One of the best parts of my job is that I get to travel to many different countries and interact with great scientists from around the world. Developing my career as an academic in the UK, I was exposed from the start to science without borders. Our group at Cambridge was heavily involved in EU-funded projects, and that meant hosting European scientists on their frequent project visits, or longer-term on research studies. Visitors from outside Europe were also commonplace, and I guess I assumed that a) this is the way it is, and b) this is the way it always will be. The political changes in the last 12 months have greatly changed the outlook in terms of the UK's position within European science, and also now the US's position as a powerhouse in global scientific leadership and cooperation. As the UK heads towards Brexit, I don't think anyone is quite sure where that leaves UK scientists positioned. Will they still be able to be part of EU-funded projects, maybe as observers/non-funded collaborators only? What about the freedom of movement to and from EU academic institutions?
For the US, the funding outlook is at best, blurry. There has been a great deal of focus on the new attitude of government towards all aspects of science, and budget cuts look inevitable. Couple this with tighter control of access to scientific institutions, and heightened border control, means that reduced ability to collaborate and cooperate also looks inevitable. I have gained immensely, both professionally and personally from time spent on internationally-funded studies, time spent in various international institutions and from time spent hosting international visitors. I would argue that these activities are all essential not only for science to progress, but for friendships between countries to develop and endure.
Although the outlook is rather negative, I have also had some extremely positive, 'international' experiences recently that leave me hopeful. Firstly, last December, I got to attend the 4th Global Conference on Animal Welfare, hosted by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was great to see that animal welfare is truly becoming a global issue, and not just one for 'rich' countries. And following on from that, as part of my ISAE duties, I was able to secure funding to allow 14 scholars from developing countries to be able to attend the ISAE Congress in Denmark next month. For the first time, we will have attendees coming from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Colombia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Egypt. We also have India, China, Brazil represented. I'm excited to meet them all and make new friendships and, hopefully, some new collaborations. We need to work together.