Where are the native Americans ?

When I practiced neurology in Montana in the 70’s and 80’s I would have received some very strange looks from my Crow or Cheyenne patients if I called them ‘native Americans’.  They called themselves Indians and everyone else did too.  Clearly the definition has changed, so it may be OK if I change it again to mean someone who was born in the USA rather than abroad (like my two grandchildren born in Hong Kong).

I sometimes eat breakfast with an electrical engineering prof at the local diner.  I was interested in whether applications to grad school had fallen off.  He said they had.  I assumed that the fall off  was from the middle east, but he said his students were mostly from China and India.  Then he went on and said that Americans (by which I mean native Americans) simply weren’t going for higher degrees in engineering. This was completely different (in Chemistry at least) back in the early 60s.  Our whole cohort was US born and bred, except for one Sikh.  The postDocs were from all over — Scotland, Japan, India (particularly Sikh’s).


Well nearly 60 years is a long time, so I asked a family member EE PhD about it.  Here’s what he said

“I don’t have statistics from Berkeley grad school 1975-80, when I was there, but it certainly seemed like U.S.-born grad students were a minority — and a small one — in the EECS department.

One of the issues here is that in many cultures around the world, especially in developing countries, engineers sit at or near the top of the socio-economic heap. So bright students outside the U.S. want to become engineers while bright U.S.-born students want to become medical doctors and lawyers. I’ve heard various comments about this over the years from my foreign colleagues. They find it amusing that medical doctors and lawyers are so venerated here in the U.S.”
It is remarkable that there had been such a change in 15 years.  Granted that the engineers were mostly at MIT, most of the people I knew there in the 60s were American born.
So yesterday at Harvard Graduate Alumni Day, I asked for the (rough) percentage of foreign born grad students (in everything) and was told it was about 1/3.  Also that their applications were up.
This is good for Harvard, but if what is going on at the local State University is typical of the rest of the country it does not bode well for us. Back in the day, a friend said that the universal scientific language was broken English.  Of the 7 Nobels of the Harvard Chemistry department since the 60s, three (Bloch, Hoffmann, Karplus) were born abroad and got out because they were Jewish.  One hid in an attic for 18 months as a child.
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