Life after attaining a Ph.D.: Job flow and earnings

December 10, 2015

In one of the most comprehensive studies to date to analyze job outcomes for U.S. university graduates with funded doctoral degrees, researchers found that nearly 40% of the doctoral recipients evaluated went into industry, and that these employees were more likely to work at high-wage establishments compared to their counterparts in academia. The study provides unique insights into where research-funded Ph.D.'s go when they graduate and enter the private sector, an area for which there is little existing data but results for which could help illuminate the impact of research on the economy. While the U.S. investment in scientific research can be documented readily, the output is harder to track. To overcome this obstacle, Nikolas Zolas et al. used data from the UMETRICS project, which links detailed, researcher-level information from eight public U.S. universities with employment and earnings records from the U.S. Bureau of the Census. This allowed the authors to anonymously link 3,197 graduate students on university research payrolls between 2009 and 2011 to their employers during subsequent years. Roughly 20% stayed in the state in which they received their degree, the study found. Of those who left their university's state, 19% headed for California, which the researchers speculate is partially due to the fact that more research and development (R&D) is conducted in that state. The majority of graduates went into academia, likely to complete postdoctoral positions; however a large percentage, about 38%, found jobs in industry - with about 17% of these in positions with R&D firms. The two fields with the highest earnings were mathematics and/or computer sciences and engineering, with average earnings in excess of $65,000 a year. In contrast, the lowest average earnings were biology doctoral recipients, at $36,000 annually - perhaps due to a tendency for these graduates to take postdoctoral positions. Regardless of the field, those going into industry were most likely to work in establishments with higher payroll per worker.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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