A scientist's view of the Fulbright program
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It provides opportunities for U.S. scholars at all levels of academic pursuit -- undergraduate and graduate students, teachers and researchers -- to teach, conduct research and exchange ideas in more than 140 countries during 2-12 month visits.
The Fulbright Program is administered by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs through the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars (CIES). It was established in 1946 by Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas and is designed to "increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries."
Research scholarships allow American professionals to travel to another country and work at a host institution on projects spanning all academic fields: arts, humanities, social, physical and life sciences, medicine, law and government service. The program provides funding to offset travel and lodging expenses and is commonly combined with academic sabbaticals for traditional scholars such as university and college professors.
Fulbright research scholarships are highly competitive due to the many benefits they provide: the freedom to pursue in-depth academic investigations; the exposure to leading researchers in other countries; the opportunity to develop new skills and to inspire new lines of research and to build international collaborative relationships. Furthermore the personal, family and social benefits of emersion in another culture make Fulbright scholarships highly desirable.
My Fulbright experience
One year ago, my family and I left for an eight month sabbatical, having been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue my research in computational seismology at the Laboratoire de Géophysique Interne et Tectonophysique (LGIT) in Grenoble, France. I am very grateful to the Fulbright Program for the award and to LLNL for supporting my Professional Research and Teaching (PRT) Leave during this period. This was an overall positive experience on every level for my family and me.
Personally, we enjoyed discovering life in another country. Everyday held new unexpected pleasures and challenges. We lived in a small, furnished apartment and managed very well with just the things we brought in a few suitcases. We did not have a car and got around town on our rented bicycles. My 10-year old daughter attended a local international public school and brought many diverse people into our lives through her friendships. My wife immersed herself in learning the French language and culture through the Alliance Française and conversation circles at Grenoble cafes. She did the shopping at the many open-air markets and specialty shops offering fresh, seasonal food so important to French culture. We were welcomed into to the homes of our new friends and my LGIT colleagues for dinners and learned about the way of life in France.
For me professionally, the experience was outstanding. I was able to pursue basic research that underlies the applied work I do to support LLNL programs. LGIT is a leading institution for seismology in Europe and I benefited from discussions of my investigations with many permanent faculty, staff and visitors. My new colleagues exposed me to their research, challenged me with critical reviews and provided fresh insights into my work. I returned from France with new energy and perspectives to direct toward my research at LLNL.
My Personal view
In my opinion, the Laboratory should encourage more of the technical staff to pursue Fulbright and other international scholarships and fellowships. These activities reflect positively on the Laboratory as a premier research institution and certainly warrant the support of PRT Leave. Such international sabbatical programs can promote recruiting and retention of the best talent for the Laboratory's sustained health. This feeds back into the direct-funded technical work that sustains the Laboratory. In a time of rapid globalization and an ever more interconnected world, understanding and exchange between cultures is more important than ever. Furthermore, indefinite American leadership in many fields of science and engineering is by no means certain. Thus, we can benefit as a Laboratory and nation from establishing international collaborations with peers outside the United States through programs like Fulbright.
If you want to work with leading researchers overseas, learn about your field in a global context, broaden LLNL's international collaborations and experience a different culture with your family while representing your country, maybe a Fulbright is in your future. For those interested in the Fulbright Program many resources can be accessed online. Applications for 2012-2013 traditional researcher program are due Aug. 1, 2011.