Focus On Europe: Research by the Numbers?


Focus On Europe: Research by the Numbers?
Science
In 2002, the European Union (EU) set a goal, referred to as the Lisbon strategy, that member states should be spending 3 percent of their gross domestic product on research and development by the year 2010. At present only a few countries are at that level, such as Sweden (3.9 percent) and Finland (3.5 percent). Powerhouses such as Germany (2.5 percent), France (2.1 percent), and the UK (1.7 percent) strongly support R&D, like the US (2.6 percent); Spain (1.1 percent) and Italy (1.1 percent) have some catching up to do.
Funding statistics are useful, but they cannot tell the whole story. „As a young scientist, you don’t care about politics, you care about your own career,” said Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, secretary general of the European Research Council (ERC), which is part of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) to boost research, education, and innovation in the European Union. „You don’t care about the European research area and these sorts of things; you go to places where your career is best served. Scientists vote with their feet.”
The 300 new awardees of the ERC’s starting grants—for scientists who are 2-9 years from earning their Ph.D.s—were selected from more than nine thousand applications. Grants averaged €1.2 million for five years, and the winners voted with their feet for a total of 21 countries. The top vote getters, in rank order, were the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain. Switzerland and Israel also did extremely well.
Other countries came up empty, like Poland, Turkey, and the Baltic states. „Not because they don’t like Poland,” says Winnacker of the newly funded young scientists, but because they don’t think the institutions are good enough as yet for them
Expanding Horizons
The good news is that going abroad to work in science is smiled upon from all fronts. Whether it’s to go to graduate school, to do a postdoctoral fellowship, or to land a more permanent position, most people agree that the experience can broaden one’s world, both personally and scientifically.
While personal factors may direct scientists to look at one country over another, it’s worth trying to understand the greater research climate in a country. Language, pay, and research opportunities in a specific lab may be immediate concerns, but they are only a small part of the picture. Larger scale issues such as growth in funding, intellectual property rights, and openness to collaboration across different sectors all have the potential to affect a career in ways that might be good, or bad, news.