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Ph.D. Pipeline Expands Slightly

November 29, 2010

WASHINGTON -- The number of research doctorates awarded by American universities grew slightly in 2009, with virtually all of the increase accounted for by an upturn in Ph.D.s and other degrees granted to women, according to newly reported data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates. The study also documents the first drop in five years in the number of doctorates awarded to non-U.S. citizens.

The report, which was released last week by the National Science Foundation, provides the first look at data from the latest cohort of the annual survey sponsored by the science foundation and five other federal agencies and conducted by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. The survey provides data on who the doctorate recipients are, the fields they are in, and -- increasingly important in this economic climate -- how they are faring in the job market.

Over all, the number of research doctorates granted by academic institutions in the United States in 2009 rose to 49,562, up 1.6 percent from 48,763 in 2008. As seen in the table below, seven of the eight overarching scientific fields saw increases -- with computer science the lone exception -- with the mathematical sciences experiencing the largest proportional gain, followed by agricultural sciences and the social sciences.

The number of doctorates granted in engineering fields fell over all, by nearly 3 percent, but there was extreme variation in how subfields fared. with a big drop in the largest such discipline, electrical engineering, and in industrial engineering, but a 10 percent increase in aerospace and aeronautical engineering.

In non-science fields, Ph.D's in the humanities edged up by nearly 3.5 percent, driven by sizable gains in history and in "other" humanities fields (and despite a drop in language and literature doctorates), while communication doctorates soared by nearly 11 percent and doctorates awarded in health and education were essentially flat. The NSF report focuses exclusively on research-oriented doctorates, ignoring many practice-oriented degrees in fields such as education and health.

Doctorates Awarded 1999 to 2009, by Field of Study

Field 1999 2004 2008 2009 % Change, 2008 to 2009 % Change, 2004 to 2009
All fields 41,098 42,118 48,763 49,562 1.64% 17.67%
Science and engineering 25,931 26,275 32,832 33,470 1.94% 27.38%
--Science 20,601 20,498 24,973 25,836 3.46% 26.04%
----Agricultural sciences 1,065 1,045 1,087 1,166 7.27% 11.58%
----Biological sciences 5,581 5,942 7,798 8,026 2.92% 35.07%
------Biochemistry 759 703 898 859 -4.34% 22.19%
------Molecular biology 716 725 786 763 -2.93% 5.24%
------Neurosciences 431 584 884 979 10.75% 67.64%
------Other biological sciences 3,675 3,930 5,230 5,425 3.73% 38.04%
----Computer sciences 856 948 1,787 1,611 -9.85% 69.94%
----Earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences 706 671 865 877 1.39% 30.70%
----Mathematics 1,083 1,076 1,399 1,554 11.08% 44.42%
----Physical sciences 3,579 3,350 4,082 4,289 5.07% 28.03%
------Chemistry 2,132 1,986 2,247 2,398 6.72% 20.75%
------Physics and astronomy 1,430 1,349 1,835 1,891 3.05% 40.18%
----Psychology 3,668 3,327 3,356 3,471 3.43% 4.33%
----Social sciences 4,063 4,139 4,599 4,842 5.28% 16.98%
--Engineering 5,330 5,777 7,859 7,634 -2.86% 32.14%
----Aerospace/aeronautical engineering 206 201 266 296 11.28% 47.26%
----Chemical engineering 576 638 872 808 -7.34% 26.65%
----Civil engineering 506 547 712 708 -0.56% 29.43%
----Electrical engineering 1,236 1,389 1,887 1,694 -10.23% 21.96%
----Industrial/manufacturing engineering 211 217 280 252 -10.00% 16.13%
----Materials science engineering 393 474 635 622 -2.05% 31.22%
----Mechanical engineering 786 754 1,081 1,095 1.30% 45.23%
----Other engineering 1,416 1,557 2,126 2,159 1.55% 38.66%
Non-science and engineering 15,167 15,843 15,931 16,092 1.01% 1.57%
--Education 6,552 6,633 6,554 6,531 -0.35% -1.54%
--Health 1,407 1,718 2,090 2,094 0.19% 21.89%
--Humanities 5,036 5,012 4,502 4,667 3.67% -6.88%
----Foreign languages and literature 626 587 627 602 -3.99% 2.56%
----History 960 927 923 989 7.15% 6.69%
----Letters 1,516 1,407 1,420 1,414 -0.42% 0.50%
----Other humanities 1,934 2,091 1,532 1,662 8.49% -20.52%
--Professional fields 2,172 2,480 2,785 2,800 0.54% 12.90%
----Business management/administration 1,111 1,254 1,421 1,403 -1.27% 11.88%
----Communication 418 473 588 651 10.71% 37.63%
----Other professional fields 642 753 776 746 -3.87% -0.93

Source: Survey of Earned Doctorates

Almost all of the overall growth in the number of science and engineering doctorates can be traced to gains among women. As seen in the table below, the number of men receiving doctorates in the sciences actually fell slightly from 2008 to 2009. (Men and women equally split the gains in non-science and engineering doctorates earned.) The gains for women were noted in a report this fall from the Council of Graduate Schools that, including as it does data on practice-oriented degrees in fields such as education and nursing, showed women actually overtaking men for the first time in the number of doctorates earned.

All of the racial and ethnic groups tracked by the federal government saw increases in the number of doctorates earned in 2009 except for Native American/Pacific Islander, and there was a big drop in the number of doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders, in both science and non-science fields.

Characteristic 2004 2008 2009
All doctorate recipients 42,118 48,763 49,562
--Science and engineering 26,274 32,825 33,442
----Male 16,418 19,854 19,849
----Female 9,856 12,971 13,593
       
----U.S. citizen or permanent resident 15,578 18,344 19,473
------American Indian/Alaska Native 60 59 75
------Asian 1,496 1,914 1,970
------Black 755 825 947
------Hispanic 719 1,085 1,093
------White 12,063 13,910 14,754
------Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander 45 48 46
------Two or more races 227 326 427
------Other 213 177 161
----Temporary visa holders 9,164 12,628 12,217
       
--Non-science and engineering 15,842 15,928 16,086
----Male 6,546 6,409 6,489
----Female 9,296 9,519 9,597
 
----U.S. citizen or permanent resident 12,141 12,207 12,488
------American Indian/Alaska Native 71 63 71
------Asian 565 639 717
------Black 1,234 1,192 1,274
------Hispanic 583 684 773
------White 9,388 9,315 9,299
------Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander 18 21 29
------Two or more races 162 194 224
------Other 120 99 101
----Temporary visa holders 2,469 2,629 2,507

The 2009 data show relatively little change (positively or negatively) in the job prospects for doctorate recipients over all, with the proportion of graduates reporting a "definite commitment" of postdoctoral employment at 70 percent, roughly where it has been since 2007. But within subfields, the variation was significant. Doctorate recipients in the life sciences reported a 2 percentage point gain in the proportion with definitive commitments, while those in education, health and humanities fields each saw a 2 percentage point drop.

And the types of positions reported by the doctorate recipients suggests that those who were finding jobs were less likely to find permanent positions, even in the sciences. Of those 2009 recipients reporting a "definite commitment" of a job after grad school, 33.6 percent said they would have a postdoc position, up from 31.6 percent in 2008, while the proportion saying they were employed in academe dipped to 36.1 percent from 37.5 percent in 2008.

The shift toward postdocs was especially steep among engineers, as 31.4 percent of engineering doctorate recipients reporting "definite commitments" for jobs said they had postdoc positions, up from 26.6 percent in 2008. The proportion saying they had jobs in academe fell to 11.6 from 15.2 percent, and in industry to 42.5 percent from 43.9.

 

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