I was asked today in a radio interview if I was concerned about the ‘brain drain’ of Australian scientific talent from our universities and medical research institutes to destinations around the world. I was glad to have been asked this question as it highlights the prevalence of one-way-local-thinking that is detrimental to science. I do not subscribe to the common ‘brain drain’ rant and we need to stop this local bullshit that is frankly holding our scientists back.
I’m not concerned in fact I’m very proud of the many Australians that are scattered around the world in some of the most prestigious institutes and companies. These Australians are building networks, making a name for themselves and for Australia. Many of them do come back and many more don’t, but that does not mean that Australia looses an opportunity or a ‘brain’ every time one flies out of the country.
Science is a global industry and researchers are developing technologies for the world. We do not have everything we need in Australia to ensure every local break-through has a commercial or clinical opportunity to make it to the market or bedside. Scientists gain significant experience and expertise by collaborating with other laboratories and in the world of science, collaboration is a powerful accelerator.
It is probably a surprise to know that Australia actually has a significant ‘brain gain’.
Scientific American World Wide View, published in June, ranks Australia as 4th in the world for biotech (up from 7th place last year) and ranks Australia in the top 5 destinations in the world for ‘brain gain’. Brain gain is defined as biomed/biotech students electing to study outside their country of origin. This is a huge success story for Australian tertiary education and in particular the field of biomed and biotechnology. It’s also likely to be a story about how great it is to live and study in Australia in terms of quality education and quality of life. http://www.saworldview.com/scorecard/education-workforce/
For people working in the commercialisation of technologies, we will never find enough (anywhere near enough) investors in Australia. These companies will always need to look offshore for money and expertise to bring products to market. Australia is great at early phase clinical trials but as drug candidates and medtech prototypes near phase III, Australian companies and individuals need to explore international opportunities to realise the value and quality of clinical investigations.
What Australia needs is to do is to continue to develop our young scientific talent arriving from local and international destinations. The universities and research institutes in Victoria do an outstanding job of providing a first-class education, particularly in biomed and biotech. Australia needs to revise its attitude to Australians kicking goals abroad and to celebrate their successes, basking in their reflected glory, rather than making them feel guilty for moving away. We need to keep in contact with our international superstars and exploit the networks they have developed for graduates and post docs coming after them. Australian science will never succeed in a vacuum and we need to recognise that Australian success stories are still success stories in California, Beijing or in Melbourne.