Survey Overview (2019 Cycle)

Top of Page.

The Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), conducted by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) within the National Science Foundation, provides data on the characteristics of science, engineering, and health (SEH) doctorate degree holders. It samples individuals who have earned an SEH research doctoral degree from a U.S. academic institution and are less than 76 years of age. The SDR provides data useful in assessing the supply and characteristics of the nation's SEH doctorates employed in educational institutions, private industry, and professional organizations, as well as in federal, state, and local governments.

Data collection authority.

The information is solicited under the authority of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, and the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 (CIPSEA). The Office of Management and Budget control number is 3145-0020.

Major changes to recent survey cycle.

No major changes to the survey target population or collected information were made for the current cycle. The 2019 SDR added a supplemental sample and a new cohort sample. Both samples were selected under a revised stratification design described in the sample design section.

Key Survey Information

top of page.


Initial survey year.


Reference period.

The week of 1 February 2019.

Response unit.

Individuals with an SEH research doctorate degree from a U.S academic institution.

Sample or census.


Population size.

Approximately 1,148,800 individuals.

Sample size.

A total of 120,000 individuals.

Key variables.

  • Demographics (e.g., age, race, sex, ethnicity, and citizenship)

  • Educational history

  • Employment status

  • Field of degree

  • Occupation

Survey Design

top of page.
Target population.

The SDR target population includes individuals that meet the following criteria:

  • Earned an SEH research doctorate degree from a U.S. academic institution prior to 1 July 2017

  • Are not institutionalized or terminally ill on 1 February 2019

  • Are less than 76 years of age as of 1 February 2019

Sampling frame.

The Doctorate Records File (DRF) constructed from the annual Survey of Earned Doctorates, which is a census survey of all recipients of U.S. research doctoral degrees.

Sample design.

The SDR uses a fixed panel design with a sample of new doctoral graduates added to the panel in each biennial survey cycle. For the 2019 SDR, all 2015 and 2017 sampled members who remained age eligible were retained for the 2019 cycle. The 2015 sampled members who did not respond in both the 2015 and 2017 surveys were dropped from the 2019 sample. As with prior survey cycles, a sample of 10,000 new graduates who had earned their degrees from 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2017 was added. An additional sample of 14,564 SEH doctoral degree holders eligible for the 2015 sample but not previously selected was also added to support a revised sample stratification design. The revised stratification cells defined by detailed fields of study, gender, and underrepresented minority indicator were implemented to strengthen reporting for small fields and minority groups. The new graduate sample and the supplemental sample both were selected under the revised design.

Data Collection and Data Processing

top of page.
Data collection.

The SDR uses a trimodal data collection approach: self-administered online survey, self-administered paper questionnaire (via mail), and computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI).

Data processing.

The data collected in the SDR are subject to both editing and imputation procedures. The SDR uses both logical imputation and statistical (hot-deck) imputation as part of the data processing effort.

Estimation techniques.

Because the SDR is based on a complex sampling design and subject to nonresponse bias, sampling weights are created for each respondent to support unbiased population estimates. The final analysis weights account for the following:

  • Differential sampling rates

  • Adjustments for unknown eligibility

  • Adjustments for nonresponse

  • Adjustments to align the sample distribution with the DRF distribution with respect to gender, race and ethnicity, location, degree year, and degree field

Survey Quality Measures

top of page.
Sampling error.

Estimates of sampling errors associated with this survey were calculated using the replicate weights included with the data file.

Coverage error.

Any missed doctoral graduates within the DRF derived from the SED would create undercoverage in the SDR. The potential for overcoverage due to self-reporting errors in the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) is minimized by comparing and evaluating the SED SEH reported fields against the subsequent SDR reported information.

Nonresponse error.

The weighted response rate for the 2019 SDR was 69%; the unweighted response rate was 68%. Analyses of SDR nonresponse trends were used to develop nonresponse weighting adjustments to minimize the potential for nonresponse bias in the SDR estimates. A hot-deck imputation method was used to compensate for item nonresponse.

Measurement error.

The SDR is subject to reporting errors from differences in interpretation of questions and by modality (Web, mail, and CATI).

Data Availability and Comparability

top of page.
Data availability.

Data from 1993 to present are available at the SDR website,

Data comparability.

Year-to-year comparisons can be made among the 1993 to 2019 survey cycles because many of the core questions remained the same. Small but notable differences exist across some survey years, such as the collection of occupation data based on more recent versions of the occupation taxonomy. Also, the SDR target population definition has changed over time as follows:

  • Surveys conducted before 1991 included individuals who received doctoral degrees in fields other than SEH and individuals who received their degrees from non-U.S. institutions.

  • Surveys conducted prior to 2010 did not cover SEH doctorates residing outside of the United States.

  • In 2010 and 2013, coverage of SEH doctorates residing outside of the United States only included those having graduated since 2001.

  • The 2015 SDR sample design improved population coverage in the 2015 and subsequent survey cycles to include all SEH doctorates awarded by U.S. institutions, regardless of the academic year of award or the recipient's post-graduation residency location.

Caution is recommended when interpreting or analyzing trends that span pre- and post-1991 surveys, pre- and post-2010 surveys, and pre-and post-2015 surveys given the noted changes in the survey design and target population.

  • Overlap in sample cases across survey cycles support longitudinal analysis using SDR data. A longitudinal panel representing a cohort of SEH doctorate recipients awarded their degree by FY 2013 and aged less than 66 in 2015 has been selected. The 2015–19 survey data for this panel is currently under construction for later release in 2021.

Data Products

top of page.

Data from the SDR are published in NCSES InfoBriefs and data tables, available at Information from this survey is also included in Science and Engineering Indicators and Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering.

Electronic access.

The SDR public use data are available in the SESTAT data tool and in downloadable files through the NCSES data page. Access to restricted data for researchers interested in analyzing microdata can be arranged through a licensing agreement. For more information on licensing, see

Contact Information

top of page.

For additional information about this survey or the methodology report, contact the survey manager.

Daniel Foley
Survey Manager
Human Resources Statistics Program, NCSES
Tel: (703) 292-7811

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences
National Science Foundation
2415 Eisenhower Avenue, Suite W14200
Alexandria, VA 22314
Tel: (703) 292-8780
FIRS: (800) 877-8339
TDD: (800) 281-8749