by Wan-Ying Chang and Lynn M. Milan[1]

Among U.S. doctoral graduates from academic years 2001–09 in the fields of science, engineering, and health (SEH), 89% reported at the time of their graduation the intent to live in the United States, a measure referred to as the expected stay rate.[2] The actual stay rate (the proportion living in the United States) in 2010 tracks the expected stay rate closely for U.S. citizen graduates, but noticeable differences are observed for doctoral graduates who were temporary visa holders at the time of graduation. For this group, the actual and expected stay rates diverge as time since graduation increases (figure 1), indicating that a fraction of those who initially reported an intention to stay eventually left the United States.



FIGURE 1. Expected and actual stay rates for U.S. doctoral graduates from academic years 2001–09, by citizenship and years since graduation: 2010.

  Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file

With the rising international mobility of the highly skilled SEH workforce, policymakers and researchers are interested in understanding the factors influencing their employment destination decisions (Auriol, Misu, and Freeman 2013). This InfoBrief combines data from the 2010 Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), the 2010 Doctorate Records File (DRF), and the 2010 National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG) to define five distinct doctoral populations (table 1). With the recently expanded coverage of the SDR, four U.S.-earned doctorate groups can be identified by their U.S. citizenship status at the time of graduation (U.S. citizen or temporary visa holder) and their residency location in 2010 (United States or abroad). An additional group, foreign-earned doctorates living in the United States, is available from the NSCG, which provides coverage for the U.S.-residing, college-educated population only. These analysis groups will be compared in terms of employment outcomes and working conditions, and the associations between their employment characteristics and ratings of job factors will be examined to shed light on issues potentially influencing their employment decisions.

TABLE 1. Analysis group, sample size, population size, and data source for individuals who received a doctoral degree in science, engineering, or health in academic years 2001–09 and were employed full time in 2010

DRF = Doctorate Records File; NSCG = National Survey of College Graduates; SDR = Survey of Doctorate Recipients.

a U.S. resident with foreign doctorate includes U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens living in the United States in 2010. Doctoral degree type and doctoral institution location for this analysis group were self-identified by respondents to the NSCG. The NSGC represents a broader doctoral population (e.g., including nonresearch doctorates) than the U.S. research doctorate population defined by the SDR and the DRF, from which the other four analysis groups arise. The small sample size of the NSCG group precludes including them in some analyses.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Doctorate Records File, 2010, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2010, and National Survey of College Graduates, 2010.

Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

Analysis group Sample size Population size Data source
U.S. doctorate holder
U.S. citizen living in the United States 6,058 131,400 SDR and DRF
U.S. citizen living abroad 315 5,400 SDR and DRF
Temporary U.S. visa holder living in the United States 2,660 61,000 SDR and DRF
Temporary U.S. visa holder living abroad 2,123 26,600 SDR and DRF
Foreign doctorate holder living in the United Statesa 207 55,900 NSCG

Employment Outcomes

Employment Sector

The choice of employment sector is generally related to degree field (see, e.g., NSF/NCSES 2014, table 12); however, residency location also impacts the choice of sector. For instance, the two U.S. citizen groups with U.S. doctorates—those living in the United States and those living abroad—share similar distributions of degree field but different distributions of employment sector, suggesting that employment opportunities by sector are likely related to their residency location (figure 2).



FIGURE 2. Employment sector, by doctoral degree origin, citizenship at time of graduation, and current residency: 2010.

  Figure 2 Source Data: Excel file

The contrast is even greater among the two groups of temporary visa holders when controlled for broad degree field (table 2). In engineering, temporary visa holders living in the United States were more likely to work in private, for-profit industry (66.4%) than were those living abroad (30.5%). In the fields of computer and mathematical sciences, physical and related sciences, engineering, and health, temporary visa holders living abroad were more likely than those living in the United States to work in the academic sector.

TABLE 2. Employment sector for temporary visa holders, by residency location and selected broad field of doctorate: 2010
(Percent distribution)

D = suppressed to avoid disclosure of confidential information. S = suppressed for reliability; coefficient of variation exceeds 50%.

a Academia includes 4-year colleges or universities, medical schools (including university-affiliated hospitals or medical centers), and university-affiliated research institutes.
b Private, for-profit sector excludes those self-employed in an incorporated business.
c Government sector includes U.S. federal, state, and local governments. Also includes foreign governments for respondents not residing in the United States.
d Other sector includes 2-year colleges, community colleges, technical institutes, and other precollege institutions; self-employment or business ownership; and other employers not broken out separately.

SOURCE: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2010, and National Survey of College Graduates, 2010.

Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

Broad field of doctorate and analysis group Academiaa Private,
for-profitb
Private,
nonprofit
Governmentc Other
sectord
Biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences
All temporary U.S. visa holders 58.2 22.0 7.3 10.7 1.7
In the United States 58.9 25.6 8.5 5.4 S
Abroad 56.3 12.5 4.2 22.9 4.2
Computer and mathematical sciences
All temporary U.S. visa holders 51.4 42.1 2.8 2.8 1.9
In the United States 43.0 51.9 2.5 D S
Abroad 75.0 14.3 3.6 7.1 3.6
Physical and related sciences
All temporary U.S. visa holders 48.9 33.8 2.9 10.1 3.6
In the United States 45.5 41.6 3.0 6.9 3.0
Abroad 57.9 13.2 2.6 18.4 7.9
Social sciences
All temporary U.S. visa holders 63.7 12.4 6.2 12.4 4.4
In the United States 68.5 16.7 7.4 3.7 3.7
Abroad 59.3 10.2 5.1 20.3 5.1
Engineering
All temporary U.S. visa holders 34.0 56.7 2.6 5.1 1.6
In the United States 26.2 66.4 3.1 3.5 0.9
Abroad 56.1 30.5 S 8.5 3.7
Health
All temporary U.S. visa holders 55.2 27.6 6.9 6.9 3.4
In the United States 44.4 38.9 11.1 5.6 D
Abroad 72.7 9.1 D 9.1 9.1

Primary Work Activity

Primary work activities (i.e., activities occupying the most working hours during a typical work week) were classified into three categories: research and development (R&D activities include basic research, applied research, development, and design); teaching; and all other activities. The overall proportion of individuals working primarily in R&D differs across the five groups (figure 3). U.S. citizens living in the United States are the least likely group to work primarily in R&D (47.4%), whereas temporary visa holders living in the United States are the most likely group (67.5%) to work in R&D, excluding U.S. residents with foreign doctorates due to their small sample size.[3] Even after the analysis controlled for degree field, employment sector, sex, and degree year, the overall difference among the groups in their likelihood of working primarily in R&D remained statistically significant.


FIGURE 3. Distribution of primary work activities, by doctoral degree origin, citizenship at time of graduation, and current residency: 2010.

  Figure 3 Source Data: Excel file

Job Satisfaction

Survey respondents were asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their principal job on a four-point scale, from "very satisfied" to "very dissatisfied." The two groups of U.S. citizens had a higher proportion of "very satisfied" (48.3% and 51.9% for residing in the United States and abroad, respectively) than did the two groups of temporary visa holders (29.7% and 33.8% for residing in the United States and abroad, respectively). However, if both positive categories ("very satisfied" and "somewhat satisfied") are combined, the five groups are essentially the same at about 90%.

Satisfaction ratings were also reported for each of the following nine job aspects: salary, benefits, job security, job location, opportunities for advancement, intellectual challenge, level of responsibility, degree of independence, and contribution to society. For each job aspect, a comparison of the odds of being very satisfied with the aspect was made across the analysis groups while controlling for sex, broad degree field, degree year, and employment sector. The estimated odds ratios, which represent the odds of individuals in a category being very satisfied relative to those in the reference category (while holding other factors constant) are shown in table 3. Odds ratios differing significantly from the value of 1 indicate evidence of different odds of being very satisfied. An odds ratio greater than 1 indicates the specified level has higher odds of being very satisfied with the job aspect, whereas an odds ratio less than 1 has lower odds.

TABLE 3. Estimates of odds ratios of being very satisfied with each of nine job aspects

* = p < 0.05.

NOTES: An odds ratio greater than 1.00 indicates the specified level has higher odds of being very satisfied with a job aspect than the reference level. An odds ratio less than 1.00 indicates the specified level has lower odds of being very satisfied with a job aspect when compared to the reference level. Estimates of odds ratios were derived from logistic regression models. Due to space limitations, the estimated odds ratios for the factor of degree year are not presented. The logistic regression models were fitted using SAS 9.3 procedure SURVEYLOGISTIC; see SAS Institute Inc. 2011. SAS/STAT 9.3 user’s guide. Cary, NC: Author.

SOURCES: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2010, and National Survey of College Graduates, 2010.

Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

Categorical factor (specified level versus reference level) Salary Benefits Job security Job location Advancement opportunities Intellectual challenge Level of responsibility Degree of independence Contribution to society
Sex
Female versus male 1.21* 1.01 0.95 1.10 0.95 1.01 1.04 1.02 1.15
Degree field
Computer sciences, mathematics, and statistics versus health 2.44 1.04 0.95 0.94 1.53 2.01 1.82 1.73 1.55
Biological and life sciences versus health 0.97 0.59 0.42* 0.72 0.89 1.64 1.58 1.17 1.32
Physical sciences versus health 1.14 0.51 0.41* 0.50* 0.91 1.47 1.29 1.19 1.03
Social sciences versus health 1.31 0.64 0.62 0.62 0.94 1.34 1.49 1.33 1.41
Engineering versus health 1.23 0.55 0.61 0.62 0.95 1.41 1.47 1.30 1.32
Employment sector
Private, for-profit versus academia 2.66* 1.25 1.24 1.33* 0.97 0.56* 0.66* 0.60* 0.59*
Private, nonprofit versus academia 1.96* 1.21 1.38 1.30 0.74 0.64* 0.71* 0.74* 0.89
Government versus academia 2.46* 1.84* 2.63* 0.85 0.70* 0.65* 0.65* 0.52* 1.10
Other versus academia 2.23* 0.81 1.48* 1.44* 0.68* 0.51* 0.80 0.72* 1.62*
Analysis group
U.S. citizen in the United States versus temporary visa holder in the United States 1.98* 2.05* 1.76* 1.77* 1.77* 2.09* 2.36* 2.20* 1.88*
U.S. citizen abroad versus temporary visa holder in the United States 1.65* 1.48* 1.49* 1.74* 1.66* 2.32* 2.60* 2.27* 1.57*
Temporary visa holder abroad versus temporary visa holder in the United States 1.20* 0.82* 1.66* 1.52* 1.51* 1.05 1.14 1.07 1.02
Foreign doctorate holder in the United States versus temporary visa holder in the United States 1.20* 1.81* 1.70* 1.83* 1.44 2.38* 1.65* 1.20 1.63*

Employment sector and analysis group are the two dominating factors. When other factors are held constant, people who work in the private and government sectors have lower odds than those who work in academia of being very satisfied with their job’s level of responsibility. Those in all nonacademic sectors have lower odds of being very satisfied with their job’s intellectual challenge and degree of independence, but they have higher odds of being very satisfied with salary. The two U.S. citizen groups and the foreign doctorate group, in general, have higher odds of being very satisfied with almost all job aspects when compared to the temporary visa holders living in the United States. Between the two groups of temporary visa holders, those living abroad have lower odds of being very satisfied with their job benefits but have higher odds regarding salary, job security, location, and opportunities for advancement.

Working Conditions

Job Benefits

The five analysis groups were compared with respect to whether their principal job offered four types of benefits: health insurance, employer-contributed pension or retirement plan, profit-sharing plan, and paid vacation or sick days (table 4). The three groups residing in the United States were more likely to have been offered health insurance than were the two groups living abroad. After the analysis controlled for degree field, employment sector, sex, and degree year, the three U.S.-residing groups were still more likely to have been offered health insurance than the U.S. citizens living abroad.

TABLE 4. Available job benefits, by doctoral degree origin, citizenship at time of graduation, and current residency: 2010
(Percent)

SOURCES: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2010, and National Survey of College Graduates, 2010.

Table 4 Source Data: Excel file

Analysis group Health
insurance
Pension or
retirement benefit
Profit
sharing
Paid
leave
U.S. doctorate holder
U.S. citizen living in the United States 95.5 84.8 16.8 87.1
U.S. citizen living abroad 75.9 75.9 11.1 92.6
Temporary visa holder living in the United States 96.1 81.0 28.0 90.5
Temporary visa holder living abroad 86.5 83.8 20.3 88.7
Foreign doctorate holder living in the United States 94.6 75.1 35.1 87.5

The analysis groups were also compared with regard to their attendance at professional meetings and conferences during the past 12 months. If we exclude the foreign doctorate group due to their small sample size, temporary visa holders living in the United States had the lowest rate of attendance (64.8%) compared to the rates of attendance for U.S. citizens living in the United States (73.4%), U.S. citizens living abroad (81.5%), and temporary visa holders living abroad (80.5%). After the analysis controlled for employment sector, degree field, sex, and degree year, the differences were still significant.

Postdoctoral Positions

Among recent U.S. doctoral graduates who were employed full time, 15.9% were working in postdoctoral positions (postdoc position). In the fields of biological and life sciences and of physical sciences, where postdoc positions are more common, those residing outside their region of origin (i.e., temporary visa holders living in the United States and U.S. citizens living abroad) were almost twice as likely as their counterparts within their native region to report working in a postdoc position. As shown in figure 4, a similar pattern was observed for the remaining fields of study.



FIGURE 4. U.S. doctorate recipients holding postdoctoral positions in selected science, engineering, and health fields, by citizenship at time of graduation and current residency: 2010.

  Figure 4 Source Data: Excel file

Among those holding postdoc positions as their principal jobs, about 30% selected the reason "Postdoc generally expected for a career in this field," and 13% selected "Other employment not available" as their most important reason for taking a postdoc position (for further information on the reasons for accepting postdoc positions, see [NSB 2014:5-32, 5-34]). Other reasons selected as most important include "Work with a specific person or in a specific place" (18.2%), "Additional training in PhD field" (18.1%), "Training in an area outside of PhD field" (17.0%), and "Some other reason" (3.9%).

Job Transitions

Among individuals working during both the week of 1 October 2008 and of 1 October 2010,[4] their report of changes in their principal jobs were compared across groups—excluding foreign doctorates, due to their small sample size (figure 5). U.S. citizens living abroad were most likely to have experienced a change in their job and/or their employer between the two years (44.7%), compared with about 30% for the other three groups. When those who experienced a change were given a list of nine reasons for changing their employer or their job and were asked to select as many reasons that apply, the five most common reasons reported were "pay, promotion opportunities" (58.1%), followed by "working conditions" (32.3%), "change in career or professional interests" (32.3%), "job location" (29.0%), and "laid off or job terminated" (22.6%). When compared across groups, U.S. citizens living in the United States reported a higher proportion of "pay, promotion opportunities" and a lower proportion of "change in career or professional interests" than the two temporary visa holder groups. The two groups living abroad were more likely to report "job location" as a reason (42.9% and 35.3% for U.S. citizens and temporary visa holders, respectively) than were the two U.S.-residing groups (28.4% and 25.6% for U.S. citizens and temporary visa holders, respectively).


FIGURE 5. Employment held during October 2008 and October 2010, by doctoral degree origin, citizenship at time of graduation, and current residency: 2010.

  Figure 5 Source Data: Excel file

Residency Location of Temporary Visa Holders

We examined the likelihood of living in the United States during the survey reference period in 2010 for full-time employed doctorate recipients who held a temporary visa at the time of their doctoral graduation. The analysis was performed using only the two temporary visa holder groups. Included in the analysis were factors describing their doctoral education characteristics (degree field, degree year, type of primary financial support, Carnegie classification of their doctoral institution); background (sex, marital status at time of doctoral graduation, region of citizenship origin); postgraduation plan (i.e., having a definite commitment of employment); and perceived importance of nine job aspects (using dichotomous indicators).[5] The estimated odds ratios, which represent the odds of living in the United States for individuals in one category relative to those in the reference category (while holding other factors constant), are shown in table 5.

TABLE 5. Estimates of odds ratios of living in the United States during the 2010 survey reference period for full-time employed U.S. doctorate recipients who were temporary visa holders at the time of their doctoral graduation

* = p < 0.05.

a Other sources include grants, traineeships, internships, loans, personal savings and earnings, savings and earnings from others, employer reimbursement, foreign support, sources not specified, and missing responses.
b Other regions include Africa, the Caribbean, Oceania, and missing or unknown.
c Job factors are the sum of the listed dichotomous variables (e.g., a sum of 3 for job factor 1 indicates that salary, benefits, and job security are all very important; a sum of 2 indicates that two of these aspects are very important).

NOTES: An odds ratio greater than 1.00 indicates that the specified level has higher odds of living in the United States than the reference level. An odds ratio less than 1.00 indicates that the specified level has lower odds of living in the United States compared to the reference level. Estimates of odds ratios are derived from logistic regression models. The logistic regression models were fitted using SAS 9.3 procedure SURVEYLOGISTIC; see SAS Institute Inc. 2011. SAS/STAT 9.3 user's guide. Cary, NC: Author.

SOURCES: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2010, and National Survey of College Graduates, 2010.

Table 5 Source Data: Excel file

Categorical factor and specified level versus reference level Estimate of odds ratio
Sex
Female versus male 1.12*
Degree field
Computer sciences, mathematics, and statistics
versus health 1.45*
Biological and life sciences versus health 1.51*
Physical sciences versus health 1.35*
Social sciences versus health 0.60*
Engineering versus health 1.49*
Degree year cohort
2000 versus 2009 0.86
2001 versus 2009 0.68*
2002 versus 2009 0.56*
2003 versus 2009 0.79
2004 versus 2009 0.77
2005 versus 2009 0.92
2006 versus 2009 0.94
2007 versus 2009 1.23
2008 versus 2009 1.38*
Source of financial support
Research assistantship versus fellowship 1.63*
Teaching assistantship versus fellowship 1.53*
Other sources versus fellowshipa 0.43*
Region of origin
Central and South America versus Asia 0.40*
European Union and Canada versus Asia 1.00
Other regions versus Asiab 0.70*
Job factor 1 (salary, benefits, job security)c
One aspect very important versus none 1.25*
Two aspects very important versus none 1.28*
Three aspects very important versus none 1.84*
Job factor 2 (challenge, independence, responsibility)c
One aspect very important versus none 0.71*
Two aspects very important versus none 0.76*
Three aspects very important versus none 0.82
Job factor 3 (advancement, contribution to society)c
One aspect very important versus none 1.09
Two aspects very important versus none 1.15
Job factor 4 (job location)c
One aspect very important versus none 1.01
Marital status
Never married versus married 0.62*
Divorced or widowed versus married 0.71
Unknown status versus married 2.58*
Postgraduation plan
Definite commitment versus other 1.31*
Very high research institute
Yes versus no 0.91

The following factors were statistically significant in predicting the likelihood of living in the United States: sex, degree field, source of financial support, region of origin, marital status, and postgraduation plan. Specifically, when holding other factors constant, temporary visa holders with the following characteristics had higher odds of living in the United States:

In addition, if temporary visa holders rated salary, benefits, or job security as very important, they had higher odds of residing in the United States. If, however, they rated intellectual challenge, level of responsibility, or independence as very important, they had higher odds of living abroad in 2010.

Data Sources and Limitations

Data presented in this InfoBrief are from the 2010 DRF, the 2010 SDR, and the 2010 NSCG. The DRF is essentially a complete inventory of research doctorate degrees awarded since the 1920s. Since the 1950s, it has been compiled from the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), an annual census of research doctorate recipients from accredited U.S. academic institutions. From the DRF, the SDR selects a sample of research doctorate recipients with degrees in SEH fields to follow over their careers. The SDR is conducted biennially, and the panel is refreshed each cycle with a sample from the DRF of recent SEH doctoral graduates.

The NSCG, in contrast, surveys individuals who received a bachelor’s degree or higher and are living in the United States. Consequently, the NSCG includes college graduates who received their doctoral degree from a foreign institution. Moreover, in the NSCG, respondents can self-report that they earned a "doctorate (e.g., PhD, DSc, EdD)." As such, foreign doctorate recipients from the NSCG likely represent a broader definition of doctoral graduates than do the research doctorates prescribed by the SED. Still, the sample size for the foreign doctoral population in the NSCG is limited, reflecting its proportionate representation in the more general, U.S. college-educated population. Due to the small sample size and lack of information on their U.S. citizenship status at the time of graduation, a single group of foreign doctorates was defined for the comparative analysis. Although these foreign doctorates provide an interesting analysis group, their small sample size precluded their inclusion in certain comparisons.

Comparative terms in this report—such as differed, more or less likely, higher or lower, and odds ratio greater or less than one—are based on statistical tests for significant differences at the 95% level. Percentage comparisons in this report are based on unrounded counts.

Notes

[1] Wan-Ying Chang, Office of the Division Director, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230 (wchang@nsf.gov; 703-292-2310), and Lynn M. Milan, Human Resources Statistics Program, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230 (lmilan@nsf.gov; 703-292-2275).

[2] Of those who responded to the question, 89% reported an intent to stay in the United States. However, 7% did not respond. Because we are comparing expected stay rates across years and the missing data rate varies from year to year, we are reporting all rates adjusted for missing data.

[3] The estimate from the small sample of foreign doctorate holders has a large standard error; hence, statistical comparisons between the foreign doctorates and other analysis groups are not significant. In order to make statistical comparative statements for the other groups, we had to exclude the foreign doctorates from the comparisons.

[4] The week of 1 October 2008 and 1 October 2010 are the survey reference periods for the 2008 and 2010 SDR, respectively.

[5] The data were reported on a four-point scale (from "very important" to "not important at all") but are practically dichotomous among the top two levels ("very important" and "somewhat important"). Hence, the original data were recoded into dichotomous variables, with "1" representing "very important."

References

Auriol L, Misu M, Freeman RA. 2013. Careers of Doctorates Holders: Analysis of Labor Market and Mobility Indicators. STI Working Paper 2013/04. Paris: Directorate for Science, Technology, and Industry, OECD.

National Science Board (NSB). 2014. Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. NSB 14-01. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation. Available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/.

National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF/NCSES). 2014. Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 2013. Arlington, VA. Available at http://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/doctoratework/2013/.