Science and borders

I was reading a writeup in Science magazine’s blog about the hurdles faced by non US citizens in procuring funding for their research. Funding is not only the lifeline of basic science research, but also a requirement for academic career progress. Individuals are judged by how much funding, for how long, how often and by whom, before being hired or promoted. In a time when funding has been tight in Science in the US, this remains a giant mountain to cross over and over again to keep ahead on the academic treadmill. Thinking of fundable research projects, getting pilot data on a shoestring budget that can impress, writing, awaiting reviews, writing again, getting rejected or if lucky accepted…and regardless of outcome, starting the whole process again. If not funded, other back up plans need to be in place, or else various scientists working with you may lose their jobs and entire science programs could shut down. If funded, all is well for a few years…but the goal is to prepare for the next grant…

In this highly competitive environment, imagine those who committed to a PhD or postdoc after leaving their countries and families behind. With all the enrichment and amazement of a new country comes the side effect of the grant cycle roller coaster which they unwittingly climb upon. To add to this uncertainty is the fact that individuals without a US citizenship or green card do not qualify for the most prestigious grant mechanisms, such as those of the NIH and NSF. The metrics for academic promotion place great value on government grant funding. Thus, a vast majority of PhD and Postdoctoral trainees automatically get disqualified from even applying. They remain dependant on their mentor unless their status changes.

What is a PhD? A doctor of Philosophy. However, these innovative, bright and highly specialized minds get shackled by the constraints imposed by an archaic structure that does not reflect the timeless and borderless nature of research.

Being a US citizen, I personally never faced the same roadblocks that immigrants faced. I applied, I competed, I procured grants. However, what would the playing field be like if everyone with the same educational qualification were allowed to compete? Why not allow the best ideas to win, to be set free, to be nurtured, to shape tomorrow…..



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