International mobility enhances research strength

International mobility enhances research strength

For decades FEBS has supported mobility of young scientists through a broad Fellowships programme that funds research stays in laboratories in a different country for time spans between two weeks and few years. Short-term Fellowships permit the use of methodologies not available in the home lab and initiate collaboration. Long-Term Fellowships have a different aim: advanced training during the postdoctoral time leading ultimately to positions as independent researchers.  

Who earns the benefit from postdoctoral fellowships? At first sight, the beneficiaries are the laboratories hosting the fellows and the awardees themselves receiving an advanced scientific training. Being part of a different laboratory and living in another country’s environment requires flexibility and the acquisition of a new language and allows insight into different approaches to science and culture: not only new methodologies or even a complete new field of research, but also how to tackle a scientific question are qualities to learn from other individuals, and the earlier the better. A recent comment in Nature[1] worth an editorial in the same issue[2] adds another beneficiary to the mobility of researchers: research itself.  

Is international mobility essential? Couldn’t learning new techniques or entering a new field of research be done in your own country by simply moving from one city to another, or just from one lab to another? Maybe, if the country and the scientific enterprise are large and diverse enough, but for all others a move across the borders is essential to find the laboratory of choice. Moreover, funding of science is a mostly national affair. How science is funded and how many opportunities there are to support scientific research has a tremendous impact on the scientific culture. 

Is mobility desirable? In a FEBS survey following the career of 170 FEBS Long-Term Fellows[3] it became obvious that career chances are approximately 2 times higher for FEBS Fellows than for the average PhD and mobility may be one career-boosting factor. The recent study in Nature[1] was based on the publication record and institutional affiliation of 16 million individual researchers over the years from 2008 to 2015. Only 4% of these actually changed their affiliation in the time frame analysed and these have a significant higher citation rate than non-mobile scholars. Although citation rates are not necessarily a measure for quality or long-term importance, the authors concluded with some reservation that mobile scholars in general enrich their scientific environment and enhance and improve the scientific output. No doubt, imminent threats to reduce the free movement of scientists either through Brexit or through legislative action by the current US-administration are triggers of such studies.


What is your opinion on mobility for scientists? Please comment.


1 Sugimoto, C.R. et al.  Scientists have most impact when they're free to move. Nature 550, 29–31 (05 October 2017) doi:10.1038/550029a

2 Editorial. Science without walls is good for all. Nature 550, 7–8 (05 October 2017), doi:10.1038/550007b

3 Klein, C. and Hartig, A. (2016) Postdoctoral position/fellowship – and then... FEBS News July 2016, pages 9–10:


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