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Opinion: Training home and away

China's graduate stipend programs offer great opportunities for students and host institutions, but some of the programs' publication requirements may need amending

By | January 25, 2011

International collaborations and training are key components of modern science. Thus travel stipends have become a central ingredient of all funding systems across the planet. Over the past decade, Chinese granting agencies and universities have initiated programs that support this trend by funding graduate students to train in labs all over the world for up to two years during their thesis.
Image: Flickr, linkurl:lanchongzi;http://www.flickr.com/photos/lanchongzi/3678120064/
This stipend system represents not only a great opportunity for students, who learn new technologies and improve the fluency in a foreign language, but for the host institution too, since many of the students are outstanding and perform extraordinarily well. There is, however, one issue with the stipend system relating to the publications the students accrue while studying at another institution. As is the rule in many places, the Chinese PhD students are expected to publish a couple of scientific papers as part of their qualification for their degree. While I strongly believe that a defined number of publications should not be a criterion for graduation (the more important measure is the quality of the work), this is certainly beyond the horizon of the issues discussed here. The concern I have with the stipends is that, in order for work published abroad to count towards this requirement, some Chinese universities expect that the students are listed with their home institution as affiliation, in some cases even as the lead institution, in any papers published during the program. This is good practice if the thesis work is part of a real collaboration with the Chinese laboratory, and a negotiation of the terms of publications occurs before the stipend is approved. But in other cases, it may be less appropriate. The order of affiliations, as is the case for the authorship order, will depend on the relative contribution to the project -- the lead affiliation should be the one where most of the work was done. For example, in the case of a two-week visit, only the home institution should be listed. In the case of a two year stay, on the other hand, if the student works on topics unrelated to the interest of their home institution and there is no prior agreement regarding publications, the funding agency or institution would be most appropriately listed in the Acknowledgements. Indeed, the students are frequently co-funded by the host institution, as the stipends -- around US$10-16,000 -- are often not enough to cover the living and research expenses in high cost areas. While the stipend may seem very generous from the Chinese perspective, it may barely cover rent in areas with extremely high costs of living, such as the London, Zürich, New York or the Bay Area. Thus the host institution sometimes contributes to the income of the guest students, and often covers the cost for equipment and consumables. Like the Chinese institutions' contributions in form of the stipend, these items can be mentioned in the Acknowledgements. Even if they fund little more than basic living costs, some Chinese universities argue that the student cannot graduate if their home institution is not listed as an affiliation but only acknowledged for funding, even in cases where there is no intellectual input into the project. This policy makes the students hostages of a policy that is prone to create conflicts. An ideal solution would be to limit the stipends predominantly for true collaborations. Alternatively, the stipends could be used just for training where unrelated projects or clearly divided parts of thesis are pursued. In these cases, the acknowledgement of the funding body should be restricted to the Acknowledgement section of the manuscript. At a minimum, the institutions involved should negotiate such terms prior to the students' acceptance into a host program, a practice not in place in the current system. I commend the Chinese government and Chinese institutions for their generous support of students by stipends, but hope that the affiliation policy can be amended. Many colleagues here have expressed their concerns and some have indicated that they will no longer accept students if this policy is not changed. This would be an unfortunate outcome of a brilliant concept with a few minor flaws. I bring this up not to offend anyone, but to make all scientists aware of potential issues, to prevent additional headaches for students, and to solve a potential conflict that may cast a shadow over some of the relationships. linkurl:Wolf B. Frommer;http://f1000.com/thefaculty/member/279445898313588 is Director of the Department of Plant Biology at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, Calif., and a F1000 Member since 2001.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Best Places to Work : Postdocs 2009;http://www.the-scientist.com/2009/03/1/47/1/
[March 2009]*linkurl:Science goes to China;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/home/53133/
[May 2007]*linkurl:Are we training too many scientists?;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/home/24540/
[September 2006]
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Comments

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

January 25, 2011

I agree 100%. As a mentor of a China-sponsored student, I am faced with the requirement that I too find quite offensive to the general scientific etiquette. \n\nI am all for promoting international exchanges of scientific training experiences, and have hosted one student, but will not accept more in the future unless this practice is corrected.
Avatar of: Mike Waldrep

Mike Waldrep

Posts: 155

January 25, 2011

Interesting!
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

January 25, 2011

Why is the US providing any funds for these students? As a tax payer I am offended. China has a very robust economy and can afford to fully fund their students. Why should the US take funding opportunities away from US citizens to financially help Chinese students? One more case where we shoot ourselves in the foot.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

January 25, 2011

I fell that most of the labs getting internatioanl students not for the purpose of training internatioanl students or promoting international exchanges, rather, because they can't find qualified hard-workking Americans to do the PH.D. work for the lab. \n\nTo be frank, this is not the issue of "...the US take funding opportunities away from US citizens to financially help Chinese students", rather, it is "the US PI takes advantage of high quality, well trained, hard-working cheap labors from China".
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 3

January 25, 2011

I agree completely with the author's suggestions regarding changing the publication requirements for Chinese students on travel stipends. Authorship, and order of authorship, can often be thorny issues, especially with the somewhat feudal, unequally power arrangement between mentors and students. This publication issue just makes things that much more complicated. However, I completely disagree with the comment below saying that no US money should be used to support foreign [Chinese] students. I assure you, graduate students routinely work 50-60 hours per week for very little pay. All intellectual property and data are the property of the PI and/or institution. Comparable work performed by a laboratory technician could cost as much as US$40K or more per year plus benefits. We [the US taxpayer] definitely 'get our money's worth,' while supporting international collaboration and great science.
Avatar of: Ting Wang

Ting Wang

Posts: 15

January 25, 2011

I think this issue arose from the fact that both US and China pay much attention to the publication. I disagree with the author in his view that China institution should be listed in acknowledgement in a publication on the gound that China funds less or contributes little to the intelectual aspect. It is celear that China institution provides the opportunity for a student to be trained in other lab at the cost of an intelectual even though he/she is a PhD student but who often does great work.
Avatar of: Fred Schaufele

Fred Schaufele

Posts: 52

January 25, 2011

Let's see. Student is enrolled at Institution X and takes a sabbatical at Institution Y in any country or within the same country. Student is bringing salary support associated with Institution X although the host lab in Institution Y is paying the research costs and, in some cases, even supplementing the student's salary. \n\nI am confused. Is it not obvious that the subsequent manuscript lists each author's affiliation for which the visiting student is listed at being affilitiated with both X and Y?Where's the controversy? \n-Does the stipend preclude the student from listing both affilitiations? That certainly would be wrong.\n-Does the author of the complaint feel that only the host institution should be listed? That also would be wrong, particularly when it appears that this was stated upfront prior to the acceptance of the student at Institution Y. Let's not get as territorial as the reader who, earlier in the comment trail, rants about keeping Chinese students out of America. \n\nScience is an international endeavor. The success of science is catalyzed in no small part by the borderless exchange of ideas. In terms of the issues we have to deal with as scientists, I can't think of anything much more trivial than full disclosure of the institutions that an author is affiliated with.
Avatar of: PAUL STEIN

PAUL STEIN

Posts: 61

January 26, 2011

While gaining foreign graduate students does supply many struggling American institutions with funds, those students do need to end up somewhere upon graduation. While twenty to thirty years ago that place was the United States, this is no longer the case. The vast majority are now repatriated and are being funding by their own institutions through the money from massive imbalances in trade to compete hard in every way in which the United States is a leader. Sort of national penny-wise pound-foolish.

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