Science Careers Blog

April 2007

Martin Reddington, Director of Scientific Affairs and Communications at the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), pointed out a couple of errors in our discussion of HFSP's research funds involving India in our article "GrantsNet Guide to Financing Your Research Exchange in India." This article is part of our feature on research opportunities in India.

Here's an excerpt from Reddington's message explaining the organization's policies ...


We were delighted to see HFSP in your item on funding opportunities for research exchange with India .... However, there is an inaccuracy that gives a too restrictive view of eligibility and could mislead some of the Indian scientists we would like to support.

In the fellowship programs, scientists from non-member countries can only do their postdocs in labs in member countries, but now that India is a member, young Indian scientists could apply for HFSP funds to do their postdocs in non-member countries. This is an important point since we could imagine young Indians going to centres of excellence in non-member countries such as Singapore or China.

Further, labs in non-member countries may only host fellows from member countries, so Indian membership now opens the possibility for Indian labs to recruit post-docs from all over the world....

We updated the article page accordingly.

April 19, 2007

Flattened by the Boom

This week in Focus, Science reports on the struggles of young investigators to get their work funded in the wake of a massive expansion of the biomedical research enterprise. Link to the full text is provided courtesy of Science magazine.

Garth A. Fowler, Science Careers' North American outreach program manager, led a symposium last month in Boston on research funding. Materials from that symposium are now available for download. The program covered the basic principles of grant writing, the submission process, and researching funding resources. Some 400 graduate students and postdocs attended, and the event was sponsored by numerous teaching and research centers at Harvard University.

You can find a summary of the proceedings, list of presenters, and links to the presentation slides in the Science Careers Meetings and Events section.

Dear Science Editor,

The discussion in Elisabeth Pain`s "Moving Out of the Shadows: Publishing From the Rest of the World" points to the typical publishing scenario in Brazil, where the mother tongue is Portuguese.

Indeed, Brazilian researchers can be an exemplar of those from most of Latin America, when it comes to getting published in English in international journals. The difficulties range from limited English skills to lack of funding to afford language-editing services. Brazilian scientists have contributed to approximately 1.6% of what is published in ISI-indexed journals, and this small percentage notwithstanding, it is the result of a steady growth in academic productivity in the last decades. However, as in most South American countries, attempts to understand research output is mostly focused on traditional indicators of research performance, which does not include English proficiency.

If sound science and readable English are markers of a manuscript's quality, why is the role of English in non-native English-speaking (NNES) countries undermined? A number of editorials and full articles have devoted attention to language constraints involved in publication by NNES scientists, and this problem appears to affect novice and experienced writers alike in South America. However, concerning Brazil, lack of awareness of the extent to which it could affect their authors' publication output reveals a blind spot in policy making.

According to Pain, "While researching the issues faced by scholars in Hungary, Slovakia, Spain, and Portugal, Curry and colleagues found that 'scholars sometimes don't have high-level English proficiency but publish in high journals.' Their success, Curry says, is 'because they can draw [on] a network of people that help out.' " Such a network can certainly be the difference between having a manuscript accepted or rejected in high-impact journals. But in the case of South American authors, the fraction of "off-network" scientists is considerable, and being off network in this English-only research world is even more disadvantageous. Reducing the language gap among scientists would thus be well worth the effort.

It is thus about time South American scientists paid more attention to English proficiency in their countries. It is true that compared to other research priorities, this issue can be regarded as minor, but it may be huge for NNES authors who produce sound science and take an enormous time to gain visibility because manuscripts have to be re-re-rewritten because of poor English. In Brazil, research in the Science Education Program of the Medical Biochemistry Institute of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro has investigated the correlation between the English proficiency of more than 35,000 Brazilian scientists registered in the National Research Council (CNPq) and their publication in international journals in English. The preliminary data have pointed to higher output for those whose writing skills are better developed.* Is this a trend that may turn out to be similar for other South American countries?

Sonia Vasconcelos
PhD Student
Science Education Program
The Medical Biochemistry Institute
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)

Supervisors: Profs Dra. Jacqueline Leta and Dra. Martha Sorenson

* Vasconcelos, S.M.R., Sorenson, M., Leta, Jacqueline. "Scientist-Friendly Policies for Non-Native English Speaking Authors: Timely and Welcome." Concepts and Comments. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 2007, in press.