Survey of Earned Doctorates


Area of study: See Field of study.

Basic annual salary. Annual salary to be earned from the doctorate recipient’s principal job in the next year, not including bonuses or additional compensation for summertime teaching or research.

Cumulative debt. The amount of debt, incurred both at the undergraduate level and the graduate level, owed by a doctorate recipient at the time the doctorate is awarded.

Carnegie Classification. The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education is a commonly used classification of postsecondary institutions based on level of degree awarded, fields in which degrees are conferred, and, in some cases, enrollment, federal research support, and selectivity of admissions criteria. The categories used here are from the 2015 version of the classification and include doctoral universities: highest research activity, doctoral universities: higher research activity, doctoral universities: moderate research activity, master’s colleges and universities, and special focus 4-year institutions: medical schools and centers. For details, see

Definite commitment. A commitment, through a contract or other method, by doctorate recipients to accept employment, including a postdoc study position, in the coming year or to return to predoctoral employment.

Definite employment commitment. A definite commitment by doctorate recipients for employment in a non-postdoc position in the coming year.

Field of study. The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) collects data on 331 fields of doctoral study. For reporting purposes, these fields are typically grouped into 35 major fields and further aggregated into eight broad fields: life sciences; physical sciences and earth sciences; mathematics and computer sciences; psychology and social sciences; engineering; education; humanities and arts; and other non-science and engineering fields. For comparative purposes in the section Education-related debt, this report uses an additional area of study grouping for natural sciences, which includes life sciences, physical sciences and earth sciences, and mathematics and computer sciences.

See technical table A-6 in the online resources of this report for a listing of the major fields within each broad field category. See the survey questionnaire for a full listing of the fine fields of study in 2018 (

Graduate debt. The amount of debt from graduate-level education owed by a doctorate recipient at the time the doctorate is awarded.

NCSES. National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

Non-S&E. Non-science and engineering: A grouping of broad fields of study that includes education, humanities and arts, and other non-S&E fields, such as business.

Parental educational attainment. The highest level of education attained by either parent of a doctorate recipient.

Postdoctoral (postdoc) position. As defined in the questionnaire, a temporary position primarily for gaining additional education and training in research, usually awarded in academe, industry, government, or a nonprofit organization.

Postdoctorate rate. The proportion of doctorate recipients who have definite commitments for a postdoc position among all doctorate recipients with definite commitments in the coming year, who reported whether their commitment was for postdoc study or other employment, and who plan to live in the United States.

Race and ethnicity. Doctorate recipients who report Hispanic or Latino heritage, regardless of racial designation, are counted as Hispanic or Latino, and as of 2013, those who do not answer the Hispanic or Latino ethnicity question are counted as “ethnicity not reported.” Respondents who indicate that they are not Hispanic or Latino and indicate a single race are reported in their respective racial groups, except for those indicating Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, who are included in “other race or race not reported.” Beginning in 2001, respondents who are not Hispanic or Latino and who indicate more than one race are reported in the category “more than one race.” Data for this category were not collected before 2001. Before 2001, respondents who are not Hispanic or Latino and who indicate more than one race were categorized as “other or unknown.” For 2001 and later data, the “other or unknown” category includes doctorate recipients who indicated that they were not Hispanic or Latino and either did not respond to the race item or reported their race as Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. For 2000 and earlier data, Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders are counted in the Asian group.

Research doctorate. A doctoral degree that is oriented toward preparing students to make original intellectual contributions in a field of study and that is not primarily intended for the practice of a profession. Research doctorates require the completion of a dissertation or equivalent project. In this report, the terms “doctorate” and “doctoral degree” are used to represent any of the research doctoral degrees covered by the survey. Professional doctorates, such as the MD, DDS, JD, and PsyD, are not covered by the Survey of Earned Doctorates.

S&E. Science and engineering: A grouping of broad fields of study that includes science (life sciences, physical sciences and earth sciences, mathematics and computer sciences, psychology and social sciences) and engineering fields.

Sources of financial support. Sources of financial support are grouped into the following five categories: fellowships (includes scholarships and grants); teaching assistantships; research assistantships (includes traineeships, internships, clinical residencies, and other assistantships); own resources (includes loans, personal savings, personal earnings, and earnings or savings of spouse, partner, or family); and other (includes employer reimbursements and support from non-U.S. sources).

Time to degree. The time elapsed from the start of any graduate school program to completion of the doctoral degree.

Underrepresented minority. The following groups are underrepresented in science and engineering, relative to their numbers in the U.S. population: American Indian or Alaska Native, black or African American, and Hispanic or Latino.