What Brexit means to British scientists working abroad

Britain’s vote to leave the European Union brings uncertainty for British researchers in need of science funding.

The result of Brexit left the world stunned and the Britain has since had to cope with an economic downturn. Although the U.K.’s newly-elected prime minister, Theresa May, said she wouldn’t initiate the parting until 2017, uneasiness has arisen among British nationals who are working in the U.S.

Dominic Pye, 29, a British research scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago on a two-year contract, said he is concerned about the impact of Brexit in the scientific sector.

“We get a lot of our funding from the E.U.,” Pye said. “And we took out more than our fair share, I think.”

The U.K. received €8.8 billion from the E.U. for research, development and innovation activities from 2007 to 2013. During the same period, the U.K. contributed €5.4 billion to E.U. research and development, according to a report from the Royal Society, U.K.’s National Academy of Science.

“Already, European partners on big multi-national projects are saying, ‘We don’t know if we want to go into collaborations with the U.K. because they might not be eligible for the funding,’” Pye said.

Ali Lennox, 31, works as a researcher in the Chemistry Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Lennox also benefits from E.U.’s science funding. He said the direct impact of Brexit will depend on negotiations between the two parties.

“Obviously we are going to get a ton of money that we are not giving to Brussels, so we should get more scientific funding directly from the UK government,” Lennox said. “The difference is we don’t know how that scientific funding will be given out.”

Another option for the U.K. to receive E.U. funding is to participate in E.U. Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, which allows researchers and institutes from non-E.U. countries to receive money from the E.U.. Norway and Switzerland are currently participating countries.

A month after the Brexit vote, international relations Professor Karen Alter at Northwestern University said there is not much Chicago impact to Brexit. Both Lennox and Pye said they have become more acceptable of the result.

“Life will go on. I will make it work,” Lennox said. “If I can’t get E.U. funding, I will try to get other funding, or I just won’t get funding.”

Despite the uncertainty, Lennox said he is optimistic as he thinks this is an opportunity for U.K. to reshape its future.

“I’m optimistic,” Lennox said. “I guess you have to be as a scientist, because things are always going wrong.”


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