On the front page...
Imagine leaving the warmth of family and friends
to move to a country where you know few people, little of the language
and even less of its customs — all in the name of scientific
research. Currently, some 2,800 NIH scientists from nearly 100
countries face that challenge.
Dr. Esteban Fridman, a former visiting fellow from Argentina,
knows what it's like. When he first arrived on campus, it took
time to get used to "the rhythm of NIH," an environment where "something
is always happening somewhere." Once he achieved that, he took
pleasure in beginning work at 6 a.m. and meeting with other enthusiastic
fellows and his lab chief. "The atmosphere was a wealth of learning," he
recalled. "Every Monday morning, the entire section had a meeting
where all the events at NIH were presented so that one could schedule
his or her week accordingly. Lab meeting discussions varied throughout
the week from sharing experiment results with our peers to journal
meetings where relevant research topics were reviewed."
Fridman returned to his native country after studying at NINDS.
When he left NIH in 1992, he was awarded a Global Health Research
Initiative Program Grant for New Foreign Investigators, which helps
NIH-trained researchers make a smooth transition back to their
country. Today he is head of the neurorehabilitation section at
the Institute for Neurological Research in Argentina.
||Members of the Division of
International Services include (front row, from l) Candelario
Zapata, director; Radames Mendoza, Brian Daly, Michelle DeNamur,
Vivian Weaver. At rear are (from l) Amy Powers, Filiz Wallace,
Michelle Mejia, Linda Kiefer, Melba Rojas and Stephanie Hartsock.
A Bow or a Handshake?
Candelario Zapata, director of the Division of International Services,
ORS, and his colleagues help visiting scientists adapt to life
in the United States. Every foreign researcher on campus passes
through the division to obtain clearance to work at NIH. The
division provides scientists with information on basic necessities
such as housing, driving, opening a bank account — no easy
chore since their ability to speak and comprehend English is
often rudimentary. The division offers a range of information
to help newcomers and their family members adjust to life in
a foreign land. For instance, in order to show an awareness of
cultural sensitivity, "we allow the newcomer to show us if a
bow or a handshake is appropriate," says Zapata.
His office finds few idle moments since NIH currently has 2,774
foreign scientists from 99 countries. The largest foreign contingent — more
than 400 investigators — hails from the People's Republic
of China, followed by Japan with more than 300 researchers. On
the other side of the spectrum are more than two dozen countries
represented by only 1 scientist, including Algeria, Iceland, Kazakhstan
|Top 10 Countries of Origin for Visiting Scientists
(as of Jan. 5, 2006)
|People's Republic of China
|Top Five Institutes Employing Foreign Scientists
of Jan. 5, 2006)
While the National Cancer Institute employs most foreign scientists,
with more than 700 active researchers alone, visitors from abroad
are currently working in 23 other institutes and centers. From
the day they arrive on campus, their mission is to produce and
publish quality research so that when they return to their native
countries, they can share their accumulated knowledge with colleagues.
In some cases, however, these scientists have a dual purpose — they
are also working to obtain U.S. permanent residence (i.e., get
their "green cards"). "They put every ounce of energy into learning
the language and publishing, so they can become U.S. citizens,
if so desired," says Zapata.
Getting to Know You: Life in the Lab
In Hye Lee of the molecular biology section, Cardiovascular Branch,
NHLBI, arrived from Seoul, Korea, last fall. Prior to her employment,
she attended meetings in the U.S. to learn state-of-the-art procedures
in her field. While at a conference in Tucson in 2002, she met
Dr. Sue Goo Rhee, who arranged for her to work in his lab for
1½ months, studying phospholipase C using automated magnetic
cell sorting. Fortunately, this led Lee to her current appointment
under the supervision of Dr. Toren Finkel, where she studies
reactive oxygen species and aging.
Lee's day begins early with experiments in her Bldg. 10 laboratory
before she heads over to the Fitness Center in Bldg. 31 to work
out. Her average work week consists of approximately 60 hours — including
the time she spends in the lab during the weekend. Meanwhile, her
interest in other languages and cultures, socializing with American,
Korean or other foreign colleagues and visiting local relatives
has helped mitigate the absence of her immediate family. She is
adjusting well and taking advantage of opportunities afforded at
NIH. Lee would like to remain in the U.S. and widen her professional
opportunities. "While at the NIH, I very much enjoy working on
new and interesting projects and talking to others about their
For most foreign scientists, the challenge of being a stranger
in a strange land is daunting, but ultimately rewarding. According
to Fridman, "The NIH experience opened my career. I can summarize
my time at the NIH as the most important experience in my career."