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EU researchers in US want stronger ties with Europe, finds ERA-Link survey

A wide-ranging survey of European researchers based in the United States has revealed that almost all are keen to increase their contacts with researchers and scientific organisations in Europe. According to the Commission's own statistics, in 1999 there were an estimated 85,...

A wide-ranging survey of European researchers based in the United States has revealed that almost all are keen to increase their contacts with researchers and scientific organisations in Europe. According to the Commission's own statistics, in 1999 there were an estimated 85,000 EU-born science and technology (S&T) workers living in the US. The premise behind the 'European Researchers Abroad (ERA) Link' initiative is that while they are no longer physically based in Europe, the Commission views these researchers as a potential asset, not a loss. It had been suggested that one way of tapping the potential of this community of European scientists is by establishing stronger communications and networks between researchers on both sides of the Atlantic. The ERA-Link survey, developed by DG Research, and the EU Mission and Member State science councillors in Washington, sought to better understand the types of information and services that US-based researchers from Europe would find beneficial. A total of 1,912 researchers representing 33 European countries took part in the survey. The majority of respondents hold Post Docs or more senior positions at universities or public sector research institutes located across the US, in all but one state. By research field, the highest number of responses came from those in biology (27 per cent), physics (15 per cent), engineering (13 per cent) and medicine and veterinary medicine (12 per cent). The results of the survey reveal that not only are European researchers in the US keen to improve contacts with other US-based scientists, but also the vast majority of them (92 per cent) would like to be better connected to researchers and scientific organisations in Europe. Given this level of interest, it is hardly surprising to find that the European research community in the US overwhelmingly supports the establishment of ERA-link. In terms of the types of information that this community of scientists would find most useful, respondents asked for details on sources of research funding in Europe, research opportunities in European academia and industry, and scientific conferences and visiting professorships in Europe. The survey also highlighted a high interest in gaining access to more information on European research policy. This will certainly be a priority for the Commission, considering the evidence of a clear lack of awareness of the European Research Area (ERA), with only 18 per cent of participants saying that they had heard of it. Turning to some of the more practical services that Europe's scientific diaspora in the US would like ERA-Link to provide, respondents pointed to e-mail alerts for European calls for proposals, fellowships and job opportunities; a funding search tool and a 'frequently asked questions' service; a contact database of European researchers in the US; and an ERA-Link electronic newsletter. For every one of these services, at least 75 per cent of those surveyed believed they would be 'useful or very useful'. Having analysed the results of the ERA-Link survey, the evaluation panel that carried it out makes a number of recommendations. First and foremost, it concludes that work should continue on the development of ERA-Link and that a pilot network should be launched as soon as possible. European researchers in the US, particularly those that took part in the survey, should be kept up to date with developments, it adds. The panel proposes that the Commission 'capitalises on the interest in networking with the EU by giving consideration to a similar survey of researchers in the EU to highlight the European research community in the US.' It also proposes a second, more detailed survey of US-based EU researchers in order to fine tune their precise requirements. Whilst some fine tuning of the information and services to be provided may still be required, however, the panel advises that the ERA-Link network should focus on those tools and data highlighted by respondents in the original survey. Finally, the Commission is urged to develop a strategy for integrating ERA-Link with other European research activities, for instance the European researchers' mobility portal. And if there were any doubts as to the usefulness of the ERA-Link survey exercise, not only can the Commission point to the insight gained into the opinions and needs of European researchers in the US, as well as their strong support for closer ties with the EU research community; there is the added bonus of a new database of nearly 2,000 European researchers of different nationalities which has never before been available in the EU or US.

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