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Chapter 5. Academic Research and Development

Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in Academia

The role of research in U.S. universities is both to create new knowledge and to educate students who will become the future generations of researchers and teachers (Association of American Universities 2006). Doctoral scientists and engineers in academia, and in particular faculty in U.S. colleges and universities, are an important aspect of academic R&D, as they generally engage in both research and teaching. The focus of this section is on the research aspects of doctoral scientists and engineers in academia.

This section examines trends in employment and labor market conditions of doctoral scientists and engineers in U.S. universities and colleges, with a particular focus on research activity. Trends in and characteristics of S&E doctoral researchers, including young investigators, are discussed as well as trends in government support for research. Chapter 3 provides more information on the workforce as a whole, and chapter 2 provides information on the output of students and degrees.

Trends in Academic Employment of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers

Academic employment of doctoral scientists and engineers grew over the past three decades, although growth was slower than in the business or government sectors. As a result, the share of all S&E doctorate holders employed in academia dropped from about 55% to 45% during the 1973–2006 period (NSB 2008).[23] The number of S&E doctorate holders employed in academia grew from 118,000 in 1973 to 272,800 in 2006 (table 5-6 ). Mirroring trends in R&D funding, life scientists accounted for much of the growth in academic employment. In engineering and many science fields, growth in academic employment slowed in the early 1990s but increased in recent years (figure 5-12 ).

Although full-time faculty positions continue to be the norm in academic employment, S&E doctorate holders increasingly are employed in part-time, postdoc, or full-time nonfaculty positions. From 1973 to 2006, the share of S&E doctorate holders employed in full-time faculty positions decreased while the share employed in postdoc or other full- and part-time positions increased (table 5-6 and figure 5-13 ). The full-time faculty share was 72% of all academic employment in 2006, down from 88% in the early 1970s. The full-time nonfaculty share rose from 6% in 1973 to 13% in 2006. Part-time positions 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 almost 6% in 2006. Postdocs rose from 4% in 1973 to 9% of all academically employed S&E doctorate holders in 2006.

The lack of growth in the number of tenured and tenure-track positions in the life sciences, concurrent with increasing numbers of new doctorate holders, has been a subject of much focus in recent years (Benderly 2004, NRC 2005, Check 2007, Garrison and McGuire, 2008). Although the number of tenured full-time faculty in all fields increased from 90,700 in 1979 to 122,500 in 2006, their percentage of the academic workforce decreased from 69% to 62% (appendix table 5-15 ). This decline is largely accounted for by decreases in the life sciences (from 65% to 56%) and physical sciences (from 74% to 65%). Despite large increases in academic R&D expenditures (appendix table 5-6 ) and in the number of doctorates granted in the life sciences (appendix table 2-28 ), the number of tenured and tenure-track life scientists has remained fairly stable since the late 1980s (appendix table 5-15).

Research as Either Primary or Secondary Work Activity
About two-thirds of doctoral scientists and engineers employed in academic institutions are engaged in research as either a primary or secondary work activity. From 1973 to 2006, the number of academic S&E doctorate holders reporting research as a primary or secondary work activity showed greater growth than the number reporting teaching as a primary or secondary activity (table 5-7 ). On average, the number of researchers grew 2.5% per year and the number of teachers grew 1.7% per year.

The life sciences accounted for much of this trend, with the number of life science researchers growing from 26,000 to 66,700, an average annual growth rate of 2.9% (table 5-8 and appendix table 5-16 ). Life scientists accounted for more than one-third of academic doctorate holders reporting research as a primary or secondary work activity in 2006. The number of researchers in computer sciences grew the fastest, at 16.3% from 1979 to 2006, although from a small base. The number of academic researchers in the physical sciences and mathematics grew more slowly, at average annual growth rates of 1.1% and 1.6%, respectively, from 1973 to 2006. Growth rates for academic researchers in all fields were greatest in the 1980s. From 1979 to 1989, the average annual growth rate for doctoral scientists and engineers with research as a primary or secondary work activity was more than 5% per year, compared with less than 2% per year in the 1970s, 1990s, and 2000s.

Demographic Characteristics of Academic Researchers
The demographic composition of doctoral S&E researchers has changed over the past three decades, reflecting changes in the student population (see chapter 2 and appendix table 5-17 ). As women, minorities, and foreign-born researchers became an increasing share of academic researchers over the past two decades, men, and particularly white men, became a decreasing share.

Women in the Doctoral S&E Workforce. In 2006, 33% of all S&E doctorate holders employed in academia were women, up from 9% in 1973 (table 5-9 ). This rise reflects the increase in the proportion of women among recent S&E doctorate holders. Women hold a larger share of junior faculty positions than positions at either the associate or full professor rank (figure 5-14 ). In 2006, women constituted 25% of full-time senior faculty (full and associate professors) and 42% of full-time junior faculty (assistant professors and lecturers), the latter slightly higher than their share of recently earned S&E doctorates (table 5-9; see also "Doctoral Degrees by Sex" in chapter 2). However, their share of both junior and senior faculty positions rose substantially between 1973 and 2006. Although women are growing numbers of full-time faculty, they constitute more than half of academic S&E doctorate holders employed part time.

The percentage of women among full-time doctoral S&E research faculty is similar to the percentage of women among all S&E doctorate holders employed in academia. Women increased from 6% to 29% of full-time doctoral S&E research faculty from 1973 to 2006 (appendix table 5-16 ). Women's representation in some fields is higher than in others. Women make up almost half of full-time faculty researchers in psychology, about one-third of those in life sciences and social sciences,[24] and 11% of those in engineering (figure 5-15 and table 5-9 ).

Women are also a growing percentage of faculty at research institutions—up from 8% in 1977 to 23% in 2003—yet they remain less well represented at these institutions than at freestanding medical schools or at master's granting institutions (NSF/SRS 2008). (See sidebar "Women Faculty at Research Universities.") For a more complete discussion of the role of women, see Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2009 (NSF/SRS 2009b).

Racial/Ethnic Groups in the Academic Doctoral Workforce. Asians and underrepresented minorities (blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives) constitute increasing shares of the academic doctoral workforce (table 5-10 and figure 5-16 ).[25] Between 1973 and 2006, the percentages of Asians and underrepresented minorities in the S&E academic doctoral workforce increased from 4% to 14% and 2% to 8%, respectively. These changes reflect increases in these groups' shares of recently earned doctorates. See "Doctoral Degrees by Race/Ethnicity" in chapter 2 for trends in doctoral degrees.

Among full-time doctoral research faculty, Asians increased from 4% to 13% from 1973 to 2006, and underrepresented minorities increased from 2% to 8%. Because of these increases, the proportion of full-time doctoral research faculty who are white decreased from 92% in 1973 to 79% in 2006 (appendix table 5-17 ).

Underrepresented minorities constituted a smaller share of employment at research universities than other racial/ethnic groups. In 2006, 35% of underrepresented minority S&E doctorate holders employed in academia were employed in research institutions, compared with 51% of Asian and 42% of white S&E doctorate holders employed in academia (NSB 2008). Notably, in 2003, the percentage of black S&E faculty employed at research universities (28%) was lower than the percentage employed at comprehensive universities (31%), largely because of this group's prevalence in historically black colleges and universities, most of which are comprehensive institutions (NSF/SRS 2006).[26]

The distribution of racial/ethnic groups within S&E fields differs (appendix table 5-18 ). The percentage of underrepresented minorities among full-time faculty researchers ranges from about 5% in the physical sciences to about 10% in the social sciences. Asians are more heavily represented in engineering and computer sciences (where they constitute 26% and 37% of full-time faculty researchers, respectively) and represented at very low levels in psychology (4%) and social sciences (8%). For a more complete discussion of the role of Asians and underrepresented minorities, see Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2009 (NSF/SRS 2009b).

Foreign-Born Doctorate Holders in the Academic Doctoral S&E Workforce. Foreign-born S&E doctorate holders contribute substantially to academic R&D in the United States. Reliance by U.S. colleges and universities on foreign talent increased during the 1990s. Chapter 3 discusses more fully trends in immigration and employment characteristics of foreign-born scientists and engineers.

Approximately 31,400 noncitizens (permanent residents and temporary visa holders) and 31,300 naturalized U.S. citizens with a U.S. S&E doctorate were employed in academia in 2006 (appendix table 5-19 ). In addition, U.S. universities and colleges employ an unknown but probably large number of foreign-born S&E doctorate holders with doctorates from foreign universities.[27] (Chapter 3 of Science and Engineering Indicators 2008 [NSB 2008] estimated that about 36% of foreign-born S&E doctorate holders had foreign-earned doctorates.) The discussion in this section is limited to U.S. doctorate holders.

Foreign-born S&E doctorate holders (both noncitizens and naturalized citizens) with U.S. S&E doctorates were 23% of the total academic doctoral S&E workforce in 2006 and close to half (47%) of academic postdocs (appendix table 5-19 ). Foreign-born S&E doctorate holders constitute a higher percentage of researchers than of all academically employed S&E doctorate holders. In 2006, they represented 27% of all academic researchers, regardless of rank or type of position, 24% of full-time faculty researchers, and 20% of all full-time faculty. U.S. S&E doctorate holders with temporary or permanent visas increased from about 4% of full-time faculty researchers with U.S. doctorates in 1973 to 10% in 2006 (appendix table 5-17 ).

Foreign-born S&E doctorate holders with U.S. doctorates are more heavily concentrated in computer sciences, mathematics, and engineering than in other fields. These foreign-born doctorate holders account for more than half of all academic researchers and of full-time faculty researchers in computer sciences and for 39%–48% of all academic researchers and full-time faculty researchers in mathematics and engineering. In contrast, they represent 27% or less of all academic researchers and 21% or less of full-time faculty researchers in the life sciences, the physical sciences, psychology, and the social sciences (appendix table 5-19 ).

Recent S&E Doctorate Holders

Many doctoral candidates aspire to an academic, tenured faculty position, even though nonacademic employment has for many years exceeded that in universities and colleges, and the composition of academic hiring has changed as relatively fewer full-time faculty and relatively more part-time and nonfaculty are hired. Nevertheless, the relative availability of faculty positions is thought to have provided market signals to aspiring graduate students.

Over the past three decades, the share of recent doctorate holders (i.e., those with doctorates earned within 3 years of the survey) in full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty positions decreased and the prevalence of postdoc positions increased (figure 5-17 ). Between 1979 and 2006, the share of recent doctorate holders hired into full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty positions fell from 42% to 29%. Conversely, the overall share of recent S&E doctorate holders who reported being in postdoc positions rose from 25% to 45% during that period. (See the discussion of postdocs in chapter 3, "Science and Engineering Labor Force," for more information, including reasons for accepting a postdoc position and short-term career trajectory.) The share employed in part-time positions also rose in the 1970s and early 1980s but remained at roughly 5% from 1985 through 2006. The share employed in other full-time positions (e.g., adjunct faculty, lecturers, research associates, administrators) remained fairly stable over the period except for decreases from 1979 to 1981 and from 2003 to 2006.

The percentage of recent S&E doctorate holders and recent full-time S&E doctoral faculty engaged in research is higher than is the case for those who have had their doctorate for 12 or more years (table 5-11 ).[28] In some fields (e.g., computer sciences and engineering), research is a more prevalent activity among those who have had their doctorate for less than 8 years. In the life sciences, although research is most prevalent within 1 to 3 years of award of the doctorate, a relatively high percentage of doctorate holders remain in research, even among those with more experience.

Young Doctorate Holders With a Track Record
For those employed in academia 4–7 years after earning their doctorate, the trends are quite similar to those for doctorate holders who have had their degree for 1–3 years, although the former group's percentage employed in postdoc positions is much smaller and their percentage employed in faculty positions much larger. About half of S&E doctorate holders who have had their degree for 4–7 years had full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty positions in 2006, down from 64% in 1979 (figure 5-18 ). The percentage in postdoc positions rose from 6% to 15%, and the percentage in part-time positions rose from 3% to 6%. The percentage employed in full-time, non-tenure-track, nonfaculty positions changed little over time.

Government Support of Academic Doctoral Researchers

Academic researchers rely on the federal government for a majority of their overall research support. This section presents data from reports by S&E doctorate holders in academia about the presence or absence of federal support for their work.[29] However, nothing is known about the amount of funds received by individual researchers.

In 2006, 46% of full-time S&E doctoral faculty reported federal government support, about the same percentage as was the case in the late 1980s and only slightly higher than in 1973 (figure 5-19 ). As appendix table 5-20 shows, the percentage of S&E doctorate holders in academia who received federal support and the percentage of full-time S&E faculty who received federal support differed greatly across the S&E fields. In 2006, more than half of full-time S&E doctoral faculty in the physical sciences, the life sciences, and engineering and less than half of those in mathematics, computer sciences, psychology, and the social sciences received federal support. The percentage receiving federal support was lowest in social sciences (24%).

The percentage with federal support was higher among S&E doctorate holders in research universities (64%) and medical schools (70%) and lower among those employed in doctoral/research universities (28%), master's-granting universities (21%), and baccalaureate colleges (22%) (appendix table 5-20 ).

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, yet federal support is less available to young S&E faculty with doctorates than to more established faculty, and the percentage of young S&E faculty with federal support is declining. Among full-time faculty, the percentage reporting federal support in 2006 was lower for those with recently earned doctorates than for all full-time faculty. Moreover, for younger faculty as well as all faculty, the percentage reporting federal support was lower in 2006 than in 1991 (a peak year) (figure 5-19 ). It should be pointed out that these data provide no information about whether an individual reporting federal support is being supported as a principal investigator on a research project or is participating in a more dependent status rather than as an independent researcher.

Among S&E doctorate holders with recently earned doctorates, those in full-time faculty positions were less likely to receive federal support than those in postdoc or other full-time positions in 2006 (table 5-12 ). Almost half of those with recently earned doctorates reported receiving federal support, with 30% of those in full-time faculty positions, 49% in other full-time positions, and 69% in postdoc positions receiving federal support. Over the past three decades, the percentage of recent S&E doctorate holders in full-time faculty positions who have federal support remained fairly constant (except in the life sciences, where it declined), but the percentage in postdocs and in full-time nonfaculty positions with federal support declined (NSB 2008). The share of recent doctorate holders with federal support was relatively low in the social sciences and higher in the life and physical sciences and in engineering (table 5-12).

Among full-time faculty and postdocs in 2006, those who had received their doctorate 4–7 years earlier were more likely to receive federal support than those with recently earned doctorates (table 5-12 ). However, those who had received their doctorate 4–7 years earlier were also less likely to receive support in 2006 than in 1991 (figure 5-19 and table 5-13 ).

Collaborative Research

Research in many fields has increasingly involved collaboration of researchers, whether on large or small projects. Funding entities often encourage collaborative research, which can bring together people of different disciplines, different types of institutions, different economic sectors, and different countries. As noted in the section "R&D Collaborations Between Higher Education Institutions," R&D funds for joint projects that were passed through academic institutions to other institutions increased from FY 2000 to FY 2008, and most of the funds were from federal sources. This section explores S&E doctorate holders' reports of their collaboration with others. Information on trends in and the extent of coauthorship and collaboration using indicators developed from the research literature can be found later in this chapter under "Coauthorship and Collaboration."

In 2006, close to 70% of S&E full-time research faculty employed in academic institutions reported working in an immediate work group or team (appendix table 5-21 ).[30] Seventy-five percent worked with others elsewhere in the same organization, 58% worked with individuals in other organizations in the United States, and 29% worked with individuals located in other countries. Team work is most common among life scientists, physical scientists, and engineers (80%, 72%, and 77%, respectively) and least common among mathematicians (49%) and social scientists (50%). The percentage of full-time research faculty engaged in international collaboration was higher among those who were born outside the United States (34%) than among those born in the United States (28%). Differences between foreign and native-born researchers were even more pronounced in some fields, such as mathematics (36% compared with 21%), psychology (39% compared with 24%), and social sciences (41% compared with 28%). Although the differences in computer sciences appear large, they are not statistically significant.

Among full-time S&E research faculty, much of the international collaboration was by e-mail or telephone (98%), 52% involved travel abroad, 54% involved travel to the United States, and 38% involved Web-based or virtual technology (appendix table 5-22 ). Web-based or virtual technology was used far more by computer scientists (56%) than by other scientists and engineers engaged in international collaboration (38% overall). In many fields, a higher percentage of foreign-born than of U.S.-born research faculty travelled abroad for collaboration. More information on collaboration in scientific articles can be found in the next section.


[23] The United States is unlike many other countries in the fraction of doctorate holders who are employed in academia. A comparison of 1990–2006 doctorate recipients in 14 countries for which data are available found that in most of these countries, more than half of doctorate holders were employed in academia, compared with 47% for the United States. Only the United States, Austria, and Belgium had substantial fractions employed in the business sector, and the United States had one of the smallest fractions employed in government (OECD 2009).
[24] Psychology (also called a behavioral science) is discussed and broken out separately in tables from the social sciences because trends over time and characteristics of doctorate holders in psychology and social sciences differ.
[25] The inclusion or exclusion of those on temporary and permanent visas has little impact on the analysis. Data on Pacific Islanders were not collected separately from Asians before 2001. From 1975 to 1999, the Asian category includes Pacific Islanders, but from 2001 to 2006 it does not. In 2006, approximately 200 Pacific Islander doctoral S&E researchers were employed in academia. If combined with Asians, they would constitute less than 1% of the combined category.
[26] The Carnegie classification used in that report was the 1994 version.
[27] The switch to the American Community Survey as the sampling frame for the National Survey of College Graduates in 2010 and beyond may improve estimates of non-U.S.-trained doctorate holders in future years.
[28] Among all S&E doctorate holders employed in academia, this is the case both in fields in which postdocs are prevalent (such as physical sciences and life sciences) and fields in which postdocs are less prevalent (such as computer sciences and mathematics).
[29] Interpretation of the data on federal support of academic researchers is complicated by a technical difficulty. Between 1993 and 1997, respondents to the Survey of Doctorate Recipients were asked whether work performed during the week of April 15 was supported by the federal government; in most other survey years, the reference was to the entire preceding year, and in 1985, it was to 1 month. However, the volume of academic research activity is not uniform over the entire academic year. A 1-week (or 1-month) reference period seriously understates the number of researchers supported at some time during an entire year. Thus, the numbers for 1985 and 1993–97 cannot be compared directly with results for the earlier years or with those from the 1999 through 2006 surveys, which again used an entire reference year.

The discussion in this edition of Indicators generally compares data for 2006 with data for 1991. All calculations express the proportion of those with federal support relative to the number responding to this question. The reader is cautioned that, given the nature of these data, the trends discussed are broadly suggestive rather than definitive. The reader also is reminded that the trends in the proportion of all academic researchers supported by federal funds occurred against a background of rising overall numbers of academic researchers.
[30] Respondents were asked to indicate whether they "Work with an immediate work group or team?"; "Work with others in the same organization (company, university, agency, etc.), but not the same group or team?"; "Work with individuals in other organizations in the U.S.?"; and "Work with individuals located in other countries?"

Science and Engineering Indicators 2010   Arlington, VA (NSB 10-01) | January 2010