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National Science Foundation National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards: 2007–08


Appendix A. Technical Notes


During the production of this report the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 was signed into law. Section 505 of the bill renames the Division of Science Resources Statistics as the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). The Center retains its reporting line to the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences within the National Science Foundation. The new name signals the central role of NCSES in the collection, interpretation, analysis, and dissemination of objective data on the science and engineering enterprise.

Survey Description

The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) is an annual census of all individuals who receive a research doctorate from a U.S. academic institution in a given academic year (1 July through 30 June of the next year). (See "Coverage," below, for information on research doctorates.) The survey is designed to obtain data on the numbers and characteristics of individuals receiving research doctorates from U.S. institutions, and the results are used to assess trends in doctorate production. This information is vital for educational and labor-force planners in the federal government and in academia.

The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences conducted the survey under contract to the National Science Foundation (NSF) until 1997; the National Opinion Research Center (Chicago, IL) currently conducts the survey under contract to NSF.

Data Collection

All individuals receiving research doctorates from accredited U.S. institutions are asked to complete the SED. The survey contractor relies on institutional coordinators in graduate school or registrar offices to (1) identify each year's universe of research doctorate recipients and (2) distribute and collect SED questionnaires from these graduates. Institutions then forward completed questionnaires to the survey contractor for editing and processing.

A Web-based SED option has been available since 2001. When students apply for graduation, institutional coordinators distribute to students a Web link to the SED survey registration page in addition to or instead of paper SED instruments. Upon registering, students receive by e-mail PIN and password information and the URL to the Web-based SED questionnaire. Completed questionnaires are electronically transmitted directly to the survey contractor.

The survey contractor performs follow-up of nonrespondents using paper, Web-based, and computer assisted telephone interview (CATI) versions of the SED survey. The survey contractor also conducts follow-up of missing critical items by mail to individual respondents and institutions.

Because the survey collects a complete college education history, and one-third of doctorate recipients from U.S. universities are from foreign countries, coding of institutions is very important. Institutional coding for the SED is done using a coding manual for foreign institutions of higher education developed by the U.S. Department of Education.[1] Survey staff has augmented this manual with over 3,000 additional institutions from the Europa World of Learning, published by the Routledge-Taylor & Francis group (see http://www.worldoflearning.com/). This coding frame has been used to code the baccalaureate and master's institutions of persons who came to the United States to earn their doctorates.


Respondents are grouped into academic years. The population eligible for the 2008 survey consisted of all individuals who received research doctorates (only first doctorates are included) from U.S. academic institutions in the 12-month period beginning 1 July 2007 and ending 30 June 2008. The total universe consisted of 48,802 persons in 421 institutions that conferred research doctorates in 2008. The 2007 total universe consisted of 48,112 individuals who received a research doctorate from a U.S. institution in the 12-month period ending 30 June 2007.

Research doctoral programs are oriented toward preparing students to make original intellectual contributions in a field of study. Research doctorates require the completion of a dissertation or equivalent project and are not primarily intended for the practice of a profession. The predominant research doctorate is the PhD, but other research doctorates, such as the DSc, EdD, and DMA are covered by the SED. Not included are professional doctorates, such as the MD, DDS, JD, PharmD, PsyD, and DMin. Doctoral programs are dynamic entities, and changes in the focus of programs over time make the designation as a research doctoral program fluid. That is, as doctoral programs evolve to meet the needs of students, the orientation of some may change from research to professional and vice versa. Survey staff review doctoral programs annually to ensure that designation as a research doctorate and inclusion in the SED is still appropriate.

Key Variables

The following are key variables of the survey:

  • Academic institution attended
  • Citizenship status at graduation
  • Country of birth
  • Country of citizenship
  • Birth year
  • Disability status
  • Educational attainment of parents
  • Educational history after high school
  • Field of degree specialty (N = 292)
  • Field of employment
  • Financial support (e.g., fellowship, research assistantship)
  • Kind of academic institution that conferred degree (e.g., Carnegie classification, size, public or private)
  • Kind of employment planned (e.g., postdoctoral appointment, employment sector)
  • Marital status
  • Number of dependents
  • Place of birth
  • Postgraduation plans
  • Race and Hispanic ethnicity (by subgroup)
  • Sex
  • Work activity planned after doctoral degree


Of the 48,802 new research doctorates granted in academic year 2008, 92.1% of degree recipients returned their completed survey instruments. In the 2007 SED, 91.6% of 48,112 research doctorate recipients completed the survey. Limited records (containing field of study, doctoral institution, year of doctorate, field of doctorate, type of doctorate, and, if available, baccalaureate institution, masters institution, and sex) for nonrespondents are constructed based on information collected from administrative lists of the university—commencement programs, graduation lists, and other similar public records. Nonresponse was concentrated in certain institutions; 40 institutions accounted for more than 60% of the total nonrespondents in both the 2007 SED and the 2008 SED.

Item nonresponse rates in 2007 and 2008 for the main SED demographic variables ranged from 0.1% for sex to 8.7% for postgraduation location. No imputation was performed for missing data items. A detailed methodology report for the 2008 SED is available upon request.

Table showing Item response rates in 2007 and 2008.

Data Comparability

The survey has been completed each year since 1957 by individuals who receive research doctorates. Each year's survey data are compiled in the Doctorate Records File (DRF), and trend data are available from academic year 1957–58 to the present. More limited information (sex, institution, field, and year of doctorate) is contained in the DRF for doctorate recipients who graduated in the period 1920–56. Additional survey responses received after the close of the data collection are added to the DRF later; therefore, historical data in the DRF may change slightly over time due to these additional, late responses.

Since 2001, respondents have been asked to first indicate whether or not they are Hispanic/Latino and then to check one or more of the racial group categories (i.e., American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, black or African American, or white).

Doctorate recipients who report Hispanic heritage, regardless of racial designation, are counted as Hispanic. Non-Hispanic respondents who indicate a single race are reported in their respective racial groups. Since 2001, the "other/unknown" race/ethnicity category has included non-Hispanic respondents who indicated Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander race, non-Hispanic respondents with unknown race, and doctorate recipients who did not respond to the Hispanic ethnicity item. Between 2001 and 2006, doctorate recipients indicating two or more races were also reported in the "other/unknown" race/ethnicity category. Beginning with the 2007–08 edition of this report, respondents who indicated two or more races on the 2001 to 2008 surveys are reported in a separate category.

From 1982 to 2000 respondents were asked to indicate their Hispanic ethnicity before indicating their racial category but were instructed to mark only one racial category, rather than one or more. Also, the categories were different: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, black, white, or other/unknown. In pre-2001 editions of this report, the other/unknown category included non-Hispanic doctorate recipients who did not indicate their race and those with unknown race/ethnicity.

Disclosure Protection

Two strategies for protecting against the statistical disclosure of confidential information provided by SED respondents are used in this report.

In the first, data cells having values below a predetermined threshold are deemed to be sensitive to potential disclosure and are suppressed. A suppression symbol replaces the cell value. A suppressed cell may not provide sufficient protection in tables that include marginal totals, as the suppressed data cell values could be computed from the values of other cells in the table. In such cases additional (complementary) suppressions of above-threshold data cells may be necessary. To reduce the number of suppressed data cells in tables 10–14 and 16–20, the counts of doctorates awarded in physics and in astronomy are reported as a combined field of study. Tables 9, 11, 13–15, and 17–21 display suppressed data cells.

A second disclosure protection strategy, field aggregation, is applied to tables 2 and 3, which present counts of doctorate recipients classified by fine fields of degree and sex. Because some fine fields of degree award relatively few doctorates in a single year, the degree counts by sex within these fields can be quite small, leading to extensive cell suppression. The field aggregation technique combines data from small fields of degree with the data from related fields, so that the degree counts in the aggregated fields are sufficiently large to protect the confidentiality of respondent information.

A field of degree in which at least 25 doctorates were awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents in a given year was determined to be large enough to safely report doctorate recipient counts classified by sex. Fields of degree awarding fewer than 25 doctorates to U.S. citizens and permanent residents in a given year are aggregated with one or more related fields until the total number of doctorates awarded in the "aggregated field" rises to at least 25. The degree count in each sex category of these aggregated fields is reported in tables 2 and 3, but the constituent fine fields of the aggregated fields are not displayed.

Of the 292 fine fields in the SED field of degree taxonomy, 178 are science and engineering (S&E) fields. In 2008, 56 of the 178 S&E fine fields of degree awarded fewer than 25 doctorates to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. These below-threshold fields were combined with related fields of degree to produce 27 aggregated fields. The list below identifies the aggregated fields reported in tables 2 and 3 and specifies the constituent fine fields that are not shown separately in those two tables.

Aggregated field name and constituent fields: 2008

Agricultural sciences
Animal breeding, animal nutrition, poultry science
Agricultural animal breeding*
Animal nutrition*
Animal science-poultry (or avian)*
Food science, food technology-other
Food science
Food science and technology, other*
Plant breeding, plant sciences-other
Agricultural and horticultural plant breeding*
Plant sciences, other*
Soil chemistry, soil sciences-other
Soil chemistry/microbiology*
Soil sciences, other
Forest biology, wood science, forestry sciences-other
Forest sciences and biology*
Wood science and pulp/paper technology*
Forestry and related sciences, other*
Agriculture-general, agricultural sciences-other
Agriculture, general*
Agricultural sciences, other*
Biological sciences
Anatomy, developmental biology
Developmental biology/embryology
Bacteriology, parasitology
Botany, plant pathology, plant physiology
Botany/plant biology
Plant pathology/phytopathology*
Plant physiology*
Endocrinology, human/animal pathology
Pathology, human and animal
Biotechnology, biology/biomedical sciences-other
Biology/biomedical sciences, other
Genetics-human/animal, plant genetics
Genetics/genomics, human and animal
Plant genetics*
Atmospheric sciences
Atmospheric physics, meteorology
Atmospheric physics and dynamics*
Atmospheric chemistry, atmospheric sciences-general, atmospheric sciences-other
Atmospheric chemistry and climatology*
Atmospheric sciences/meteorology, general*
Atmospheric sciences/meteorology, other*
Earth and ocean sciences
Geochemistry, mineralogy
Mineralogy and petrology*
Geomorphology, geological sciences-general, geological sciences-other
Geomorphology and glacial geology*
Geological and earth sciences, general*
Geological and earth sciences, other*
Paleontology, stratigraphy
Stratigraphy and sedimentation*
Ocean/marine sciences, aggregated
Hydrology and water resources
Ocean/marine, other*
Applied mathematics, computing theory
Applied mathematics
Computing theory and practice*
Logic, topology/foundations
Operations research, mathematics/statistics-general, mathematics/statistics-other
Operations research*
Mathematics/statistics, general
Mathematics/statistics, other
Acoustics, optics/phototonics
Atomic physics, polymer physics
Atomic/molecular/chemical physics
Polymer physics*
Psychology, aggregated
Comparative psychology*
Personality psychology*
Psychometrics and quantitative psychology*
Psychology, other
Social sciences
Econometrics, economics
Demography, statistics, urban affairs, social sciences-other
Demography/population studies*
Urban affairs/studies*
Social sciences, other
Other engineering, aggregated
Agricultural engineering
Ceramic sciences engineering*
Communications engineering*
Engineering management and administration*
Engineering mechanics*
Engineering physics*
Engineering science*
Metallurgical engineering*
Mining and mineral engineering*
Ocean engineering*
Petroleum engineering*
Polymer and plastics engineering*
Engineering, general*
Engineering, other

* Indicates fine fields of degree with counts of doctorate recipients below minimum count threshold (n = 25).

The field aggregation disclosure protection procedure necessitated three adjustments to the field of degree taxonomy used in tables 1, 2, and 3 of this report.

The fine fields within ocean sciences and earth sciences have been combined to form a new major field: earth and ocean sciences.
The fine field of demography/population studies, previously a constituent field in the major field of sociology, is now reported within the "other social sciences" category; sociology is reported as a stand-alone fine field rather than as one of two fine fields within the major field of sociology.
The seven major fields of engineering are no longer reported. Taking the place of each major engineering field is its largest constituent fine field, these now reported as stand-alone fields: aerospace, aeronautical, and astronautical engineering; chemical engineering; civil engineering; electrical, electronics, and communications engineering; industrial and manufacturing engineering; materials science engineering; and mechanical engineering. The other fine fields that had been classified within the seven major fields are now reported in the "other engineering" category.

The change in reporting of engineering fields in tables 1, 2, and 3 has an impact on other tables in this report. In previous editions, the remaining tables reported doctorate recipient totals for the seven major fields of engineering plus the total for other engineering category. These tables now report the doctorate recipient counts in the seven stand-alone fine fields of engineering, plus the total for the expanded "other engineering" category of engineering fields.

Availability of Data

Data from this survey are published annually in the Detailed Statistical Tables series Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards. Reports in this series (since 1994) and related reports are available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/doctorates/. Survey data for earlier years were published in Science and Engineering Doctorates: 1960–91 (NSF 93-301). This report is out of print, but tables from it are available on request.

Information from the survey is included in the series Science and Engineering Degrees, in Science and Engineering Indicators, and in Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, all available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/.

Results are also included in a publication series on all fields of study, Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report. This interagency report is sponsored by the federal agencies that support the SED. The 2007–08 edition of this report is available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf10309/.

Selected summary data from this survey are available by institution from the NSF WebCASPAR database at http://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/webcaspar/. Access to restricted data for researchers interested in analyzing microdata may be arranged through a licensing agreement (http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/database.cfm#MICRODATA).


[1] Hunt ES. 1996. Mapping the World of Education: The Comparative Database System (CDS). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education; National Science Foundation. Available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/mapping/.

Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards: 2007–08
Detailed Statistical Tables | NSF 11-321 | August 2011