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More Ph.D.s but fewer job commitments

The production of science and engineering (S&E) Ph.D.s in the United States has reached a record high, according to the 2014 annual report on the Survey of Earned Doctorates, which the National Science Foundation issued 31 March. (An interactive version is also available.) The 40,588 S&E doctorates awarded in 2014 represent a 47% increase over the 27,680 awarded a decade earlier. Despite this growth, the report notes that “the proportion of 2014 doctorate recipients who reported definite commitments for employment or a postdoc position was at or near the lowest level of the past 15 years.”

The data also show that 63.8% of the physical scientists, 57.9% of the life scientists, and 57.0% of the engineers landed post-graduation jobs. Of those with definite plans for a position in the United States, 65.9% of the life scientists, 47.5% of the physical scientists, and 33.3% of the engineers were headed to postdocs. Each of these figures represents a drop from 2010, the peak year of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the so-called stimulus package following the 2008 economic collapse. Of those with jobs other than postdocs, 14.9% of the engineers, 29.2% of the physical scientists, and 46.7% of the life scientists reported they’d be working in academe, though the nature of their work was not indicated.

Postdocs, unsurprisingly, got the lowest salaries, ranging from a median of $40,000 in life sciences to $49,000 in physical sciences. Other, unspecified “employment in academe” paid better, ranging from a $57,000 median for physical scientists to $75,000 for engineers. The top earners among the new Ph.D.s were those working in industry, with physical scientists at $103,500, followed by engineers at $100,000 and life scientists at $87,000.

The number of women receiving science Ph.D.s has increased strikingly over the past 20 years, and faster than that of men, the report shows. Only 8643 women earned S&E doctorates in 1994, compared with 17,152 in 2014. The comparable figures for men are 18,446 for 1994 and 23,298 in 2014. The male numbers dipped around the turn of the present century, but the numbers of female Ph.D. scientists grew fairly steadily over the entire period. For women, the fastest-growing fields over the decade between 2004 and 2014 were materials science engineering and “other” engineering, which grew by 150.6% and 142.8%, respectively; computer and information sciences, with 104.5% growth; and physics and astronomy, with 96.5% growth.

Many other intriguing facts await in the survey’s data. You can read the full report here.

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