Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Understanding the Motivation of Chinese Returnee Scholars in Research Collaboration

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 10:15 AM
Grenada (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Feng Li, Hohai University
Bringing back global talents has become important national initiatives to enhance research and education in China. Returnee scholars have been reported to have “some kind of transnational capital” [1], especially their ability in promoting global knowledge exchange through international mobility and research collaboration.

Several recent studies have examined the collaborative behaviour of returnee scholars, and found some evidence that overseas experience may have a positive impact on returnee scholars’ tendency towards frequent international research collaboration as well as better research quality. [2-3] It seems certain that returnee scholars have shown required responsibilities in using their transnational capital to flourish scientific research in their home countries. However, some other authors have pointed out that the success of the localisation of a returnee’s transnational capital may face some inevitable obstacles, such as week local social networks and cultural differences.[4-5] We have found similar evidences that some returnee scholars in China have not collaborated internationally as often as expected in our last research. [6] Most of these studies have focused on the macro and meso level of collaborative behavior of returnee scholars and contributed in answering “How do returnee scholars behave in research collaboration?”, while the micro-level examination of “Why do returnee scholars behave like this?” has not been adequately studied. This paper is an attempt to fill this void in the current literature by doing in-depth interviews combined with grounded theory on the motivation of Chinese returnee scholars in research collaboration.

We choose a group of returnee biologists affiliated with a life science-related research institute located in Beijing as our research targets. The research mainly involves the following steps: (1) using bibliometric methods to investigate each biologist’s collaborative network, and figuring out how each biologist collaborates, (2) doing in-depth interviews of each biologist on why he/she exhibits certain patterns of research collaboration, and knowing the collaborative process of each biologist’s representative research publication, (3) doing in-depth interviews of the research institute’s directors and management team on the institutional policy regarding the recruitment and research evaluation, and collecting the policy documents, (4) finally, using ground theory to develop a structured framework of the motivates of Chinese returnee scholars in research collaboration.

The study attempts to understand the collaborative motivation of Chinese returnee scholars from personal, institutional and socio-cultural contexts. For example, we are much interested in how pragmatism, institutional policy, social networks, cultural differences, etc., influence Chinese returnee scholar’s individual behaviour in research collaboration. Policy implications will be proposed on how to improve Chinese returnees’ collaborative networks and make better use of their transnational capital.


[1] Zweig D et al. 2004. China Quarterly 179, 735–757.

[2] Jonkers K & Tijssen R. 2008. Scientometrics 77 (2), 309–333.

[3] Murakami Y. 2014. Journal of Technology Transfer 39 (4), 616–634.

[4] Mullings B. 2011. Global Networks 11 (1), 24–42.

[5] Obukhova E et al. 2013. The Power of Local Networks.Working Papers.

[6] Li et al. 2015. Research Policy 44 (2), 438-450.