Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: Summary Report 2007-08
Postgraduation Plans, Employment, and Location
The SED questionnaire includes a number of questions about doctorate recipients' immediate plans for work or further training, and this section focuses on respondents who have definite postgraduation plans for work or training. The responses provide a useful overview of the number of doctorate recipients planning to enter academic positions, government and industry, and postdoctoral programs of research and further study. The SED also collects information on the main types of work activities—research, teaching, administration, and professional services to individuals—that the doctorate recipients anticipate in their new positions.
Nearly 7 in 10 of all doctorate recipients in 2008 reported having definite commitments for employment or postdoctoral research training or study (table 26). As defined here, respondents indicate a definite commitment either by reporting plans to return to or continue in their predoctoral employment or by reporting they had signed a contract or had made a definite commitment for postdoctoral research or other work. Respondents were not considered to have definite commitments if they reported any of the following to the SED: negotiating with one or more specific organizations, seeking a position but having no definite commitment yet, intending to enter into another full-time degree program, not planning to work or study, or some other situation, usually described by the respondent as "have not made a plan yet" (see question B3 in the survey questionnaire, appendix B). Of the 31% without definite commitments, 27% were negotiating, 61% were seeking a position without a definite commitment, 4% did not plan to work or study in the next year, and the remainder were enrolling in another full-time degree program (for example, MD or JD) or reported having "other" plans.
The 69% of respondents with definite commitments equals the percentage in 2007 that reported such commitments. The percentages in 2008 with definite commitments vary little by the broad fields of study, being within 2 to 7 percentage points of the overall rate (table 26).
The percentages of graduates from various demographic groups having definite commitments are shown in table 27. In 2008 about 68% of women and 70% of men reported having definite plans. U.S. citizens and permanent residents were more likely to have definite commitments (70%) than were temporary visa holders (66%). Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, whites (72%) and American Indians (74%) were more likely than Asians (62%), blacks (64%), Hispanics (66%), and multiracial recipients (68%) to have definite commitments. Over the past two decades, whites have generally been more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to have definite commitments (table 27).
Employment and Employment Sector
Among the doctorate recipients reporting definite commitments in 2008, 64% indicated commitments to enter employment (table 28). The most common employment sector of doctorate recipients with definite employment commitments within the United States was academe (51%) (table 29). The next largest group had plans to enter industry or some form of self-employment (27%), 6% planned to work for U.S. federal, state, or local government, and 5% planned to work for a non-profit organization. The remaining 11% of the 2008 doctorate recipients indicated a type of employment that did not correspond to these main sectors or did not report a sector, and are grouped into the "other/unknown" category in tables 29 and 30. These included a mix of employment in elementary and secondary schools or school systems, foreign governments, and non-governmental organizations.
The trend from 1988 to 2008 has been reduction in the share of government employment coupled with a relatively steady share of employment in the higher education sector, except for a noticeable dip in 1998 (table 29). The percentage of new doctorate recipients with definite employment commitments in industry or some form of self-employment increased from 21% in 2003 to 27% in 2008. The 6-percentage point gain in industry and self-employment in 2008 over 2003 was accompanied by declines of 3 percentage points in academe relative to 2003, along with small declines in the government and non-profit sectors.
The relative shares of doctorate recipients in the main employment sectors varied by broad field of study (table 29). The proportion employed in academe in 2008 was highest among humanities doctorate recipients (86%) and lowest among engineering doctorate recipients (15%). The proportion employed in industry or self-employed was highest among engineering (73%) and physical sciences (56%) graduates and lowest among humanities (3%) and education (4%) doctorate recipients. Humanities doctorate recipients were the least likely to have work commitments in government (2%). The percentage of doctorate recipients classified as having "other/unknown" work commitments was by far the greatest among education graduates (38%), reflecting the high rates at which these individuals are employed in elementary and secondary schools or school systems.
As in other variables in this report, at least some part of employment-sector differences among doctorate recipients are reflections of demographic differences in doctoral fields of study and early career patterns across broad fields (table 30). Among women who received doctorates in 2008, 17% had plans to enter industry or some form of self-employment, compared with 36% of their male counterparts. Women were more likely than men to have commitments to academe (58% compared with 45%) and were more likely to have commitments to "other/unknown" employment (14% compared with 9%); this reflects the relatively high concentration of women earning doctorates in humanities, social sciences, life sciences, and education.
Temporary visa holders with definite commitments to remain in the United States after graduation were less likely than U.S. citizens and permanent residents to have work commitments in academe (38% compared with 55%). Reflecting their concentration in the broad fields of physical sciences and engineering, temporary visa holders were much more likely than U.S. citizens and permanent residents to have plans in the United States for employment in industry or self-employment (56% compared with 18%).
Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, Asians were less likely than blacks, Hispanics, or whites to go into academe (42%) and were more likely than those in other racial/ethnic groups to go into industry or self-employment (40%). Blacks were least likely to have work commitments in industry or self-employment (11%) and were more likely to have commitments in the "other" category (22%). This latter pattern reflects the high representation of blacks in the broad field of education and the high rate of employment of those doctorate recipients in elementary and secondary schools or school systems.
Postdoctoral Training or Study
Among the doctorate recipients reporting definite commitments, 36% committed to a postdoc (a temporary position primarily for gaining additional education and training in research) rather than to career employment (table 28). This percentage matches the high recorded in 2007 (see supplemental table S-28). Commitments for postdoctoral study were far more common among graduates in life sciences (66%) and physical sciences (53%) than in the other broad fields (figure 20).
The percentages of new doctorate recipients entering postdoctoral study have increased since 1988 in all of the broad fields, most notably within social sciences (an increase of 17 percentage points since 1988) and engineering (an increase of 11 percentage points). Commitments for postdoctoral study within the non-S&E fields have increased over the past two decades but remain relatively infrequent (table 28).
Differences among demographic subgroups are shown in table 31. Although men continued to be more likely than women to have plans for postdoctoral study (38% compared with 34%), 2008 marked an all-time high for women with plans for postdoctoral study. The percentage of men with plans for postdoctoral study matched the all-time high level (38%) recorded in 2004. (See table 27 in the 2004 Summary Report; available at http://www.norc.org/projects/Survey+of+Earned+Doctorates.htm.)
Among those with definite commitments, temporary visa holders were more likely than U.S. citizens and permanent residents to pursue postdoctoral studies. Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, Asian doctorate recipients were most likely to pursue postdoctoral study, followed by Hispanic and multiracial recipients (table 31). The differences among citizenship and racial/ethnic subgroups are consistent with the greater number of postdocs in physical and life sciences and the greater concentrations in those fields of temporary visa holders and Asian U.S. citizens and permanent residents (detailed data table 41).
Sources of Financial Support for Postdoctoral Appointments
The SED asks respondents with definite commitments for a postdoc in the year after graduation to indicate the main source of support for their postdoctoral appointment. In 2008, 45% of these respondents indicated a college or university as their main source of funding, and 29% indicated the U.S. government (table 32). (Some college or university support may derive from federal funds channeled through the university, which may not be clear to the SED respondents.) Since 1988, the overall trend has been a decreasing share of U.S. government support and an increasing share of college or university support for postdoctoral study. In 2008, private foundations and other types of nonprofit organizations were the main support for about 8% of doctorate recipients with a commitment for a postdoc, and about 10% indicated sources of support other than those listed in the questionnaire. Specific information provided by these respondents indicated that many had support from international organizations.
Among doctorate recipients in 2008, differences between men and women in the main source of postdoctoral support were small (table 32), as were differences among Asians, blacks, Hispanics, whites, and multiracial doctorate recipients who were U.S. citizens or permanent residents. However, American Indians were more likely than all other race/ethnic groups to receive their funding from a private foundation.
A number of differences in sources of support were apparent between the two citizenship groups. As might be expected, U.S. citizens and permanent residents were the most likely to have the U.S. government as their main source of postdoctoral support, although substantial numbers of temporary visa holders also received U.S. government support. The difference was made up nearly entirely by university or college funding, where temporary visa holders were more likely than U.S. citizens and permanent residents to report this type of support.
Postgraduate Location of Temporary Visa Holders
Among temporary visa holders with definite commitments for work or further training, 78% of all new doctorate recipients indicated that they would remain in the United States following graduation (table 33). In 2008, engineering and physical science were the broad fields with the highest concentrations of new doctorate recipients with temporary visas who were staying in the United States (85% and 83%, respectively) (table 34). The lowest concentrations were in the broad fields of education (58%) and social sciences (61%).
The number of temporary visa holders earning research doctorates in the United States has increased over the past 20 years, as has the tendency for those students with definite commitments to remain in the United States following graduation (table 33). In 1988, 60% of those with temporary visas had definite commitments to positions in the United States. A decade later it was 68%, and in 2008 it rose to 78%.
The imposition of travel restrictions and other constraints on non-U.S. citizens studying in the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, raised concerns among many involved in U.S. doctoral education that the numbers of temporary visa holders pursuing U.S. doctorates and staying in the United States after graduation might decline. There is no evidence yet of declining numbers of temporary visa holders receiving U.S. doctorates. The number of doctorates earned by individuals holding temporary residency visas has increased every year since 2000 and reached an all-time high in 2008 (detailed data table 48). But since the median time from starting graduate school to completing the doctorate is about 9 years, if there were to be a decline in the number of temporary visa holders earning doctorates, it might not be apparent until the end of this decade. The increase in the number of doctorate recipients with a temporary visa was much smaller than in the previous 5 years.
With respect to all temporary visa holders earning doctoral degrees, including those without definite commitments, 74% reported intentions to stay in the United States after earning their degree, slightly lower than in 2007 (75%) (table 35). The overall trend from 2003 onward is of increasing intent to stay in the United States except for a slight decline in 2008 (table 35). This general pattern held for doctorate recipients from all non-European regions. Doctorate recipients from East/South Asia were the most likely to stay in the United States in 2008 (79%) and have been in every year since 2002. Within that region, recipients from India (89%) and China (88%) were the most likely to report intentions to stay.
 The items in the postgraduation plans section of the questionnaire are not classified as "critical items" and thus are not subject to missing data follow-ups. The response rate to the item asking whether the respondent had definite plans for either career employment or study (item B3) was 89%.
 The vast majority of the 27% with definite plans in industry or self-employment reported plans to enter industry (26%).
 Committee on Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States, Board on Higher Education and Workforce, National Research Council, National Academies of Science. 2005. Policy Implications of International Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.