One of my favourite things about academia is its international nature. I've been lucky enough to be part of three very multinational labs, and have shared bench and office space with people from all over the world.
(This map represents the nationalities of my immediate current and former academic colleagues only - adding in friends from other labs and departments would fill in most of the rest of Europe).
This work environment has benefited me personally - I've tried food and drinks I never would have come across without an introduction from my colleagues, I've learned (and forgotten) snippets of lots of different languages, I've discussed Iranian and Russian and Israeli and Indian politics with natives of those countries, I've heard some hilarious Greek jokes and Russian toasts, and the world cup and other international sporting events are always a hoot. Mr E Man and his friends appreciate it, too - they've all known each other since high school**, and love hanging out with my more diverse set of friends from time to time.
I believe that the multinational approach to research has also benefited my supervisors, if their publication records are any guide. Their international trainees have done and are still doing some truly world-class research, and every department I've worked in has had a very warm and welcoming atmosphere. I'm not usually one to blow my own trumpet so overtly, but my former PI asked me to check the reference she wrote as part of my Permanent Residence application, and she specifically stated that after hiring me, she was pro-actively trying to recruit other British postdocs - and she has in fact hired two more since then.
So it bugs me when I read blog posts like the recent email conversation between DrugMonkey and PhysioProf that imply it's only worth hiring US postdocs. Although this isn't the first time I've heard this kind of thing from PhysioProf, it's a little unfair to single him out when this attitude is so wide-spread, both in the blogosphere and (from my own experiences, and inferring from the statement in that post that "In my field, newly-minted PhDs from US universities have their pick of good post-docs") in real life, too.
Yes, US science is fantastic, widely regarded as the best in the world. Yes, that's why so many foreign researchers seek to undertake part or all of their training there. Yes, that's (probably) why so few US trainees spend time in foreign labs. (And yes, the scientific blogosphere is overwhelmingly American - both its authorship and its readership - and yes, it's completely natural for that (dare I say) bias to spill over into its content and discussions).
But you know what? The rest of the world is also doing some fantastic science. I know that it's possible to cherry-pick statistics, but the fact that the UK has the best ratio of citations to public spending is no small matter. And it's just my own national bias in reading material bringing that particular example to the forefront of my mind at this time - great science (and great scientific training) is being done all over the world.
Sure, it's easier to judge the calibre of a serious applicant*** to your lab when you already know the reputation of their institute and (probably, for post-doc applicants) their supervisor. But is it really so difficult to determine the quality of a foreign institution? A ten-second Google search just now brought up the Google College Rankings site - "an independent project to rank colleges and universities worldwide" - among many other similar sites. Or ask one of your colleagues who comes from that country. And shouldn't an applicant's publication record speak for itself? A phone interview would also be revealing, surely.
The comment thread on the DrugMonkey Blog post I linked to has started to address this issue. Obviously not every PI will seek to exclude foreign trainees, and some may even prefer them. But I feel that PIs who don't consider non-US applicants are missing out.
I know their other trainees are.
*My boss's paper was the cover story and image in last week's Nature - how cool is that??!!
**If you're lucky enough to be born and/or raised here, there's really no reason to ever leave.
***I say serious applicant because I'm aware of the phenomenon of generic spammy emails sent to every PI possible. I mean, I get them myself, and I'm nowhere near being a PI.