Faster employment, greater satisfaction for recent Ph.D.s in earth and space sciences

November 13, 2001

WASHINGTON - Recent graduates in the earth and space sciences are finding satisfying employment faster, and at higher pay in most sectors, than in previous years, according to a new report from the American Geophysical Union (AGU), American Geological Institute (AGI), and the American Institute of Physics (AIP).

For the third year in a row, new graduates with doctoral degrees in the geophysical sciences are spending less time looking for work. In 2000, the average time spent was only 3.4 months, compared with 5.5 months in 1998 and 4.7 months in 1999. The overwhelming majority found work within the Earth and space sciences and almost all of them in science or engineering jobs.

AGU and AGI have collected data about new Ph.D. graduates for five years, from surveys of the graduates themselves. Some additional data came from the National Science Foundation. Only graduates of American universities who have remained in the U.S. are included in the study.

The continuing upward trend is reflected in recent graduates' perception of the job market. In 1996, only 4 percent described it as good or excellent, while 65 percent described it as hopeless or bad. In 2000, 28 percent described the job market as good or excellent, and just 22 percent said it was hopeless or bad. Partly, this reflects the shorter time required to find a job and partly the higher starting salaries now offered.

About half of the new graduates moved directly into permanent full time positions, while 42 percent took temporary postdoctoral jobs, usually at universities. The remainder took other temporary jobs. More than half of all respondents are engaged primarily in research.

"The Earth and space sciences produce more female PhDs than most physical sciences," noted Jennifer Giesler of AGU, an author of the study. "Only the life sciences and chemistry produced more," she said, "and their employment characteristics are virtually identical to that of men. With regard to gender issues, no news is good news."

But, not all graduates found work in the science they had studied, noted Megan Henly of AIP. "In 2000, there was an overproduction of PhDs in ocean sciences," she observed. "While most reported finding satisfying employment, half of the new ocean scientists found work in other fields."

Nicholas Claudy of AGI pointed out that new Ph.D.'s in the solid earth sciences tend to be older than their counterparts in other physical sciences. "There is no readily apparent explanation for this," he said. "The master's is the degree of choice for nearly all non-research employment, so possibly these scientists worked in industry for some years before returning to universities for doctoral programs."

Whether they were working in industry, academe, or government, recent graduates had many positive comments, including the intellectual challenge of conducting one's own research (25 percent listed it as the most rewarding aspect), the opportunity for continued learning (19 percent), or teaching and working with students (13 percent). Comments about their jobs included, "a dream come true," "doing what I enjoy," and "I enjoy it 24/7."

The happy employment experience of the 2000 graduates may reflect their experience in graduate school. Only one in ten reported that they had considered dropping out of the Ph.D. program regularly or constantly, compared with 50 percent in 1996.
The report, "Earth & Space Science PhDs, Class of 2000," was written by Jennifer Gielser (AGU), Megan Henly (AIP), and Nicholas Claudy (AGI). It may be read in full on the AGU and AGI web sites at (scroll to "Survey of Recent PhD Graduates," then click on "Class of 2000") or .

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