Global collaborations introduce great possibilities


Rise in international students increases connections

Nina Dudnik, Ph.D., second from right, visiting one of Seeding Labs’ partner institutions, Kenyatta University, in Nairobi, Kenya.Students are proving to be a powerful link in the global networking chain. A Brookings Institution report published Aug. 29 said a record 21% of the world’s students who went abroad for their education came to the United States in 2013. The report, “The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education: Origins and Destinations,” indicated that the number of international students studying in the U.S. totaled 819,644 in the 2012-13 academic year.
Over a five-year period from 2008 to 2012, foreign-born students attending U.S. colleges and universities contributed $21.8 billion in tuition and $12.8 billion in living costs to 118 metro areas, the report revealed. The metro areas in the survey were home to at least 1,500 foreign students.

“These students provide connections to some of the biggest and hottest markets abroad, such as China, India, and South Korea, and they provide valuable networks back to their home communities,” said study author Neil G. Ruiz, Ph.D., an associate fellow of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, based in Washington, D.C. The networking can open up new sources of trade, knowledge transfer, and foreign direct investment for U.S. metro areas, Dr. Ruiz said. The foreign students also provided a valuable source of workers, especially in areas with information technology work force shortages.

Pros and cons of global reach

Dr. Wagner acknowledged that some researchers see global cooperation’s rise as a threat. “If you look at it as competition, some people see it as a threat,” she said. “Others say there’s more knowledge and information from which we can draw. That’s a benefit. I think it’s a net benefit,” she said, noting that China is nowhere near bypassing the United States in terms of quality measures.
“The Chinese establishment is known to offer incentives to scientists who publish in international journals,” she said. “They have seminars at universities on how to get published in international journals. It’s a prestige thing, for one. You’re considered to be doing worldclass science and engineering.”

Secondly, some Chinese research articles are believed to be plagiarized, Dr. Wagner said. “The pressure to put out these articles and get into these journals is so strong, and most researchers are not (native) English speaking,” she said. “An editor at an engineering journal recently said that as much as one-third of the material coming from China appears to be plagiarized. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has identified originality as a real problem for China.”

On the positive side, Dr. Wagner sees the growth of self-organized research networks as “an untold story of incredible success” for the United States. By seeding science around the world, U.S. grant funding has “done tremendous service” in enabling capacity building and problem-solving capabilities. Here’s how:

  • U.S. research funding is largely limited to U.S.-based researchers. But many of these people come from foreign countries. In her research at the Rand Corporation, Dr. Wagner identified that as many as one-third of those working internationally are cooperating with their country of origin. This provides the United States with access to key knowledge.
  • The United States has encouraged international research of enormous magnitude and import, such as the Global Seismographic Network, the International Space Station, and the Human Genome Project.
  • The United States has created the capacity for other countries’ researchers to deal with crises “on the ground,” such as earthquakes in Mexico and the Ebola virus in Africa. The United States has done so by working with institutions such as the Smithsonian, the United Nations, the World Bank, and by funding a limited amount of science at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“Together with our philanthropic institutions, we have enabled U.S. researchers to share knowledge face-to-face with colleagues around the globe. In recent years, these cooperative efforts have been furthered by the Internet and a drop in transportation costs,” Dr. Wagner said.

“We’re increasingly living in a knowledge-based economy,” she said. “The United States has helped build scientific capacity in poorer countries. We have taught them how to do engineering and science for themselves. That creates greater political stability and a basis for the other countries to build better economies, and eventually to join in the knowledge-based economy. This is a global good.”

Gender bias rears its head again

Despite the progress, research shows that a new type of gender disparity is emerging in the age of porous global boundaries. Dr. Wagner pointed out the research when she noted that the emerging global network needs policy to guide it toward greater inclusion and higher quality standards. “There’s no Global Ministry of Science,” she said. “What will it take? Get more women involved.”

Cassidy R. Sugimoto, Ph.D., assistant professor of library and information science at the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University Bloomington, has conducted extensive research showing gender disparities persisting across nearly all countries and disciplines.

Ibok Nsa Oduro, Ph.D., Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, at the 2011 symposium Seeding Labs held with the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Science and Development in Africa, with students.Dr. Sugimoto said her research stemmed from noticing that citations and other academic capital and rewards flowed to rich countries that put solid support into their research infrastructures. She gleaned that men had access to these infrastructures and other resources to a greater extent than did women.

“So I asked, ‘What are we doing about women in countries lacking the infrastructure?’” said Dr. Sugimoto, who earned her undergraduate degree in music performance before obtaining a master’s in library science and a Ph.D. in information science, all from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“We were looking at their research output — of their research publications (and) how many collaborated with people within their country and internationally,” Dr. Sugimoto said. “One academic reward is citation, and when one person is cited more than another, they’re seen as more valuable,” she noted. “Across countries, even in rich countries, women who were single authors were cited less than men. If women were the first listed author, those also were less cited. Yes, women working in the United States are cited more highly than women in poor countries. But they are less cited than men.

“These things hold across countries — women receive less capital for their work than men do,” she said.

At the same time, collaborative work with more than one author on the byline is cited more often than noncollaborative work, Dr. Sugimoto’s research found.
The bottom line is that, throughout the globe, women aren’t gaining access to star-powered networks because their work doesn’t get cited and circulated to the same extent as men’s, she said.

“I would argue that we’re a global research community, yet if one set of the population doesn’t have access to the full domain, it will hamper their ability to be productive, innovative, and to reap the rewards,” Dr. Sugimoto said. She said her theory is that the results reflect the makeup of academe: People who are older are more likely to get awards and be connected. And the “high end” of academe is still held by a small minority of men who’ve been around for a long time.

Yet, Dr. Sugimoto said she is hopeful the situation is improving, especially as more women are engaging in academic entrepreneurship. For example, women in Taiwan and Korea have the highest participation rate in applying for patents among any countries. “I’d argue all countries can achieve gender parity,” she said.

IBM’s Tanuja Ganu said she encourages young women to speak up, voice their opinions, seek out positive mentors, and focus on meaningful work issues despite any short-term failures or challenges. “It is important to find a good mentor early in one’s career and use opportunities and forums such as the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.”

Dr. Sugimoto said she is excited by the role of international funding by projects such as the “Digging into Data Challenge.” It’s a competition to develop new insights, tools, and skills in innovative humanities and social science research using large-scale data analysis, and sponsored in part by the digital humanities section of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

These programs are important because they emphasize students’ meeting one another, face-to-face, where they can then build informal social networks online, she said. “We say we have a competitive scientific work force. We need to start thinking about how we give everyone a voice in this conversation,” Dr. Sugimoto said. “That will be a more productive way forward — for racial, class, and gender disparity alleviation — rather than fighting another country.”

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