| NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Directorate for Social, Behavioral
and Economic Sciences
NSF 98-320 July 22, 1998
|by Alan I.
Recent S&E Ph.D.s with primary RA support were relatively more likely to work in industry.
Recent S&E Ph.D.s with primary RA or fellowship support were more likely than most others to report research as their primary activity.
Slightly more than half of recent Ph.D.s, but less than half of the overall doctoral science and engineering (S&E) workforce, are employed in academic institutions. Because of this employment pattern, which has continued for several decades, information about current graduate education practices is of interest. This includes concerns about the role of different types of financial support mechanisms in preparing doctoral students for employment in different sectors of the economy.
Graduate students tend to rely on multiple modes of financial support over the course of their doctoral studies, making assignment of a clear primary support mode difficult. However, students are able to identify which support mechanism they consider to have been primary-fellowship, research assistantship (RA), teaching assistantship (TA), traineeship, self-support, or other mechanisms. The students' responses can then be related to their subsequent employment. The relationships observed between support and employment are described here without any claim that the former causes the latter.
In 1995, over half of recent (1993-94) S&E Ph.D.s with primary RA, fellowship, trainee-ship, or TA support were working in academic institutions. However, those with primary RA support were relatively more likely to work in industry, and less likely to work in academia, than those with primary fellowship, traineeship, or TA support (table 1). Industry employed a third of those with RA support, but only 21 percent of those with TA support, 19 percent of those with fellowships, and 15 percent of those with traineeships. Academic institutions employed 51 percent of those with RA support, but 61 percent of those with fellowship, 65 percent of those with traineeship, and 66 percent of those with TA support. Similar results were obtained for U.S. citizens.
These findings are not limited to recent Ph.D.s interviewed in 1995. With a few minor exceptions, they hold as far back as 1979. Since 1979, those with primary RA support had a relatively greater propensity for industry employment-and a lower propensity for academic jobs-than those with primary fellowships, traineeships, and TAs.
A small number of universities-about 125 -dominate the conduct of academic research, while a much larger number-about 1,600-award four-year and advanced degrees in science and engineering. RA and fellowship supported S&E Ph.D.s who did enter academic employment disproportionately ended up working at these research universities. From 1979-95, these institutions employed from 59-68 percent of all the recent S&E Ph.D.s who were working in colleges and universities, including 71-84 percent of those in academic employment who had primary RA support, and 72-90 percent of those with primary fellowship support (figure 1). Recent S&E Ph.D.s tended to designate research as their primary activity more frequently than teaching, but responses differed with primary support mode (table 2). In 1995, 73-75 percent of recent S&E Ph.D.s with RAs and fellowships identified research as their primary job activity, compared to 56 percent overall, 54 percent of those with traineeships, and 40 percent of those with a TA. (However, 1995 is anomalous for the relationship between traineeships and work activity that appeared to hold during 1979-93.) This pattern also has been quite consistent since 1979 and is similar to that for recent U.S. citizen Ph.D.s only.
A significantly greater percentage of those with TAs as primary support and a significantly smaller percentage of those with a research assistantship were likely to report teaching as their primary work activity than the overall population of recent S&E Ph.D.s. This was true for both all recent S&E Ph.D.s and U.S. citizens only throughout the 1979-95 period. For S&E Ph.D.s with fellowships or traineeships, the propensity to report teaching as their primary work activity varied over these years.
Tentative conclusions and suggestions for further
As indicated earlier, the available data do not provide any information about the causes of these patterns, whether students who desire careers as researchers or in industry seek out RA support or whether the experiences associated with RA support influence the choice of employment sector and type of work sought by recent S&E Ph.D.s. Likewise, we cannot conclude from the finding that RAs disproportionately end up in industry that all is well with their training. These remain areas for further research.
This Issue Brief was prepared by:
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 Those receiving their doctorate in the two years preceding the biennial Survey of Doctorate Recipients.
 Includes full-time, part-time, and postdoctorates.
 For example, by the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP), 1995, Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
 Other includes own/family resources, loans, other nonspecified, and unknown.
 Except for 1987 when those with primary fellowship support had a lower propensity for academic jobs than RAs.
 The relationships between primary support mechanism, employment sector, and primary work activity may in part reflect factors not examined in this analysis: distribution of support mechanisms across specific fields, sectoral employment differences across these fields, etc.
 The Carnegie Commission calls them the research universities.