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.
Count data are available for the following groups, by the following characteristics:
Doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers
The following information is available for academic institutions:
The following information is available at the school level:
The following information is available at the unit level:
For 2011 the GSS target population was 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 2011. 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.
The 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 2011 survey universe consisted of 565 institutions, including 368 doctorate-granting institutions and 197 master's-granting institutions. There were 686 schools affiliated with these institutions: 488 schools at doctorate-granting institutions and 198 schools at master's-granting institutions. The remaining units within the eligible schools did not grant graduate-level degrees but have postdocs and/or doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers in SEH fields.
NSF collects GSS data through school coordinators at eligible schools. When a new coordinator is needed, schools are asked to designate the coordinator most knowledgeable about the graduate student and/or postdoc data for their school. Some schools choose to assign separate graduate student and postdoc coordinators, whereas others choose to have one 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. The 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 2011 survey cycle, approximately 40% of all school coordinators revised data as a result of these follow-up calls. This proportion was higher than usual in 2011 primarily because of the need to clarify responses on ineligible management and practitioner-oriented programs that some institutions may have been reporting to GSS.
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.
Given that the GSS is a census, it is distributed to all institutions known to be eligible; therefore there is no sampling.
In the 2011 GSS survey cycle, 959 units were added, a slight decrease from the 1,039 units added in 2010. The number of unit deletions in 2011 increased by 44% over the number in 2010. This is due in part to additional follow up related to unit eligibility in 2011 as noted above. 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||13,285||13,711|
|Units added to institutions||1,039||959|
|Units deleted from institutions||613||885|
|Total units at end of data collection||13,285||13,785|
Unit nonresponse. Of the 565 institutions in the 2011 survey cycle, 552 (97.7%) were complete respondents, 6 (1.1%) were partial respondents, and 7 (1.2%) were nonrespondents. Among the 686 schools, 672 (98.0%) were complete respondents, 5 (0.7%) were partial respondents, and 9 (1.3%) were nonrespondents. At the unit level, 11,694 (84.8%) of the 13,785 units were complete respondents; 1,933 (14.0%) were partial respondents, and the remaining 158 units (1.1%) were nonrespondents.
Item nonresponse. Of the 355 items collected in the 2011 GSS, the mean item nonresponse rate was 5.3%, ranging from 1.8% to 8.0%. All missing data for graduate students is imputed. Due to significant changes in the collection of the postdoc and doctorate-holding nonfaculty researcher (NFR) data in 2010, postdoc and NFR items were only partially imputed in 2011. Nine of the 152 postdoc items and three of the 15 NFR items have been present in the worksheet for many years and were imputed along with the graduate student items using the same methods as in prior cycles. Any missing new postdoc and NFR items were imputed only if the same items were reported (not imputed) in 2010. Therefore, the detailed postdoc and NFR items may be incomplete or inconsistent with the totals. 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.
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. For details on the historical changes, see appendix A, "Technical Notes," in the Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering report series (http://nsf.gov/statistics/gradpostdoc/).
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/).
Data for the years 1972–2011 are available in public use format and from the WebCASPAR data system.
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 research-oriented SEH master's or doctorate program in fall 2011. 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 SEH 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 SEH 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.