The National Science Foundation

Science and Engineering Doctorates: 2011

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About this report

The Survey of Earned Doctorates, the data source for this report, is an annual census of individuals who receive research doctoral degrees from accredited U.S. academic institutions. The survey is sponsored by six federal agencies: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation (NSF), U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Department of Education. These data are reported in several NSF publications, the most comprehensive and widely cited of which is this report, Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities.

This report calls attention to important trends in doctoral education, organized into five themes. Each theme highlights an important question about doctorate recipients. Online, the reader is invited to explore trends in greater depth through detailed data tables and interactive graphics ( Technical notes and other online resources are provided to aid in interpretation of the data. The data tables are available both in portable document format (PDF) and as Excel files for easy viewing, printing, and downloading.

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Basic annual salary. Annual salary to be earned in the next year, not including bonuses or additional compensation for summertime teaching or research.

Definite commitment. A doctorate recipient who is either returning to predoctoral employment or has signed a contract (or otherwise made a definite commitment) for employment or a postdoc position in the coming year.

Definite employment commitment. A doctorate recipient with a definite commitment for employment in a non-postdoc position in the coming year.

Field of study. The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) collects data on 302 fields of doctoral study. For reporting purposes, these fields are grouped into 35 major fields and are further aggregated into seven broad fields: life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, engineering, education, humanities, and other non-S&E fields. See table A-6 in the technical appendix to this report for a listing of the major fields within each broad field category. See the survey questionnaire for a full listing of the fine fields of study in 2011.

Graduate education-related debt. The amount of debt owed by a doctorate recipient at the time the doctorate is awarded that is directly related to graduate education.

Non-S&E. A grouping of broad fields of study that includes education, humanities, and other non-science and engineering fields.

Parental educational attainment. The highest level of education attained by either parent of a doctorate recipient.

Postdoc position. A temporary position primarily for gaining additional education and training in research for doctorate recipients.

Postdoc rate. The proportion of doctorate recipients who have definite commitments for a postdoc position among all doctorate recipients with definite postdoctoral commitments.

Race and ethnicity. Doctorate recipients who report Hispanic or Latino heritage, regardless of racial designation, are counted as Hispanic or Latino. American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, black or African American, and white doctorate recipients are counted in their respective racial groups if they report one race and do not report Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. Beginning in 2001, respondents who are not Hispanic or Latino and who indicate more than one race are reported in the category "two or more races." Data for this category were not collected before 2001. Before 2001, respondents who are not Hispanic or Latino and who indicate more than one race were categorized as "other or unknown." For 2001 and later data, the "other or unknown" category includes doctorate recipients who did not respond to the Hispanic or Latino ethnicity item, doctorate recipients who indicated that they were not Hispanic or Latino and who did not respond to the race item, and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders. For 2000 and earlier data, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders are counted in the Asian group. For the purposes of this report, the term "underrepresented minority" refers to the American Indian or Alaska Native, black or African American, and Hispanic or Latino groups.

Research doctorate. A doctoral degree that is oriented toward preparing students to make original intellectual contributions in a field of study. Research doctorates require the completion of a dissertation or equivalent project and are not primarily intended for the practice of a profession. In this report, the terms "doctorate" and "doctoral degree" are used to represent any of the research doctoral degrees covered by the survey. Professional doctorates, such as the MD, DDS, JD, and PsyD, are not covered by the SED.

S&E. A grouping of broad fields of study that includes science (life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences) and engineering fields.

Self-support rate. The proportion of doctorate recipients who report "own resources" as the primary source of financial support during their doctoral education.

Sources of financial support. Sources of financial support are grouped into the following five categories: fellowships (includes scholarships and grants), teaching assistantships, research assistantships (includes traineeships, internships, clinical residencies, and other assistantships), own resources (includes loans, personal savings, personal earnings, and earnings/savings of spouse, partner, or family), and other (includes employer reimbursements and foreign [non-U.S.] support).

Stay rate. The proportion of doctorate recipients with temporary visas who have definite commitments for employment or a postdoc position in the coming year and who indicated the location of their commitment is in the United States.

Time to degree. The median value of the time elapsed from the start of graduate school to completion of the doctoral degree. In addition to this measure, a second measure of time-to-degree is also reported in the data tables: median value of the time elapsed from completion of the bachelor's degree to completion of the doctorate.

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Data Source

The Survey of Earned Doctorates is the sole data source for Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2011. The principal elements of the 2011 SED data collection are described below. More detailed information and related technical tables are available in the technical appendix to this report.

Survey eligibility. The SED collects information on research doctorate recipients only. Research doctorates require the completion of a dissertation or equivalent project, are oriented toward preparing students to make original intellectual contributions in a field of study, and are not primarily intended for the practice of a profession. The 2011 SED recognized 18 distinct types of research doctorates. In 2011, 98% of research doctorate recipients earned the PhD.

Survey universe. The population eligible for the 2011 survey consisted of all individuals who received a research doctorate from a U.S. academic institution in the 12-month period from 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011. The total universe consisted of 49,010 persons in 412 institutions that conferred research doctorates in academic year 2011.

Data collection. Survey instruments were mailed to institutional coordinators at each doctorate awarding institution. The institutional coordinators distributed the survey forms to individuals receiving a research doctorate, collected the forms, and returned them to the survey contractor for editing and processing. Data were also collected using Web and telephone versions of the survey. Respondents who did not complete critical survey items were contacted by mail to request response to these items. The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (NORC) currently conducts the SED under contract to the National Science Foundation.

Survey response rates. In 2011, 93% of research doctorate recipients completed the survey instrument. Limited records (field of study, doctoral institution, and sex) are constructed for nonrespondents from administrative records of the university—commencement programs, graduation lists, and other public records—and are included in the reported total of doctorate recipients. Response rates for 2001–11 are provided in the technical appendix.

Recent data changes. After a multiyear review of Doctor of Education (EdD) degree programs participating in the SED, 77 programs were reclassified from research doctorate to professional doctorate in 2010 and another 66 programs were reclassified in 2011. No additional reclassifications of EdD degree programs are planned. SED data are no longer being collected from graduates earning degrees from the reclassified EdD programs, and this has affected the reporting of the number of doctorates awarded by sex, citizenship, and racial/ethnic category. Several figures in this report show a decline in number of degrees awarded from 2009 to 2011 (in particular, see figures 1D and 1F in the "Who earns a U.S. doctorate?" section and figure 2B in the "Which fields attract students?" section). Readers should note that the declines from 2009 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2011 are at least partly attributable to the EdD reclassification.

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Further Reading

For an overarching view of long-term trends in U.S. doctoral education, as reflected in SED data, please see U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century (NSF 06-319, October 2006). Summary reports for previous years (Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: Summary Report), available at, provide additional context.

Other publications from the National Science Foundation use SED data to report on focused topics. Publications that relate to the topics covered in Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2011 are listed below, by relevant section.

Who earns a U.S. doctorate? and Which fields attract students?
What influences the path to the doctorate?
What are the postgraduation trends?

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Online Resources

Data tables. Data on the full range of survey items collected by the 2011 SED are presented in 70 detailed statistical tables. Figures in this report reference these related detailed data by table number. The full set of tables is available for download, either as Excel files or in portable document format (PDF).

Figures. The figures illustrating each theme can be downloaded as PowerPoint presentation slides, as JPEG images, or as Excel files, together with the figure's source data. All three formats are available from the "Download" tab associated with each figure.

Supporting data. Data supporting each figure in the report is available for download in Excel format.

Survey questionnaire. The questionnaire for the 2011 SED is linked to the online report.

Technical appendix. The technical notes provide more detail on how SED collects data on recipients of research doctorates. The appendix includes technical tables that provide such information as the types of research doctoral degrees included in the Survey of Earned Doctorates, survey response rates over time, and details on field aggregations.

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The conduct of the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), the maintenance of the SED, and resulting publications are supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Education (USED), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). These federal agencies gratefully acknowledge the support and assistance of graduate deans and their staff, registrars, dissertation officers, and other administrators who participate in the SED effort and contribute to its success. Heartfelt thanks are also extended to the new research doctorate recipients who completed the 2011 survey.

Representatives from the six sponsoring agencies have provided sound advice on issues related to survey design and data presentation: Jennifer Sutton (NIH), Ted Socha (USED), Frank Shaw (NEH), Jermelina Tupas and Joanne Brosh (USDA), and Mark Fiegener, SED Project Officer (NSF), who oversaw the preparation of this report. Jennifer Sutton and Frank Shaw also reviewed and provided valuable comments on final drafts. Emilda Rivers, John Gawalt, and Stephen Cohen at NSF's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) reviewed and commented upon multiple drafts of the report and data tables. Staff at the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago conducted survey operations for the SED, prepared the data for the report and data tables, wrote some of the report text, and reviewed early drafts of the report. NORC staff who played a valuable role in the 2011 SED are Svetlana Arakelyan, Ipek Bilgen, Mireya Dominguez, Brianna Groenhout, Sarah Hernandez, Tom Hoffer, Sharnia Lashley, Mary Ann Latter, Stephen Schacht, Scott Sederstrom, Kristy Webber, and Vincent Welch, Jr.

Production of the printed volume was guided by Cheryl Roesel and produced by Tanya Gore and Christine Hamel (NCSES). Eileen Kessler and staff at OmniStudio, Inc., designed the layout. Development of the Web version was guided by Jeri Mulrow and produced by Robin Pentola and Rajinder Raut (NCSES), with technical assistance from staff of Compuware Corporation and Penobscot Bay Media.

Suggested Citation

National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2012. Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2011. Special Report NSF 13-301. Arlington, VA. Available at

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