Travel to broaden your mind

Academics who wish to do research abroad can draw on a wealth of funding sources and advice, says Zoe Corbyn

April 24, 2008

From fellowships to travel grants, funding opportunities for individual researchers keen to experience working outside the UK are burgeoning. The aim is not to encourage a brain drain overseas but rather to help individuals gain valuable insights that they can apply back home.

"Going to a different country and institution will give you access to new ideas and different people, which can strengthen your research profile," said Amanda Crowfoot, director of the Brussels-based UK Research Office (UKRO), which helps British scientists access European Union funding.

"It is also about making contacts for the future - developing international links can be helpful for collaborative projects subsequently," she added.

Oliver Flude, a science project manager at the British Council, agreed. "It is not about brain drain but going for a limited duration and then returning with the experience."

Both add that in the past, the UK has been better at attracting foreign researchers to its shores than sending its own overseas.

Those seeking an overview of the myriad funding schemes on offer could turn to the British Council's new Support for International Science, Technology and Engineering Research website (www.britishcouncil.org/science-sister.htm), which lists a wide range of sources. "It is a new guide for researchers," Mr Flude said. "If you are a researcher in the UK wanting to go to a conference or develop an international research link - or a researcher in another country wanting to come to the UK - it can help."

Most of the UK's major funding bodies offer fellowships, travel grants and money for international meetings.

The British Council itself has modest amounts available. Through its Researcher Exchange Programme (RXP), postdoctoral researchers across all subjects can win grants of up to £5,000 to finance a spell abroad of between two weeks and three months. The 2008 round has just opened (the closing date is 2 July) and a total of about £250,000 is available. The RXP has extra funding available in areas related to evolutionary theory to mark the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth.

For those looking for a longer period abroad there are the EU's Marie Curie fellowships. They provide funding for an extended period of research in another European country or further afield. There is also funding for third-country researchers to visit the EU. The annual calls, which opened last month, will close in August. A total of EUR25 million (£20.1 million) has been dedicated to the "outgoing fellowships" stream.

The fellowships are the flagship of the EU's "Marie Curie actions" programme, which aims to finance training and mobility activities for researchers. They fall under the rubric of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for research and the UKRO is the designated national contact point to assist UK researchers in accessing funding under the scheme (www.ukro.ac.uk/mariecurie).

Ms Crowfoot encourages people to apply because the fellowships are useful for researchers who want to become more independent. "It allows researchers to go off and autonomously work on a project that they have defined themselves," she explained.

She also highlighted a new FP7 scheme, the Marie Curie International Research Staff Exchange Scheme, under which researchers as well as technical and management staff move from EU institutions to organisations outside the EU for short periods. Calls for this year have now closed.

Researchers can get help not only in finding funding to go abroad, but also in preparing for the move. The British Council runs Network UK, a "researchers' mobility portal" to assist researchers leaving the UK and those entering (www.britishcouncil.org/eumobility). It links to all the other EU national mobility portals that offer advice on living and working in their countries (http://tinyurl.com/5hs3rg).

Vacancies in various countries are also listed on a central portal for researchers who are seeking career opportunities and mobility within Europe operated by the Commission (http://ec.europa.eu/eracareers).

The Commission is working to achieve more harmony in the European Research Area. Issues such as different pension rights and working conditions are perceived to be hampering mobility. A "reseacher's passport" proposal to work with member states on some of these issues is due later this month.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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