Hamilton Spectator – Mac program targets top talent; School part of effort to attract and retain world’s best researchers

Call it McMaster’s brain gain.

This summer, some of the world’s best and brightest young minds are converging on the university as part of a unique program aimed at fostering global partnerships and boosting the school’s profile as an international research destination.

“Science is an international endeavour,” said Margaret Fahnestock, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences. “The more we can engage people around the world in our research, the better off Canada will be.”

Nine top undergraduate students from countries such as China, India, Mexico and Brazil have been matched up with Fahnestock and other professors as part of the 12-week research internship.

They’ll spend the summer meeting with local business leaders and contributing to research on everything from solar power to railway safety.

Fernando Eguiarte Solomon, a student at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City, is working with Fahnestock and her team to study the molecular underpinnings of Alzheimer’s disease — a dream job for the biopharmaceutical chemistry major.

“We’re hoping to get Fernando interested enough in this project that he’ll want to stay,” said Fahnestock.

And it looks like there’s a good chance he will.

The 24-year-old said he’s considering returning to Canada for graduate school. In fact, there’s a program right up his alley at the University of Toronto.

“I’m not sure when it will happen, but I’d like to,” he said.

While attracting budding researchers is crucial to the Mitacs Globalink program, it’s not the only benefit, Fahnestock noted. It also sets the bar high for her students, and exposes them to alternative methods of research.

“No matter where you are trained, it is always helpful and educational to see how things are done in another part of the world or in another lab,” she said.

It’s the fourth year McMaster has hosted students in the Globalink program, which is quickly expanding across the country. Since it started in 2009, it’s grown from 17 students to 285, at 32 Canadian universities.

“It’s a national program,” said Arvind Gupta, CEO and scientific director for Mitacs — a not-for-profit research organization. “It’s really designed for us to find a mechanism to put Canada on the global map in terms of attracting the top talent.”

In Gupta’s view, Canada simply hasn’t paid enough attention to international recruitment in the past — or its economic benefits. And he’s not just talking about student fees.

“What we don’t think about is the long-term economic impact,” he said.

It appears the federal government is listening. In the last budget, it allocated $13 million over two years to the program, and is pushing for Globalink to grow.

“They’ve asked us to look for opportunities for Canadian students to do something similar abroad, to get international research experience,” Gupta said.

Each year, more than 200,000 international students study in Canada, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. In 2010, international students spent in excess of $7.7 billion, created more than 81,000 jobs and generated over $445 million in government revenue, the department estimates.