May 2010

One in a Land of 1,338,612,968


Andrea Stith
Andrea Stith is currently a research fellow in the Graduate School of Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai. Her work at SJTU is a continuation of her work as a German Chancellor Fellow at Humboldt University Berlin and Ludwig Maximillians University in Munich. Prior to her fellowship, Stith was a program officer in the office of grants and special programs at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a science policy analyst at FASEB and a AAAS/NSF Science and Technology Policy Fellow. She received her doctorate in biophysics from the University of Virginia in 2001 and her bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Delaware in 1995.

I am the only foreigner and native English speaker in my department and the first foreigner hired as an employee of my university. I also am one of 100,000+ expatriates living in Shanghai, a city of 16 million. And, I am still amazed, despite my many experiences in expansive and intimidating crowds, that I am living and working in a country with more than one billion people. Living in China as an African-American, scientist and teacher has its surprises, trials, adventures and delights. Most importantly, it also has a purpose.

One of the reasons I sought this opportunity is that I want to lead a life that is challenging and full of new experiences. I also want to add to my career in a way that is meaningful, unique and advantageous. I hope that my experiences and the knowledge I glean from my immersion in China will allow me to gain a nuanced understanding of the country and its academic, political and value systems, as well as its perspectives on global issues in education, science and technology.

Making a Change

Accepting a position as a research fellow in the Graduate School of Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University seemed like a necessary and natural next step when I made it. After having left the career path of a laboratory scientist, I’ve found a new path that suited me quite well. Positive experiences and the consideration of my true ambitions, interests and desires allowed me to shift my priorities and made a stint in China seem like a golden opportunity.

Before moving to China, I had been in Washington, D.C., doing policy for just over eight years: Right after receiving my doctorate in biophysics from the University of Virginia, I received a fellowship through the American Association for Advancement in Science Science and Technology Policy program and spent a year at the National Science Foundation. I then continued my work in policy at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Association for Women in Science.

While I’ve always loved traveling, my work never included a true international component. Domestic policy, specifically focused on graduate and postdoctoral education, was my area of focus and growing professional interest. As I learned more about the impact of foreign talent on U.S. research, I wanted to see whether I could combine these interests.

With the encouragement of friends and colleagues, I applied for, and ultimately received, a German Chancellor Fellowship with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The program’s support structure, which includes language lessons, visa assistance and travel funds, made the fellowship quite appealing. On the other hand, after leaving bench science, I had built a solid career foundation and was unsure about accepting a temporary post.


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