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For research, Europe is the place to be

The EU stand at the AAAS 2013 in Boston. © Horizon Magazine
The EU stand at the AAAS 2013 in Boston. © Horizon Magazine

With the ‘Destination Europe’ initiative, the European Union is trying to attract new brains from around the world. The message is clear: research and innovation culture in Europe is vibrant and exciting. Alan Leshner, Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), agrees. ‘Europe is developing a coherent research area,’ he said during the annual meeting of the AAAS. ‘And good science anywhere is good for science everywhere.’ 

The AAAS annual meetings offer the perfect opportunity for the European Commission to showcase its leading labs, well-established and prestigious programmes, and the excellent working conditions available to researchers who decide to pursue their career in the EU.

‘Europe is open for business, open for innovation, open for research and open for researchers’ according to the Commission, which, of course, also presented in greater detail its flagship programmes aimed at direct support for researchers. Just to mention a few: the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, grants from the European Research Council, the EURAXESS-Researchers in Motion initiative, whose pillar 'EURAXESS Links' was launched in 2006 in the US, and the ‘Destination Europe’ campaign specifically aimed at talent that might consider working in Europe.

‘But is Europe an interesting place to carry out research for non-European scientists?’ Horizon Magazine asked this straightforward question to some participants at the AAAS meeting, which took place last February in Boston.

‘When you do research, you should not be confined to one area. The advantage of tackling the same kind of problems in several places in the world is that you have different people, different cultures, different thoughts…It is the interaction between these different people that creates new ideas.’

Kirollos Abdel Shahied, Student at the University of California, Irvine

‘I did research at King’s College in London, last summer,’ said Nicole Hernandez from the University of California, Irvine. ‘In Europe, it is so easy to get around and to connect with researchers from other countries. That is valuable.’

‘That’s a good point indeed’, said Kirollos Abdel Shahied, a student at the same Californian university, who also spent some time in London. ‘When you do research, you should not be confined to one area. The advantage of tackling the same kind of problems in several places in the world is that you have different people, different cultures, different thoughts… It is the interaction between these different people that creates new ideas. Research in Europe is as groundbreaking as that carried out here .’

Sarah Rugheimer, a PhD student from Harvard University, has spent three months at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. In her eyes, it is chiefly the cultural differences that make Europe so interesting for scientists.

But it is another aspect of the research policy in Europe that interests Shalin Mehta. This scientist from the Marine Biological Lab in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, is keen on microscopy. ‘Leading enterprises in the world in this field are based in Germany,’ he said. ‘And we have ongoing collaborations with them. What is interesting in Europe is that research is quite connected to the market. That makes it attractive.’

Eleanor Kirby has not been to Europe yet. At the AAAS meeting she visited the EU booth in order to find out more about what Europe has to offer to researchers. Her perception of Europe is that there is a genuine dedication to research in European culture.

>Prof. Dirk Helbing, chair of Sociology at ETH Zürich, Switzerland, also attended the AAAS meeting this year. He agreed with the young scientists that showed an interest in the EU. ‘One of our main advantages is our diversity,’ he said. ‘And we have to capitalise on this diversity to reverse the brain drain.’

‘We have to make sure that we have an influx of scientists from around the world and that our European scientists do not leave Europe for too long a time,’ he added. ‘It is good to carry out some of your research elsewhere, but then you should come back.’

‘Lots of interesting research is going on in Europe,’ said Peter Whitehead of the US National Science Foundation. And regarding the funding, he added: ‘I have the impression that these budgets are more stable in the long-term .’

Akshay Mohan, a fellow from the World Economic Forum, agreed. ‘There is a great degree of coherence between the economic agenda and the value of science, technology and innovation . From that perspective, I think Europe is a great place for doing research.’

Research in Europe - Some figures

Europe accounts for just 7 % of the world’s population, but is responsible for 24 % of world expenditure on research, 32 % of high impact publications, and 32 % of patent applications.

Among the various tools the EU has developed to foster the mobility of researchers, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions are one of the most important. These ‘Funding Opportunities in Europe for Creative Minds from Anywhere in the World’ have supported, since their launch in 1996, some 65 000 researchers from 130 countries.

In total, 355 American researchers have been funded by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions since 2007, when FP7 was launched.

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