Modern science certainly is a very international activity. The worldwide interactions of scientists, science educators, and science students produce many beneficial outcomes for everyone, but some recent aspects must be considered problematic. Let’s now take a closer look at those.
Many foreign students now are studying here at graduate schools to earn their Ph.D. in science. They are following a very long global tradition in science and education. Most of them are not able to get good research training for a science Ph.D. in their native land, so they undertake to do that in other countries having strong activity in scientific research, such as Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, U.K., and the United States (U.S.). Postdoctoral research associates also frequently come to these countries for advanced training in scientific research. Through these educational programs, the U.S. or other host countries have been seen to substantially help other nations to expand and develop their own activities for science. Previously, these foreign students and postdocs were either expected or required to return to their native land for subsequent employment. The young foreign scientists returning to their native country usually found good jobs at universities, research institutes, industries, or government; this arrangement helped the home countries greatly, and even has led some of them to set up scholarship programs to sponsor and facilitate such studies abroad.
The traditional situation with foreign graduate students in science recently has changed in the U.S. There now is a general pattern that after young foreign graduate scientists earn their Ph.D. in science here, they then stay on for postdoctoral training and subsequently work in a good science job in the U.S. for the remainder of their life. Currently, most foreign-born graduate students and postdocs now come here with little intention to ever return to their native country, except for vacations. Instead, they aim to stay here and have access to more and better jobs, along with more and bigger research grants supporting their scientific investigations; both of these are not so available in their native country. Many foreign students entering with some sort of student visa now openly are immigrants, since they strive to elevate their visa status or to change their citizenship very soon after arriving here.
In 2013, there were reported to be 71,418 foreign graduate students enrolled in U.S. graduate schools . That represents a 10% increase in this population over the previous academic year . Of course, not all of these graduate students are studying science, and some are only working for a Masters Degree.
Although there is no question at all that most of these science students and researchers from abroad work hard and do good work here, this modern change raises several disturbing questions. I purposely will ignore some common complaints about foreigners not speaking English very well, and not understanding how to design good experiments, since those qualities vary greatly among the many different individuals. Instead, I will deal here with important questions about whole populations (i.e., we will mostly be looking at forests, and not so much at individual trees); these important questions are not frequently discussed in terms of general trends.
Part I of this essay describes this new condition with numerous foreign science students immigrating into the U.S., examines its consequences, and discusses questions that are not asked openly. Part II then will take a closer look at what this new situation could lead to, what it means for American science, what is its ultimate cause, and how this modern problem can best be resolved. Readers should note that both Parts focus on graduate students, and not on undergraduate students.
What are the consequences of having so many foreign graduate students in the U.S.?
The situation just described certainly has both good and bad consequences. Most foreign graduate students are successful with their pre-doctoral research work, thereby helping their mentor, their host institution, and science in the U.S. The large inflow of foreign graduate students into universities in the U.S. fills a vacuum created by the diminishing number of young Americans now choosing to study for a career in science; modern universities now have become very dependent upon the growing population of entering foreign graduate students to maintain their full enrollments. The vigor of the grant-supported research enterprise in the U.S. strongly needs more foreign postdoctoral research associates, since the supply of new domestic Ph.D.s in science is not large enough for the demand; the research success of foreign postdocs greatly contributes to U.S. science, and prepares them for subsequent productive employment. These immigrants later gain employment here, and many continue as successful professional researchers in universities and industries. Some achieve such exemplary success with doing high quality innovative scientific research that they even very deservedly win a Nobel Prize (e.g., Prof. Ahmed H. Zewail (California Institute of Technology), Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (1999) ; also see: “Scientists Tell us About their Life and Work, Part 3, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar” ).
For science in the U.S., this modern situation is very positive since it increases both the number of practicing professional researchers and the total output of published research works. In addition, it ensures full enrollments for most graduate schools in the U.S. However, certain other consequences of this condition seem to be both negative and worrisome. The effects of this situation upon native-born graduate students and holders of science faculty jobs in U.S. universities are quite controversial. Discussions already have debated whether foreign-born graduate students crowd out and displace their native-born counterparts when seeking a postdoctoral position or a full-time science job. In the future, the effects of the growing large immigrant population probably will become increasingly negative. Since a greater number of foreigners now competes with their domestic counterparts for the same job openings, the foreign population of applicants thereby will have some advantage if all else is equal. When applying for a faculty job opening in a university science department where there already are many foreign-born members of the science faculty, the new graduates from certain lands undoubtedly will be favored over those born in the U.S. It also is likely that some American college students now are less enthusiastic about entering certain university graduate schools because they feel they would not fit in readily with all the foreign professors and foreign students there.
Questions that need to be discussed.
Asking polite or impolite questions about the policies, problems, and peculiarities involving young foreign scientists in U.S. university graduate schools is made very difficult by 3 different factors. (1) Faculty scientists at some very prestigious U.S. universities now openly visit certain other countries every year to recruit new graduate students; thus, this new system is being promoted and progressively locked into the status quo, just as has been done already for undergraduate students in colleges. (2) Cheating on applications for admission to graduate schools, and during long-distance telephone interviews, not only occurs, but is well-accepted in some foreign cultures; this corruption is not always uncovered, and then increases the level of dishonesty within American science (see: “Why would Any Scientist ever Cheat?” ). (3) Modern precepts for political correctness try to preclude any discussion of different characteristics for national origin and intelligence, such that any and all questions now are deemed to be very impolite and improper; I believe everything needs to be discussed more, and do not recognize any such restrictions.
The most important key questions about this entire situation can be phrased as follows. Are young American students being denied participation in U.S. graduate schools and postdoctoral positions because the slots for admission already are filled by their foreign counterparts? Are new American doctoral scientists being denied employment at universities because faculty job openings already are filled by newly-degreed and newly-hired young foreign scientists? Are funds from US taxpayers collected and issued by the federal and state governments being used to support foreign graduate students and postdocs for their education and research training here?
I regret that I cannot answer the first 2 questions because there appears to be no adequate data or surveys with which to analyze all possibilities for this situation. For the third question, I know that some private and public schools do provide financial support for graduate students in science, regardless of their national origin; it is likely that some or even all of these funds come from American taxpayers and donors. That ongoing practice seems very questionable.
Why am I addressing these questions now?
Many readers undoubtedly will jump to the conclusion that I must be very prejudiced against all foreigners and especially against young foreign scientists in training. That just ain’t so! Two of my own postdoctoral associates were born in foreign countries (Japan, and Italy). They both worked hard and produced outstanding research work in my laboratory; it was very satisfying to see them succeed at research, and was fun to work with them. Both returned to their native land to start professional employment with a new job opportunity in science. My actual general prejudice always is to seek higher quality regardless of national origin or irrelevant individual characteristics. Some foreign-born students and postdocs most certainly have a very high quality; since I know that some American students and young scientists also have a very high quality, I am looking at the questions given above only to make certain that the domestic young scientists are not being put at some disadvantage by this new situation.
I raise these questions because they are very important. The large number of foreign graduate students now moving into the U.S. is rarely discussed, clearly is increasing, and needs to have its negative implications challenged. If no questions are asked, then this situation will only expand to become more troubling. The best place to start getting the negative effects of this situation analyzed will be in collecting numerical data for each branch of science in the entire U.S.; to the best of my knowledge adequate data are not yet available. Nobody can hope to draw solid conclusions or recommendations until the extent of this situation and its effects are much better known.
The cause, consequences, and best solution for this problematic new situation in U.S. science will be further examined in the forthcoming second portion of this essay.
 Porter, C., and Belkin, D., 2013. Record number of foreign students flocking to U.S. Wall Street Journal article is available on the internet at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304868404579190062164404756 .
 Zewail, A., 2015. Ahmed Zewail at a glance. Available on the internet at: http://www.zewail.caltech.edu .
GO BACK TO HOME PAGE OR SCROLL UP TO MENU
UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE