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Science Careers Blog

Europe: November 2009

The number of science and engineering students from abroad jumped 20% at American institutions in the 2008-09 academic year, with the biggest gains recorded in engineering and computer science. Science and engineering students now comprise about half of all international students in the U.S. and nearly two-thirds of international graduate students.

According to the Open Doors survey, conducted annually by the Institute of International Education (IIE, funded by the U.S. Department of State), the number of science and engineering students increased from about 267,000 in the 2007-08 academic year to about 319,000 in 2008-09, an increase of nearly 20%.  That's about half (48%) of the 671,600 international students in the United States in 2008-09, up from 43% of the total in the previous year.

Except for agriculture, international students in all the scientific and engineering categories increased by double-digit percentages in 2008-09. Engineering and computer/information science students increased by about a quarter (24%), while life, physical, social, and health science disciplines all increased between 14-17%. The number of agricultural students from abroad stayed about the same as in 2007-08.

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Nearly two-thirds (65%) of international graduate students at American universities during the 2008-09 study science or engineering. About a quarter (24%) of international graduate students are in engineering programs and 13% of international graduate students are in the physical and life sciences. About 11% of international graduate students are studying mathematics or computer science,  and 9% of international graduate students are in the social sciences.

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About 4 in 10 international undergraduates are in science or engineering programs. Some 12% of international undergrads are studying engineering, while nearly 1 in 10 (9%) are majoring in the social sciences. About 5-7% each are in undergraduate physical/life science, mathematics/computer science, or health programs.

Overall, the number of international students in the U.S. increased by nearly 8% in 2008-09, to 671,600. Of the total, about 41% come from India, China, or South Korea. The number of students from China increased by about 21% year over year. Vietnamese students increased by 46%, to about 12,800, compared to 2007-08 -- the largest increase for any country. (IIE did not provide country breakdowns by field of study.)


Our package on science in Eastern Europe provoked the following reply from Yale Richmond, an expert on the subject:

Elisabeth Pain and Kate Travis in Science Careers (November 6, 2009) are correct in discussing the changes in science that have taken place in Eastern Europe since "The Fall of the Wall." But the two authors are mistaken when they write that "Research in those countries [the Soviet bloc] was done in near-complete isolation from the international community."
 
Using primarily cultural and scientific exchanges, in addition to espionage, the Soviets had a very effective system for learning what scientists in countries of the West were doing. During the 30 years of the U.S.-Soviet Cultural Agreement more than 50,000 Soviet citizens came to the United States on exchange, many of them scientists and engineers, and many thousands more came to countries of Western Europe that had similar agreements. And because the exchanges were reciprocal, U.S. and other Western scientists went to the Soviet Union in exchange. The Soviets were all cleared by the KGB in advance of nomination for their exchange visits, but before their U.S. visas were authorized they were also screened by the U.S. intelligence community to ensure that they would have no access to U.S.-funded defense research, and that the exchanges were mutually beneficial. The watchword was "Is the Soviet scientist going to learn more from us than we will learn from him?"  And they were all "hims," since no women scientists were nominated by the Soviets.

In our "flagship exchange," of graduate students and young faculty for a full academic year, we would send real graduate students in language, history, and literature, while the Soviets, in the early years of the exchanges, would send us mainly scientists and engineers who already had their Kandidat degree, more or less equivalent to our PhD. Each U.S.-USSR cultural agreement, renegotiated every 2 or 3 years, also contained a section devoted to exchanges of delegations of scientists in various fields.

In addition to the exchange programs of the State Department, our National Academy of Sciences and Atomic Energy Commission also had exchanges with the Soviet bloc. To give you an idea of the extent of those exchange programs, when martial law was declared in Poland in 1981, we had several hundred Polish scientists stuck in the United States and unwilling to return home. Also, Pain and Travis fail to consider the 11 cooperative agreements in S & T signed with the Soviet Union during the detente years of the 1970s which brought hundreds more Soviet scientists to the United States, and a reciprocal number of Americans to the Soviet Union.
 
After their return home and their debriefing by science officials, the Soviet scientists who had studied abroad were required to give talks to their colleagues on what they had learned during their foreign visit. As a result of all those exchange programs, Soviet science was anything but isolated from the international community.
For more on this, read my book, Cultural Exchange and the Cold War: Raising the Iron Curtain (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003).

             - Yale Richmond

(We'll post the authors' reply in a separate post. My thanks to Yale Richmond for his thoughtful reply.)


The Wellcome Trust plans to phase out its 3-year to 5-year research grants in favor of larger and more flexible grants that last up to 7 years, reports Jocelyn Kaiser in this week's issue of Science. The organization will put $183 million toward the new Investigator Awards beginning in 2011.

"The idea is to empower the very best scientists to tackle difficult, long-term questions," says Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, a U.K.-based charity that funds biomedical research. The organization hopes that the awards will help researchers more successfully tackle large research questions without the constraints of low funding or a short grant cycle.

Read the full story in this week's issue of Science, and see the Wellcome Trust Web site for the announcement of the new program.

A Wall Street Journal reader wrote to Toddi Gutner, one of the newspaper's careers advisers, about a question uppermost in the minds of job-hunters over the age of 40: How do you deal with your age in interviews and resumes? The reader said, in his question published today, that he received conflicting advice from people he trusted.

While most Science Careers' readers are early-career scientists, this is not a far-fetched issue for some of our readers. Among our Facebook fans, for example, 6% are age 45 or older. Our  Science Careers story last week about the career of Patricia Alireza, who earned a Ph.D. in physics at the age of 45 after raising a family, got a few "thumbs up" on our Facebook page.

In one respect, the current tough job market may give older job-hunters an advantage. "This is a good time to position yourself as a deeply competent and confident professional in your area of expertise and experience," Rabia de Lande Long, a consultant and executive coach told Gutner. "In uncertain economic times, employers can be drawn more to experienced workers who join with ready-to-use skills and a shallow learning curve."

One specific question the reader asked was whether to include the dates of college degrees on your resume, since they enable hiring managers can calculate your age. Gutner says that in most cases it's a good idea to include the dates. If you don't, it suggests that you have something to hide, which would raise even more questions among H.R. departments and hiring managers. Plus, employers frequently verify dates of previous employment and educational attainment, so there is little reason to hide the dates on your resume.

If you are in your mid-50s and older, be prepared for more resistance among hiring managers. But there are ways to deal with it. A flattering photo on your LinkedIn profile may dispel some doubts. But more importantly, says career coach de Lande Long, you want to use your cover letter to differentiate yourself from the common perception of older candidates, "by showing results, (understanding of) technology and demonstrate ease in interacting with colleagues of all ages," she says.

Another professional advises older job-seekers to avoid the 'been there, done that' attitude. Instead, show interest, commitment, enthusiasm and energy. "If you're bored with your profession, you can be sure that comes through in an interview," says Susan Chadick, a principal at Chadick Ellig, an executive-search firm serving small and mid-size companies and startups.