Importing and exporting talent the Melbourne way

September 2015

- Professor Nadia Rosenthal - I’ve always been impressed with the way Melburnians connect. From local to global, Melburnians have a very attractive way of nurturing links and creating professional networks.

Networks are a critical element in the success of the science and technology sector in Victoria and one of Melbourne’s greatest competitive advantages in the innovation age. They will deliver the world to Melbourne’s doorstep over the next ten years.

In the space of fifty short years Melbourne has become a global science city, recognized around the world. Medical research and sport were together the first global communication systems that Melbourne invested in to drive recognition and economic and intellectual value on the world stage and they continue to be the vanguard.

Ten years from now Melbourne will be on every international scientist’s bucket list of top destinations to study and work.  Melbourne will have sharpened and honed her powers of persuasion and attraction, retaining and gaining the best of the worlds minds for a short time or a long time. It will be the flow of great minds in and out of this city that will continue to make Melbourne great. 

Melbourne will have come of age when it can celebrate home-grown and educated scientists and innovators leading institutions and companies in every corner of the globe and not lament their loss. International flag-bearers will regularly trek back to Australia, infusing the local network with energy, new ideas and technologies. Melbourne’s famous network will have spread beyond the boarder of Australian shores, colonising international technology mega cities.

As an American who relocated to Australia five years ago to establish the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute and European Molecular Biology Laboratory Australia, people often ask me why I chose to move so far away from my native country.  I can assure you it was not for sport, as much as I love listening to the whine of the Grand Prix from my St. Kilda garden.

The ‘tyranny of distance’ is a term I have learned since arriving here. It’s so wonderfully descriptive and when delivered with the inevitable long-suffering shake of the head, it serves as a reason, but rarely an excuse.   It can certainly feel tyrannical after a long haul flight from Europe.  But those networks reinforced and accelerated by the vast number of high value international meetings held in Melbourne and the international connections they support, combined with the extraordinary effort and value that is generously given by Club Melbourne Ambassadors in all fields of endeavour, brings the world to Melbourne’s doorstep. Ten years from now the ‘tyranny of distance’ will be nothing more than an place marker in time when air travel was painfully slow and high speed internet was an ambition.

Melbourne held out its hand years ago and offered me an extraordinary opportunity to create something that I knew was vital to the development of the Australian innovation landscape and particularly to the vast strength of local talent in regenerative medicine. EMBL Australia and ARMI are six years young. Both organisations were built from scratch with local, national and global support.  By supporting the establishment of ARMI, Monash fostered the first dedicated research institute for regenerative medicine in Australia, attracting rising and established stars from all corners of the world to work together on one of biology’s most mysterious functions and medicine’s most vexing problems.

EMBL Australia was established in Melbourne, placing its headquarters at ARMI, opening doors for some extraordinary young Australian researchers and attracting as many from overseas. The framework and philosophy that EMBL offers Australia  – nine years of uninterrupted funding and freedom to pursue adventurous discovery-based science, dedicated international support networks of infrastructure and talent partnered to a global facing organisation in Europe - is a blueprint for the future of medical research in Melbourne.

Melbourne’s advantage in ten years will have been realised by focussing on the brain gain, not the brain drain.  Melbourne innovators will be celebrated for travelling overseas, investing in networks and knowledge, not punished or made to feel like they were ‘selling out’ if they leave.  Melbourne will have recognised that the globalisation of innovation does not and should not be hindered by geographic boundaries. The opportunities that we need to create for younger scientists needs to be forged in global alliances not local thinking.

Throughout the next ten years Melbourne will continue to be recognised as a powerhouse of discovery, educating and delivering best-in-class graduates, as a safe, reliable and high quality manufacturing destination with supportive legislation, regulation and government policies and programs. Melbourne will still be the number one city in the world for a decent cappuccino (well, right behind Rome anyway), laneway culture and the mostly harmonious blend of footy, fashion and fine art.

In time, the global science frontier will return some of our home-grown talent to Melbourne to continue to invent, develop, commercialise and teach. Others will stay overseas, as proud Melburnians. I’ll move on to the United States later this year but I shall not be leaving Melbourne behind, instead I’ll be taking Melbourne with me.