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Science and Engineering Indicators 2004
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Chapter 5:
Financial Resources for Academic R&D
Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in Academia
Outputs of Scientific and Engineering Research: Articles and Patents
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Academic Research and Development

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Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in Academia

Trends in Academic Employment of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers
Retirement of S&E Doctoral Workforce
Increasing Role of Women and Minority Groups
Foreign-Born S&E Doctorate Holders
Size of Academic Research Workforce
Deployment of Academic Research Workforce
Government Support of Academic Doctoral Researchers
Has Academic R&D Shifted Toward More Applied Work?

U.S. universities and colleges are major contributors to the nation's scientific and technological progress. They generate new knowledge and ideas that are vital to the advancement of science and form the basis of technological innovation. Concurrently, they also develop the highly trained talent needed to use and improve the knowledge base. In addition, academia increasingly plays an active role in the generation and use of new products, technologies, and processes.

The confluence of these key functions: the pursuit of new knowledge, the training of the people in whom it is embodied, and its exploitation toward generating innovation makes academia a national resource whose vitality rests in the scientists and engineers who work and study there. Especially important are those with doctoral degrees who do the research, teach and train the students, and stimulate or help to produce innovation.[18] Who are they, how are they distributed, what do they do, how are they supported, and what do they produce?

Employment and research activity at the 125 largest research-performing universities in the United States merit special attention.[19] These institutions exert a major influence on the nation's academic science, engineering, and R&D enterprise. They enroll 23 percent of full-time undergraduates and award 32 percent of all bachelor's degrees and 38 percent of those in S&E fields. These baccalaureate holders, in turn, are the source of 56 percent of the nation's S&E doctorate holders with a U.S. baccalaureate and more than 60 percent of those who are employed in academia and engaged in R&D as their primary work function. Moreover, these institutions conduct more than 80 percent of academic R&D (as measured by expenditures) and produce the bulk of both academic articles and patents. (See "Outputs of Scientific and Engineering Research: Articles and Patents" later in this chapter.)

Growth in academic employment over the past half century reflected both the need for teachers, driven by increasing enrollments, and an expanding research function, largely supported by Federal funds.[20] Because of the interrelationship between academic teaching and research, much of the discussion deals with the overall academic employment of S&E doctorate holders, specifically, the relative balance between faculty and nonfaculty positions, demographic composition, faculty age structure, hiring of new doctorate holders, trends in work responsibilities, and trends in Federal support. This section also discusses different estimates of the nation's academic R&D workforce and effort and considers whether a shift has been occurring away from basic research toward more applied R&D activities.

The main findings are a relative shift in employment of S&E doctorate holders away from the academic sector toward other sectors; a slower increase in full-time faculty positions than in postdoc and other full- and part-time positions; a relative shift in hiring away from white males toward women and minorities; an aging academic doctoral labor force; a decline in the share of academic researchers who receive Federal support; and growth of an academic researcher pool outside the regular faculty ranks.

Trends in Academic Employment of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers top of page

Academic employment of S&E doctorate holders reached a record high of 245,500 in 2001.[21] However, long-term growth in the number of these positions over the past quarter century was slower than in business, government, and other segments of the economy. Growth in the academic sector was also much slower in the 1990s than it was in the 1970s and 1980s (table 5-5 text table). As a result, the share of all S&E doctorate holders employed in academia dropped from about 53 to 44 percent during the 1975–2001 period (table 5-6 text table). Although the share of those with recently awarded degrees also declined between 1975 and 2001 (from 52 to 49 percent), in 2001 it was still larger than the overall academic employment share for S&E doctorate holders.[22] Within academia, growth in employment of S&E doctorate holders was slower at the major research universities than at other academic institutions. Appendix table 5-17 Microsoft Excel icon breaks down academic employment by type of institution.

Hiring at Research Universities and Public Institutions

Employment growth over the past decade was much slower at the research universities than at other academic institutions. From 1991 to 2001, doctoral S&E employment at research universities grew by less than 1 percent annually, whereas employment at other institutions increased by 2.4 percent annually. During the same period, employment increased less rapidly at public universities and colleges than at their private counterparts (0.9 versus 1.4). However, this pattern held only at research universities (0.4 versus 1.4) and not at other academic institutions (1.6 versus 1.4) (figure 5-14 figure, table 5-5 text table, and appendix table 5-18 Microsoft Excel icon).

All Academic S&E Doctoral Employment

Trends in academic employment of S&E doctorate holders suggest movement away from the full-time faculty position as the academic norm. During the past quarter century, overall academic employment of S&E doctorate holders grew from 134,100 in 1975 to 245,500 in 2001 (appendix table 5-19 Microsoft Excel icon). However, during this period, full-time faculty positions increased more slowly than postdoc and other full- and part-time positions. This trend accelerated during the past decade (table 5-7 text table). Between 1991 and 2001, the number of junior faculty rose only modestly (about 20 percent), while the number of senior faculty, full and associate professors, remained static. Meanwhile, full-time nonfaculty positions grew by half, as did postdoc positions.

Figure 5-15 figure shows the resulting distribution of academic employment of S&E doctorate holders. The share of full-time senior faculty fell from just over 63 percent of total employment in 1991 to less than 56 percent in 2001. The share of junior faculty fluctuated between 18 and 20 percent between 1983 and 1999, before increasing to just below 21 percent in 2001. The overall faculty share was 76 percent of all academic employment in 2001, down from 85 percent in the late 1970s. These employment trends in the past decade occurred as real spending for academic R&D rose by half, retirement of faculty who were hired during the expansionist 1960s increased, academic hiring of young doctorate holders showed a modest rebound, and universities displayed greater interest in the practical application of academic research results, discussed later in this chapter.[23]

Nonfaculty ranks, that is, full- and part-time adjunct faculty, lecturers, research and teaching associates, administrators, and postdocs, increased from 37,500 in 1991 to 58,200 in 2001. This 55 percent increase stood in sharp contrast to the 8 percent rise in the number of full-time faculty. Both the full-time nonfaculty and postdoc components grew rapidly between 1991 and 2001, while part-time employment rose more slowly.[24] Part-time employees accounted for only between 2 and 4 percent of all academic S&E doctoral employment throughout the period (appendix table 5-19 Microsoft Excel icon).

Recent S&E Doctorate Holders

The trends just discussed reflect the entire academic workforce of S&E doctorate holders. Another picture of current trends can be found by looking at the academic employment patterns of those with recently awarded S&E Ph.D.s (degrees earned at U.S. universities within 3 years of the survey year).

Overall, recent doctorate holders who entered academic employment were about as likely to receive postdoc positions as faculty positions. Those in research universities, however, were more likely to be in postdoc than in faculty positions (appendix table 5-20 Microsoft Excel icon and figure 5-16 figure). Since 1975, the share of recent doctorate holders hired into full-time faculty positions has been cut by more than one-third overall, from 70 to 44 percent. The decline in such employment at research universities has been relatively steeper, from 57 to 30 percent. Conversely, the overall share of recent S&E doctorate holders who reported being in postdoc positions has risen from 18 to 39 percent (and from 29 to 53 percent at research universities). However, after increasing steadily throughout the 1990s, the share of recent S&E doctorate holders in postdoc positions declined between 1999 and 2001 at both research universities and all other institutions. Whether or not this is the beginning of a trend remains to be seen.

Young Doctorate Holders With Track Records

For those employed in academia 4–7 years after earning their doctorates, the picture looks quite similar: about 63 percent had faculty rank in 2001, compared with about 87 percent in the mid-1970s, with the trend continuing downward since 1991. About half were in tenure-track positions, with only 9 percent already tenured. The shares of both those in tenure-track positions and those with tenure have been declining since 1991, suggesting a continuing shift toward forms of employment outside traditional tenure-track positions (figure 5-17 figure). Trends at research universities are similar. However, at the research universities, the share of those in faculty, tenured, or tenure-track positions is much smaller than at other academic institutions (appendix table 5-20 Microsoft Excel icon).

Shift in Employment

The relative shift toward nonfaculty employment affected almost every major S&E degree field. Although the number of S&E full-time faculty positions increased from 173,100 to 187,400 between 1991 and 2001, two-thirds of this increase occurred in the life sciences, mostly among women. The only other fields in which full-time faculty positions increased by more than 10 percent over this 10-year period were the computer sciences and the earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences. The share of all doctoral employment held by full-time faculty was lower in 2001 than in 1991 in every broad S&E field. However, in many of these fields, the relative shift toward nonfaculty positions appears to have either slowed down or leveled off after 1995 (appendix table 5-19 Microsoft Excel icon).

Retirement of S&E Doctoral Workforce top of page

The trend toward fewer faculty and more full-time nonfaculty and postdoc positions is especially noteworthy because academia is approaching a period of increasing retirements. In the 1960s, the number of institutions, students, and faculty in the United States expanded rapidly, bringing many young Ph.D. holders into academic faculty positions. This growth boom slowed sharply in the 1970s, and faculty hiring has since continued at a more modest pace. The result is that increasing numbers of faculty (and others in nonfaculty positions) are today reaching or nearing retirement age.[25]

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 became fully applicable to universities and colleges in 1994.[26] It prohibits the forced retirement of faculty at any age, raising concerns about the potential ramifications of an aging professorate for scholarly productivity and the universities' organizational vitality, institutional flexibility, and financial health. These concerns were the focus of a 1991 National Research Council (NRC) study that concluded that "overall, only a small number of the nation's tenured faculty will continue working in their current positions past age 70" (NRC 1991, p. 29), but added, "At some research universities a high proportion of faculty would choose to remain employed past age 70 if allowed to do so" (NRC 1991, p. 38).

Sufficient data have now accumulated to allow examination of some of these concerns. Figure 5-18 figure shows the age distribution of academic S&E doctorate holders in full-time faculty positions, and figure 5-19 figure displays the percentage that are 60 years of age or older. The data indicate that individuals age 65 or older (and 70 years or older) constitute a growing share of the S&E doctorate holders employed in academia, suggesting that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act may in fact have had some impact on the age distribution of the professoriate. The data also show that the share of 60- to 64-year-olds was rising well before the act became mandatory, leveled off in the early 1990s, and began to rise again after 1995, reaching just over 10 percent in 2001. A similar progression can be seen for those age 65 or older, who in 2001 made up just over 5 percent of the research universities' full-time faculty and slightly less than 4 percent of other institutions' full-time faculty. The employment share of those older than 70 also rose during most of the past quarter century, reaching about 1.1 percent of all S&E doctorate holders employed in academia in 2001 and 1.2 percent of full-time faculty in 1999 and remaining at that level in 2001 (appendix tables 5-21 Microsoft Excel icon and 5-22 Microsoft Excel icon).

Increasing Role of Women and Minority Groups top of page

Women and underrepresented minority groups make up a pool of potential scientists and engineers that has not been fully tapped and that, in the case of underrepresented minorities, represents a growing share of U.S. youth, estimated to reach 36 percent of the college-age population by 2020 (appendix table 2-4 Microsoft Excel icon). Accumulating research points to the importance of role models and mentoring to student success in mathematics, science, and engineering, especially for women and underrepresented minorities.[27] Thus, the presence of women and underrepresented minorities among faculty on college campuses is likely to be a factor in the recruitment of students from both groups to the S&E fields. What were the major hiring trends for them, and what is their current status?


The academic employment of women with S&E doctorates has risen steeply over the past quarter century, reflecting the increase in the proportion of women among recent S&E doctorate holders. The number of women in academia increased more than fivefold between 1975 and 2001, from 13,800 to an estimated 70,500 (appendix table 5-23 Microsoft Excel icon). This increase is reflected in the rising share of academic positions held by women with S&E doctorates. In 2001, women constituted 29 percent of all academic S&E doctoral employment and just over one-fourth of full-time faculty, up from 10 and 9 percent, respectively, in 1975. Although women made up a smaller share of total employment at research universities than at other academic institutions at the beginning of this period, this differential had almost disappeared by the end of the period (table 5-8 text table). Compared with male faculty, female faculty remain relatively more heavily concentrated in life sciences and psychology, with correspondingly lower shares in engineering, physical sciences, and mathematics.

Women's growing share of academic employment may reflect the confluence of three factors: their rising proportion among new doctorate holders, their somewhat greater predilection for choosing employment in an academic setting than men, and being hired into these positions at somewhat higher rates than men. This historical dynamic is reflected in declining absolute numbers of women and a declining relative share of women as faculty rank increases. In 2001, women constituted 16 percent of full professors, 29 percent of associate professors, and 39 percent of junior faculty, the latter roughly in line with their share of recently earned S&E doctorates.[28] In contrast, both the number and relative share of men increases absolutely from the junior to the senior faculty ranks (See appendix table 5-23 Microsoft Excel icon and figure 5-20 figure. For a discussion of some additional factors that may explain these differences, see sidebar "Gender Differences in the Academic Careers of Scientists and Engineers.") This contrasting pattern indicates the recent arrival of significant numbers of female doctorate holders in full-time academic faculty positions. It suggests that the number of women among the faculty will continue to increase, assuming that they stay in academic positions at a rate equal to or greater than that of men.

Underrepresented Minority Groups

The U.S. Census Bureau's demographic projections have long indicated an increasing prominence of minority groups among future college- and working-age populations. With the exception of Asian/Pacific Islanders, these groups tended to be less likely than whites to earn S&E degrees or work in S&E occupations.[29] Private and governmental groups sought to broaden the participation of blacks, Hispanics, and American Indian/Alaskan Natives in these fields, with many programs targeting their advanced training through the doctorate.

In response, the absolute rate of conferral of S&E doctorates to members of underrepresented minority groups has increased, as has academic employment; but taken together, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indian/Alaskan Natives remain a small percentage of the S&E doctorate holders employed in academia (appendix table 5-24 Microsoft Excel icon). Because the increases in hiring come from a very small base, these groups still constituted less than 7 percent of both total academic employment and full-time faculty positions in 2001, up from just above 2 percent in 1975. Underrepresented minorities constituted a smaller share of total employment at research universities than at other academic institutions throughout this period (table 5-8 text table). However, among recent Ph.D. holders, they represented almost 9 percent of total academic employment and nearly 10 percent of full-time faculty positions. These trends are similar for all underrepresented minorities and for those who are U.S. citizens (figure 5-21 figure). Compared with whites, blacks tended to be relatively concentrated in the social sciences and psychology and relatively less represented in the physical sciences; the earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences; mathematics; and the life sciences. The field distribution of Hispanic degree holders is similar to that of white degree holders.

Asian/Pacific Islanders

Asian/Pacific Islanders were successful in entering the academic doctoral workforce in S&E, more than doubling in employment share from 5 to 11 percent between 1975 and 2001 (appendix table 5-24 Microsoft Excel icon). However, a distinction needs to be made between those who are U.S. citizens and those who are not, because the latter group constituted more than 40 percent of this group's doctorate holders in the academic S&E workforce in 2001.[30] The employment share of Asian/ Pacific Islanders who are U.S. citizens grew from less than 3 percent of the academic S&E doctoral workforce in 1973 to about 7 percent in 2001. Asian/Pacific Islanders, whether or not they are U.S. citizens, represent a larger percentage of total employment at research universities than at other academic institutions (table 5-8 text table). Limiting the analysis to recent S&E doctorate holders leads to even more dramatic differences between Asian/Pacific Islanders who are U.S. citizens and those who are not. Whereas the share of all recent Asian/Pacific Islander S&E doctorate holders employed in academia rose from just below 7 percent in 1975 to more than 19 percent in 2001, the share of those who are U.S. citizens increased from 2 percent to slightly less than 6 percent (figure 5-22 figure). Although the current employment shares of Asian/Pacific Islanders who are U.S. citizens are almost identical to those of underrepresented minorities, the former group is over-represented relative to its share of the U.S. population, while the latter is underrepresented.

Compared with whites, Asian/Pacific Islanders as a whole are more heavily represented in engineering and computer sciences and represented at very low levels in psychology and social sciences. This finding holds both for U.S. citizens and for all Asian/Pacific Islanders. In 2001, Asian/Pacific Islanders constituted nearly one-fourth of academic doctoral computer scientists and 18 percent of engineers (appendix table 5-24 Microsoft Excel icon).


The role of whites, particularly white males, in the academic S&E doctoral workforce diminished between 1975 and 2001. In 2001, whites constituted 82 percent of the academic doctoral S&E workforce, compared with 91 percent in 1975 (appendix table 5-24 Microsoft Excel icon). The share of white males declined from about 81 percent to about 59 percent during this period (table 5-9 text table). The decline in the shares of whites and white males who recently received their doctorates was even greater—from 87 to 72 percent and from 73 to 41 percent, respectively (table 5-9 text table). Part of the decline is because of the increasing roles played by women, underrepresented minorities, and Asian/Pacific Islanders. However, the decline in the share of white males was exacerbated by a fall in the absolute number of white males in the academic doctoral S&E workforce during the 1990s (figure 5-23 figure).

Foreign-Born S&E Doctorate Holders top of page

An increasing number and share (more than 20 percent) of S&E doctorate holders employed at U.S. universities and colleges are foreign born. Like other sectors of the economy, academia has long relied extensively on foreign talent among its faculty, students, and other professional employees. This reliance increased fairly steadily during the 1980s and 1990s. Figure 5-24 figure delineates the academic employment estimate of 245,500 U.S.-earned S&E doctorates into those awarded to native-born and foreign-born individuals.[31] However, in addition to foreign-born individuals who hold S&E doctorates from U.S. institutions, U.S. universities and colleges also employ a substantial number of foreign-born holders of S&E doctorates awarded by foreign universities. In Science & Engineering Indicators — 2002, a lower value of about 25,000 was estimated for the latter group, which would increase the share of foreign-born Ph.D.-level scientists and engineers employed at U.S. universities and colleges to closer to 30 percent. Because there are no current data on which to base a solid estimate of the number of foreign-born doctorate holders in the United States, and because the available information on the faculty status of holders of doctorates awarded by foreign universities and on which academic institutions employ them is insufficient to draw reliable conclusions, all discussion is based on holders of U.S. doctorates only.

Participation in higher education by foreign-born individuals with U.S.-earned S&E doctoral degrees has increased continuously, both in number and share, since the late 1970s. Academic employment of foreign-born S&E doctorate holders rose from an average of about 12 percent of the total in 1975 to 21 percent in 2001, with some fields reaching considerably higher proportions; for postdocs, the average is almost double that percentage (41 percent) (appendix table 5-25 Microsoft Excel icon).[32]

Size of Academic Research Workforce top of page

The interconnectedness of research, teaching, and public service in academia makes it difficult to measure the size of the academic research workforce precisely.[33] Therefore, two estimates of the number of academic researchers are presented: a count of those who report that research is their primary work activity, and a count of those who report that research is either their primary or secondary work activity.[34]

Postdocs and those in nonfaculty positions are included in both estimates.[35] To provide a more complete measure of the number of individuals involved in research at academic institutions, a lower-bound estimate of the number of full-time graduate students who support the academic research enterprise is included, based on those whose primary mechanism of support is a research assistantship (RA). This estimate excludes graduate students who rely on fellowships, traineeships, or teaching assistantships for their primary means of support, as well as the nearly 40 percent who are primarily self-supporting. Many, if not most, of these students are also likely to be involved in research activities during the course of their graduate education.[36]

Research as Primary Work Activity

By this measure, the growth of academic researchers with S&E doctorates has been substantial, from 30,800 in 1975 to 93,800 in 2001 (appendix table 5-26 Microsoft Excel icon). During this period, the number of those with teaching as their primary activity increased much less rapidly, from 83,800 to 109,000. Figure 5-25 figure displays the resulting shifting proportions in the academic workforce. However, after many years of increase, the proportion of those reporting research as their primary activity leveled off in the 1990s, as did the steep drop in those reporting teaching as their primary activity.

The different disciplines have distinct patterns of relative emphasis on research, but the shapes of the overall trends are roughly the same. The life sciences stand out, with a much higher share identifying research as their primary activity and, correspondingly, a much lower share reporting teaching as their primary activity. Conversely, mathematics and the social sciences have the largest shares identifying teaching as their primary activity and the lowest shares reporting research as their primary activity (figure 5-26 figure).

Research as Either Primary or Secondary Work Activity

The count of academic S&E doctorate holders reporting research as their primary or secondary work activity also shows greater growth in the research than in the teaching component. The number of doctoral researchers in this group increased from 90,600 in 1975 to 172,500 in 2001, whereas teachers increased from 110,400 to 160,600 (appendix table 5-27 Microsoft Excel icon).[37]

The life sciences accounted for much of this trend, with researchers growing from 29,000 to 63,100 and teachers from about the same base of 29,600 to 44,400. The other fields generally included fewer researchers than teachers in the 1970s and early 1980s, but this trend has been reversed for the physical sciences; the earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences; and engineering.

Graduate Research Assistants

The close coupling of advanced training with hands-on research experience is a key strength of U.S. graduate education. To the count of S&E doctoral researchers for whom research is a primary or secondary work activity can be added an estimate of the number of S&E graduate students who are active in research. The more than 350,000 full-time S&E graduate students (as of 2001) can be expected to contribute significantly to the conduct of academic research.

Graduate RAs were the primary means of support for slightly more than one-fourth of these students. Table 5-10 text table, which shows the distribution of all full-time S&E graduate students and graduate research assistants by field over the past quarter century, indicates that the number of research assistants has grown considerably faster than graduate enrollment, both overall and in most fields. In both graduate enrollment and the distribution of RAs, there was a shift away from the physical sciences and social sciences and into the life sciences, computer sciences, and engineering. In engineering, the physical sciences, and the earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences the proportion of RAs is relatively high in relation to graduate enrollment. In the life sciences, the proportion of RAs relative to enrollment is more balanced, possibly reflecting the heavier reliance of these fields on postdoctoral researchers.

Adding graduate research assistants (full-time graduate students whose primary mechanism of support is an RA) to the count of S&E doctoral researchers for whom research is either the primary or secondary activity yields a more complete lower-bound measure of the number of individuals involved in academic research. With the caveats introduced earlier, the number of academic researchers in 2001 estimated in this way is approximately 272,000 (figure 5-27 figure and appendix table 5-28 Microsoft Excel icon). It is worth noting that in both computer sciences and engineering, the number of graduate research assistants exceeded the number of doctoral researchers.

Deployment of Academic Research Workforce top of page

This section discusses the distribution of the academic research workforce across types of institutions, positions, and fields. It also examines differences in research intensity by looking at S&E doctorate holders involved in research activities relative to all S&E doctorate holders employed in academia.

Distribution Across Types of Academic Institutions

The majority of the research workforce is concentrated in the research universities (appendix table 5-29 Microsoft Excel icon). In 2001, the research universities employed 49 percent of S&E doctorate holders in academic positions, 57 percent of S&E doctorate holders reporting research as their primary or secondary activity, 71 percent of S&E doctorate holders whose primary activity was research, and 80 percent of S&E graduate research assistants.

Over the years, however, the research universities' share of S&E doctorate holders reporting research as their primary or secondary activity has declined, possibly reflecting these universities' decreasing shares of total and Federal expenditures for academic research. The research universities' losses were offset by gains in several other types of institutions.[38] Table 5-11 text table provides a long-term overview of the changes in these institutional distributions.

Distribution Across Academic Positions

A pool of academic researchers outside the regular faculty ranks has grown over the years, as shown by the distribution of S&E doctorate holders reporting research as their primary or secondary activity across different types of academic positions: faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and all other types of appointments (table 5-12 text table and appendix table 5-30 Microsoft Excel icon). The faculty share declined from about 87 percent in 1975 to about 77 percent in 2001 (approximately the same as the change in overall employment share). The decline in faculty share was balanced by increases in the shares for both postdocs and those in other nonfaculty positions. However, the distribution across different types of academic positions for those reporting research as their primary activity changed little during this period.

Distribution Across S&E Fields

The distributions of total academic S&E doctoral employment and S&E doctoral academic research personnel (using various measures) across broad fields are not identical. Comparison of these distributions provides one possible measure of relative research intensity across fields. Researcher proportions in excess of a field's employment share could be deemed to indicate greater research intensity. Table 5-13 text table suggests that by these measures, research intensity is greater in the life sciences than in the other fields and relatively less in mathematics, psychology, and the social sciences (appendix table 5-31 Microsoft Excel icon).

Research Intensity of Academic Institutions

A measure of research intensity similar to the one used above can be used to examine the change in research intensity in academia over time. In this case, the change in the relative importance given to R&D in U.S. universities and colleges is addressed in terms of the number of S&E doctoral research personnel relative to all S&E doctoral employment in academia. Two measures of S&E doctoral personnel are used: the number reporting research as their primary or secondary work activity and the number reporting research as their primary work activity. These measures tell somewhat different stories, and the reader is cautioned that they are suggestive rather than definitive.

The number of S&E doctorate holders reporting research as primary or secondary activity relative to all S&E doctoral employment declined between 1975 and 1977; was relatively constant at about 60 percent from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, when R&D funds grew relatively slowly; then rose again in 1987 to about 74 percent; dropped to about 70 percent in 1993; and has remained relatively constant at that level since then (figure 5-28 figure). On the other hand, the share of S&E doctorate holders in academia who reported research as their primary activity experienced a long-term upward trend from the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s, increasing from about 23 percent of total employment to about 38 percent, where it has remained since 1995. The latter trend is similar for each of the broad S&E fields except for the computer sciences, which is a new field relative to the others (table 5-14 text table). These trends may indicate an overall strengthening of the research function in academia, at least through the mid-1990s.

Government Support of Academic Doctoral Researchers top of page

Academic researchers rely on the Federal Government for a significant share, about 60 percent, of their overall research support. The institutional and field distributions of these funds are well documented, but little is known about their distribution across researchers. This section presents data from reports by S&E doctorate holders in academia about the presence or absence of Federal support for their work. However, nothing is known about the magnitude of these funds to individual researchers. (See sidebar, "Interpreting Federal Support Data.")

Appendix table 5-32 Microsoft Excel icon shows the percentage of academic S&E doctorate holders who received Federal support for their work, broken out by field. The analysis examines the overall pool of doctoral S&E researchers as well as young doctorate holders, for whom support may be especially critical in establishing a productive research career.

Academic Scientists and Engineers Who Receive Federal Support

In 2001, the Federal Government provided support to an estimated 45 percent of all S&E doctorate holders in academia, about 74 percent of those for whom research was the primary activity, and about 36 percent of those for whom research was a secondary activity (appendix table 5-32 Microsoft Excel icon). With the exceptions of engineering and the earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences, no major shifts appear to have occurred in the overall percentage of those so supported during the 1993–97 period. However, as table 5-15 text table shows, the 2001 percentages for S&E as a whole and for each of the fields were below those for 1991.

The percentage of S&E doctorate holders in academia who received Federal support differed greatly across the S&E fields. In 2001, this percentage ranged from about 64 percent in the earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences to about 22 percent in the social sciences (table 5-15 text table and appendix table 5-32 Microsoft Excel icon).

Full-time faculty received Federal funding less frequently than other full-time doctoral employees, who, in turn, were supported less frequently than postdocs. In 2001, about 43 percent of full-time faculty, 49 percent of other full-time employees, and 74 percent of postdocs received Federal support. These proportions were lower than those during the latter part of the 1980s, but dropped less for full-time faculty than for postdocs or other full-time positions (appendix table 5-32 Microsoft Excel icon). It is unclear whether these estimates indicate relatively less generous support or greater availability of funds from other sources, some of which may not flow through university accounts.

Federal Support of Young S&E Doctorate Holders in Academia

Early receipt of Federal support is viewed as critical to launching a promising academic research career. The Federal Government supports young S&E doctorate holders in academia at slightly higher rates than it does the overall academic doctoral S&E workforce. However, the pattern of support for young researchers is similar to that of the overall academic S&E doctoral workforce: those in full-time faculty positions are less likely to receive Federal support than those in postdoc or other full-time positions (appendix tables 5-32 Microsoft Excel icon and 5-33 Microsoft Excel icon). Overall, about 48 percent of those with recently earned doctorates (within 3 years of the survey) received Federal support. However, about 29 percent of those in full-time faculty positions received support, compared with about 73 percent of those in postdoc positions. The share of postdocs receiving Federal support was relatively low (about 42–57 percent) in some fields (e.g., the social sciences, mathematics, and engineering) and high (80 percent or more) in others (e.g., the physical sciences, computer sciences, and earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences).

In 2001, young academics who had gained some experience (i.e., those who had received their doctorate 4 to 7 years earlier) received Federal support in proportions similar to those of the academic S&E doctoral workforce as a whole in most fields (appendix tables 5-32 Microsoft Excel icon and 5-33 Microsoft Excel icon and table 5-16 text table).

Federal Support From Multiple Agencies

About 20 percent of academic S&E doctorate holders who report Federal support indicated they received support from more than one agency in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. This proportion peaked at 30 percent in 1991, and by 2001 declined to 26 percent (table 5-17 text table). Although, as previously indicated, holders of recently awarded doctorates were more likely to receive Federal support than the overall academic S&E doctoral workforce, they were less likely to receive it from more than one agency.

Has Academic R&D Shifted Toward More Applied Work? top of page

Emphasis on exploiting the intellectual property that results from the conduct of academic research is growing. (See next section, "Outputs of Scientific and Engineering Research: Articles and Patents.") Among the criticisms raised about this development is that it can distort the nature of academic research by focusing it away from basic research and toward the pursuit of more utilitarian, problem-oriented questions.

Did such a shift toward applied research, design, and development occur during the 1990s, a period when academic patenting and licensing activities grew considerably? By its very nature, this question is a difficult one to analyze, for a number of reasons. As indicated earlier in the chapter, it is often difficult to make clear distinctions among basic research, applied research, and development. Sometimes basic and applied research can be complements and embodied in the same research. Some academic researchers may obtain ideas for basic research from their applied research activities.

Two indicators can be examined to determine whether any large-scale changes occurred. One indicator is the share of all academic R&D expenditures directed to basic research. Appendix table 5-1 Microsoft Excel icon shows that the basic research share increased slightly between 1990 and 1996 and that there was hardly any change in this measure between 1998 and 2002. The second indicator is the response to a question S&E doctorate holders in academia were asked about their primary or secondary work activities, including four R&D functions: basic research, applied research, design, and development.

As figure 5-29 figure shows, for those employed in academia who reported research as their primary activity, involvement in basic research declined slightly between 1993 and 2001, from 61.9 percent to 59.1—a shift that barely reaches statistical significance. A similar shift occurred for all academic doctoral researchers (from 58.7 percent in 1993 to 56.5 in 2001). The available data, although limited, provide little evidence to date that pressures on academic institutions and faculty to change research agendas led to a shift toward more applied work.


[18]  Innovation is the generation of new or improved products, processes, and services. For more information, see chapter 6.

[19]  This set of institutions comprises the Carnegie Research I and II universities, based on the 1994 classification. These institutions have a full range of baccalaureate programs, have a commitment to graduate education through the doctorate, award at least 50 doctoral degrees annually, and receive Federal support of at least $15.5 million (1989–91 average); see Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (1994). The other Carnegie categories include master's (comprehensive) universities and colleges; baccalaureate (liberal arts) colleges; 2-year community and junior colleges; and specialized schools such as engineering and technology, business and management, and medical and law schools. The classification has since been modified, but the older schema is more appropriate to the discussion presented here.

[20]  Trends in S&E indicators relating to research funding are discussed in the first section of this chapter, "Financial Resources for Academic R&D."

[21]  The academic doctoral S&E workforce includes those with a doctorate in an S&E field in the following positions: full and associate professors (referred to as senior faculty); assistant professors and instructors (referred to as junior faculty); postdocs; other full-time positions such as lecturers, adjunct faculty, research and teaching associates, and administrators; and part-time positions of all kinds. Unless specific ally noted, data on S&E doctorate holders refer to persons with an S&E doctorate from a U.S. institution, as surveyed biennially by NSF in the Survey of Doctorate Recipients. All numbers are estimates rounded to the nearest 100. The reader is cautioned that small estimates may be unreliable.

[22]  Recently awarded degrees are defined here as those earned at a U.S. university within 3 years of the survey year.

[23]  It is impossible with the data at hand to establish causal connections among these developments.

[24]  For more information on this subject, see "Postdocs" in chapter 3.

[25]  See also the discussion of retirements from the S&E workforce in chapter 3, "Science and Engineering Labor Force."

[26]  A 1986 amendment to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (Public Law 90-202) prohibited mandatory retirement on the basis of age for almost all workers. Higher education institutions were granted an exemption through 1993 that allowed termination of employees with unlimited tenure who had reached age 70.

[27]  For more information about the effects of mentoring, see Diversity Works: The Emerging Picture of How Students Benefit, by Daryl G. Smith and Associates (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 1997).

[28]  See "Doctoral Degrees by Sex" in chapter 2.

[29]  See chapter 2, "S&E Bachelor's Degrees by Race/Ethnicity," "Master's Degrees by Race/Ethnicity," and "Doctoral Degrees by Race/Ethnicity."

[30]  Both the number and share of Asian/Pacific Islander S&E doctorate recipients employed in academia are probably larger than is reported here because those who received S&E Ph.D.s from universities outside the United States are not included in the analysis.

[31]  In 2001, 57 percent of those who were foreign born were U.S. citizens.

[32]  For a more thorough discussion of the role of foreign scientists and engineers, see chapter 2, "Higher Education in Science and Engineering," and chapter 3, "Science and Engineering Labor Force."

[33]  Public service includes activities established primarily to provide noninstructional services beneficial to individuals and groups external to the institution. These activities include community service programs and cooperative extension services.

[34]  The academic research function encompasses four separate items: basic research, applied research, development, and design. In the following discussion, unless specific ally stated otherwise, the term research refers to all four.

[35]  For technical reasons, the postdoc number excludes holders of S&E doctorates awarded by foreign universities. Data from NSF's Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering suggest that in 2001 the number of postdocs with doctorates from foreign institutions was approximately twice that of those with U.S. doctorates. Most of them could be expected to have research as their primary work activity.

[36]  For a more detailed treatment of graduate education in general, including the mix of graduate support mechanisms and sources, see chapter 2, "Higher Education in Science and Engineering."

[37]  This measure was constructed slightly differently in the 1980s and in the 1990s, starting in 1993, and is not strictly comparable across these periods. Therefore, the crossing over of the two trends in the 1990s could reflect only a methodological difference. However, the very robust trend in the life sciences, where researchers started outnumbering teachers much earlier, suggests that this methodological artifact cannot fully explain the observed trend.

[38]  For a more detailed discussion of these shifts, see Changes in Federal Support for Academic S&E and R&D Activities Since the 1970s (NSF/SRS forthcoming).

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