Doing Your Research in China: Where's the Money?


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live and work in another country? Would you be able to learn the language? Do the laboratories look any different from the one you work in now? Do the students and postdocs grapple with the same issues you do? Would working abroad enrich you as an individual? Would it further your career?

If you've ever seriously considered these questions, chances are that the next question is, where would you ever find the money to go and find out?

Fortunately, opportunities abound for the scientist seeking a change of scenery. Here, in this part of Next Wave's feature on scientific exchange with China, we highlight fellowships and grants that include funds to do research in that country.

All levels of junior scientists, from undergraduate student to new faculty member, are eligible for travel and living expenses funding to work on collaborative research projects initiated by a principal investigator under the International Opportunities for Scientists and Engineers Program. This is an umbrella program covering groups of National Science Foundation (NSF) grants for technical professionals to work in various countries. When asked why he thought U.S. scientists should venture to China early in their careers, Bill Chang, administrative contact for travel grants to China in the East Asia and Pacific Program, related that "it is very important for somebody young in their career to see what other opportunities are out there and to see conditions that are [different from those] in the U.S." Chang went on to emphasize the mutual benefits of international cooperation: "When there are global networks, better science is coming out." Funding is provided for scientists to establish new U.S.-China collaborations; however, investigators who have collaborated in the past can still be funded if they have a new project to share. Other activities, such as workshops and planning visits, may also be supported. Up to 40 grants will be awarded to U.S.-China teams. Applications are accepted at any time for projects in those areas of science and engineering that are normally within the scope of NSF's objectives.

Postdocs have a few other choices when it comes to fellowships supporting exchange with China. The NSF's International Research Fellowship Program (IRFP), which has been offered since the 1980s, allows postdocs who are within 6 months of receiving their Ph.D.s to conduct research in any field of science or engineering that is normally funded by the NSF. Fellows can spend a portion of the funded period in the U.S., but money is also available for return trips for professional business, such as for conferences and job interviews. Travel, living expenses, and health insurance are included for the fellows, as well as for their dependents, according to Program Manager Susan Parris. Support for language training may be requested. The stay in the host country may last from 3 months to 2 years. NSF accepts 20 to 30 fellows per year, with awards averaging $60,000 each. Applications for fellowships starting in 2001 are due November 15, 2000. In subsequent years, the deadline will be November 1.

The NIH-Fogarty postdoctoral award, called the International Research Scientist Development Award (IRSDA), will be offered again next year, and a new announcement will be issued later this month, with a deadline in January or February 2001. IRSDA postdocs have two formal mentors, one from China and one from the U.S. And unlike the NSF IRFP fellowship, the IRSDA program requires the research proposal to cover a 3-year course of study addressing health disparities between developed and developing countries. Up to 12 months of the IRSDA time may, in fact, be spent in the U.S., and once the postdoc has obtained a faculty position, the award can be renewed. The goal of the program is to form lasting international collaborations that will continue once the fellow is a principal investigator with a lab of their own. Travel and health insurance, in addition to living expenses, are provided for the fellow and accompanying dependents for at least 6 months.

Funds targeted to graduate and undergraduate students are also available. Along with being able to travel to China as part of their principal investigator's collaboration under the NSF's International Opportunities for Scientists and Engineers Program described earlier, they can apply for their own support from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which was recently profiled in GrantsNet. A number of disciplines, including the sciences, may be studied by U.S. citizens in a country of their choice. The 2001 deadline for the Fulbright China program is fast approaching--October 25, 2000--so get your materials together soon!

Another interesting opportunity comes from the Henry Luce Foundation. Although the Luce Scholars Program, started in 1974, is not intended for independent research leading to a Ph.D. degree, awardees can take a year to visit China or another eligible Asian country and work in a laboratory while learning about the customs of their host country. Almost any field of study may be pursued by a Luce Scholar. But because the program's objective is to open the eyes of American students to the cultural experience of living in an Asian country, one rather unusual requirement is that scholars have little or no background in Asian studies. This is in stark contrast to most other programs, where exposure to the culture of a host country is usually an asset. Prospective scholars must apply through participating institutions, must already have a bachelor's degree, and must be 29 years old or younger when the program begins.

Next Wave has only scratched the surface in highlighting these few grants; as you'll see from the other stories in this feature, there are plenty of other funding opportunities out there for scientists who are curious about life on the other side of the world.

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