• October 24, 2014

Doctoral Degrees Rose in 2011, but Career Options Weren't So Rosy

Doctoral Degrees Rose in 2011, but Career Options Weren't So Rosy 1

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Upward trends in the share of research doctorates earned by women and minority students continued last year. But the proportion of new doctoral recipients who reported having definite job commitments or a postdoctoral position fell in both the humanities and sciences, and was at the lowest level in the past 10 years.

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close Doctoral Degrees Rose in 2011, but Career Options Weren't So Rosy 1

iStock

Upward trends in the share of research doctorates earned by women and minority students continued last year. But the proportion of new doctoral recipients who reported having definite job commitments or a postdoctoral position fell in both the humanities and sciences, and was at the lowest level in the past 10 years.

American universities awarded a total of 49,010 research doctorates in 2011, a 2-percent increase from 2010, according to an annual survey by the National Science Foundation.

A report describing the survey's findings, released on Wednesday, says that almost three-quarters of all doctorates awarded last year were in science and engineering fields, a proportion that increased by 4 percent from the previous year. During the same period, the number of doctorates awarded in the humanities declined by 3 percent.

That decline was attributed in part to the reclassification of most doctor-of-education degrees as professional rather than research doctorates. Without that decrease in education degrees, the overall number of research doctorates awarded would have exceeded 50,000, said Mark K. Fiegener, a project officer at the NSF.

Mr. Fiegener noted that certain trends were continuing. "There's increased representation of women in all fields, with greater numbers in the hard sciences and engineering," he said. "The same is true with race and ethnicity, but to a lesser degree."

Women continue to become more prevalent with each cohort of doctorate recipients, according to the report. They earned 42 percent of doctorates in science and engineering in 2011, up from 30 percent 20 years ago. The share of doctorates awarded to black students rose to over 6 percent in 2011, up from a little over 4 percent in 1991. And the proportion of Hispanic doctorate recipients increased from a little over 3 percent in 1991 to just over 6 percent last year.

Despite the gains in degree attainment, trends on postgraduate career opportunities appear to reflect the broader economic malaise. The proportion of new doctoral recipients who reported having definite job commitments or a postdoctoral position fell in both the humanities and sciences, and was at the lowest level in the past 10 years.

Meanwhile, the proportion of students who planned to pursue postdoctoral positions continued rising, especially in engineering and social-science fields. Last year more than two-thirds of doctoral graduates in the life sciences, and over half of those in engineering, took postdoctoral positions immediately after graduation.

Five years ago 33 percent of graduates in the humanities had no employment or postdoctoral commitments upon completion; that number rose to 43 percent in 2011.

The report, "Doctorate Recipients From U.S. Universities: 2011," is available on the National Science Foundation's Web site.

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