Survey Quality Measures
Availability of Data
1. Overview (2010 survey cycle)
The NSF-NIH Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering (GSS) is an annual survey of all academic institutions in the United States granting research-based master's degrees or doctorates in science, engineering, or selected health (SEH) fields. The GSS provides data on the number and characteristics of graduate students, postdoctoral (postdoc) appointees, and doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers in SEH fields. NSF uses the results of this survey to assess shifts in graduate enrollment and postdoc appointments and trends in financial support.
NSF distributes the GSS to coordinators at eligible institutions. From each eligible institution, data are collected separately for each SEH unit (academic departments, programs, research centers, or health care facilities). Coordinators may choose to respond to the GSS or to delegate data collection activities to respondents in these units or to other institutional personnel, as needed.
c. Key variables
Count data are available for the following groups, by the following characteristics:
- Part-time and full-time graduate students by demographics, including citizenship, ethnicity, race, and sex
- Full-time graduate students by financial support, including primary source (i.e., specific federal agency, nonfederal sources, self-support) and primary mechanism (e.g., fellowship, research assistantship)
- By demographics, including citizenship, ethnicity, race, and sex
- By financial support, including primary source (e.g., NSF, NIH) and primary mechanism (e.g., federal fellowship, federal research grant)
- By type of doctoral degree (professional, PhD or PhD equivalent, or both) and origin of degree (U.S. or foreign)
Doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers
- By sex and type of doctoral degree (professional, PhD or PhD equivalent, or both)
The following information is available for academic institutions:
- Institution name, state in which institution is located
- Highest degree granted by all GSS-eligible units (doctorate/master's degree)
- Institutional characteristics (Carnegie Classification, public or private, historically black college or university [HBCU])
The following information is available for academic institutions at the school level:
- School name
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) unique identifier
- School characteristics (Carnegie Classification, school type code (e.g., graduate school, medical school, land-grant school)
The following information is available at the unit level:
- Unit name
- GSS code (field)
- Highest degree granted (doctorate, master's, no graduate degrees granted)
2. Survey Design
a. Target Population
For 2010 the GSS target population is all academic institutions in the United States and its territories that grant research-based master's degrees or doctorates in SEH fields as of fall 2010. This includes data for branch campuses, affiliated research centers and health facilities, and separately organized components, such as medical or dental schools, schools of nursing, and schools of public health.
b. Sample Design
The 2010 GSS is a census of all eligible U.S. academic institutions with SEH fields, as described above. Within eligible institutions, data are collected for schools. The schools provide data at the unit level. The 2010 survey universe consists of 574 institutions, including 364 doctorate-granting institutions and 210 master's-granting institutions. There are 692 schools affiliated with these institutions: 481 schools at doctorate-granting institutions and 211 schools at master's-granting institutions. The remaining units within the eligible schools do not grant graduate-level degrees but have postdocs and/or doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers in SEH fields.
c. Data Collection Techniques
NSF collects GSS data through school coordinators at eligible schools. Rather than one coordinator providing data on both graduate students and postdocs, in 2010 schools were asked for the first time to consider designating a separate postdoc coordinator, who may be more knowledgeable about postdocs. Some schools chose to assign separate student and postdoc coordinators to report their graduate student and postdoc data, whereas others chose to keep a single coordinator to report all data.
Once coordinators are confirmed, they are provided access to the GSS Web survey to report aggregate counts on graduate students, postdocs, and doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers in each eligible unit, as of the fall term of the academic year. A hard copy of the survey worksheets and GSS eligible code lists are also mailed to the school coordinators as reference. A Web survey is the primary mode of data submission.
Based on the review of respondent data and explanatory comments by the respondents, follow-up telephone calls are made to improve the accuracy of uncertain responses. In the 2010 survey cycle, approximately one-fourth of all school coordinators revised data as a result of these follow-up calls.
d. Estimation Techniques
The survey is a census of eligible units; therefore weighting for sampling is not necessary. Imputation rather than weighting is used to adjust for unit nonresponse; imputation is also used for item nonresponse.
3. Survey Quality Measures
a. Sampling Variability
Given that the GSS is a census, it is distributed to all institutions known to be eligible; therefore there is no sampling.
In the 2010 GSS survey cycle, nearly 300 more units were added than were added at this stage in 2009, an increase of almost 40%. It is likely that the increase is due in part to the addition of postdoc coordinators who identified previously unreported units that employed postdocs and doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers. The number of unit deletions in 2010 remained virtually unchanged from 2009. Overall, the high number of unit additions and deletions indicates that coordinators continue to refine their unit lists by including eligible units and excluding ineligible or defunct units.
TABLE 1. Unit list modifications: 2009–10
|Units at start of data collection
|Units at end of data collection
Unit nonresponse.Of the 574 institutions in the 2010 survey cycle, 564 (98.3%) were complete respondents, 6 (1.0%) were partial respondents, and 4 (0.7%) were nonrespondents. Of the 692 schools, 680 (98.3%) provided complete data; 7 provided partial data (1.0%); and 5 (0.7%) were nonrespondents. At the unit level 11,703 of the 13,711 units (85.4%) were complete respondents; 1,880 (13.7%) were partial respondents; and the remaining 128 units (0.9%) were nonrespondents.
Item nonresponse. Of the 370 items collected in the 2010 GSS, the mean item nonresponse rate was 5.1%, ranging from 1.2% to 8.3%. All missing data in the graduate student grids were imputed. Due to significant changes in the collection of the postdoc and nonfaculty researchers data, only those postdoc and nonfaculty researchers items with comparable historical data—9 of the 167 postdoc items and 3 of the 15 nonfaculty researchers items—were imputed in 2010. Imputation is based on data reported by the institution in a previous survey cycle, when available. Otherwise, imputation is based on data provided by similar units at a peer institution.
Review of the data, cognitive interviews, usability tests, pilot tests, site visits, and other methodological activities with the institutions have pointed to a number of possible sources of measurement error. For example, data review and telephone interviews conducted with school coordinators have revealed overreporting of graduate students working toward practitioner degrees, particularly in health fields. In addition, methodological research, data review and retrieval, and feedback from respondents indicated that graduate students' financial support data were difficult for respondents to report and, therefore, more prone to measurement error than other survey data. Also, interviews and usability tests with respondents have found that data on postdocs and doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers are particularly challenging for some respondents to report.
4. Trend Data
NSF has collected graduate enrollment and postdoc data for SEH fields since 1966. Not all data items were collected from all institutions in all survey years, and eligibility criteria for institutions and fields have undergone periodic revision. For these reasons, use only the latest trend data in historical analyses. NSF encourages analysts intending to do trend analyses not covered in this report to contact the NSF survey manager for additional information. Also see the Guide to Public Use Data Files for further details.
5. Availability of Data
NSF releases the data from this survey annually through InfoBriefs and Detailed Statistical Tables in the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) publication series Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. The information from this survey is also included in Science and Engineering Indicators and Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. NSF includes selected data items from this survey for individual doctorate-granting institutions in the NCSES Academic Institutional Profiles series (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/profiles/).
b. Electronic Access
Data for the years 1972–2010 are available in public use format and from the WebCASPAR data system.
c. Contact for More Information
To obtain additional information about this survey or the methodology report, contact
 To be included in the survey, graduate students must have been enrolled for credit in any science, engineering, or health master's or doctorate program in fall 2010. Candidates for MD, DO, DVM, or DDS degrees; interns; and residents were counted if they were concurrently working on a doctorate as part of a joint medical/PhD program or working on another S&E master's or doctoral degree.
 Each institution reports full-time and part-time students according to its own policies and definitions.
 Postdocs are defined as (1) holding a recent doctorate or equivalent (e.g., an ScD or DEng), first-professional degrees in a medical or related field, or a foreign equivalent to a U.S. doctoral degree; and (2) having a limited-term appointment primarily for training in research or scholarship under the supervision of a senior scholar in a unit affiliated with a GSS institution.
 Doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers are defined as individuals involved principally in research activities who are not postdocs or members of the faculty.
 The term school refers to a graduate school, medical school, dental school, nursing school, or school of public health; an affiliated research center; a branch campus; or any other organizational component within an academic institution that grants an S&E or health degree, appoints postdocs, or employs doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers.
 Institutions are classified as doctorate-granting institutions if at least one GSS-eligible unit confers doctoral degrees.