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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background and Theory
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendix: An alphabetical list of the institutions

The United States has been a top destination country for science and engineering (S&E) graduate education for foreign talent for many years. Despite the clear existence of foreign students in the USA, relatively little is known about the factors influencing the flow of foreign students. In this study, we examine foreign doctoral students in science and engineering, and test whether “ethnic affinity” plays a role in the ethnic composition of research laboratories (in what follows, “labs”) in US universities. In order to test this hypothesis, we conduct a web search, and select 164 science and engineering laboratory web pages for analysis. Among these 164 labs, 82 are directed by foreign-born faculty (Korean, Chinese, Indian or Turkish). These 82 are matched with labs that are in the same department of the same university, but directed by a native (US origin) faculty member. We find strong evidence that labs directed by foreign-born faculty are more likely to be populated by students from the same country of origin than are labs directed by native faculty. The percentage of students working in a lab from a nationality (foreign or native) is higher when they share nativity with the director. We seek to draw attention to the effect of affinity on the ethnic composition of research labs at the micro level that translates into the ethnic composition of the scientific community at the macro level. Further, these results emphasize the role of lab directors in future enrolments, creating scientific human capital, and contributing to the “brain circulation” phenomenon in the global context.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background and Theory
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendix: An alphabetical list of the institutions

For many years, the United States (USA) has been a top destination country for foreign talent in the area of science and engineering (S&E) doctoral education, largely due to better educational opportunities and better financial support (Mazzarol and Soutar, 2001).

Relatively little is known, however, about the factors influencing the flow of these foreign students. The role of families and networks of friends is well documented in international migration literature, but mostly in the context of the migration of low-skilled workers (see Massey et al., 1993, among others). The “ethnic affinity” hypothesis has not been tested for these highly skilled immigrants, even though selecting an institution of higher education in a foreign country poses the same challenges associated with international migration (e.g. visa, work and study permits, return policies) and adaptation (e.g. language barriers, cultural differences, academic differences).

Most graduate students in S&E start their training in university research laboratories (in what follows, “labs”). The ethnic composition of these research labs offers an opportunity to test the impact of foreign-born faculty members on students from the same country of origin. We compare the ethnic composition of 82 S&E labs directed by foreign-born faculty (Korean, Chinese, Indian or Turkish) with 82 labs in the same department of the same university directed by a native (US origin) faculty member.

We find strong evidence that labs directed by foreign-born faculty are more likely to be populated by students from the same country of origin. On average, 33 percentage points more of the students working in a lab are Korean (or Chinese, Indian, or Turkish) if the lab director shares that foreign nationality than if the director is native born. The results are consistent across all four nationalities, the three (top, middle and bottom) tiers, and all but one discipline.

These results draw attention to the effect of affinity on the ethnic composition of research labs at the micro level, an affinity that also translates into the ethnic composition of the scientific community at the macro level. Further, these results emphasize the role of lab directors in future enrolments, in the creation of scientific human capital, and in contributions to the “brain circulation” phenomenon in the global context.

Background and Theory

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background and Theory
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendix: An alphabetical list of the institutions

Foreign students in the United States

Foreign student enrolment dramatically increased during the 1980s and until the mid-1990s, followed by a decrease in first-time, full-time S&E foreign graduate enrolments after the events of September 11, 2001. By 2006, that decrease had reversed its course in all fields. After three consecutive years of decline, total foreign enrolment increased by a modest 1 per cent in 2006 (Burns et al., 2009).

Currently, almost half a million foreign students are enrolled in US universities. By 2006, 47.7 per cent of American PhD degrees were earned by foreign-born students. Within the past three decades, Asian students have constituted the largest population of foreign students in the USA. Chinese, Indian and South Korean students constitute almost half of the doctoral students in the USA (Stephan, 2010). Several studies have documented the importance of foreign doctoral students to the American science community. Foreign graduate and postdoctoral students are not only important in staffing university laboratories, but also play major roles in research production. A study of 133 papers published in Science having a last author affiliated with a US university found that 53 per cent of the co-authors were foreign students or postdoctoral candidates. Furthermore, foreign graduate students constitute almost 60 per cent of first-author graduate students (Black and Stephan, 2008). Also, in their analyses of counts of publications and number of citations for 100 research universities in 23 S&E disciplines, Stuen et al. (2008) find that foreign-born doctoral students make higher contributions (as measured by citations) to elite institutions as compared with citizen doctoral students. Chelleraj (2004) suggests that a 10 per cent increase in the number of foreign students would raise patents granted to universities by 6 per cent and non-university patents by 4 per cent.

Foreign-born graduate students' and scientists' existence in the USA is, of course, not without costs. The idea, for example, that foreign students “crowd out” natives has received much attention. According to a report by the National Science Foundation, the number of US citizen and permanent resident male graduate students decreased from 1993 to 2000, whereas the number of temporary foreign graduate students who are male increased (National Science Foundation, 2004). Borjas (2004) argues that the steepest drops in white male, native-student enrolments are observed in institutions in which foreign-student enrolment increases are the largest.

Although this information is consistent with the possibility that foreign students “crowd out” natives, some authors point to other factors that could contribute to these results. For instance, the decrease in the US population in the 20–24 age cohort within the past decade contributes to the decrease in the total number of native-student enrolments (Bean, 2005). In addition, the existence of more attractive job opportunities (higher-paying and with better working conditions) for native students can pull native-born college graduates towards more lucrative programmes (Bean and Brown, 2005; Stephan and Sharon, 2003). This effect is even stronger for native male students, who are more sensitive to US labour market conditions than are foreign students (Bean and Brown, 2005). Moreover, native female enrolments held steady during the 1990s, even in the face of simultaneous foreign-born female enrolment increases, a pattern not consistent with the “crowding out” argument. Both foreign-born and native groups of females increased their enrolments from 2000 to 2003 (Oliver, 2005).

The percentage of foreign students staying in the country after completing their studies has also been increasing. Aslanbeigui and Montecinos (1998) find that 45 per cent of foreign students from developing countries planned to stay for some time, 15 per cent planned to stay permanently and another 15 per cent planned to go to a third country. Finn (2005) indicates that the proportion of foreign students staying in the USA for at least 2 years after receiving their degrees increased from 49 per cent for the 1989 cohort to 71 per cent for the 2001 cohort. The stay rate is the highest among engineering, computer science and physical science graduates. There is also a significant difference in stay rates by students' country of origin. The difference is remarkable among the top source countries. Among the temporary residents who received their PhDs in 1996, China and India had very high stay rates, at 96 per cent and 86 per cent, respectively. The stay rates in 2001 were 40 per cent for Taiwan and 21 per cent for Korea. However, developments in other countries could influence the US dominance in attracting and keeping foreign talent. Other countries are not only strengthening their S&E education, but also producing more graduates each year (Freeman, 2009).

Given the important role that foreign students play in research, it is of policy interest to know whether ethnicity plays a role in determining the labs in which they work. We study university research laboratories, where most graduate students in S&E start their training, and become part of a “team” with fellow lab members. Understanding the ethnic compositions of research teams at the research laboratory level provides a new layer to our understanding of ethnic communities in the USA. A recent study highlights the role of ethnic communities in the USA and their contribution to technology transfers to their home countries. Ethnic scientific and entrepreneurial channels are found to be important for the transfer of both codified and tacit knowledge. In addition, I suggest that an understanding of the ethnic linkages provides insights into the “brain drain” versus “brain gain” debate (Kerr, 2008).

We chose to examine S&E research labs for two particular reasons. First, the research lab is a good representation of a foreign student's social environment, because doctoral students spend a significant portion of their time at school. Many research labs are populated with foreign students, and some of these labs are directed by foreign-born professors from the same country. Thus, labs present a closed environment, enabling us to observe possible networks. Second, research labs have a unique independent structure within the department. They are semi-autonomous groups within the university that receive separate funding and, at times, hire separate personnel. Foreign-born directors often continue to be in contact with their home academic institutions and, therefore, provide information about open lab positions to potential students. Likewise, students from home academic institutions may initiate contact with lab directors from their country of origin before formally applying for positions. Accordingly, these two characteristics of research labs enable us to observe both the network effect in a general sense, and the effects of lab directors as “active nodes” or initiators within those networks.

The network effect

Recent studies address high-skill labour movements using a social network perspective (Khadria, 2001; Meyer, 2001; Portes and Sensenbrenner, 1993; Vertovec, 2002). However, these studies do not focus exclusively on foreign doctoral students. Foreign student movements require specific attention in order to understand the internationalization of US higher education. Further, because a significant number of foreign students move into the US labour force at a later stage, the patterns through which foreign students enter S&E labs also have an influence on the composition of the scientific labour force in the USA (Hugo, 2002; Khadria, 2001; Li et al., 1996).

The networks that foreign students develop provide opportunities for friends and colleagues in their home countries. As Meyer (2001) indicates:

Connections with earlier migrants provide potential migrants with many resources that they use to diminish the risks and costs of migration: information about procedures (technical as well as legal), financial support, job prospects, administrative assistance, physical attendance, emotional solidarity. (Meyer, 2001: 93)

For foreign students, social networks are crucial to finding accommodation, goods and services, and social and economic information, as well as emotional support. Social networks serve as a guiding source for foreign students throughout their education. Some studies also suggest that the interpersonal ties of migrants continue to be effective after graduation in finding jobs either within the USA or back in their home country (Poros, 2001).

Portes and Sensenbrenner (1993) point out the varieties of structural and relational “embeddedness” in these networks (Meyer, 2001; Waldinger, 2005). Both the student and the faculty benefit from the easy flow of information that is a product of their shared culture.

Early studies regarded the flow of doctoral students from developing countries to developed countries as a “brain drain”. Along with the recognition that networks among skilled workers exist, a terminological shift has occurred that employs a global conception emphasizing the benefits that accrue to both the sending and the receiving ends. Saxenian (2002) calls this new dynamic “brain circulation”, drawing attention to the role of ethnic networks in mobilizing information, know-how, skills and capital. These new transnational communities provide shared information, contacts, and trust, creating new opportunities for once peripheral regions of the world economy. Policymakers are also seeking ways to utilize a globally mobile workforce and cultivate the benefits of brain exchange and brain circulation among countries (Saxenian, 2002).

The role of the director in research laboratories

The role of foreign-born faculty in the current context is noteworthy. The majority of foreign-born faculty members earn their graduate degrees in the USA after receiving their undergraduate education in their home country. Assuming that they still have ties with their undergraduate institutions, such faculty are likely to be important resources for students from the same country of origin who are applying to a doctoral programme in their respective departments. Many of these faculty members direct research laboratories and play a role in recruiting students, getting them admitted and offering them financial assistance. They routinely hire doctoral students directly. Therefore, an interesting question to ask is whether foreign research laboratory directors are more likely to hire students from their home country than are other laboratory directors.

Faculty members also play an important role in graduate students' lives, impacting how they think and do research. Trow (1977) suggests that the influences of graduate faculty can guide students' future research and teaching during their entire careers. As for foreign students, Tanyildiz (2008) found evidence from focus group interviews with Turkish students at the Georgia Institute of Technology that foreign students feel that their background is better understood by faculty from their country of origin and also feel more comfortable communicating with such faculty. The relationship between the graduate faculty and the graduate student in S&E is perfectly described by Fox (2003):

[In S&E fields] scientific work and training revolve strongly on faculty–student interchange. In science and engineering, faculty and students are bound together potentially in research facilities and projects, funded through faculty as principal investigators on which students largely undertake daily work. (Fox, 2003: 92)

Another important role of foreign lab directors could be explained through the concept of “mixed embeddedness” (Kloosterman and Rath, 2001). Mixed embeddedness aims to understand the socio-economic position of immigrants not only through their embeddedness in actual social networks, but also through their more abstract embeddedness in the social, economic and institutional environments of their adopted countries. This approach is particularly appropriate in the analysis of lab directors, because universities provide a unique environment that enables them to engage simultaneously in both their ethnic and non-ethnic networks. Thus, foreign-born directors not only efficiently communicate with compatriots students, but also play a crucial role in students' transitions into the scientific community in the USA.

Methodology

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background and Theory
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendix: An alphabetical list of the institutions

Sampling

The sampling of this study begins with the 1993 NRC rankings of PhD-granting institutions. At the initial stage, a multi-stage stratified random sample was constructed by drawing universities from the ranking lists of 12 S&E disciplines. The sample was stratified by discipline (biology, physics, chemistry, computer science, chemical engineering, aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, materials engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering and industrial engineering) and rank (top, middle and bottom). At the first stage of the multi-stage sampling, we randomly selected an equal percentage of departments from each stratum. We selected 110 departments from the list of 360 departments. At the second stage, we identified research laboratories directed by native (US origin) faculty1 and then labs directed by faculty from four specific foreign nationalities: Chinese, Indian, Korean and Turkish.

Departments that did not have laboratories directed by faculty from any of the four nationalities were excluded from the sample. We then randomly selected two laboratories in each department, one from the list of labs directed by a foreign-born faculty member, and one from the list of labs directed by native faculty member. Lab directors from countries other than China, India, Korea or Turkey2 are not included in the sampling frame of this study. The methodology is explained in more detail below.

Data collection

We used a systematic approach to identify the labs through our web search. Once we had obtained the list of departments in each university, we located their web pages and made sure that each was accessible. In our sample, all of the departments had a functioning web page that enabled us to proceed to the next step. On each department web page, we looked under the “Research” tab where, in most cases, we found the list of research labs and the names of the directors of those labs in that department. This list constituted the sampling frame for the random selection at the next stage. An alternative approach, which we used less often, was to search under the “Faculty” tab, enabling us to identify native lab directors and directors from our four nationalities. By making a random selection from these two lists, we identified one foreign director and one native director from each department. Next, we accessed each director's personal web page, where we located the director's research group with the corresponding list of group members.

The majority of departments had individual web pages for each research lab. However, we had to exclude 23 pairs3 from the sample for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons were lack of a research lab with a director from one of the four foreign nationalities; lack of a list of lab members; unidentifiable nationalities; inaccessible lab web pages; and lack of a comparable research lab with a native director.

Identification of nationalities

Chinese, Korean, Indian and Turkish doctoral students and faculty members are obvious groups to study for two reasons. First, these four are among the top ten foreign-student source countries in the USA. Second, identification of these four nationalities is relatively straightforward compared with identification of other nationalities. Because there are large immigrant populations from these countries in the USA, existing ethnic-name databases provide comprehensive guidance in predicting the origin of student and faculty names. Further, students of these nationalities generally form student organizations at their universities, thus providing a list of members on their web pages that could be used as an alternative source for nationality identification. In this specific study, we benefited from the existence of large student groups from these four nationalities in an additional way: we were able to hire students from these four countries to review the student names in the sample and identify names from their own country. This provided us with additional reliability in nationality identification.

Because identification of faculty nationality was the key step in composing our sample, we first identified the nationalities of the faculty that were listed as directors of research labs. At this stage, we relied on the CVs or résumés posted on their web pages. In our sample, 97 per cent of the faculty whom we identified as Chinese, Korean, Indian or Turkish received their undergraduate degree in the corresponding home country, therefore strengthening our certainty of country of origin.4 In the few cases where résumés or CVs did not exist, we asked foreign-student assistants to identify the nationality and then cross-referenced this identification with the list of “Most Common U.S. Ethnic Surnames” provided in Kerr's (2006) recent study. In this study, the author identifies the ethnicities of the inventors' names contained in the NBER Patent Data File originally compiled by Hall et al. (2001). The NBER Patent Data File provided micro-records for all patents granted by USPTO from January 1975 to December 1999. Kerr maps on to these inventor names an ethnic-name database, constructed by Melissa Data Corporation, originally designed for direct-mail advertisements. A list of “Most Common U.S. Ethnic Surnames” is provided in the Kerr study, which we used as a reference for identifying Chinese, Korean and Indian last names.5 Faculty members with common US first and last names were coded as “native” if they had received their undergraduate degree from a US institution.

The same methodology was used to identify the nationalities of students. However, unlike the faculty members, not all students had résumés posted on the web pages. Consequently, for identification of the foreign students' nationality, we relied heavily on the “Most Common U.S. Ethnic Surnames” from Kerr's study (Kerr, 2008), recognition by a student of the same nationality, and our searches on relevant web pages (such as foreign student association member lists).

To ensure the quality of our study, we checked how up-to-date the web pages that we used were, using the “date of update” notation at the bottom of the page where possible. In other cases, in which this information was missing, we looked for a recent posting or a recent publication. From the date on that post or publication, we approximated the last access date to that web page.

Analyses

The central question of this study is whether the percentage of foreign students from one specific country of origin in research labs directed by faculty with the same origin is higher than the percentage of students from that origin in research labs directed by native faculty. Our sample provided 82 matched pairs, for a total of 164 cases. We constructed the pairs by matching each lab directed by a foreign faculty member with another lab directed by a native faculty member within the same university and the same department. In order to answer this question, we applied a paired sample t-test that examined the significance of this difference. We tested the null hypothesis that there is no difference between the mean foreign student percentages in both labs. In addition to our main hypothesis, we also examined the relationships among nationality, institutional ranking, discipline and the ethnic composition of that research lab.

Summary of data

The data set consists of 164 S&E research labs, 82 of which are directed by Chinese, Korean, Indian or Turkish faculty, matched with another 82 labs directed by native faculty within the same department in each university. Our intent was to include physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, aerospace engineering, industrial engineering, materials engineering, civil engineering and computer science. However, we were not able to locate labs in mathematics departments. We were able to find foreign professors working on projects with doctoral students, but they were never identified as groups or research labs. In retrospect, this is not surprising given the character of mathematical research.

The 164 labs had 1,074 affiliated students. The average number of students in each lab was 6.5 (ranging between 1 and 35). This average was very similar for the labs directed by native faculty (6.54) and for the labs directed by foreign-born faculty (6.44). The average percentage of foreign students in each lab was 58.6 per cent (ranging between 0 and 100%).

Among the foreign lab directors, only two had earned their undergraduate degrees in the USA, whereas the rest had earned their undergraduate degrees in their home countries. Data regarding the undergraduate degrees of foreign professors revealed one interesting result. In this data set, 80 per cent of the Korean directors graduated from Seoul National University, 57 per cent of the Indian directors from the Indian Institute of Technology, and 21 per cent of the Chinese directors from the University of Science and Technology in China, suggesting the existence of top-source institutions within these top-source countries. In the case of native directors, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University and Cornell University were the most common undergraduate institutions.

The majority of the web pages observed in this study were updated relatively recently. Seventy-five per cent of all the web pages had been updated within the past year, 19 per cent in the year before, and 6 per cent slightly more than 2 years before.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background and Theory
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendix: An alphabetical list of the institutions

We hypothesized that within the same university and department, the percentage of students from a specific country of origin is higher in labs with a faculty member from the same country of origin, compared with labs directed by native directors. To test this hypothesis, we applied a paired t-test to 82 pairs of S&E research labs. The results in Table 1 show that the difference in the percentage of foreign students between the labs directed by foreign professors and the ones directed by native directors is 33.11. The mean percentage difference between the labs varies between 26 and 40. The result is significant at the 1 per cent level, suggesting that lab composition in the same departments at the same institutions is related to the ethnicity of the faculty. Students from one country of origin are more likely to be in labs directed by a faculty member from the same country of origin.

Table 1. Foreign Student Percentage Differences Between Research Labs (Foreign – Native Directors)
  1. The mean difference represents the mean percentage difference of foreign students between foreign-directed labs and native-directed labs in the same departments of the same universities.

  2. a

    , Significant at the 1% level.

Paired differencesMean difference(33.11)a
Std error: Mean3.67
Lower26.02
Upper40.32

We also test mean percentage differences between labs directed by native professors and labs directed by faculty from one of the four countries studied. Again, the hypothesis is that the percentage of students working in a lab from a nationality is higher when the students share the nationality of the director. We find the mean percentage difference to be 29 points, significant at the 1 per cent level (Table 2). This is slightly lower than the mean percentage difference (of 33) for foreign students between foreign-directed labs and native-directed labs. We conclude that the affinity effect is not exclusively the domain of the foreign-born.

Table 2. Native Student Percentage Differences Between Research Labs (Native – Foreign Directors)
  1. The mean difference represents the mean percentage difference of native students between foreign-directed labs and native-directed labs in the same departments of the same universities.

  2. a

    , Significant at the 1% level.

Paired differencesMean difference(28.92)a
Std. error: Mean4.92
Lower19.03
Upper 38.81

As shown in Table 3 below, the percentage differences (the difference between the percentage of foreign students in labs directed by a faculty from the same country of origin and the percentage of foreign students in labs directed by native directors) vary slightly according to the country of origin.6 In this sample, the highest mean difference is between the labs directed by Chinese faculty and those directed by native faculty. In other words, we observe the student–director affinity effect to be greater in labs directed by Chinese directors than those directed by other nationalities. On the other hand, the percentages of Indian students are more balanced between the native-directed and Indian-directed labs. As we can see in Table 3, the smallest percentage difference is between the labs directed by Indian faculty and comparable labs directed by native faculty. The reason might be due to Indian students' better command of English compared with Chinese, Korean or Turkish students.

Table 3. Foreign Student Percentage Differences In Matched Labs By Director's Country Of Origin (Foreign – Native Directors)
  N Foreign mean (%)Native mean (%)Mean difference (%)Std. error
  1. The mean difference represents the mean percentage differences (also reported separately) of foreign students between foreign-directed labs and native-directed labs for each nationality.

  2. a

    , Significant at the 1% level; *, significant at the 5% level.

China 4055.417.6(37.8)**5.6
India 1945.918.8(27.1)**6.4
Korea 2034.45.4(29.0)**7.2
Turkey 336.30.0(36.3)*17.9
Total8247.414.3(33.1)**3.6

Table 4(a) shows that the mean percentage differences between foreign faculty–directed and native faculty–directed labs were much higher in lower-ranked departments. This is an expected result, as the assumption is that a foreign student who is qualified for acceptance to a top-ranked university would rely less on the benefits of networks. Also, students that qualify for the highest-ranked universities usually consider a limited number of institutions with similar rankings, regardless of the existence of students or faculty from the same country of origin. In the same vein, for students applying to lower-ranked universities, networks might play a determining role in their selection of an institution. Further, we test whether the percentage differences of foreign students are similar across tiers. The results show that the percentage differences (between foreign-born–directed labs and native-directed labs) in the middle-ranked and bottom-ranked institutions are higher than those percentages in the top-ranked institutions. Both results are significant at the 5 per cent level (Table 4(b)).

Table 4(a). Foreign Student Percentage Differences In Matched Labs By Ranking of The Department (Foreign – Native Directors)
  N Foreign mean (%)Native mean (%)Mean difference (%)Std. error
Top4536.310.4(25.9)**4.3
Middle2455.920.0(35.9)**6.8
Bottom1370.317.1(53.2)**9.8
Total8247.414.3(33.1)**3.6
Table 4(b). The Difference In Foreign Students' Percentages Across The Ranking Tiers
 CoefficientsStd. error
  1. The mean difference represents the mean percentage differences (also reported separately) of foreign students between foreign-directed labs and native-directed labs for each university ranking tier.

  2. a

    , Significant at the 1% level; *, significant at the 5% level.

Middle(19.81)*7.44
Bottom(26.62)*9.25
Constant(36.01)**4.42

The mean percentage differences are quite different among the S&E disciplines included in our sample (Table 5). The mean difference is highest among industrial engineering labs and lowest among chemical engineering labs. In order to explain this difference, the common characteristics of projects in each discipline should be further examined. One theory may be that ethnic networks are more visible in disciplines that require close faculty–student contact in project execution.

Table 5. Foreign Student Percentage Differences In Matched Labs By Discipline (Foreign – Native Directors)
  N Foreign mean (%)Native mean (%)Mean difference (%)Std. error
  1. The mean difference represents the mean percentage differences (also reported separately) of foreign students between foreign-directed labs and native-directed labs for each discipline.

  2. **, Significant at the 1% level; *, significant at the 5% level.

Industrial engineering670.012.0(58.0)**11.1
Electrical engineering654.73.2(51.5)**11.7
Civil engineering552.512.5(40.0)*19.1
Chemistry744.36.9(37.4)**10
Materials engineering1249.914.5(35.4)**11
Biology553.818.0(35.8)*16.9
Aerospace engineering943.78.6(35.1)**11.6
Chemical engineering737.05.9(31.1)*11.8
Physics633.96.7(27.2)*13.3
Computer science933.510.4(23.1)*8.9
Mechanical engineering1049.814.59.27.2
Total8247.414.3(33.1)**3.6

Finally, we looked at the 1,074 students included in our sample. As shown in Table 6, the percentage of foreign students working with foreign faculty is higher than that of native students working with foreign faculty. Likewise, a higher percentage of native students work with native faculty compared with foreign faculty. The distribution of students among labs directed by foreign and native faculty is further detailed in Table 7, by student origin.

Table 6. Origin Of Students By Origin Of Lab Director Working Together (By Counts And Percentages)
   Student
NativeForeign Total
DirectorNativeCount319223542
  % 67.037.350.5
 ForeignCount157375532
  %33.062.749.5
Total Count4765981074
  %100.0100.0100.0
Table 7. The Distribution Of Students In Labs By Faculty Origin (By Counts)
 Director's originTotal
Korea China India Turkey USA
  1. This table should be interpreted with caution. In each lab in the data set, we have only identified three groups of students: those who are of the same origin as the director, native students and all others. That is, we only know the nationality of the student when it is the same as that of the director. For example, if a Korean student is observed in a lab directed by a Chinese faculty, he or she is identified as “other foreign” rather than Korean.

Student43...851
China .106..34140
India ..54.1872
Turkey ...808
USA 4964359319476
Other5656466163327
Total148226135235421,074

In addition, we test the hypothesis that foreign students are more likely to work with a foreign director than are native students (Table 8). On average, in this sample, foreign student–foreign professor cases are observed 30 percentage points more than are native student–foreign professor cases. This difference could be attributable both to students' perceptions of working with a director from their country of origin (i.e. feeling more valued and/or communicating better) and to the role that network connections between the foreign student and the foreign-born lab director play in determining students' placements.

Table 8. Difference Of Mean Between Foreign Student – Foreign Professor And Native Student – Foreign Professor Cases
  1. The mean difference represents the mean percentage difference between foreign student–foreign professor cases and native student–foreign professor cases observed in the labs.

  2. a

    , Significant at the 1% level.

Mean differenceMean difference (0.30)**
Std. error difference0.00
Lower0.22
Upper 0.41

Another way of looking at the composition of S&E labs is to calculate dissimilarity indices for Chinese, Korean, Indian and Turkish students. Figure 1 presents integration of foreign student groups within a research lab compared to native students. In this sample, the native-Turkish dissimilarity index is 49 per cent. This means that to make native and Turkish students evenly distributed across all labs, 49 per cent of the native students would need to move to another lab. In a similar manner, the dissimilarity indices for Indian, Chinese and Korean students are 36 per cent, 31 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively. These percentages provide evidence of dissimilarity of foreign doctoral students among the laboratories. That is, the distribution of foreign students is not similar across laboratories.

image

Figure 1. Dissimilarity Indices For Foreign Students The figure shows what percentage of students would need to move to another lab to make the foreign student percentages (from that nationality) evenly distributed across the labs.

Download figure to PowerPoint

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background and Theory
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendix: An alphabetical list of the institutions

US science and engineering (S&E) research labs directed by foreign-born faculty are much more likely to be populated by students from the same country of origin than are labs directed by native faculty. The percentage of students working in a lab from a specific nationality (foreign or native) is higher when they share nationality with the director.

Foreign-born faculty members appear to be active nodes of ethnic networks, mobilizing foreign students from their country of origin and opening new channels for collaboration between their home institutions and US institutions. Although we cannot test how matching between the student and the faculty was done, we believe that some degree of networking could well be involved, given that directors play a significant role in staffing their laboratories.

This pattern may increase the quality of foreign students, as foreign lab directors have an advantage over their native colleagues in assessing the quality of students coming from their home country. They can interpret country-specific information (such as the quality of institutions attended and the characteristics of a prior work-place) more confidently, which could lead to a better fit regarding skills needed in research labs.

This pattern also suggests that, despite the increased number of foreign students in American universities, students still tend to interact with their compatriots at the initial stages of their scientific careers, making research labs transitional media that help students to integrate into the scientific community. Foreign students, arguably, have a steeper learning curve in becoming a part of the scientific community due to differences in language and culture. Interacting with compatriots should provide foreign students with additional support to help absorb both tacit and codified knowledge at a faster rate. As Tanyildiz (2008) documents, Turkish students at the Georgia Institute of Technology find studying together for qualifying examinations, exchanging lecture notes for common courses, tutoring each other or simply discussing questions about their field easier among compatriots, as they are able to ask questions and clarify ideas much more easily in their own language.

Studies seeking to explain foreign student flows should consider research labs as one of foreign students' main “entry points” into the scientific community. Rising percentages of foreign-born lab directors could translate into a changing ethnic composition of university research laboratories. Foreign student flows, to be sure, are far from unstructured. Yet, previous studies fall short in explaining how existing structures affect foreign student flows. Relevant policies controlling student movements (related to work permits, quotas etc.) alone cannot explain the mechanisms through which these flows occur. The current structure of foreign-born scientists' networks, which would activate future flows, could be another important part of these explanations.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background and Theory
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendix: An alphabetical list of the institutions

Financial support for this research was provided by National Science Foundation (SRS-0720020). I would like to thank Paula E. Stephan and Gregory B. Lewis for their comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Notes
  1. 1

    I refer to directors with a US origin name as “native” directors.

  2. 2

    All four countries are among the top ten source countries.

  3. 3

    Out of 220 cases in 110 S&E departments.

  4. 4

    This result generates two further propositions: First, foreign-born lab directors might have strong network connections with their respective countries. Second, a majority of our lab directors are first-generation immigrants; second-generation Korean, Chinese, Indian and Turkish directors are not represented in the sample.

  5. 5

    Turkish names are identified by the author, who is a native of Turkey.

  6. 6

    Note that the sample includes only three matching pairs for the Turkish nationality. The result suffers from small sample size and should be interpreted with caution.

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  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background and Theory
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendix: An alphabetical list of the institutions
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Appendix: An alphabetical list of the institutions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Background and Theory
  5. Methodology
  6. Results
  7. Conclusion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
  10. Appendix: An alphabetical list of the institutions

Auburn University

Brown University

Carnegie Mellon University

City University of New York

Clemson University

Columbia University

Cornell University

Florida Institute of Technology

Harvard University

Illinois Institute of Technology

Iowa State University

Johns Hopkins University

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Michigan State University

North Carolina State University

Ohio State University

Oklahoma State University

Oregon State University

Oregon Institute of Technology

Pennsylvania State University

Portland State University

Princeton University

Purdue University

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Stanford University

State University of New York Binghamton

State University of New York Buffalo

Stony Brook University

Texas A&M University

University of California Berkeley

University of California Davis

University of California Los Angles

University of California San Diego

University of California Santa Barbara

University of California Santa Cruz

University of Cincinnati

University of Colorado

University of Connecticut

University of Delaware

University of Houston

University of Illinois

University of Kentucky

University of Michigan

University of Missouri at Kansas City

University of Texas

University of Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee