More International Researchers Means Better Science
There’s no disputing that to be a top university you have to attract top talent. The internationalism of an institution’s staff, students, and research are important performance indicators for many world university rankings. A recent study published in Nature offers another benefit of attracting global research talent. According to the study, international researchers have greater scientific impact than their non-mobile peers.
The study examined how junior researchers’ country of affiliation changed (or didn’t) between 2008 and 2014. It tracked where researchers moved as well as their citation scores before and after they moved. The results make a strong argument for internationalization: On average, mobile scholars had a 40% higher citation rate than non-mobile scholars.
Geographic areas were also found to play different roles in the circulation of researchers. The study showed that regions with strong science systems, such as North America and northern Europe, tend to produce highly-cited scholars who then move elsewhere. These same areas also attract elite researchers who go on to achieve high impact in other regions. On the other hand, countries with newly-established science systems excel at recruiting established scholars or acting as incubators for those who will increase their citation scores elsewhere. Asia is a strong recruiter and countries in the region gained affiliation with highly cited scholars over the period of the study, while Oceania was found to be an incubator where researchers’ citations increased once they move on.
Regardless of which region the researcher ends up in, their previous institutions still benefit from the past association. Gone is the model of a mobile researcher who starts publishing at one institution and then severs ties when they get a position at another university. The authors of the Nature study found that only one third of the mobile researchers they investigated fit this pattern. The majority of mobile researchers still maintained ties to their country of scientific origin while building an international network through their moves. As scientists move around the world, so to do their skills, expertise, and ideas. Science happens on a global scale and collaboration and mobility are essential to that process.
“I think that all countries must think not about the competitiveness of their own scientific workforce, but acknowledge that science is a global activity,” said Cassidy Sugimoto, an Associate Professor of Informatics at Indiana University Bloomington and first author of the study. “I hope that we can find ways to encourage and support the circulation of scholars and resources so that we can achieve the greatest scientific results.”
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