When Sandra Panchalingam finished her PhD studies at the University of Birmingham, she set her sights on the United States. "I knew that no matter how hard I worked in the United Kingdom, I would probably never get a chance to run my own lab," she says. "I always believed that in America, if you worked hard, there was an opportunity to reap the benefits. That's not always true in Europe."
Now her postdoctoral training at the University of Maryland is winding down and Panchalingam is completing work under a US Department of Defense grant for breast-cancer research. So she is looking for a job. But she won't look in Europe. "It's a very closed system there," she says. "I have a lot of friends in the United Kingdom, but I might end up being a postdoc for 15 years. It's just not worth it."
Panchalingam is exactly the type of person Europe wants to return to its shores. Since the end of World War II, the best and brightest British, French, and German graduate students have traditionally finished their studies in the United States and often remained, the trend reversed for a brief period in the late 1960s and early 1970s when many US researchers headed to Britain. Nevertheless, today, Greeks, Spaniards, and Eastern Europeans join the British in the States, along with a flood of students from the Indian subcontinent and China.
Today's Europe, however, is not the same continent scientists fled five years ago. The most obvious difference is the European Union, a conglomeration of 15 countries, plus 13 others awaiting membership, that aim to unify their economic systems and government policies. Science and research policy has been transformed with the advent of the EU, and the issue of "brain drain," the loss of talented researchers to other countries, is a focal point of the EU's unification strategy. The Sixth Framework Programme, a five-year plan to boost the region's scientific community and make it competitive with the United States, is chock full of ideas and funding proposals to combat brain drain. The plan, which bunches in October, calls for a funding increase for lower-level researchers, a new Internet portal for …