The first part of this essay (see: “Part I” ) described the growing number of foreign graduate students now immigrating into the United States (U.S.). They first study for a doctoral degree in science, followed by postdoctoral training, and then obtain a professional science job in U.S. universities and industries. Part II will (1) examine what this situation means for U.S. science now and in the future, (2) identify the ultimate cause of this worrisome development, and, (3) explain how this problematic condition can best be resolved.
What does this situation mean for the future of science in the U.S.?
Judgments of the balance between the positive and negative aspects of this new situation (see: “Part I” ) are quite uncertain. Discussions about the quality and results of these immigrants always are difficult. Nevertheless, important questions must be discussed! My views here will be given about the following prominent questions. (1) How does this situation affect the quality of science and scientists in the U.S.? (2) To what extent does this situation decrease the number of graduates from U.S. colleges choosing to pursue advanced studies in science? (3) What does this mean for the future of science in the U.S.?
Regarding the effects upon science of the numerous foreign graduate students immigrating into the U.S., problems with intellectual maturity, skills with independent design of experiments and research manipulations, and, misguided practices in professional ethics, all seem to me to be rather equivalent between the foreign and domestic populations. Thus, there is not much negative influence on the quality of scientists resulting from the added population of foreign students studying science in U.S. graduate schools.
The question about whether the many foreign graduate students now here is influencing the decision of native-born college graduates not to enter a career in science is paralleled by another open question about whether the entrance of new foreign doctoral scientists into faculty positions in U.S. universities and high positions in U.S. industries makes native college graduates less likely to want to work with their foreign-born associates in science. I feel that the answer to both these questions is “probably not yet”, because this situation is still at a fairly early stage of development. Such questions currently are more a worry for the future, and are not so acute at present. However, when there will be more research positions and science jobs having mostly or even exclusively foreign-born U.S.-trained scientists, then these questions will rise to the top of the pile.
The future of science in the U.S. seems likely to be badly impacted as soon as the present situation matures and evolves with even greater numbers of foreign graduate students. Many unpleasant questions about hidden policies and confused practices then will arise for the 2 populations of young scientists (e.g., should either population ever be favored, who is in charge, should some number of research grants be reserved for awarding to either population, is there really equal opportunity for acquiring research grants, is there really equal opportunity for advancement in industry, who exactly is foreign, how do foreigners differ from native citizens, should members of any ethnic group be forbidden to review research grant applications submitted by others in the same group, do all university faculty have to give lectures and to teach in undergraduate and graduate courses, etc.). All of these queries deserve to be fully discussed.
In my opinion, the very biggest and most important problem with the enlarging population of young foreign graduate students is are they now causing a decrease in the already weak interest of young Americans to enter a career in science? If carried to extreme, some aspects of science in the U.S. then could become the exclusive domain of certain foreigners. Nobody knows to what extent this already is happening now, due to the lack of surveys and data. However, I believe that if such an imbalanced arrangement causes fewer American college students to want to study science, then that will have really bad effects upon the future of U.S. science
What exactly might happen?
Part I only indicated in a rather gentle way the present degree to which this worrisome new trend has taken hold within the U.S. Let us now look more closely at just how this peculiar situation could enlarge and mature in the near future. I have seen some science labs in U.S. universities where there were outstanding graduate students and Postdocs, originating both from abroad and from the U.S. I also actually have observed with my own eyes an active faculty laboratory with numerous foreign graduate students and postdocs, where there was not even one individual science worker born in the U.S. These young foreign workers all were from the same country, and were working under a full professor originating from that same land. This scenario is a notable situation that could become more frequent in the U.S.; I regard this to be both unhealthy and inappropriate. All readers should be able to perceive that U.S.-born college graduates might not feel very comfortable working within such a research laboratory; that feeling is not due to racism, but comes from normal human nature for not wanting to be the “odd man out”.
The most extreme extent for this worrisome development is best illustrated by the amazing story of a certain School of Engineering and Technology in the U.S. which I myself have personally observed. I was told that over 75% of their graduate students are from the same foreign country, and that this School is much better known inside that country than is the very prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology! Everyone suspects that before any doctoral candidate graduates, they must make arrangements for a new young student from their foreign undergraduate school or home town to send in an application for admission to this graduate program. This unofficial policy is the basis for an especially successful business operation! It results in that institution always getting lots of tuition since it never has the problem with decreasing enrollments now found in many other U.S. university schools, and always is able to produce many theses, patents, and professional research publications. The level of success and its momentum in this very real example are so great that there would be no bad effects stemming from any future changes in economic or political conditions.
I do not doubt that this special mechanism for ensuring the continuing success of a graduate school will be emulated and adopted by other universities. This same educational institution now has been publicly noted to have over 90% of its graduate students in Electrical Engineering coming from foreign lands in 2013 ! Even more shocking is the fact that there were 6 other universities and technology institutes in the U.S. with a similar very high percentage for this discipline ! Thus, the prediction given in the first sentence of this paragraph now has come true! Yes, the future already is here!
Who or what should be blamed for this problematic situation?
Foreign graduate students are not to be blamed for this new situation, since they are simply taking advantage of the available opportunity to get educated and find a good job in science here. Foreign postdocs appointed to new a professional position in U.S. universities or industries also are not to be blamed, since they are winning an open competition for these jobs. Foreign governments should not be blamed for facilitating the movement of their young students into U.S. graduate schools and jobs, since that helps young scientists from their country gain valuable education and income not otherwise available.
Some feel that blame should be given to the federal and state governments in the U.S., because these are approving the expenditure of money collected from American taxpayers to support the education of foreign graduate students. It is not clear to me why these government offices award money to support foreign graduate students in science. I have no doubt that many US taxpayers disapprove of any such use of their contributions. Why don’t foreign governments pay for their students to come here for advanced education?
Who then should be blamed? To determine that we must look back to find the primary cause of this entire situation. It is very clear to me that the ultimate cause of this condition is the rejection of entering a career in science by current American college students. In turn, that creates the gap in graduate school enrollments. The numerous unfilled slots for training domestic graduate students in science then are filled by eager young foreign college-level students because Nature abhors a vacuum! We must blame whatever is inducing American college students to reject a career in science.
Many undergraduates now choose not to enter graduate schools for advanced training in science. Students indeed are clever, and many now in U.S. colleges are easily able to perceive some of the serious reasons why so many university science faculty are very upset with their current job condition. That stems from the misguided policies of U.S. universities and the research grant system. Hence, I believe that it is those 2 entities, (1) modern universities, and (2) agencies in the research grant system, which must be blamed for the secondary problems arising from there being so many new foreign graduate students studying and doing science in the U.S..
What is the best approach to solve this problem?
Identification of the primary cause means that the best solution to this entire problem now is obvious: American students need to be much better attracted to enter a career in science. The best way to accomplish that is to reform the several major job problems making many faculty scientists conducting research in U.S. universities being so distressed, dissatisfied, and dismayed (see: “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job, Part I” , and also “Part II” ). If science and universities in the U.S. can be repaired and renewed from their present degenerated and decayed condition (see: “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ), then many college undergraduates in the US will no longer be so repulsed from entering a career in science. In turn, with more domestic college graduates entering graduate schools to study science, there then will result in many fewer openings needing to be filled by foreign graduate students.
Concluding remarks for Parts I and II.
The population of numerous foreign graduate students now immigrating into the U.S. has both positive and negative effects on American science. Much more attention must be given to fully understanding all the different aspects of this modern situation.
Foreign graduate students studying in the U.S. for a doctoral degree in science now function very usefully to maintain ongoing university operations by substituting for the decreasing numbers of American students entering science studies. Of course, these immigrants later compete directly with their domestic counterparts for science jobs in U.S. universities and industries.
The ultimate cause of the large increase in foreign graduate students moving into the U.S. to study for a Ph.D. in science is the decreasing number of U.S. undergraduates now choosing not to enter graduate school for starting a career in science. The best and most effective solution to this problematic situation will be to make careers in scientific research much more attractive to young American college students.
 Redden, E., 2013. Foreign student dependence. Article in Inside Higher Education is available on the internet at: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/07/12/new-report-shows-dependence-us-graduate-programs-foreign-students .
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