Job market for PhDs

The good news is that the proportion of new doctorates who have definite commitments for jobs or postdocs rebounded from the slump of 2014—2016. In 2018, commitments at graduation for both mathematics and computer sciences and psychology and social sciences reached a 20-year high (75% and 74% respectively). Those receiving doctorates in physical and earth sciences, engineering and life sciences have also rebounded with definite commitments at 67%, 66%, and 66%, respectively. Notice that psycholog)' and the social sciences doctorates have a higher rate of job commitment at graduation than do engineering. Unfortunately, Humanities’ job commitments are low, only 78% of what they were in 2003 (National Science Foundation 2019).

Where are they employed?

In four of six major fields, new doctorates are concentrated in one sector of the economy or another. For example, more than half of all new doctorates in the physical sciences (68%), mathematics and computer sciences (61%), and engineering (74%) take their first positions in industry or business, while 75% of those in the humanities and arts take their first positions in academe. Those in the life sciences are evenly split (40%) between academe and industry or business (38%), with another 9% in government. In psychology and social sciences, 55% take positions in academe, but 21% find jobs in industry or business, and 10% are in government.

Funding, level of debt, and time to degree

The funding story tells us a lot about the culture of graduate programs and how they are likely to be structured. NSF gathers funding data collapsed into seven categories based on the origin of the funding: teaching assistantships (TAs), research assistantships (RAs), fellowships, scholarships or dissertation grants, own resources, employer, and other. The source of funds varies considerably dependent on discipline. The physical scientists and engineers most heavily rely on RAs, with 50% or more of their funding coming from RAs. Engineering students are very unlikely to serve as teaching assistants (11%), while 25% of the physical scientists serve as teaching assistants. Students in the life sciences, mathematical and computer sciences, and psychology have funding from a variety of sources. The Humanities are dependent on TAs and scholarships. Students from psychology and other social sciences and the Humanities depend on their personal resources for about 20% of their funding.The other disciplines are much better funded, and as a result, doctoral students from these disciplines have higher debt levels upon graduation (National Science Foundation 2019).

The average debt owed by doctoral recipients in the Humanities is $41,217, and in the psychology and the social sciences, the average is $34,961. Doctoral recipients in engineering, mathematics and computer sciences, and physical and life sciences average less than SI5,000 in debt, while PhDs in the life sciences, on average, owe $20,625 (National Science Foundation 2019). Time to degree is related to debt. The longer it takes to get a degree, the more it costs doctoral recipients. The overall average time to degree from bachelor’s to PhD in all disciplines is 10.7 years.The average time to degree ranges from 6.0 years for those with degrees in physical and earth sciences to 11 years for those in the Humanities. The time to degree for PhDs has been decreasing since 1993 in all disciplines (National Science Foundation 2019).

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