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In Shanghai, generous benefits lure foreign scientists

After several job interviews, including one at Pennsylvania State University in the United States, Canadian researcher Jeremy Murray chose to join a center at the Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology early last year.

"From the perspective of the strength and atmosphere of scientific research, I believed the Shanghai institute was a perfect fit for me," said Murray, who is principal investigator at the Center of Excellence for Plant and Microbial Science, a joint venture of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Britain-based John Innes Center.

He previously spent seven years in plant science research at the British center.

"This was an opportunity to be part of an exciting new joint venture between China and the UK," he said. "Moreover, the support we receive in Shanghai in both research work and living is quite strong."

He said he has an independent lab and receives extra funding at the institute, which might be luxurious elsewhere. He also receives a "generous" monthly housing allowance available to expats.

"This is important because housing prices in Shanghai are obviously very high. Otherwise, it would be hard to move to Shanghai," Murray said.

Two weeks ago, Murray received significant funding from the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs. The money can be used by the institute to support his salary and visits by foreign scientists, which will help inject new ideas into his research, he said.

"Scientific research is by its nature a very international endeavor, so this program increases China's competitiveness in hiring foreign scientists and strengthens the research being done by labs like mine," Murray said.

He Tianhou, director of human resources at the Shanghai Institute of Ceramics, a branch of the CAS, said high-level professionals may not regard such privileges as the most important element in selecting a career path, but it is a way for the institute and the local government to show their sincerity toward the researchers.

"When we recruit talented people from abroad, we offer a package and a team that is better than what he or she expects. We want to give them adequate support during their initial stage after relocating to Shanghai," He said.

Before a scientist arrives, the institute will prepare his or her lab, complete the recruitment of a team of young colleagues and get their temporary housing ready, he said.

The night that Michigan State University postdoctoral graduate Xin Xiufang arrived in Shanghai, she moved into the housing. In August, she joined the center that Murray works for as a principal investigator.

"The apartment was kindly furnished before I arrived, and it was really convenient that I could move in directly after landing in Shanghai," said Xin, adding that the apartment is within walking distance of the institute and she can stay for up to two years.

The support she received for her research project was also generous, she said.

"I have enough startup funding and five student fellows for the first three years. The industry standard is one student fellow per year as the general rule," Xin said. "Moreover, I was provided with a spacious lab. At some universities researchers have limited lab space," Xin said, noting that she also received job offers from other top domestic institutions.

Apart from generous support, the key competitiveness of CAS institutes lies in their strong teamwork, He said.

"Influential research in recent years requires cross-discipline collaboration, and scientists here have opportunities to cooperate with different institutes affiliated with CAS," He said.

Source:China Daily

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