British chemists abroad, 1887-1971: the dynamics of chemists' careers

Roberts, Gerrylynn K. and Simmons, Anna E. (2009). British chemists abroad, 1887-1971: the dynamics of chemists' careers. Annals of Science, 66(1) pp. 103–128.



This paper investigates the extent of overseas migration by British chemists over the period 1887-1971. Notwithstanding the ‘brain drain’ alarms of the 1960s, overseas employment was characteristic of some 19% of British chemists’ careers throughout our period, though its nature changed considerably. Those employed abroad were not only highly qualified but also both geographically mobile and occupationally versatile. Over the period, the pattern of chemists’ migration was broadly similar to that of British migration trends more generally. Except in the interwar years, chemists’ rate of migration was relatively constant. However, the length of time they spent abroad declined markedly over the period. From the late 19th century, British chemists staffed the Empire, but also found employment in the expanding US economy. After 1945, chemists’ destinations shifted more markedly towards North America, including Canada, and later also to Europe. Our work thus provides a new perspective on the dynamics of scientists’ migration and contributes to studies on the brain drain.

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