I floated for a few years in graduate programs. Many of my friends in these programs were from countries from around the world, more so, I noticed, than my undergraduate program. I asked many of them why they chose to come to the U.S. to study and they all usually responded with some form of:  “in general, graduate programs in the U.S. are much better than in ______, there’s more of an emphasis on developing independent critical thinking skills.”

Well, that may no longer be the case for too long. The National Science Board recently stated in their biennial report on science and engineering that the gap between the amout of money the U.S. spent on research and development, compared to foreign countries, on related doctoral programs has narrowed.  Growth of R&D in the U.S. was about 6%, spending about $366B, a third of the world’s overall commitment of $1.1 trillion dollars. And whereas overall spending per country of the remaining two-thirds is smaller, countries such as India and Korea grew an average of 9-10%, with China averaging more than 20%.  And these newly minted graduates are staying home, never to experience study in Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Cambridge, or every university town in these fifty states.

Beyond a diverse pool of minds presenting a global perspective in classrooms and symposiums, what helped make me a better person-an Irish Catholic guy from a blue-collar Massachusetts town-was the small qualitative stuff I learned over time, close contact with people from other cultures together in a small tight group of academics in training–they were close friends.

The next generation of graduate students in the U.S. may not have the degree of exposure to a culturally diverse group of peers that I did (i.e. my doctoral program was >50% non- U.S. citizens).  I benefitted from learning yoga by my Chinese pal Yang, or his sharing with me his eyewiness account of Tiananmen Square, and of course vacationing on Cape Cod with twelve grad students with “Team India” showing us how to mix a proper marsala curry from scratch. Yum!

I learned a lot in grad school, but in retrospect, the stuff that really seemed  to count isn’t all that much quantifiable; it was the small stuff that mattered.