S&E doctorate holders employed at U.S. universities and colleges hold a central role in the nation’s academic R&D enterprise. Through the R&D they undertake, S&E doctorate holders produce new knowledge and contribute to marketplace innovation. They also teach and provide training opportunities for young people who may then go on to earn S&E doctorates and themselves train the next generation of scientists and engineers.
This section examines trends in the demographic composition of the doctoral S&E academic workforce and its deployment across institutions, positions, and fields. Particular attention is paid to the component of the academic workforce that is more focused on research, including graduate assistants, those employed in postdoctoral positions, and researchers receiving federal support. A central message of this section is that, whether looking across 15–20 years or across four decades, the demographic composition of the academically employed S&E workforce, like the S&E workforce throughout the economy, has changed substantially. There have also been changes, although not as substantial, in how this workforce has been deployed across institutions, positions, and fields. Longer-term comparisons from 1973 to 2010 are made to illustrate fluctuations over multiple decades and trends that, once started, have not stopped. Shorter-term comparisons (from the early to mid-1990s to 2010) are made to illustrate what the past 15–20 years have brought forth. Comparisons over the 7-year period from 2003 to 2010 are used in the discussion of minorities in the academically employed workforce because data prior to the early years of the 2000–09 decade are not directly comparable to data from 2003 to 2010.
Unless specifically noted, estimates of S&E doctorate holders in this section come from the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), a biennial NSF survey that is limited to individuals, including foreign-born individuals, who received their research doctorate in science, engineering, or health at a U.S. institution. Since foreign-trained doctorate holders are also an important component of the academic doctoral workforce, this section also draws from the National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG) to provide estimates of foreign-trained, academically employed doctorate holders, by gender and field of degree.
The SDR substantially undercounts academically employed postdocs, many of whom were trained outside the United States. To provide more complete postdoc counts, this section supplements SDR data on postdocs with data on postdocs from the Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering (GSS), an annual survey jointly conducted by NSF and NIH. Data on graduate assistants are also provided from this survey. (See chapter 3 for more information on foreign-born doctorate holders working in the United States.)
Owing to the complex interrelationships among faculty and nonfaculty positions that jointly produce R&D outcomes, much of the discussion addresses the overall academic employment of U.S.-trained S&E doctorate holders, regardless of position or rank. However, at various points, full-time faculty and those who work outside of the full-time faculty population are discussed separately.
Academic employment of doctoral scientists and engineers grew over the past three decades and reached an estimated 359,000 in 2010. Of this total, the large majority—almost 295,000—were U.S. trained. Among these, there was a substantial increase over the employment numbers estimated in 2008 (appendix table
The United States is unlike many other countries in terms of the fraction of doctorate holders 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 the doctorate holders were employed in academia, compared with 47% for the United States. Only the United States, Austria, and Belgium had substantial fractions of doctorate holders employed in the business sector, and the United States had one of the smallest fractions employed in government (Auriol 2010). In recent decades, growth in the number of doctoral scientists and engineers in the academic sector has been slower than the rate of growth in the business and government sectors, resulting in a decline in the academic sector’s share of all S&E doctorates from 55% in the early 1970s to just under 50% in the mid-1990s to about 44% in 2010.
The doctoral academic S&E workforce includes doctorate holders in S&E who are employed at 2-year or 4-year colleges or universities, including medical schools and university research institutes. This workforce is employed in the following positions: full and associate professors (senior faculty); assistant professors (junior faculty); postdoctoral researchers (postdocs); other full-time positions, such as instructors, lecturers, adjunct faculty, research associates, and administrators; and part-time positions of all kinds.
Full-time faculty positions as either senior or junior faculty continue to be the norm in academic employment, but S&E doctorate holders are increasingly employed in other full-time positions, as postdocs, and in part-time positions (figure
The proportion of full-time faculty among S&E doctorate holders in higher education gradually declined in all fields between 1973 and 2010. Growth in postdoc positions and other full-time and part-time positions helped to account for the declining share of full-time faculty positions (appendix table
From the early 1980s through 2010, growth in the number of life scientists and psychologists with academic employment was consistently stronger than for doctorate holders in other S&E fields (figure
Among U.S.-trained S&E doctorate holders working full-time in academia, the proportion that has achieved tenure has diminished since 1997, although the proportion in tenure-track positions has not. In 1997, tenured positions accounted for an estimated 53% of positions held by U.S.-trained S&E doctorate holders in academic employment; this decreased to 48% in 2010 as other positions grew as a share of overall doctoral academic employment. The same percentage of positions in 1997 as in 2010 (just over 16%) was untenured but on a tenure track. Analysis of U.S. Department of Education data at all degree-granting institutions indicates larger decreases of about 10 percentage points over the past 15–20 years in tenured positions’ share of academic employment (AAUP 2010). In addition, it is likely that a higher proportion of foreign-trained doctorate holders than U.S.-trained doctorate holders working in academia are in non-tenured and non-tenure-track positions. If so, the tenured proportion of the academic doctoral workforce (regardless of degree location) would be somewhat less than the 48% found among those who were trained in the United States (Stephan and Levin 2003).
In both 1997 and 2010, the distribution of tenure status across the fields of S&E varied (table
Tenure status also varied by age in 1997 and 2010 (table
The reduction from 1997 to 2010 in tenured positions’ share of total positions occurred across most (but not all) Carnegie classifications (see the chapter 2 sidebar “Carnegie Classification of Academic Institutions” for a discussion of Carnegie classifications). In 1997, 47% of academically employed S&E doctorate holders at the most research-intensive institutions held tenured positions; this percentage decreased to just over 40% in 2010. Similar reductions occurred at less research-intensive doctorate-granting institutions and at master’s-granting institutions. However, at medical schools, similar percentages of academically employed doctorate holders held tenured positions in 1997 (31%) and 2010 (29%). At baccalaureate institutions, a slightly higher share of academically employed doctorate holders held tenured positions in 2010 (60%) than in 1997 (58%).
The past 40 years have seen tremendous growth in the participation of women in the academic doctoral S&E workforce. In 1973, only about 11,000 U.S.-trained women were employed at this level. In 2010, by contrast, about 105,000 U.S.-trained women with S&E doctorates were employed in academia, nearly a 10-fold increase. The number of U.S.-trained women with S&E doctorates employed in academia almost doubled over the past 15 years, rising from about 60,000 in 1997 to over 105,000 in 2010. In comparison, the number of U.S.-trained male S&E doctorate holders grew by just less than 10% over the same period and by about 80% over the four-decade period, from about 110,000 in 1973 to just under 200,000 in 2010 (appendix table
These differential rates of increase are reflected in the steadily rising share of women in the academic S&E workforce. Women constituted 36% of all U.S.-trained, academic S&E doctoral employment and 32% of full-time faculty in 2010, up from 9% and 7%, respectively, in 1973 (appendix table
Compared with their male counterparts in the U.S.-trained academic doctoral S&E workforce, women were more heavily concentrated in the fields of life sciences, social sciences, and psychology, with correspondingly lower shares in engineering, physical sciences, mathematics, and computer sciences. Women’s share of doctorate holders in each of these fields, however, grew during the 1973–2010 period (appendix table
Although the number of U.S.-trained, academically employed S&E doctorate holders who are members of underrepresented minority groups (i.e., blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians or Alaska Natives) has increased over time, they remain a small percentage of the total (appendix table
In both 2003 and 2010, a slightly higher percentage of women than men who are underrepresented minorities held faculty positions. Female blacks held about 4.6% of faculty positions held by women in 2003 and about 5.1% of these positions in 2010. Male blacks were in about 2.9% of faculty positions held by men in 2003 and about 3.4% in 2010. Similarly, female Hispanics occupied about 4.3% of faculty positions held by women in 2003 and about 4.8% in 2010. Male Hispanics were in about 3.2% of faculty positions occupied by men in 2003 and about 3.9% in 2010. Male and female American Indians and Alaska Natives held about the same percentage of faculty positions in 2003 and 2010 (less than 1%).
The share of Asians or Pacific Islanders employed in the S&E academic doctoral workforce grew dramatically over the past three decades, rising from 4% in 1973 to 16% in 2010. Asians or Pacific Islanders were heavily represented among those with degrees in engineering and computer sciences, where they constituted 31% and 37%, respectively, of the S&E academic doctoral workforce in 2010. Among those with degrees in social sciences (9%) and psychology (6%), far smaller proportions were Asians or Pacific Islanders (appendix table
In both 2003 and 2010, a higher percentage of male Asians or Pacific Islanders held faculty positions than their female counterparts. Male Asians or Pacific Islanders were in about 12.0% of faculty positions occupied by men in 2003 and about 14.4% of these positions in 2010. Female Asians or Pacific Islanders held about 8.9% of faculty positions occupied by women in 2003 and about 12.1% in 2010. Both male and female Asians or Pacific Islanders increased their share of faculty positions from 2003 to 2010.
Academia has long relied on foreign-born doctorate holders, many of them with doctoral degrees from U.S. universities, to staff faculty and other academic positions. The following discussion is limited to foreign-born individuals with U.S. doctorates.
Academic employment of foreign-born, U.S.-trained S&E doctorate holders has increased continuously since the 1970s at a rate that has exceeded the growth in academic employment of U.S.-born S&E doctorate holders. As a result, the foreign-born share of the total academic employment of U.S. S&E doctorate holders increased from 12% in 1973 to about 26% in 2010 (figure
Of the 46,000 U.S.-trained Asian or Pacific Islander S&E doctorate holders employed in academia in 2010, 10% were native-born U.S. citizens, 39% were naturalized U.S. citizens, and 51% were noncitizens. In 2010, Asians or Pacific Islanders represented 52% of the foreign-born S&E faculty employed full-time in the United States and nearly 70% of the foreign-born S&E doctorate holders with postdoc appointments. In contrast, only about 2% of native-born, full-time faculty and 5% of native-born postdocs were Asians or Pacific Islanders. (See chapter 3 for a discussion of foreign-born individuals in the S&E workforce.)
The trend toward relatively fewer full-time faculty positions and relatively more postdoc and other full-time and part-time positions is especially noteworthy because of the steady increase over the past 15–20 years in the share of full-time faculty positions that are held by those over 65 years of age.
In 1994, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) became fully applicable to universities and colleges, prohibiting the forced retirement of faculty at any age. From this point through 2010, as more individuals born during the period of high birth rates from 1946 to 1964 (the “Baby Boomers”) began to move through middle age into their 50s and 60s, the proportion of academically employed doctorate holders in the oldest age groups increased (table
Many of the older U.S.-trained, academically employed doctorate holders work at research-intensive universities. The percentage of doctorate holders working at the most research-intensive institutions who were between 60 and 75 years of age increased by 8 percentage points between 1995 and 2010, rising from just under 10% in 1995 to just under 18% in 2010. Meanwhile, the percentage of doctorate holders working at the most research-intensive institutions who were between 30 and 44 years of age decreased by 6 percentage points between 1995 and 2010. In 1995, over 50% of doctorate holders working at the most research-intensive institutions were between 30 and 44 years of age; in 2010, this percentage had fallen to less than 44%.
A comparison of the age distribution of full-time faculty positions at research universities and other universities and colleges shows that there has been a relatively sharp increase since the mid-1990s—when ADEA became applicable to the professoriate—in the percentage of these positions held by those ages 65–75 years. The data show that the share of those ages 65–75 years was rising well before the act became mandatory, dipped in the early 1990s at research universities (and leveled off at other institutions), and then rose steeply in most years from 1995 to 2010, particularly at the most research-intensive universities (figure
The interconnectedness of research, teaching, and public service activities in academia makes it difficult to assess the precise size and characteristics of the academic research workforce by examining the employment trends in academic positions. Individuals with the same academic job titles may be involved in research activities to differing degrees or not be involved in research. Therefore, self-reported research involvement is a better measure than position title for gauging research activity. This section limits the analysis to academic S&E doctorate holders who reported that research is either their primary or secondary work activity (i.e., the activity that occupies the most or second-most hours of their work time during a typical work week).
Since 1973, the number of U.S.-trained, academically employed S&E researchers grew from just over 80,000 to almost 200,000 (appendix table
Looking across all doctoral academic positions and across the past four decades, the proportion of academically employed S&E doctorate holders who identified research as their primary or secondary activity has fluctuated between about 60% and 75%. A similar pattern of fluctuation occurred for full-time faculty. In 2010, 67% of S&E doctorate holders in academia classified research as their primary or secondary activity.
Looking across fields, the proportions of researchers among all academic S&E doctorate holders and all full-time faculty were higher in life sciences, engineering, and computer sciences than in social sciences and psychology (appendix table
A different picture emerges when considering those who report research as their primary work activity. In contrast to the declining share of academic employees who reported research as their primary or secondary work activity, the share who reported research as their primary work activity generally increased throughout the period from 1973 to 2010.
Among full-time doctoral S&E faculty, the increased share of doctorate holders reporting research as their primary work activity reflects a shift in priority from teaching to research. Over the last four decades, the proportion of full-time faculty identifying research as their primary work activity climbed from 19% to 36%, while the share of faculty with teaching as their primary activity fell from 68% to 47% (figure
The balance of emphasis between teaching and research varied across the disciplines. A higher share of faculty with doctorate degrees in life sciences identified research as their primary work activity, and a higher share of faculty with doctorate degrees in mathematics and social sciences reported teaching as their primary activity. Since 1991, the proportion of doctorate holders who reported research as a primary work activity declined among computer scientists and life scientists but grew among mathematicians, psychologists, engineers, and social scientists (appendix table
In 2010, 37% of the S&E doctoral faculty who had earned their degree since 2007 identified research as their primary work activity, a slightly lower share than that reported by faculty who had earned S&E doctorate degrees 4–7 years earlier or 8–11 years earlier (both 41%) (table
A similar pattern across career stages prevailed in most degree fields. Research was more frequently a primary work activity for faculty in engineering than for faculty in other fields.
The close coupling of advanced training with hands-on research experience is a key feature of U.S. graduate education. Many of the nearly one-half million full-time S&E graduate students in 2011 conduct research as part of their academic studies (table
The number of research assistants—full-time graduate students whose primary mechanism of financial support is a research assistantship—has grown faster than graduate enrollment, both overall and in most fields. Graduate research assistantships were the primary means of support for 27% of graduate students in 2011, up from 22% in the early 1970s.
About 44,000 S&E doctorate holders were employed in academic postdoc positions in 2011 (see sidebar, “Postdoctoral Researchers”). The estimate comes from the GSS, which reported a total of about 63,000 postdocs in 2011, with about two-thirds (over 44,000) holding doctorates in S&E and about one-third holding doctorates in non-S&E fields. SDR data indicate that the U.S.-trained component of academically employed postdocs with S&E degrees climbed from 4,000 in the early 1970s to 22,800 in 2010 (appendix table
The demographic profile of U.S.-trained individuals employed in academic postdoc positions has changed dramatically over the past 40 years. In particular, the proportions of postdocs held by women, racial and ethnic minorities, and foreign-born individuals have climbed (table
A temporary postdoc appointment is a common stop along the career path of S&E doctorate holders, particularly during their early career stages. In 2010, 41% of recently degreed, U.S.-trained S&E doctorate holders in academia were employed in postdoc positions, while 35% were employed in full-time faculty positions (appendix table
In 2010, over three-fourths (78%) of recently degreed, U.S.-trained academic postdocs were employed at the most research-intensive universities (table
Recent data indicate that the economic downturn of the late 2000s may have influenced some early career doctorate holders to take academic postdoc positions when they would have preferred other employment. The percentages of postdocs citing “other employment not available” as a reason for accepting a postdoc position increased between 2008 and 2010, while most other reasons for obtaining a postdoc decreased (table
The federal government provides academic researchers with a substantial portion of overall research support. This support may include assistance in the form of fellowships, traineeships, and research grants. For example, faculty members often receive research grants while postdocs often are funded through fellowships. This section presents data from S&E doctorate holders in academia who reported on the presence or absence (but not magnitude or type) of federal support for their work. Comparisons are made over the approximately 40-year period between the early 1970s and 2010 and between the roughly two-decade-long period between the late 1980s or very early 1990s and 2010.
The share of S&E doctorate holders and researchers in academia who receive federal support has varied over time according to the level of research activity and the type of academic position held (appendix table
Federal support varied by the field in which the academically employed held their doctoral degree. Over the past 40 years, U.S.-trained doctorate holders in engineering, life sciences, and physical sciences have been more likely to report receiving federal support than doctoral degree holders in mathematics, psychology, or social sciences (appendix table
Federal support is more prevalent in medical schools and in the most research-intensive universities (very high research activity institutions according to Carnegie classification) (appendix table
Federal support has been less available to early career S&E doctoral faculty than to more established faculty, and the percentage of early career S&E faculty with federal support has declined (appendix table
S&E doctorate holders employed as full-time faculty who had received their doctorate 4–7 years earlier were more likely to receive federal support than those with more recently earned doctorates, and the same was true of those employed in postdoc positions. As with recent doctorate recipients, the share of full-time faculty and postdocs 4–7 years beyond their doctorate who received federal support also declined from the early 1990s. The shares of early career full-time faculty and postdocs with federal support were generally higher in some fields (life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering) than in others (mathematics and social sciences).