Friday, October 20, 2017

Chinese Ph.D.s not coming to the US?

Also in this week's C&EN, a very interesting article from Jean-Fran├žois Tremblay:
For the past 30 years or so, postdoctoral researchers from China have played an important role in chemistry research groups at universities in the U.S. Many research groups feature one or more graduates from Chinese universities who are in the U.S. to further their knowledge. But the supply of Chinese researchers is starting to dry up. 
Hao-liang Zhang, a soon-to-be graduate who has focused on glycosylation during his doctoral studies at Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry (SIOC), offers a perspective typical of graduating Ph.D.s regarding the pursuit of a postdoc in the U.S. 
“I would be older when I return to China, and probably less attractive to potential employers,” says Zhang, who hails from the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan. On the other hand, he can work in China right away and live close to his home too. A pharmaceutical company based in Chengdu, Sichuan, approached him recently. “The talks went well, and they offered me an attractive salary.” Zhang will relocate to Chengdu soon after defending his thesis next month.
The relevant data from the article: 
No one tracks the number of Chinese nationals doing a chemistry postdoc in the U.S. The U.S. National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science & Engineering Statistics does, however, count how many Chinese students who obtain a chemistry Ph.D. in the U.S. plan to stay in the country for a postdoc. By 2015, that number had dropped by 30% from 2005.
If you click through to the article, you will see in the graph that the number of Chinese Ph.D. graduates in the US who stay have gone from above 150 to around 110 or so. (That number seems awfully low to me, but maybe I'm wrong.)

I thought the comment from the SIOC professor was interesting:
More importantly, many young Chinese Ph.D. chemists no longer see the point of a foreign postdoc, Yang says. Ten or 15 years ago, “postdocs would go to work in world-class labs far better equipped than the ones in China,” he says. “But now, if they search outside China, they cannot find many labs that are better equipped.”... 
...SIOC, meanwhile, has essentially rebuilt all its buildings and retooled its laboratories over the past decade. Students and faculty now work in new and extremely well-equipped facilities. 
“Of course, we are focused only on organic chemistry,” says Biao Yu, a deputy director at SIOC. “But from what I myself saw, and from the reports of our students who are now in the U.S., we are better equipped than most of the U.S. Ivy League universities,” he says. When he was a student at SIOC in the 1990s, the institute had only two nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers. Today, the institute has 30.
That's a lot of NMRs!

I think it will be interesting to see if the trends shift, and which levels of Chinese industry and academia will be influenced by staff who have spent their time in the United States (and other research-intensive nations) and those who have been solely domestically trained. Which generation will be more influential in driving the course of Chinese chemistry? 


  1. I wonder if the trend will reverse? Meaning, American wanting to do Post-doc going to China for science and living? I am not holding my breath.

    1. I (as I'm sure many) know some Americans who have PDFed in Japan, but have never heard of this being done in the PRC of India. I'm sure it must have happened. Unsure how great it would be for one's career, but gosh it'd be interesting.

    2. Based purely on a vacation to Shanghai, I felt very much like (and still do) want to spend some time living and working there. It is a fascinating place, and full of things to do and the most incredible food. However, the work culture there is quite tough and probably a nightmare for post docs.

    3. I've been to China a few times. Can't say I would want to live there - the unbelievably bad air pollution (even the inside of the Beijing airport terminal is hazy) and the internet censorship are just too much.

  2. How could you possibly need 30 NMRs? The cynic in me thinks that it's 30 NMRs for the sake of having (and saying that you have!) 30 NMRs, but I guess the much larger population of China makes it feasible that there would be that many researchers?

    1. Taken from their website:
      "The institute has a staff of over 800, including 9 CAS academicians and 176 research fellows and engineers at the professor or associate professor level. Two of its researchers are participants in the national Thousands Talent Program, 23 are participants in the national Thousand Young Talents Program, 36 are participants in CAS’s Hundred Talents Program, and 23 are recipients of the Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) National Outstanding Young Scientists Award. SIOC is also home to three innovation teams sponsored by the NSFC. In addition, the institute has 581 graduate students and 48 postdoctoral fellows."

    2. Oh wow, I guess they do need that many NMRs!

  3. An anecdote: A Chinese co-worker (PhD+5) recently quit our Fortune 100 company and moved back to China. He did not line up a job before leaving, but was confident that he'd land an academic position in Shanghai. His perspective was that there were just too many exciting things happening over there right now to miss out on. I'm going to ping him in a few months to see how that job search went - way too risky for my blood!


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20