Survey of Earned Doctorates

Why is this important?

The American system of doctoral education is widely considered to be among the world’s best, as evidenced by the large number of international students—many of them among the top students in their countries—who choose to pursue doctoral degrees at U.S. universities. Doctorate recipients begin careers in large and small organizations, teach in universities, and start new businesses. Doctoral education develops human resources that are critical to a nation’s progress—scientists, engineers, researchers, and scholars who create and share new knowledge and new ways of thinking that lead, directly and indirectly, to innovative products, services, and works of art. In doing so, they contribute to a nation’s economic growth, cultural development, and rising standard of living.

Annual counts of doctorate recipients from U.S. universities are measures of the incremental investment in human resources devoted to science, engineering, research, and scholarship, and they can serve as leading indicators of the capacity for knowledge creation and innovation in various domains. Changes in this population over time—including increased representation of women, minorities, and foreign nationals; emergence of new fields of study; time it takes to complete doctoral study; expansion of the postdoctoral pool; academic employment opportunities after graduation; and education-related debt—reflect political, economic, social, technological, and demographic trends. Understanding these connections is necessary to make informed improvements in this country’s doctoral education system.

The continued preeminence of U.S. doctoral education is not assured. Other nations, recognizing the contributions doctorate recipients make to economies and cultures, are investing heavily in doctoral education. The world’s brightest students, including U.S. citizens, may go elsewhere for the doctoral degree, and they may begin careers elsewhere as well. Monitoring the number of degrees awarded in science and engineering fields is an important part of the mission of the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) within the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) and this report contribute toward that goal.