Ahead of the UK referendum on membership of the European Union, scientists largely came out in support of voting to Remain in the EU. But, on 23rd June, those voting Leave secured a narrow majority. In recent weeks, UK government ministers have affirmed that ‘Brexit means Brexit‘ and ‘Brexit means leaving the European Union‘ but there has been little information about what this will mean in practice. Rumours and uncertainty are escalating in this vacuum, not least within the scientific community, and stories are beginning to emerge of UK scientists being excluded from collaborations with their EU colleagues.
Here Alina Cristina Marin, an EU national studying Neuroscience at the University of Glasgow, shares her reaction to the referendum result and her concerns for the future.
“I didn’t stay up to watch the results and overslept that morning. I was on my way to the lab for my summer project and scrolling through a news app by the time I got the results. When the page finally loaded, I was shocked. I had to stop walking and I just stood there for a moment, to catch my breath. It took a moment for the sadness, and the realization that perhaps not everyone who voted Leave was an idiot, to settle in. Dreams, hopes, life plans, shattered in a second.
After a while, my rage at the system started to go away. However, the uncertainty remains: Will I be able to stay here for a PhD? Will I be eligible for funding? Do I want to stay in a country that keeps rejecting ideas that are close to my heart? High school students from my home country who are applying to study in the UK are thinking whether they should withdraw their applications. Even if tuition fees stay the same for a while, what about what comes next? Is a future in the UK still worth all the hard work and sacrifices that an EU student is making to be here?
Immigration has also become a large part of the Brexit argument. I have heard a lot, particularly from certain news outlets and politicians, about “immigrants stealing our jobs” and curbing immigration. For many, this seems to have been a major reason for voting Leave. I’ve been fortunate enough not to experience any direct negativity regarding my international status, but it’s hard not to feel that this rhetoric is aimed at me. There are a lot of great arguments about this out there, but I’d like to talk specifically about how it reflects on students and science. It’s true that there are a lot of EU nationals on my course at university. Similarly, around half of the people in the lab where I’m doing my summer project are also EU nationals. You might argue that if you got rid of all EU nationals (and other non-UK citizens), you’d be left with a lot of university places and research jobs that could be filled by British students. So, in a way, it is true that we, the “bl**dy immigrants”, are taking these jobs. You have to wonder though, how many of those jobs exist only because of collaborations between countries? How many of the big advancements in science and technology were made due to the contribution of EU scientists working in the UK? And last but not least, how much have we all learnt from each other, European or British, and how much has this competition helped us all achieve our best?
During the past month, I have received a lot of support from my British friends, and letters from the vice-principal of my university, as well as my local MP and MSP. I have never been told I should “pack my bags”. Maybe it’s because I have picked up a Scottish accent and I drink Irn Bru in-between my curling games…
I have already left my family behind and the security of a medical degree to pursue my research dream. It required hard work and sacrifices were made along the way. I feel quite confident that there will be a way for me to stay here as an EU national. I’m not worried I will be kicked out of the country in the middle of the night (though it did cross my mind…), but life after Brexit will definitely be harder. And I do wonder, is it all worth it?”