International Mobility of PhD Graduates and the Construction of Scientific Careers: The French Example

Abstract : Expatriation of higher-education graduates raises much concern in many countries often in conjunction with talk about the brain drain. It supposedly entails a risk of losing the skills required for a competitive economy. The issue is all the more acute for PhD graduates, who are expected to play a major part in the knowledge economy (Dasgupta and David, 1994). However, questions arise as to the causes of such mobility and its consequences for young graduates' individual career paths. The academic literature on graduate migration discusses these questions in terms of theory focusing on the push and pull factors liable to explain the motivations behind individual PhD graduate mobility (Dongbin, Bankart AndIsdell, 2011). Compared with other categories of highly qualified staff, international mobility is thought of as a norm of occupational integration and socialization (Mahroum, 2000) peculiar to the research world. However, it may be thought that the reasons for such mobility remain diverse for young PhD graduates looking for a stable position in the employment market. Reasons for such mobility include being an obligatory requirement in some scientific disciplines in order to access research positions, as well as a need to enhance one's curriculum vitæ, a diversity of academic interest or the absence of a buoyant national labour market. The empirical part of the study is based on an original survey conducted in conjunction with the Céreq among young PhD graduates in France who went to work abroad after graduating. It looks at the determinants of mobility abroad after obtaining a PhD in France and then of the return to France or continued expatriation several years after graduating. All told, the on-line survey conducted in 2012 provided a sample of some 400 PhD graduates who had moved abroad. Early findings Three years after graduating, 70 per cent of PhDs in the sample were living abroad, more than one-third of them in the USA and UK. The survey reveals that these departures cannot readily be likened to any generalized 'brain drain' because of, say, far more attractive working conditions or a more stimulating academic environment. Most young PhD graduates go abroad because they find it difficult to get work in France. This is also why they extend their time abroad. Remoteness from French national networks and recruitment practices makes it difficult to return to a steady position in France although such a return is often wanted for personal reasons. That does not mean, however, that positions abroad do not have attractions for young PhD graduates. More than half of the respondents report that the academic conditions influenced their choice to move. Likewise, pay levels are generally higher abroad. It can be shown, from various regression models, that the PhD graduates who seemingly move abroad definitively would generally be earning less if they had stayed in France. However, conditions abroad are often precarious, with many young PhD graduates reporting that they find it hard to find a steady position in the labour market, especially in the academic sector.
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Claire Bonnard, Jean-François Giret. International Mobility of PhD Graduates and the Construction of Scientific Careers: The French Example. SASE 26th Annual Conference: The Institutional Foundations of Capitalism, Jul 2014, Chicago, United States. ⟨halshs-01069046⟩

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