Nature article written by Quirin Schiermeier
Language, cultural differences and expense are common downsides, but there are opportunities to learn new techniques, work in diverse settings and polish confidence.
Fathiah Zakham’s career so far has spanned much of the globe: the Yemeni scientist (who was born in Saudi Arabia) earned her PhD in Morocco and did postdoctoral research in Switzerland and Finland. In Yemen, she worked as a microbiologist at Hodeidah University until 2015, when it was bombed by an international military coalition fighting Yemeni rebels.
Now, in Finland, she has found a safe and more liberal research environment than in Yemen. “I was never free there to do the research I wanted to do,” says Zakham, who has been conducting research on tuberculosis and viral fevers at the University of Helsinki since 2018. “Male colleagues refused to involve me in any activity or projects. My supervisor here grants me every freedom I could ask for.” The long-stay European visa she obtained, together with a grant from the Institute of International Education in New York City, enabled her to go to Switzerland in 2017 for a postdoc at the University of Lausanne, before her move to Finland a year later. She adds that she did not consider the United States because of potential visa obstacles (see ‘A snapshot of Europe’).
The United States remains the most popular country for junior scientists, particularly those from Asia, in which to seek experience. But the pull of the United States has somewhat waned, owing partly to travel restrictions for students and scholars from several Muslim-majority countries, including Yemen. Applications for specialist visas, which most foreign scientists need to work in the United States, have fallen by 19% since 2016. Conversely, the flow of talent to Europe is on the rise.
Moving to a new country enables early-career researchers to gain fresh cultural and scientific perspectives. For many non-European Union scientists, a successful research project in Europe is also a springboard to a career in their home country.
“I can affirm that I have my job thanks to my stay in Europe,” says Regina de Sordi, a pharmacologist at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Florianópolis, Brazil. She spent two years as a postdoc at Queen Mary University of London, UK, from 2013 to 2015. The opportunity to collaborate with international researchers in Europe furthered her career in Brazil, she says.