The first version of the Scholarly Migration Database (SMD) was finalized in 2022 at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR), in Rostock, Germany. The SMD is an active and continually evolving project with the goal of favoring research on the migration of scholars. It achieves its aims in part by making estimates and statistics obtained from bibliometric data more widely accessible. The SMD is also a growing community of dedicated scientists, students and research support staff who are both contributors to, and users of, the database.

Many things in science start with informal conversations, and the SMD is no exception. In 2017, Emilio Zagheni, at the time faculty at the University of Washington, Seattle, reached out to his colleague Jevin West, an expert in science of science, to assess the feasibility of measuring migration of scholars on a global scale, using bibliometric data. The seeds for a future project were planted over a lunch meeting, but testing of ideas, and their implementation, did not start until 2018 when Emilio moved to the MPIDR, an institution that has access to large-scale bibliometric data from Scopus and Web of Science via the Max Planck Digital Library and the German Competence Center for Bibliometrics.

A first phase of the project started in 2018, with the arrival of Samin Aref to the MPIDR, and the subsequent involvement of a number of then students, student assistants and researchers (Andrea Miranda-Gonzalez, Asli Ebru Sanlitürk, Alexander Subbotin, Chowdhury Majedur Rahman, Maciej J. Dańko and Xinyi Zhao). During this initial period, alternative approaches were tested in order to identify and address data issues while developing a number of case studies that focused on individual countries or sets of countries.

The second major phase of expansion of the project started with the deeper involvement of Tom Theile and Aliakbar Akbaritabar, who developed a set of best practices to analyze data at a global scale, at different levels of geographic granularity, and to produce estimates of the highest possible quality.

Currently, major external collaborators include: Ridhi Kashyap (University of Oxford), Francesco Billari (Bocconi University) and Guy Stecklov (University of British Columbia).

See the Team page for an introduction of the SMD's current core team, advisory board members and current and former collaborators.