PAGE 5 OF 6
Min Han, University of Colorado at
For her part, Dan has become involved in the past 5 years in research collaborations with neuroscientists in Shanghai and has been mentoring young scientists there and at Berkeley. “A lot of really good expatriate scientists are trying to revamp the research structure at Chinese universities,” she says. “The idea is to more strongly link teaching and research.”
In addition to university reforms, similar efforts are being made to bolster Chinese Academy research, including an innovative initiative led by Dan's husband, neuroscientist Mu-ming Poo, who is also based at University of California, Berkeley. Born in China, Poo began his university studies in Taiwan and later excelled in the United States. Asked by Academy officials to assess neuroscience research in China, he advised them in 1999 to create an entirely new institute to avoid “the flawed mechanism of managing China's established scientific institutions... [which] left little room for innovation.” Poo became the founding director of the Chinese Academy's Institute of Neurosciences, which is producing high-quality research. He receives no salary and “works only on scientific aspects” of the institute, while retaining his faculty and research position at Berkeley.
“I think it's a very positive trend,” says HHMI's Tjian. “These scientists have a sense of responsibility to their native country and it's clear that China is progressively expanding its scientific presence.”
While the current trends in Chinese science are mostly headed in the right direction, expats say it will take time—as well as a continued government commitment to reform the research system—to reach the nation's potential. In the meantime, many of the older generation of China-born scientists prefer to keep their research bases in the United States.
Xu says he didn't really want to start a new institute at Fudan but was convinced to proceed because “it was a priority for the Chinese. I like it because the research is connected with a university, which is unusual for China.” With the advent of teleconferencing and high-speed Internet in China, he finds that he can “accomplish our goals with fewer trips back and forth” between New Haven and Shanghai.
Like his Fudan institute colleague, Han opted—for family as well as professional reasons—to limit his China commitment, despite entreaties from Chinese officials to move back. “I regard the U.S. as my main base for research,” he says, “but that doesn't mean that you can't make contributions to Chinese science.”
Han says, “I see changes in both directions—good and bad” in Chinese science. For example, the dramatic increases in the number of Chinese science students are placing heavy burdens on faculty. “Every lab tends to have way too many students. And there are serious ethics problems that result from the pressure to produce lots of papers.”
Wang is optimistic as he prepares for his move to Beijing, saying that China's economic success is freeing up tremendous resources for research. “Young people have an easier time getting grants in China today than in the U.S.,” he says. Also, those students “treat scientific research as a privilege. If a merit-based system takes root, these young people will get great opportunities and excel.”
Poo agrees that, “as more scientists return to China after successful post-docs in the U.S., the quality of Chinese research will continue to improve.” But
he cautions that “the new traditions of
high-quality science have yet to become
established at most of the Chinese research
institutes. My concern is that most institutions need to move more quickly in the
direction of merit-based resource allocation and promotion. Rigorous review of the
research performance of individual scientists rarely happens, and the outcome of the
reviews, if they were carried out, rarely has
Photo: Han: Carmel Zucker