Brexit, and now? Scientists share their personal thoughts and stories

Britain has voted to leave the European Union. Of course, this vote is, as many are quick to point out, not legally binding and does not equal an instantaneous exit of the UK from Europe. If anything, an exit will take over two years. What the result reflects, however, is a current trend to oppose mobility, immigration, and an overarching body, the EU, that collects and re-distributes money.

Whatever the UK does with the Brexit vote in the end and however it will be implemented, it’s near certain that this will negatively affect science across borders, as for example the Guardian, Times Higher Education, and the Scientific American write. One of the likely consequences is that European science funding will fall away, including the Intra-European Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowships. Incidentally, my recent post on the topic received most views from the UK (about 25% of all views up to today). In 2015, for example, the UK received 8.8 billion € of science funding (while giving the EU 5.4 billion € earmarked for the same purpose). However, statements and numbers are hard to relate to, so we are collecting stories of scientists on how the Brexit affects them here… If you want to add your own, just email us or comment! I’ll start.

Crossing borders is sometimes still a miracle for me, because I’ve got memories of a divided Germany and the western part of Europe being virtually unreachable. And yet, because the world changed, I could spend an Erasmus semester in Lisbon, get a Master’s and a PhD in the Netherlands (while living in Germany with my partner), and now work in Paris. I would say I fully embraced the opportunities the EU offers, and I am grateful for them.

As anyone on short term funding, I have started to look for good options for the next step, and the UK was actually a really promising candidate. For one, the language barrier there is lower than here in France. This does not only make my life easier, but also my partner’s, whom I already brought to France. The personal cost of this international scientist lifestyle can be great, and I am glad we’re doing this together. But will he be able to work in the UK? An early statement by Universities UK does not even inspire confidence in scientists’ visas, partner visas are not even mentioned… And to speak to those who voted for “leave” out of a fundamental disappointment, I think the next steps in the UK won’t concern foreign scientists but British working class people. On that note, will jobs that are funded by UK money even be open for me?

This uncertainty about our future, the possibility that – next to the personal and financial cost of being a scientist moving around for a job that I love – we will have to deal with immigration and visa issues (just look at how it went for Sho recently), makes it very unlikely that we even consider moving to the UK. That’s a shame because (right now at least) there are many great labs and really smart people I would love to work with in the UK, and the hurdle this referendum (and the eventual divorce from the EU) created seems so unnecessary, pointless, and misguided. Luckily, science is not made impossible by borders, and collaborations on small projects do not depend on funding, so I can and will continue working with the brilliant people in the UK as much as possible.


Rory Turnbull, post doc at the Ecole Normale Superieure (and desperate scientist on the cover image), has shared his thoughts. He is Scottish (an important distinction these days) but knows visa issues, having obtained his PhD in the USA. With the Brexit result his whole life might become much more complicated, because both options, working in the EU and moving home to the UK, are heavily affected when the UK leaves.

“Now there’s just a big question mark hanging over everything. Will freedom of movement be maintained, or will it become significantly harder for me to be mobile within the EU? Will my eligibility for grants change? (E.g. Will the UK be an “associated country” for Marie Curie fellowships?)”

“I used to be able to rely on EU regulations that guaranteed that my (American) wife has a right to live and work in the UK with me. There’s no guarantee of that now, and it’s strange to feel unwelcome in my home country.”


Katie von Holzen, post doc at Universite Descartes in Paris, writes:

“As scientists, we live for the unknown. We continuously push against the border of knowledge in the pursuit of discovery. But starting today, many European scientists will be living in the unknown. The new border that they will push against is not one of knowledge, but instead an actual border, one that makes it difficult for some to leave and for some to stay.”

“I’m an American researcher, but nonetheless, I’m sitting in the same unknown. I did my PhD in Germany and am currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in France. My German partner is also a researcher. Our relationship has been long-distance for over two and a half years and for the end of our current postdocs we are currently searching for cities we can both work in and funding to support that work. Surprisingly, the overlap between developmental psycholinguistics and rotocraft aerodynamics is not great. But, we have found a couple possibilities in North America and England that excite both of us.

It is the English possibility that is on my mind this morning. There are already many, many hoops to jump through for foreign researchers entering the UK. What will change? Will EU funding still apply? What will happen to established EU researchers in the UK?”

“These aren’t the questions that researchers in the EU typically pose. For many, however, our research questions will have to wait until these are answered.”

Brexit across the internet:
Chris Chambers shares his thoughts, from professional to very personal, in a great blog post.

Head to Buzzfeed for more stories from scientists!

There is also a fantastic post by 12 scientists working in the UK over on the wonderful “Women are Boring” blog, don’t miss it!


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