Why put-upon academics quit UK 1

June 14, 2002

I, like Alan Ryan, have a special fondness for my Oxford college, Magdalen ("Why I...", THES , May 31). Like him, I am packing for a trip to the west coast of the US, although to join the Salk Institute in San Diego rather than Stanford.

I am a young academic and my air ticket is one way. Ryan, although he may not realise it, is surrounded by colleagues doing as he suggests - leaving British academia, usually for foreign shores. Young academics trained here on UK funding are an asset. If research cash shows no sign of improving we cannot stay to pay back that investment, teach the next cohort of undergraduates or train postgraduates to replace us. While other countries, notably Germany and Canada, are working hard to repatriate their academics, the US cannot get enough British-trained scientists and the UK seems happy for us to go.

I could not believe my luck when I was offered a Salk research position. It gives me opportunities and equipment that I could never dream of here. I am leaving a laboratory headed by a world-class academic and producing work of a high international standard but it is rapidly depopulating and its equipment is six years old. It is impossible to compete when you spend your time patching up obsolete equipment Blue-Peter style. A future American colleague remarked a few weeks ago that UK scientists often have unusual technical skills, such as soldering, circuit building and wielding screwdrivers - I wonder why?

I mentioned my sadness at leaving to my partner, who is already in the US. Knowing me, he did not speak of the higher salary or standard of living. He reminded me of the contrast in research funding. As long as academics want to be research productive they constantly have to choose - leave or stay, research funding or no research funding. As the Americans say, a no-brainer.

Heather Jordan
Lecturer in experimental psychology
Magdalen College, Oxford

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