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National Science Foundation National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards: 2006


Appendix A. Technical Notes


Survey Description

The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) is an annual census of all individuals who receive a research doctorate from a U.S. academic institution in a given academic year (1 July through 30 June of the next year). (See "Coverage," below, for information on research doctorates.) The survey is designed to obtain data on the numbers and characteristics of individuals receiving research doctorates from U.S. institutions, and the results are used to assess trends in doctorate production. This information is vital for educational and labor-force planners in the federal government and in academia.

The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences conducted the survey under contract to the National Science Foundation (NSF) until 1997; the National Opinion Research Center (Chicago, IL) currently conducts the survey under contract to NSF.

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Data Collection

All individuals, as they receive their research doctorate, are asked to complete the SED. The survey contractor relies on its contacts in graduate dean or registrar offices to (1) identify each year's universe of research doctorate recipients and (2) distribute and collect SED questionnaires from these graduates. Institutions then forward completed questionnaires to the survey contractor for editing and processing. The contractor also performs a follow-up if critical items or forms are missing.

Because the survey collects a complete college education history, and one-third of doctorate recipients from U.S. universities are from foreign countries, coding of institutions is very important. Institutional coding for the SED is done using a coding manual for foreign institutions of higher education developed by the U.S. Department of Education.[1] Survey staff have augmented this manual with over 3,000 additional institutions from the Europa World of Learning, published by the Routledge-Taylor & Francis group (see http://www.worldoflearning.com/). This coding frame has been used to code the baccalaureate and master's institutions of persons who came to the United States to earn their doctorates.

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Respondents are grouped into academic years. For the 2006 SED, the academic year is from 1 July 2005 to 30 June 2006. The population for the 2006 survey consisted of all individuals who received research doctorates (only first doctorates are included) from U.S. academic institutions in the 12-month period ending 30 June 2006. The total universe consisted of 45,596 persons in over 400 institutions that conferred research doctorates in 2006.

Research doctoral programs are oriented toward preparing students to make original contributions to knowledge in a field and typically entail writing a dissertation. The predominate research doctorate is the PhD, but other research doctorates, such as the DSc, EdD, and DMA are covered by the SED (see http://www.norc.org/SED.htm for the full list). Not included are professional doctorates, such as the MD, DDS, DVM, OD, PharmD, PsyD, and JD. Doctoral programs are dynamic entities, and changes in the focus of programs over time make the designation as a research doctoral program fluid. That is, as doctoral programs evolve to meet the needs of students, the orientation of some may change from research to professional and vice versa. Survey staff review individual doctoral programs annually to ensure that designation as a research doctoral program and inclusion in the SED is still appropriate.

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Key Variables

The following are key variables of the survey:

  • Academic institution attended
  • Citizenship status at graduation
  • Country of birth
  • Country of citizenship
  • Birth year
  • Disability status
  • Educational attainment of parents
  • Educational history after high school
  • Field of degree specialty (N = 279)
  • Field of employment
  • Financial support (e.g., fellowship, research assistantship)
  • Kind of academic institution that conferred degree (e.g., Carnegie classification, size, public or private)
  • Kind of employment planned (e.g., postdoctoral appointment, employment sector)
  • Marital status
  • Number of dependents
  • Place of birth
  • Postgraduation plans
  • Race and Hispanic ethnicity (by subgroup)
  • Sex
  • Work activity planned after doctoral degree

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Of the 45,596 new research doctorates granted in academic year 2006, 92.1% of degree recipients returned their completed survey instruments. Limited records (containing field of study, doctoral institution, and sex) for nonrespondents are constructed based on information collected from administrative lists of the university—commencement programs, graduation lists, and other similar public records. Nonresponse was concentrated in certain institutions; graduates from 10 institutions accounted for 33% of the total nonrespondents.

Item nonresponse rates in 2006 for the most frequently used variables ranged from 0.2% for sex to 7.6% for postgraduation location. No imputation was performed for missing data items. A detailed methodology report for the 2006 SED is available upon request.

Key variable Item response rate (%)
Sex 99.8
Citizenship status at graduation 94.0
Country of citizenship (non-U.S. citizens) 93.9
Race/ethnicity 93.4
Postgraduation location (U.S. or foreign) 92.4

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Data Comparability

The survey has been completed each year since 1957 by individuals who receive research doctorates. Each year's survey data are compiled in the Doctorate Records File (DRF), and trend data are available to academic year 1957–58. More limited information (sex, institution, field, and year of doctorate) is contained in the DRF for doctorate recipients who graduated in the period 1920–56. Additional survey responses received after the close of the data collection are added to the DRF later; therefore, historical data in the DRF may change slightly over time due to these additional, late responses.

The race and ethnicity questions on the survey form were revised in 2001. For the years 2001 and later, data in the "Asian" category exclude the "Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander" category, and Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders are included in the "Other/unknown" category, as are multiple race/ethnicity response data. Data in the "Cuban" category are combined with those in the "Other Hispanic" category in this report.

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Availability of Data

Data from this survey are published annually in the Detailed Statistical Tables series Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards. Reports in this series (since 1994) and related reports are available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/doctorates/. Survey data for earlier years were published in Science and Engineering Doctorates: 1960–91 (NSF 93-301). This report is out of print, but tables from it are available on request.

Information from the survey is included in the series Science and Engineering Degrees, in Science and Engineering Indicators, and in Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, all available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/.

Results are also included in a publication series on all fields of study, Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report. This interagency report is sponsored by the federal agencies that support the Survey of Earned Doctorates (six agencies in 2006). The report is available at http://www.norc.org/SED.htm.

Selected summary data from this survey are available by institution from the NSF WebCASPAR database at http://webcaspar.nsf.gov. Access to restricted data for researchers interested in analyzing microdata may be arranged through a licensing agreement (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/database.cfm#MICRODATA).


[1] Hunt ES. 1996. Mapping the World of Education: The Comparative Database System (CDS). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education; National Science Foundation. Available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/mapping/.

Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards: 2006
Detailed Statistical Tables | NSF 09-311 | March 2009