Brain Gain: You have to travel as a young scientist | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 03.07.2015
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Brain Gain: You have to travel as a young scientist

Is it brain drain or brain gain? Why do young scientists from Africa and Asia travel for research? And do they want to return home? DW's been asking young scientists at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

Nadine Tchamba Yimga, Master of Science, Cameroon
Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg

The main thing that brought me to Germany was the quality of research and opportunities for research. Back home in Cameroon, we have too many problems, like poor equipment in laboratories and poor financial support. So I came to Germany for a scholarship, and for my PhD. I really wanted that work environment where you have motivation and a high probability of getting somewhere, because you have good materials.

Young scientist at the Lindau Laureate Meeting 2015 (Copyright: Zulfikar Abbany).

Nadine Tchamba Yimga

Do you want to go back to Cameroon, or is this now your life in science, here or in America?

Actually, I haven't simply quit home forever. It's just because back home we don't have the facilities to encourage - in particular - young researchers. But if things change I would like to go back home and do my part for the development of my country. That is the goal. But at the moment, the facilities aren't there, and also it's sometimes difficult for us to go back home, because you can't always continue to work in your field.

Anupam Sengupta, PhD, India
Current station: Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT), United States

I came to Germany to work for a company but after a year life got a little uninteresting, so I moved to the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen, where I did my PhD. Then I moved to the States with a Human Frontier Science Program fellowship in Cross-Disciplinary Sciences.

Young scientist at the Lindau Laureate Meeting 2015 (Copyright: Zulfikar Abbany).

Anupam Sengupta

With that wealth of experience, is that the only way to go about a life in science - travel, and see how people in different cultures work?

I think travel is an integral element in science. It doesn't matter whether you come from India, the African continent or Asia - I would even encourage my colleagues from Germany to explore. Because I've realized that working cultures are different, so it gives you a choice, to make a conscious decision for yourself about the kind of environment you would like to fit in eventually.

But there's always this question about brain drain from developing countries, where the best brains come to the West, and the purposes of the developing countries remain unsolved. But in my opinion, if I look back, India offers tremendous resources, and these days the trend is more towards a "negative brain drain." Indians do head out, but a significant chunk of them are heading back to India, because the resources are catching up with their experiences in the West.

Upasana Das, PhD, India
Current station: Indian Institute of Science

I wanted to interact with as many people as possible from outside of my country and find out how they pursue research in their countries. India is a developing country - but even when I speak to people from the US, Germany or the Nordic countries, which are much more developed in research, I feel that as researchers we have some common thread running through us. We have similar insecurities about our futures - about settling down, or getting jobs - and we all want to do good science. And I'm definitely going to take that home with me and say, "Don't worry about coming from India, and feeling you're behind everyone else." There's a community feeling.

Young scientist at the Lindau Laureate Meeting 2015 (Copyright: Zulfikar Abbany).

Upasana Das

So why haven't you moved from India?

Well, I'm actually moving to the US at the end of this year for my postdoc, but one main reason I haven't left yet is my family - my father is old and he's alone and I wanted to be as close to him as possible. But I've moved around in India. PhDs are long-term affairs - it's five years in India - so that's a long time to be away from home. So I thought with postdocs, which are a two-year contract, I'd explore and leave India. But also in my field of astrophysics, it doesn't make sense to leave and go to a mediocre university. If you go, you'll want to go to a top university, and if you can't get that, then why not stay in India?

Adewale Adewuyi, PhD, Nigeria
Current station: Redeemer's University, Ede, Nigeria

It's a great opportunity for me to be here at Lindau because we had to go through a big selection process, which I believe was highly competitive, and it's an opportunity to be selected among the best.

What is science like in Nigeria? You've made the cut in an international selection, so is that a reflection of the standards in your country?

Yes, I would say it is a reflection of science in Nigeria - but in terms of personal development, not in a broad view of what science is like in Nigeria. What I mean is this: in terms of personal development, most of the people you see making headway in Nigeria or elsewhere in Africa are those who have the opportunity to go out there to develop their skills…

Young scientist at the Lindau Laureate Meeting 2015 (Copyright: Zulfikar Abbany).

Adewale Adewuyi

When you say "go out there" - you mean travel internationally?

Yes. But if you approach it from the point of view of what science is like in Nigeria, then it's not a clear representation of what you get to see of science in Nigeria.

So will you stay here or go back?

There's no place like home. I have to go back home. If I stay in Europe, who gets to develop Nigeria?

Luc-Sy Tran, PhD, Vietnam
Current station: Bielefeld University

The main thing I look for is the projects on offer, and the laboratory is also important for me. Science is quite international… I don't like to compare between Vietnam and Europe, but I see in Europe, we have an advantage, the technology [is better]. I come here to learn something new. But in Vietnam, some things are difficult because the development of the technology is slower, so that's why I came to Europe. Also, the funding is not good in Vietnam - it's not a rich country.

Young scientist at the Lindau Laureate Meeting 2015 (Copyright: Zulfikar Abbany).

Luc-Sy Tran

Seema Mittal, PhD, India
Current station: India Innovation Research Center

I did my PhD in the US, so I've been to several conferences, I've had opportunities to interact with a lot of great brains all over the world, but I've never seen so many brilliant people who've actually pushed the boundaries of science in the same place at the same time.

Young scientist at the Lindau Laureate Meeting 2015 (Copyright: Zulfikar Abbany).

Seema Mittal

So my expectation from this meeting was to discuss my ideas with them, which I think are also non-conventional, and essentially also to learn from the [Nobel Laureates'] experiences - their struggles and all the things they faced.

How do you feel about the brain drain issue?

Well I have a lot of pride as an Indian. But at the same time, when it comes to science, I'm passionate about answering a particular question, and what I look for is the correct working environment. And that's actually the reason I moved back to India, because I thought it was changing at such a rapid pace that I was willing to come back - I felt I could now work in an environment the way I want to work, it has flexibility, it has a collaborative attitude, and all the other attributes I'd find in another country, such as the US.

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