There is always a lot of talk about “brain drain” (fuga di cervelli in Italian) from my country. I keep on reading disgruntled comments of low pays and poor research, and that going abroad is the only solution for an Italian scientist to be successful.
While I believe that research done outside of my country can be handled better (but it’s impossible to know for sure: never tar everyone with the same brush), I think that, also thanks to the way the media and the scientists themselves handle it, in everyone’s view it has almost become like the El Dorado. And that, in my opinion, is incorrect.
Research suffers everywhere from the publish or perish syndrome. This is even more true abroad, where results need to be presented fast in order to keep funding. Especially in high profile areas, such as stem cell research, this leads to a large amount of competition. Competition by itself isn’t bad, but at certain levels everyone acts with the principle “mors tua, vita mea” (Latin for “your death is my life”). This also (as far as I can tell in my experience) also raises the risk of sloppy work, not because of lack of skill, but because of rushing.
Also, a disturbing trend I saw when talking with a few people working in different parts of Europe is how everyone assumes that you don’t work to live, but live to work. It’s true, biology will never be a “clear cut” work hour job, but my impression is that a lot of people are overworked, and almost encouraged in having no bonds that aren’t inside the laboratory/institute. Increases efficiency, indeed. But what about the rest? Do we want to see more EA spouses in biology?
Note, I’m not saying that working abroad is the worst thing that could happen to mankind, but simply putting into light some details that are often overlooked. And it’s not like something like this does not happen here, as well.
Finally, some thoughts. If everyone leaves here, how can the quality of research improve? Choosing to work in Italy can be a difficult decision (I made this decision out of personal matters) but I believe you can do high-quality research here, despite all the (objective) troubles the system has. It’s just that the neighbors’ grass is always greener…