Friday, December 28, 2007

First Questions

And so at my first ever lecture (though a guest lecture) at Beida I was asked this question: "How long can the U.S. maintain its preeminent position in science?" (my translation from the Chinese)

Instinctively, I answered "50 years" and started to rationalize my retort. I started to waffle about how the U.S. is still drawing talent from abroad, about how science is, at its core, a social activity, about how it make take 2 generations of people since I cannot see that the situation will be different in the next generation, about ...

Blame it on my jetlag; blame it on my inability to think and answer in Chinese on my feet. But I should have asked the students in attendence, "How many of you are planning to go abroad?" and "How many of you plan to come back?"

I think I better remember to ask these questions when the next opportunity arise. In casual conversation, some of my friends estimate that over 80% of entering Beida students want to go abroad. My guess is that the actual numbers are not very far off. But nobody knows how many of them eventually come back. And if the best go to the U.S. and stay, then ...

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