Does the Scientific Diaspora Have a Masculine Character?

February 23 | 2022

A new study shows that female and male scientists who have emigrated abroad collaborate differently with their Russian-speaking colleagues.

Irina Antoshchuk


Photos: Male scientists who have gone abroad have more opportunities to manage and organize processes and to gain advantages. (Photo by Headway on Unsplash)  


A Brief Story of the Scientific Diaspora

Since the 1990s, the issue of “brain drain” from Russia and the countries of the former USSR has been a subject of constant interest to scientists, officials, and journalists. For many years, a great number of studies have looked at the scientific diaspora, its relations with Russia, and the optimal models for how Russian-speaking scientists abroad should collaborate with their compatriots.

We have learned much about the Russian-speaking scientific diaspora:

Establishing contacts and cooperation with the Russian-speaking scientific diaspora is seen as one of the most affordable and effective ways to solve the “brain drain” issue.

(Read more about this in the postScientific Diaspora: A Valuable Resource or a Dangerous Competitor?”)


Gender Is Outside These Studies’ Focus

However, one topic receives extremely little attention: gender, gender relations, and gender specificity in the scientific diaspora.

We are accustomed to the masculine character of Russian émigré scientists; we rarely see and hear about female scientists who began their careers in the post-Soviet space and now work abroad. With rare exceptions, studies are insensitive to the gender characteristics of intellectual migration and transnational academic careers. The gender aspects influencing the formation and development of the scientific diaspora thus remain in shadow.

In this article, I would like to show why the gender dimension is unexpectedly important for understanding the development, consolidation or fragmentation of the scientific diaspora and its interaction with Russia and other post-Soviet countries.

To begin, we answer the question of what we already know about the gender composition of academic migration from Russia and the Russian-speaking scientific diaspora.


Men Are “Leaking” Abroad

Most papers assessing the extent of the brain drain since the 1990s do not provide a gender analysis of intellectual migration flows. The small number of works that do make us think that it has a “male” face.

Males dominate among immigrant scholars, while females make up only a small share of the total.

But in general the share of émigré female scientists is significantly lower than the share now working in Russian science.

Female scholars rarely decide to undertake a transnational migration for study/work. Taking into account that scholars who have left Russia are largely (more than 70%) representatives of the exact and natural sciences, in which the share of women is not high, we conclude: in the Russian-speaking scientific diaspora, male scholars are numerically predominant—that is, there is a pronounced gender imbalance.


Are Women Excluded from the “Asset” of the Scientific Diaspora?

Few data are available on this issue. The data we have found say that in the active part of the scientific diaspora, the share of women focused on interaction with Russian science is very small. It is apparently even lower than the share of women among immigrant scientists in general.



The female part of the scientific diaspora rarely collaborates with Russian scientists within the framework of a megagrant program:

Information about the winners of earlier competitions is not publicly available—except in the case of the 1st competition (2010), where all representatives of the diaspora who received grants were men.



At conferences and round tables where the issue of interaction with the scientific diaspora is discussed, men prevail as organizers, as creators of the discussion agenda, and as speakers.



In a survey of Russian-speaking scientists abroad (2015), the largest number of them were representatives of the exact and natural sciences; women accounted for only 11% of respondents. In a survey of representatives of socio-economic sciences, their share is noticeably higher (40%), but it is still less than the share of men.



Women are a minority in associations of Russian-speaking scientists abroad, but they might be more active in these associations’ work.

For example, many women in RASA (the Russian-American Science Association) speak at annual conferences and are members of its   coordinating committee. Although the presidency of RASA was long in men’s hands, the leading positions (president and vice-president) are currently held by women.


The question arises: Are female scientists really less active and interested in collaboration with former compatriots? How do men and women differ in their collaboration with the diaspora? What models of collaboration do they choose?

We will try to answer these questions using the example of a study conducted by Russian-speaking scientists in the field of computer science in the UK. As material for the analysis, we will use the list of their publications (298 people, DBLP computer science bibliography, 1990-2018). 


Diaspora Knowledge Networks

The scientific diaspora can be presented both as a group of individual immigrant scientists living abroad and as diaspora networks that connect those scientists who pursue common professional goals and carry out joint projects. Through networking communication, they combine their efforts and resources to achieve common goals to advance their interests.

Diaspora knowledge networks (DKNs) are usually transnational associations of highly skilled immigrants from a country; they have a common website and mailing list, an articulated mission and membership, and undertake various initiatives of collaboration with their parent country.

This concept includes:

Thus, the focus of my analysis is on ties and collaboration between Russian-speaking scientists in the UK and their former compatriots in Russia, the CIS, and other countries.


Men undertake closer collaboration with Russian-speaking colleagues living in different countries

Among Russian-speaking scientists in the field of computer science (RCS), males are expectedly predominant (80.2%). At the same time, the level of involvement of men and women in diaspora collaboration is approximately the same. To be more precise, it is equally high: the vast majority of women (79.7%) and men (84.5%) collaborate with Russian-speaking colleagues.



But the intensity of diaspora collaboration and its value differ substantially depending on gender.


(A comparative analysis of median (Mdn) and interquartile range (IQR) values and the Mann-Whitney test were used to identify gender differences)


  • On average, men publish more works with former compatriots than do women
  • On average, men have more Russian-speaking co-authors than women
  • Russian-speaking co-authors hold a more important place in men’s networks of scientific contacts than in women’s networks



A scientist’s position in the academic hierarchy matters greatly.

In temporary positions (postgraduate and postdoctoral), men and women show almost the same intensity of collaboration with the diaspora.

However, in permanent positions (ranging from a lecturer to a professor), men are more actively involved than women in diaspora knowledge networks.

  • Men have more Russian-speaking co-authors than women
  • Men publish more works in exclusively “Russian” teams than women
  • The importance of diaspora contacts (their share of the professional network) is much higher for men than for women.

For women, British contacts are more important


Men and women mainly collaborate with Russian-speaking colleagues who also work in the UK. But for women, British contacts are more important—they represent a surprisingly high share of diaspora ties.

Men’s diaspora contacts are more diverse:

  • ties with Russian-speaking scientists in the UK predominate
  • Russian-speaking colleagues in other developed countries are more important in their network of scientific relations than they are for women
  • For men, colleagues in Russia are comparable in importance to colleagues from developed countries. Women, meanwhile, very rarely collaborate with Russian scientists.
  • Both men and women have extremely few ties with their counterparts from the CIS countries


Men hold more influential positions in diaspora knowledge networks

The knowledge of male scholars holds more advantageous positions in terms of information exchange and knowledge circulation:

  • Men have more diaspora ties than women
  • Men are in closer contact with their Russian-speaking counterparts than women
  • Men are more likely to fill structural gaps and act as a bridge between network participants than women

Thus, male scholars hold the central positions in the diaspora knowledge network. They maintain closer ties with Russian-speaking researchers; they also act as intermediaries between colleagues and ensure network connectivity. Consequently, they have more opportunities to manage and benefit from processes.


“Male” Character of the Diaspora


The majority of female scientists were involved in collaboration with Russian-speaking colleagues, as were most men. However, women are inclined toward less intensive collaboration.

Moreover, this collaboration tends to become less valuable as one moves up the career ladder. The more women integrate into the academy of other countries and grow professionally, the more they enlarge their professional networks with non-Russian scientists.

Furthermore, women interact mainly with former compatriots in the country where they live now; their ties to Russia are scarce.



On the contrary, male scientists support intensive and active collaboration with Russian-speaking colleagues, increasing their number of contacts and joint publications as their career progresses. Collaboration with Russian-speaking colleagues thus plays a more important role in their scientific activity than it does for women.

Men are involved more extensively in collaboration with Russian scientists and this collaboration heavily influences their collaboration with Russian-speaking colleagues in Great Britain.

Men are more active representatives of the scientific Russian-speaking diaspora; they participate more in Russian initiatives and express greater interest in joint projects with Russian scholars than do women.


* * *

  • Why is diaspora-based collaboration gender-marked? How does it take a “male” character?
  • Why do women and men start from identical levels of diaspora collaboration but men’s engagement increases as they move up the career ladder?
  • Why do women prefer to work with Russian-speaking researchers in Great Britain but are less interested than men in collaboration with Russian colleagues? Do they appear to be excluded from these “male” networks and collaboration?

These questions are becoming the topics of a new discussion.


Irina Antoshchuk is a Ph.D. student at the University of Amsterdam and St. Petersburg State University.

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