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Wanted: More Scientists For Japan

WASHINGTON—"There are resources that are going begging.” That’s how Charles Owens, section head in the National Science Foundation’s division of international programs, describes NSF’s efforts to send more United States scientists to Japan. For the past two years NSF, armed with $4.8 million and the moral support of the Japanese government, has offered language, fellowship, and research op- portunities in that country. The goal is to remove the barriers that make

Oct 16, 1989
Elizabeth Pennisi

WASHINGTON—"There are resources that are going begging.” That’s how Charles Owens, section head in the National Science Foundation’s division of international programs, describes NSF’s efforts to send more United States scientists to Japan. For the past two years NSF, armed with $4.8 million and the moral support of the Japanese government, has offered language, fellowship, and research op- portunities in that country. The goal is to remove the barriers that make U.S. scientists reluctant to spend time abroad, especially in Japan (The Scientist, Feb. 8, 1988, page 8).

But so far the agency’s efforts have failed to fill more than half the available slots for U.S. scientists to visit Japan, even though that country promises to be an influential player in big science.

“Americans are so single-language in their training that they are unwilling to pay the price” to prepare for a stint as a researcher in Japan, says Dale Oxender, director of the Center for Molecular Genetics at the University of Michigan.

“There’s no professional reward for doing science in Japan if you are not Japanese,” adds Richard Samuels, a political scientist who runs a program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to prepare researchers to work with the Japanese. As a result, he says, U.S. postdoctoral fellows are afraid they won’t be able to get jobs when they finish their assignment in Japan. NSF will send scientists to a national conference of their choice when they return, but Oxender thinks NSF should also pay for travel across the Pacific during the fellowship so that researchers can keep in touch with their colleagues and with job opportunities.

At least one state is considering steps to bring U.S. scientists back into the mainstream after their tour in Japan. Universities in that state, which Owens declined to identify, hope to offer one year’s support to biotechnology scientists after they return from their NSF-sponsored year in Japan. And an NSF workshop cohosted by the American Electronics Association netted a promise from one U.S. electrical company to recruit alumni of the NSF Japan Initiative program. For more information, contact the Japan Initiative, Room 1208, Division of International Programs, NSF, Washington, D.C. 20550; (202) 357-9558.

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