Survey Overview  Key Survey Information   Survey Design  Data Collection and Data Processing  Survey Quality Measures  Data Availability and Comparability  Data Products  Contact Information 

1. Survey Overview (2015 Cycle) Top of Page.

  1. Purpose: 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 federal, state, and local governments.
  2. Data collection authority: The information collected in the SDR is solicited under the authority of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended. The Office of Management and Budget control number is 3145-0020.
  3. Major changes to the recent cycle: The SDR sample size more than doubled for the 2015 survey cycle to 120,000 individuals, from approximately 47,000 individuals in the 2013 cycle. This sample size increase was designed to significantly improve estimation capabilities at the fine field of degree (FFOD) level reported in the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). The overarching 2015 SDR sample design objectives were twofold:
    • Produce reliable estimates of employment outcomes by the FFOD taxonomy used in the SED
    • Maintain the existing estimation of various demographic characteristics and those currently used in such publications as the National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators, and NCSES's Women, Minorities and People with Disabilities in Science and Engineering

    The new sample design improves the coverage of the SDR to allow full representation of internationally residing U.S.-trained SEH doctorate recipients.

2. Key Survey Information Top of Page.

  1. Frequency: Biennial.
  2. Initial year of survey: 1973.
  3. Reference period: The week of 1 February 2015.
  4. Response unit: Individuals with an SEH research doctorate degree from a U.S academic institution.
  5. Sample or census: Sample.
  6. Population size: Approximately 1,047,900 individuals.
  7. Sample size: 120,000 individuals.
  8. Key Variables:
    • Demographics (e.g., age, race, sex, ethnicity, citizenship)
    • Educational history
    • Employment Status
    • Field of degree
    • Occupation

3. Survey Design Top of Page.

  1. 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 2013
    • Are not institutionalized or terminally ill on 1 February 2015
    • Are less than 76 years of age as of 1 February 2015
  2. Sample frame: The Doctorate Records File (DRF) constructed from the annual SED, which is a census survey of all recipients of U.S. research doctoral degrees.
  3. 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. The new sample for the 2015 SDR was selected afresh from the entire DRF via a stratified design, where the strata are defined by 215 fields of study listed in the 2013 SED. The new SDR sample includes an oversample of the following groups:
    • Individuals included in the 2013 SDR
    • Underrepresented minorities in the doctorate population
    • Women

    The targeted oversampling was implemented to continue supporting researchers who use SDR data to conduct longitudinal studies, and to improve the precision of estimates for women and minorities within the new sampling strata.

4. Data Collection and Data Processing Top of Page.

  1. Data collection: The SDR uses a trimodal data collection approach: self-administered questionnaire (via mail), self-administered online survey, and computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI).
  2. 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.
  3. 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:
    • 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, degree year, and degree field.

5. Survey Quality Measures Top of Page.

  1. Sampling error: Estimates of sampling errors associated with this survey were calculated using the replicate weights included with the data file.
  2. 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 SED is minimized by comparing and evaluating the SED SEH reported fields against the subsequent SDR reported information.
  3. Nonresponse error: The weighted response rate for the 2015 SDR was 66%; 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.
  4. Measurement error: The SDR is subject to reporting errors from differences in interpretation of questions and by modality (web, mail, CATI). To reduce measurement errors, the SDR questionnaire items were pretested in focus groups and cognitive interviews.

6. Data Availability and Comparability Top of Page.

  1. Data availability: Data from 1993 to present are available at the SDR website,
  2. Data comparability: Year-to-year comparisons can be made among the 1993 to 2015 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.
    • Since 2010, coverage of SEH doctorates residing outside of the United States only included those having graduated since 2001.
    • The 2015 SDR refreshed sample improved population coverage 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.

7. Data Products Top of Page.

  1. Publications: 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 at and Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering at
  2. 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

8. Contact Information Top of Page.

Daniel Foley
Project Officer
Human Resources Statistics Program
National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
Phone: (703) 292-7811