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The Economics of University Lab Science and the Role of Foreign Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars

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  1. The Economics of University Lab Science and the Role of Foreign Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars Grant Black Indiana University at South Bend Paula Stephan Georgia State University and NBER October 2008

  2. Overview • Universities play important role in knowledge production. • In US, 74% of all articles (fractional counts) produced in academe.

  3. Much of this work is of a collaborative nature • University research is generally done in labs and there is collaboration across labs. • One indication of collaborative nature of research is that the average number of coauthors on papers in S&E grew from 2.8 to about 4.2 during the 18 year period 1981-1999 (Adams et al).

  4. Focus of Paper • Document presence and importance of graduate students and postdocs in academic science • Our focus: foreign-born • Do this by examining authorship patterns of articles published in past year in Science

  5. Plan of Presentation • Provide overview of way in which university research is financed and structured. • Summarize trends in proportion of foreign-born among PhD recipients and postdoctoral scholars • Examine publication patterns for six months of articles appearing in Science • Explore ethnicity of coauthors by applying an ethnic-name database to infer nativity.

  6. University Labs • Who staffs them? • How are they funded? • How are they structured?

  7. Structure of University Labs • Generally “belong” to a faculty member (PI)—common to name lab for the faculty member. • Start up money and space comes from the dean; • PI generally must find funding to support the lab within a three year period: this includes funding for the members of the lab, equipment and PI salary support. • Last name on article is generally that of the PI. • First name did heavy lifting

  8. Funding comes from • University • Private sector • Non-profits • Government • NIH, DOD and DOE; also NSF

  9. Restrictions on funding • Some funding carries restrictions on citizenship: NIH training grants; DOD • Most funding does not.

  10. Who Staffs Labs: Example • 415 labs affiliated with a nanotech center • Average lab has 12 technical staff, excluding PI • 50% are graduate students; 16% are postdocs and 10% are undergraduates; other 24% are staff scientists, technicians, etc.

  11. Common for Faculty and Labs to Have Web Pages Not Like This But More Like this Bill Kerr: HBS Alex Pines and Group: Berkeley Chemistry

  12. And Sometimes Christine White and Group: U. of Illinois, chemistry

  13. Included • Summary of research • Names of members of lab and their status: • Postdoc • Graduate student • Undergraduate student • Staff Scientist, etc.

  14. Who are these graduate students and postdocs? • Large and growing percent of both graduate students and postdocs are in U.S. on temporary visas. • Top four undergraduate institutions for those earning PhDs in U.S. are now: Tsinghua University, Peking University, Berkeley, and Seoul National University.

  15. PhDs Awarded in S&E by Visa Status

  16. Can Infer Working on Research by Examining Support of Graduate Students on Temporary Visas

  17. Number of Foreign S&E Posdocs by Field, Academe

  18. Summary • Large number of graduate students and posdocs involved in university research • Growing percent are here on temporary visas • At same time, growing number of authors on articles. • We want to investigate degree to which these authors are graduate students and postdocs as well as ethnicity of the authors.

  19. Study of Articles in Science • Collect data for 22 issues—Nov. 2, 2007 to May 2, 2008. • Restrict analysis to papers with last author affiliated with U.S. academic institution.

  20. Choose Science • Multidisciplinary • Leading journal • Highly selective: 6.6% acceptance rate in 2007 • Fast turnaround time

  21. Descriptives • 318 articles • 159 for which last author has U.S. academic affiliation • 69 different U.S. academic institutions • Usual suspects • Also some lesser known: Minnesota State Mankato, Franklin and Marshall, U. of Southern Mississippi, and Georgia Southern U.

  22. For Each Author • Authorship position • Job description • Location • Whether in same lab as PI • For articles having fewer than 10 authors (133), we record information for all authors. • For articles having more than 10 authors, we record information for first and last author.

  23. Authors Leave Big Footprints • 585 authors in U.S. (10 author or less sample) • Can determine position of 550 (94%)

  24. Authorship Patterns U.S. Articles with Fewer than 10 authors

  25. Summary of Authors/papers (less than 10 authors) • Almost one out of two of the coauthors (45.6/%) was a postdoc, student or recent alum of the program. • 115 (86.5%) of this class of papers had either a current postdoc or student as one of the authors. • Five of 18 papers that have neither are either singly authored or have only one U.S. author.

  26. First Authors: N=137

  27. Summary First Author • Postdocs and graduate students play a huge role: • 73.7% of 137 first authors who are U.S. and whose position is known are either postdocs or a student.

  28. Citizenship of Authors • No way of knowing citizenship from web; don’t have resources for a survey • Instead follow approach used by Bill Kerr, drawing on same ethnic-name database that he used. • Exploits idea that authors with “the surnames of Chang or Wang are likely of Chinese ethnicity, those with surnames Rodriguez or Martinez of Hispanic ethnicity and so on.”

  29. Limitations of Approach • If Asian and Hispanic names are classified as being foreign, technique will overcount foreign representation, given number of U.S. citizens with Asian and Hispanic names. • On other hand, If English and European names are used to classify individuals as “native,” the native count will be overstated, given number of European, English and Canadian students and postdocs in U.S.

  30. Extent of Bias • In paper we explore the extent of the bias based on ethnicity of individuals receiving PhDs in U.S. who are U.S. citizens compared to country of origin of PhD recipients on temporary visas. • We believe two types of “biases” approximately cancel each other out • Means that we will get fairly reasonable counts for non-citizen PhD students by classifying English and European as “native” and all others as foreign. • Undercounts we believe non-citizens among postdoctorates.

  31. Ethnicity of U.S. Authors, Papers with less than 10 authors

  32. Ethnicity by Position: Papers with Less than 10 Authors

  33. Ethnicity by Position: Papers with less than 10 authors

  34. Ethnicity by Position: First Author

  35. Ethnicity by Position: First Author

  36. Summary: Role of Foreign Students or Postdocs • 70 of the 133 papers (53%) with fewer than 10 authors have foreign student or postdoc as a coauthor. • Represents 60% of the 115 papers that have either a student or a postdoc as author. • 60% of graduate student first authors are “foreign;” 54% of postdoc first authors are “foreign.

  37. Bottom Line • Graduate students and postdocs play a major role in staffing labs and in coauthoring papers. • Many are “foreign.” • Norm, not exception, to have international student or postdoc as a coauthor in papers published in Science. • Prominent role as first authors shows that foreign-born not only staff labs but also play leading role in university research.

  38. Policy Implications • Long known that foreign-born play important role in U.S. science and engineering. • Much of this work focuses on role of faculty and those working in industry. • Here we focus on role played as graduate students and postdocs. • Appears indisputable from this research that foreign-born graduate students and postoctral fellows play important role.

  39. What Would Happen to University Science if They Did Not Come? • Do foreign born displace U.S. students and postdocs? • Difficult to answer, but for native students some agreement: • Natives, especially males, respond to opportunities when choosing a career. • Choice of career responds to relative value of stipend.

  40. Also Agreement that • Opportunities for foreign born are increasing • In other countries • In home country • Foreign born have faced problems in U.S. after 9/11

  41. Suggests • If supply of foreign-born were to decline could increase number of U.S. students choosing careers in S&E by changing incentives.

  42. Two issues not addressed • Whether demand for “lab workers” will persist • Whether staffing labs with graduate students and postdocs is a policy that should continue.

  43. Technology of discovery is changing; Capital labor-ratio may change.

  44. Staffing Labs • U.S. penchant to staff labs with graduate students and postdocs has often led to growing supply in fields where demand has not always been that strong for positions after training. • Time to rethink this policy; • There are alternative ways to staff labs; one is to use more research dollars to support staff scientists.