Scientifique, in which researchers and the public meet to debate topical issues such as green chemistry, breast cancer and genetic engineering. “The sense of being able to contribute to the public understanding of science in China is extremely rewarding,” says Chanfreau.

    The postdocs who find success will be those who are open to a new environment and eager to explore different approaches to science. “A sense of humour and the willingness to be flexible are crucial,” says Corwin Sullivan, a palaeontologist who went to China to pursue a postdoc at the CAS Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing in 2005 and is now an associate professor there. “The expats who find China most difficult are those who have a rigid sense of how things should work and refuse to adapt.”
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2012
  5. CherrywoodHunter

    CherrywoodHunter Regular Member

    Nov 7, 2011
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    I was just curious how is India's scientific research, so I did a quick search on PUBMED.
    India's research papers(not news or essay) published on Nature/Science/Cell 2009-present (first/corresponding author only): Cell x 1, Nature x 1, Science x 3.

    Publications from China:
    Cell x 18, Nature x 58, Science x 47

    Any tier one mainland China or Hong Kong university alone is more productive than the whole India.
    Any country in East Asia, except North Korea, beats India too.
  6. cir

    cir Senior Member Senior Member

    Dec 28, 2010
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    China to import foreign experts in five years

    Updated: 2012-01-26 13:10(Xinhua)

    China to import foreign experts in five years|Politics|

    BEIJING - China will carry out programs in four key industries to import foreign experts during the next five years, according to sources within the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) on Thursday.

    The four fields include agriculture, manufacture, the service industry and software and integrated circuits, according to the SAFEA.

    The SAFEA said that China plans to attract 2,000 highly skilled foreign experts in manufacturing to boost newly emerged industries such as energy conservation, high-end equipment production, new energy and new material.

    Also, 1,000 experts with management experience will be hired in the service industry to train more people in finance, insurance, security and comprehensive transportation.

    In the field of software and integrated circuits, China will launch five international training bases to import high-caliber foreign experts and teams to further global cooperation.

    According to a statement released by the SAFEA earlier this month, China will recruit 500 to 1,000 high-caliber foreign experts over the next 10 years in bid to further economic and social development.

    Under the government-funded program, each of the selected overseas professionals will be offered a subsidy of one million yuan (158,373 U.S. dollars) to cover their living expenses, according to the statement.

    (that's equivalent to about 250,000 US dollars before tax。Housing subsidies and low cost for hiring a driver and a full-time live-in nanny make the expert a king:rofl:)

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