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1.2.2007 | Von:
Jessica Guth

Other factors influencing the mobility of scientists and their choice of destination: mobility triggers

Traditional migration literature tends to view the motivation for moving and the choice of destination country in terms of push and pull factors.
Abschlussfeier der Uni BonnGraduation ceremony at the University of Bonn. (© picture alliance/JOKER)

Basic economic migration models emphasise the role of wage differentials as reasons for migrating and for choosing a particular destination. Research also points to financial security and working conditions. While some commentators take wider factors into account, migration literature generally assumes some sort of cost-benefit analysis on the part of the potential mover. It has been suggested that "migration starts with imaging the new destination, continues with balancing benefits and costs, and ends with an actual move." [1] In the literature on highly-skilled migrants and on scientists in particular, improved working conditions, pay and opportunities for scientific work are among the main drivers discussed, with only a few commentators highlighting the influence of more personal factors.

While push and pull factors may influence the migration of the highly-skilled, mobility and choice of location amongst early career scientists is also linked to certain mobility triggers, which are neglected in most literature and will therefore be considered here. Mobility triggers include impetuses, events, persons or contexts that make mobility a workable possibility and a reality for a particular scientist. Mobility triggers act in a way which is not necessarily planned or controllable by the scientists and which adds considerably to a chance element in scientific mobility. This is not to say that it is beyond the power of a state to influence the mobility of scientists; rather, as will be argued in the conclusion, states may need to look beyond issues such as working conditions, pay and legislation in seeking to increase the inflow of such highly-skilled people. The triggers discussed here are networks, undergraduate exchange programmes, fellowship opportunities as well as family and partners.


While it has been claimed that "it can be safely said that networks rank among the most important explanatory factors of migration," [2] some researchers point out that the role of "ad hoc" networks in scientific mobility has been downplayed in favour of a focus on mobility through transnational companies and "organizational channels." [3] However, scientists generally move with little corporate support, so scientific mobility "rather takes place through networks, individual motivation and risk." [4] It therefore seems necessary to direct more attention toward the way in which "ad hoc" scientific networks emerge and function, in order to understand and promote the patterns of mobility that derive from them.

Scientific networks often emerge as the result of international collaboration. Project partners go to partner institutions for short visits or longer research stays. Established professors send younger colleagues to learn new techniques or ways of working; in turn, more senior scientists are invited to lend their expertise and share their knowledge. Thus scientific networks are formed and expanded every step of the way. These collaborations and international settings often lead to scientists being "socialised to the idea of migration" [5] and to the expectation of mobility being reinforced. The role of networks in scientific mobility cannot be underestimated, and almost every scientist will make use of professional contacts or wider networks in order to advance their work or their career at some point. The earlier these networks can be established, the more scope there is for scientists to draw on them. Increased international science funding that fosters collaborations between countries and brings together multi-national research teams can be a powerful tool in establishing networks and thus in promoting mobility.


See Hadler (2006).
See Arango (2000).
"Organisational channels" refer to formal mechanisms which are in place to facilitate mobility such as transfers between different offices of the same company etc. See Arango (2000) and Willliams et al (2004).
See Ackers (2005a).
See Ferro (2006).



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