Science moves – parliament event on the importance of international mobility

Our parliamentary event showcased UK-based researchers for whom international mobility has played a key part in their research careers.

In our Academy's Fellowship alone, the nationalities of the 48 most recently elected biomedical and health experts span four continents and in 2015, over half of the UK’s research output was the result of an international collaboration.

At the Houses of Parliament, the Academy brought MPs and Lords face-to-face with researchers whose careers span international borders. This All Party Parliamentary Group drop-in event on mobility, held on Tuesday 5 June 2018, was part of our ongoing EU policy and worldwide international mobility activities.

With upcoming changes to UK research infrastructure, we must continue to stress the importance of flexibility, transparency and efficiency in order for the UK to remain at the heart of the global research community.


My research led to the release of a dengue early warning across Brazil.”

Dr Rachel Lowe is a SUSTAIN participant and an Assistant Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and visiting Assistant Professor at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. Her work is supported by a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship and the Global Challenges Research Fund.

My undergraduate degree included a year at the University of Granada in Spain, as part of the Erasmus Programme. This was my first experience living abroad, and set me up for a diverse and multi-lingual academic career, including long-term research visits to both Mexico and Brazil.

Several years later, my research led to the release of a climate-based dengue early warning system across Brazil, 3 months ahead of the 2014 World Cup - a global mass gathering of more than 3 million local and international spectators. This assisted the Ministry of Health to target control actions towards areas at greater risk of dengue epidemics. The early warnings were also incorporated into the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) health risk assessment, reported by the NHS and published by more than 18 international press outlets, including the BBC.

I have since worked in Italy, Spain and the UK, travelling extensively in Latin America and the Caribbean to present my research on dengue and deliver training courses to postgraduate students and policy makers. These networking opportunities led to my invitation to participate in the White House ‘predict the next pandemic’ initiative.

I am now establishing my lab back in the UK on planetary health and emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. I am also a visiting scientist at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain. My son was born in Barcelona and his father lives and works there. Given the current political climate, I am concerned about my ability to live, work and study between Spain and the UK.

“My research would have been impossible without international funding networks.”

Dr Gautam Dey is  a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow at the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, University College London.

Working at international institutions and holding a flagship EU fellowship (the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship) has made me acutely aware of the benefits of European research integration.

My career and research would have been impossible without international funding networks and the ability to travel easily between London and global destinations. I studied in India (I hold an Indian passport) and did my PhD at Stanford University, which opened opportunities and broadened my academic horizons in a way that would have been impossible in India. Moving to the UK as a post-doc meant I could link my academic network in the US to a new network of collaborators. It doesn’t end there - my advisor and I have built up a network that includes groups across the UK, Sweden, and the US.

I am a UCL-sponsored Tier-2 visa holder. One of the ways this system works well is that my spouse, who is also an Indian passport holder, is here as my dependent and able to work for an international organisation for whom she frequently travels. As I look towards my next career step as a research group leader, I reflect that I would not have made it this far without the ability to move between institutions and countries. 

“It is a privilege to travel as a student.”

Dr Lotte de Winde is a postdoctoral research fellow at the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, University College London, and Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research Rubicon Fellow.

It would be a shame if students can no longer make use of the Erasmus programme. It is a privilege to travel as a student - it builds confidence and new knowledge and skills. I studied in the Netherlands, and during this time I was Erasmus funded to do both a placement at a tumour immunology lab in Belgium, and then to go to the UK.

Those two weeks at the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology helped me to develop an idea for a post-doc project, and I was later awarded a Rubicon Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research for my proposal. All this grew out of my initial Erasmus grant, which enabled me to meet new collaborators and bring my skills to the UK.

 “Diversity is fundamental to advancing medical research.”

Professor Giampietro Schiavo FMedSci is Professor of Cellular Neurobiology at the Institute of Neurology, University College London.

Professor Schiavo has travelled all around the world to find the right research environment to address important scientific questions. During his studies in chemistry and pharmaceutical technology at the University of Padova, Italy, he visited the USA, France and the Netherlands, before joining the laboratory of Professor James Rothman, Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine, in New York.

He then returned to Europe to create a multinational research laboratory at the CRUK London Research Laboratory, where international scientists collaborated to uncover the basic principles of intracellular communication, and how these mechanisms are altered in human neurological diseases.

Professor Schiavo's team is now based at the UCL Institute of Neurology and UK Dementia Research Institute. It is made up of PhD students, post-doctoral fellows and clinical scientists from eight different countries around the globe, from Australia to Chile, with important representation from several European countries, which demonstrates diversity is fundamental to advancing medical research.

 “International mobility has been vital for the success of my career.”

Dr Riikka Mottonen is a SUSTAIN participant and an Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham School of Psychology.

After completing my PhD in Finland, I wanted to continue my career as a cognitive neuroscientist in an environment where I can do excellent research, learn new skills and work with leaders in my field in a welcoming environment.

The UK was an obvious choice, and I was thrilled to be awarded a two-year Marie Curie Fellowship at the University of Oxford. Thanks to my findings during this fellowship, I was awarded an MRC Career Development Fellowship to continue my research at Oxford. In 2017, I was offered a permanent position at the University of Nottingham.

My research focuses on the neurobiology of speech and language. With my collaborators in Belgium, I investigate the neural basis of language learning, and I have also investigated speech disorders such as stuttering. My current research focuses on the effects of ageing and hearing loss on the brain mechanisms of speech communication.

The UK has been an ideal place for me to grow as a scientist, and I have been fortunate to work here with inspiring and talented students and scientists from all over the world. International mobility has been vital for the success of my career and research. I hope that the UK will continue to be the country where talented students and scientists can and want to move to.


The Academy invited researchers to the Houses of Parliament for the All Party Parliamentary Group drop-in event on mobility on Tuesday 5 June 2018, bringing Members of the House of Parliament and the House of Lords together with researchers whose careers span international borders.


Visit our major policy strands information page for more about our work on international mobility, and visit our hub for influencing European policy to read more about our ongoing EU policy activities.

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