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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
The pursuit of new knowledge, the training of the people in whom that knowledge is embodied, and its use in generating innovation make academia a national resource whose vitality rests in the scientists and engineers who study and work there. Especially important are those with doctorates who do the research, teach and train the students, and stimulate or help to produce innovation.
Employment and research activity at the leading research-performing universities in the United States merit special attention. These institutions have a disproportionate influence on the nation's academic science, engineering, and R&D enterprise. Although they enroll only 22% of full-time undergraduates and award 32% of all bachelor's degrees, they award 39% of bachelor's degrees in S&E fields. Of U.S. S&E doctorate holders with a U.S. baccalaureate degree, research universities are the source of 55% of all of them and the source of more than 60% of those who are employed in academia and report R&D as their primary work activity. Moreover, these institutions conduct more than 80% of academic R&D (as measured by expenditures) and produce the bulk of both academic articles and patents. (See "Outputs of S&E 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. Trends in indicators related to research funding are presented earlier in this chapter. This section presents indicators about academic personnel. Unless otherwise indicated, the discussion is limited to those who received their S&E doctorate at a U.S. institution. Because of the complex 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 activities, and trends in federal support. The section also examines the academic research workforce: its definition and size; its deployment across institutions, positions, and fields; and the extent to which it is receiving federal support. Finally, a previously mentioned sidebar, "Has Academic R&D Shifted Toward More Applied Work?," briefly discusses whether a shift away from basic research toward more applied R&D activities has been occurring.
The main findings are a relative shift in the 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 increasing proportion of foreign-born faculty and postdocs; an aging academic doctoral labor force; a decline in the share of academic researchers who report receiving federal support; and growth of an academic researcher pool outside the regular faculty ranks.
Academic employment of S&E doctorate holders reached a record high of 258,300 in 2003. However, long-term growth in the number of these positions between 1973 and 2003 was slower than in either business or government. Growth in the academic sector was also much slower between 1983 and 2003 than it was between 1973 and 1983 (table
Employment growth over the past decade was much slower at the research universities than at other academic institutions. Appendix table
All Academic S&E Doctoral Employment
Trends in academic employment of S&E doctorate holders suggest continual movement away from the full-time faculty position as the academic norm. Overall academic employment of S&E doctorate holders grew from 118,000 in 1973 to 258,300 in 2003 (appendix table
Nonfaculty ranks, that is, full- and part-time adjunct faculty, lecturers, research and teaching associates, administrators, and postdocs, increased from 41,400 in 1993 to 64,200 in 2003. This 55% increase stood in sharp contrast to the 13% rise in the number of full-time faculty. Both the full-time nonfaculty and part-time components grew rapidly between 1993 and 2003. Postdocs rose more slowly during this period and, in fact, actually declined after 1997 after quite substantial growth up to that year. Part-time employees accounted for only a small share (between 2% and 4%) of all academic S&E doctoral employment throughout most of the period before rising to just above 5% in 2003 (appendix table
Recent S&E Doctorate Holders
The trends discussed above 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 doctorates (degrees earned at U.S. universities within 3 years of the survey year).
Recent S&E doctorate holders who entered academic employment at research universities were more likely to be in postdoc than in faculty positions (figure
Young Doctorate Holders With a Track Record
For those employed in academia 4–7 years after earning their doctorates, the picture looks quite similar: about 65% had faculty rank in 2003, compared with about 89% in 1973. Before increasing slightly between 2001 and 2003, the trend had been continuing downward since 1991. A little more than half of these doctorate holders were in tenure-track positions in 2003, with about 13% already tenured. The shares of both those in tenure-track positions and those with tenure declined between 1991 and 2001 and increased in 2003. Whether or not the 2003 figures mark the beginning of a trend remains to be seen (figure
Shift in Employment
The relative shift toward nonfaculty employment affected almost every major S&E degree field. The share of all doctoral employment held by full-time faculty was lower in 2003 than in 1993 in every broad S&E field. However, in many of these fields, the relative shift toward nonfaculty positions appears to have slowed or leveled off toward the end of this period (appendix table
The trend toward relatively fewer full-time faculty and relatively 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 doctorate holders into academic faculty positions. This growth slowed sharply in the 1970s, and faculty hiring has since continued at a more modest pace. The result is that an increasing number and proportion of faculty are today reaching or nearing retirement age.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 became fully applicable to universities and colleges in 1994. It prohibits the forced retirement of faculty at any age, raising concerns about the potential ramifications of an aging professoriate. Sufficient data have now accumulated to allow examination of some of these concerns. Figure
The data indicate that until recently, individuals age 65 or older (and 70 years or older) constituted 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 those ages 60–64 was rising well before the act became mandatory, leveled off in the early 1990s, and began to rise again after 1995, reaching just below 12% in 2003. A similar progression can be seen for those age 65 or older, who in 2003 made up over 5% of the research universities' full-time faculty and less than 4% of other institutions' full-time faculty. The employment share of those older than 70 also rose during most of the past three decades, reaching more than 1% of all S&E doctorate holders and all full-time faculty employed in academia in 2001 before dropping to just below 1% for both groups in 2003 (figure
Women and underrepresented minority groups constitute 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% of the college-age population by 2020 (see appendix table
The academic employment of women with S&E doctorates rose sharply between 1973 and 2003, reflecting the increase in the proportion of women among recent S&E doctorate holders. The number of women with S&E doctorates in academia increased more than sevenfold during this period, from 10,700 in 1973 to an estimated 78,500 in 2003 (appendix table
Women hold a larger share of junior faculty positions than positions at either the associate or full professor rank. However, their share of all three positions rose substantially between 1973 and 2003. In 2003, women constituted 18% of full professors, 31% of associate professors, and 40% of junior faculty, the latter roughly in line with their share of recently earned S&E doctorates (figure
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 Asians/Pacific Islanders, these groups tended to be less likely than whites to earn S&E degrees or work in S&E occupations. Private and governmental groups have sought to broaden the participation of blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives in these fields, with many programs targeting their advanced training through the doctorate level.
The absolute rate of conferral of S&E doctorates on members of underrepresented minority groups has increased, as has academic employment; but taken together, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives remain a small percentage of the S&E doctorate holders employed in academia (appendix table
These trends are similar for all underrepresented minorities and for those who are U.S. citizens (figure
Asians/Pacific Islanders more than tripled their employment share in the S&E academic doctoral workforce between 1973 and 2003, increasing from 4% to 13% (appendix table
Compared with whites, Asians/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 Asians/Pacific Islanders. In 2003, Asians/Pacific Islanders constituted 29% of academic doctoral computer scientists and more than 23% of engineers (appendix table
The relative prominence of whites, particularly white males, in the academic S&E doctoral workforce diminished between 1973 and 2003 (figure
An increasing number and share (23%) of S&E doctorate holders who earned U.S. degrees and are employed at U.S. universities and colleges are foreign born (appendix table
Employment in higher education of foreign-born S&E doctorate holders 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 11% of the total in 1973 to 23% in 2003, with some fields, especially computer sciences (44%) and engineering (40%), reaching considerably higher proportions. In 2003, the overall percentage of foreign-born postdocs with S&E doctorates was 43%. The percentage in the physical sciences was 57% and in engineering, 63% (appendix table
The interconnectedness of research, teaching, and public service in academia makes it difficult to measure the size of the academic research workforce precisely. For example, a researcher may be doing full-time research in a lab and report research as his or her only activity but mentor several graduate students, which many consider a form of teaching even though no classroom instruction is involved. Two estimates of the number of academic doctoral researchers are presented here: (1) a count of those who report that research is their primary work activity and (2) a higher count of those who report that research is either their primary or secondary work activity.
Postdocs and those in nonfaculty positions are included in both estimates. 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% who are primarily self-supporting. Many of these students are also likely to be involved in research activities during the course of their graduate education.
Research as Primary Work Activity
The growth of academic researchers with S&E doctorates who report research as their primary work activity has been substantial, from 27,800 in 1973 to 102,900 in 2003 (appendix table
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 had the largest shares identifying teaching as their primary activity and the lowest shares reporting research as their primary activity (figure
Research as Either Primary or Secondary Work Activity
The number of academic S&E doctorate holders reporting research as their primary or secondary work activity also showed greater growth than the number reporting teaching as their primary or secondary activity. The former group increased from 82,300 in 1973 to 178,700 in 2003, whereas the latter group increased from 94,900 to 160,000 (appendix table
The life sciences accounted for much of this trend, with researchers growing from 26,000 to 65,100 and teachers from about the same base (25,300) to 43,500. The other fields generally included fewer researchers than teachers in the 1970s and early 1980s, but this pattern reversed after that time in 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. Among the almost 400,000 full-time S&E graduate students in 2003, many contributed significantly to the conduct of academic research.
Graduate RAs were the primary means of support for more than one-fourth of these students. Table
Adding graduate research assistants 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. As noted above, many more graduate students than those with an RA as their primary mechanism of support are carrying out research activities. In addition, more departments are involving undergraduate students in research. With these caveats, the estimated number of academic researchers in 2003 was approximately 293,000 (figure
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. In 2003, the research universities employed 49% of all S&E doctorate holders in academic positions, 57% of those reporting research as their primary or secondary activity, and 71% of those reporting research as their primary activity, as well as 80% of S&E graduate students for whom an RA was the primary means of support (appendix table
Over the years, however, the research universities' shares of both S&E doctorate holders reporting research as their primary or secondary activity and of graduate research assistants have declined. Table
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
Distribution Across S&E Fields
Research Intensity of Academic Institutions
The number of academic S&E doctorate holders reporting research as their primary or secondary activity relative to all S&E doctoral employment declined between 1975 and 1977; was relatively constant at about 60% from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, when R&D funds grew relatively slowly; then rose again in 1987 to about 74%; dropped to about 70% in 1993; and remained relatively constant at that level until 2003 (figure
Academic researchers rely on the federal government for a significant share (about 60%) of their overall research support. The institutional and field distributions of these funds are well documented, but little is known about their distribution among 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.")
Academic Scientists and Engineers Who Receive Federal Support
In 2003, 46% of all S&E doctorate holders in academia, 72% of those for whom research was the primary activity, and 36% of those for whom research was a secondary activity reported federal government support (appendix table
The percentage of S&E doctorate holders in academia who received federal support differed greatly across the S&E fields. In 2003, this percentage ranged from about 63% in the earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences to about 22% in the social sciences (table
Full-time faculty received federal funding less frequently than other full-time doctoral employees, who, in turn, were supported less frequently than postdocs. In 2003, about 45% of full-time faculty, 48% of other full-time employees, and 78% of postdocs received federal support. As indicated earlier, these proportions were lower than those in 1991, but dropped less for full-time faculty than for postdocs or other full-time positions (appendix table
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 pattern of support for young researchers is similar to that of the overall academic S&E doctoral workforce: those in full-time faculty positions were less likely to receive federal support than those in postdoc or other full-time positions. However, for each of these three positions, the percentage reporting federal support in 2003 was higher for the overall academic S&E doctoral workforce than for those with recently earned doctorates (i.e., within 3 years of the survey) (appendix tables
In 2003, about 49% of those with recently earned doctorates received federal support, with 30% of those in full-time faculty positions and 45% of those in other full-time positions receiving support, compared with about 78% of those in postdoc positions (appendix table
In 2003, young academics who had gained some experience (i.e., those who had received their doctorate 4–7 years earlier) were considerably more likely to receive federal support than those with recently earned doctorates. However, this group also was less likely to receive support in 2003 than in 1991 (table
 This set of institutions constitutes the Carnegie Research I and II institutions, 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 doctorate-granting institutions, 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.
 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 specifically 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.
 It is impossible to establish causal connections among these developments with the data at hand.
 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.
 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 doctorates from universities outside the United States are not included in the analysis.
 In 2003, 58% of those who were foreign born were U.S. citizens.
 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.
 The survey question on which this analysis is based encompasses four separate items that are considered to be academic research: basic research, applied research, development, and design. In the following discussion, unless specifically stated otherwise, the term research refers to all four.
 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 2003, the number of postdocs in U.S. academic institutions 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.
 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, in which researchers started outnumbering teachers much earlier, suggests that this methodological artifact cannot fully explain the observed trend. Individuals can be counted in both groups.