As a scientist, Dr. Dan Gincel works to find solutions to complex problems through years of research, trial and error. So he’s thrilled at the opportunity to tackle a problem with a more immediate solution.
Speaking last Tuesday night at a University Club reception hosted by the American Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Gincel addressed Israel’s inability to retain the best and brightest from its universities’ doctoral programs, particularly in the fields of science and engineering. Most Israeli doctoral students, he said, are encouraged to do post-doctoral studies at top universities outside of Israel. But after they’ve finished, finding work back home isn’t so easy.
“There is a generation of excessive Ph.D.s in Israel, and there aren’t enough opportunities being created. Israel is exporting about 2,000 Ph.D.s in science and engineering every year,” he said. “You cannot find jobs back in Israel when you’re here [in the United States]. It’s almost impossible.”
Seven years ago, Gincel and a few other Israeli scientists living in the United States decided to look at the problem and attempt to fix it. That’s when they started the nonprofit organization BioAbroad, which has a goal of fostering opportunities for Israeli scientists living elsewhere to return home.
Gincel estimates that any given Israeli university invests about $200,000 to create each Ph.D.. And that not only creates inefficiency in Israel’s market for scientists, it puts undue strain on the Israeli economy.
“There’s a lack of opportunities because of a lack of investment from the government side to focus on a specific project, like you see right now in the United States with the [government focusing on] the genome project, and now the neuroscience project. You haven’t seen that guidance from the government in the last few years to see a market failure and say, ‘OK, we have to invest more money on these topics.’ ”
Retention isn’t just a problem in Israel. Countries all over the world, including Singapore, Russia, China and Switzerland have taken measures to try and retain more of their homegrown scientists. Israel, though, is in a bit of a different position, by virtue of its isolation.
“You cannot say, for instance, ‘Oh, we’re missing physicians, let’s get some physicians from France,’ ” Gincel said. “It’s not going to happen. Unless you’re an Israeli, you’re not going to go to Israel to be a physician. The isolation of Israel forces us to have solutions that are unique to its situation. But the problem is across the board.”
Gincel said that over the course of the last two years, Israel created a government-backed venture fund to invest in technology companies, as well as the Israeli Centers for Research Excellence (I-CORE), which will seek to bring a number of expatriate scientists back to Israel. He added that BioAbroad now works in full cooperation with the Israeli government to develop strategies for not only bringing back Israel’s exported scientists, but to help use them to grow the economy. BioAbroad organizes career fairs, social gatherings, webinars and fellowships designed to help academics transition from academia into industry and entrepreneurship in Israel.
Gincel added that he’s encountered very few Israeli expatriates who are looking to stay where they are for the long term.
“There are very few, actually. It might be the economic situation, but most people express a major desire to go back in the next few years because [Israel] is where they see their future and want to raise their kids.”
(Matthew Wein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)