Abroad horizons

March 20, 1998

Why do British scientists succeed in Europe? We look at careers, funding and the expatriate life. Ayala Ochert continues her series with a look at European research opportunities

According to Edith Cresson, Europe's commissioner for research, scientists are a parochial lot. "In comparison with scholars in Europe of the Middle Ages, today's European scientists are not very mobile," she says.

People who do move head for the United States, says John Blackman, a physicist at the University of Reading. "At one stage you had to go to the US to prove yourself. It was almost a rite of passage." He now coordinates a scheme run by the European Physical Society to encourage undergraduates to study for a year in other European countries, an extension of the Socrates scheme. But while many foreign students come to the UK, far fewer British students study abroad, and UK universities are becoming increasingly reluctant to be a part of the Socrates scheme, as they receive many more students than they send.

Olaf Boettger, a German PhD student at Keele, says: "In Germany, they make it very clear that you have to go abroad for at least a year. Some companies won't even look at your application if you don't have experience of another country." Boettger's funding came from another European Commission scheme, for the Training and Mobility of Researchers (TMR).

Most of the 3,000 researchers who have so far benefited from the Marie Curie fellowship operated by TMR have been at postdoctoral level, representing a microcosm of researchers working in foreign European countries. This year the UK received over 850 fellows, but sent out a mere 183 compared with Germany's 447. Blackman thinks it unfortunate that more Britons do not take up the opportunity. "It really boosts their self-confidence, and they come back more dynamic," he says.

TMR also funds about 250 research networks, collaborations between research teams in different European countries.

Several other schemes promote mobility of researchers. The European Molecular Biology Organisation, for example, offers fellowships of up to two years for researchers under 35 to work at one their stations, as does Cern. The Wellcome Trust has various travelling fellowships, and the Royal Society's European Science Exchange Programme offers short study visits. Some research council fellowships offer a year at an approved institution overseas, and the British Council offers travel grants to researchers with overseas collaborators.

Socrates: http://europa.eu.int/ en/ comm/ dg22/socrates.html

TMR schemes: http://www.cordis. lu/tmr or www.dti.gov.uk/ost/tmr.htm

Wellcome Trust: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk

EMBO fellowships: http://www. embl-heidelberg.de/ExternalInfo/ embo/Fellow_Guide.html

Cern: http://www. cern.ch British Council: http://www. britcoun.org

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