Postgraduation trends

A graduate’s first position after earning the doctoral degree may reflect broad economic conditions and can shape later career opportunities, earnings, and choices. Over the longer term, the early career patterns of doctorate recipients may influence the decisions of future students considering careers as scientists, engineers, scholars, and researchers.

Job market

At any given time, the job market for new doctorate recipients will be better in some fields of study than in others. Though all fields tend to follow patterns that generally reflect overall trends in economic conditions, definite commitments at graduation are likely to be influenced by many factors.

In life sciences, physical sciences and earth sciences, and engineering, the proportions of doctorate recipients reporting definite commitments, including postdoctoral positions (postdocs), have declined since 2000. These fields hit low points from about 2014 to 2016, depending on the field, but have since rebounded. In 2019, the proportion of doctorate recipients in mathematics and computer sciences and in psychology and social sciences who had definite commitments (76% and 74%, respectively) reached their highest points in the past 20 years (figure 20). Non-S&E fields similarly have recovered from lows in 2014–16 (figure 21).

Definite commitments among doctorate recipients, by S&E broad field of study: 2000–19

(Percent)
Year Life sciences Physical sciences and earth sciences Mathematics and computer sciences Psychology and social sciences Engineering
2000 72.4 73.6 76.0 69.8 69.9
2001 72.9 77.1 75.3 72.5 72.5
2002 73.6 76.1 76.1 72.2 69.6
2003 72.1 73.5 73.8 73.2 64.6
2004 71.2 70.8 72.8 71.1 63.6
2005 70.6 71.7 74.6 73.0 64.6
2006 71.7 72.0 74.2 74.1 66.0
2007 66.4 71.9 73.0 72.5 64.7
2008 65.8 71.3 70.9 72.7 65.1
2009 66.8 72.1 72.1 72.9 66.8
2010 65.9 72.0 71.5 71.4 65.4
2011 62.6 69.0 69.8 69.0 64.1
2012 62.8 66.9 70.2 70.1 64.0
2013 58.5 64.0 68.6 68.9 59.5
2014 58.1 61.6 66.8 68.7 57.2
2015 58.7 61.1 69.8 68.5 58.2
2016 59.6 62.0 67.4 67.4 58.6
2017 64.6 65.6 72.7 72.2 64.1
2018 65.5 67.0 75.0 73.8 65.5
2019 66.6 67.5 76.3 74.3 66.9

S&E = science and engineering.

Note(s):

Shaded areas in the graphic reflect recessions that occurred between March 2001 and November 2001 and between December 2007 and June 2009 (http://www.nber.org/cycles/cyclesmain.html). Definite commitment refers to a doctorate recipient who is either returning to predoctoral employment or has signed a contract (or otherwise made a definite commitment) for employment, including postdoctoral study, in the coming year. Percentages are based on the number of doctorate recipients who responded to the postgraduation status item.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2019. Related detailed table 42 and table 43.

Definite commitments among doctorate recipients, by non-S&E broad field of study: 2000–19

(Percent)
Year Education Humanities and arts Other non-S&E fields
2000 75.2 61.7 78.1
2001 74.3 65.9 78.5
2002 75.1 64.9 78.3
2003 75.7 64.2 77.6
2004 74.6 63.6 76.6
2005 73.9 64.5 75.9
2006 74.9 66.7 77.8
2007 71.6 62.8 73.4
2008 73.7 64.6 77.1
2009 71.6 63.2 76.4
2010 70.7 60.1 73.8
2011 68.1 57.3 71.5
2012 69.3 58.5 73.7
2013 65.8 55.0 71.1
2014 64.5 54.6 68.9
2015 64.5 54.8 71.1
2016 64.8 52.1 69.0
2017 69.5 57.2 74.3
2018 71.0 59.1 76.7
2019 72.7 58.5 76.2

S&E = science and engineering.

Note(s):

Shaded areas in the graphic reflect recessions that occurred between March 2001 and November 2001 and between December 2007 and June 2009 (http://www.nber.org/cycles/cyclesmain.html). Definite commitment refers to a doctorate recipient who is either returning to predoctoral employment or has signed a contract (or otherwise made a definite commitment) for employment, including postdoctoral study, in the coming year. Percentages are based on the number of doctorate recipients who responded to the postgraduation status item.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2019. Related detailed table 42 and table 43.

First postgraduate position

Academic employment

In 2019, 41% of all doctorate recipients with definite employment commitments (excluding postdoc positions) in the United States reported that their principal job would be in academe.

The highest rates of academic employment commitments were reported by doctorate recipients in humanities and arts and in other non-S&E fields (72% and 76% respectively); the lowest rates were in engineering (12%) and in physical sciences and earth sciences (17%). In the past 10 years, the rate of academic employment commitments declined in all fields except for education, where it increased, and other non-S&E, where it remained at the same level (figure 22).

Definite employment commitments in academe in the United States, by broad field of study: 2000 and 2019

(Percent)
Year Life sciences Physical sciences and earth sciences Mathematics and computer sciences Psychology and social sciences Engineering Education Humanities and arts Other non-S&E fields
2000 48.9 28.5 40.8 60.2 16.9 53.4 80.6 76.0
2019 36.0 17.1 27.5 51.7 12.2 56.8 72.3 75.9

S&E = science and engineering.

Note(s):

Definite employment commitment refers to a doctorate recipient who is either returning to predoctoral employment or has signed a contract (or otherwise made a definite commitment) for employment other than a postdoctoral position in the coming year. Percentages are based on the number of doctorate recipients who reported definite commitments (including those missing employer type) and plans to stay in the United States.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2019. Related detailed table 44, table 51, and table 52.

Postdoc positions

Historically, postdoc study positions have been a customary part of the early career paths of doctorate recipients in life sciences and in physical sciences and earth sciences, making up over half of definite commitments. Since 2000, postdocs also have become more prevalent in mathematics and computer sciences, psychology and social sciences, engineering, and non-S&E fields, though their rates in these fields are not as high.

In the past 10 years, the overall proportion of S&E doctorate recipients taking postdoc positions in the United States immediately after graduation declined from 55% to 46%. The proportions of doctorate recipients taking postdoc positions in life sciences, physical sciences and earth sciences, mathematics and computer sciences, and engineering declined during this period, while the proportion in psychology and social sciences and in non-S&E fields increased (figure 23).

U.S. postdoctorate rate for doctorate recipients, by broad field of study: Selected years, 2000–19

(Percent)
Year S&E fields Life sciences Physical sciences and earth sciences Mathematics and computer sciences Psychology and social sciences Engineering Non-S&E fields
2000 41.0 62.7 55.6 21.9 24.8 21.3 5.1
2010 55.2 70.9 72.2 39.7 35.2 46.1 9.4
2019 45.8 59.0 56.0 27.9 40.8 34.8 12.3

S&E = science and engineering.

Note(s):

Percentages are based on the number of doctorate recipients who reported definite commitments in the coming year, who reported whether their commitment was for postdoctoral study or other employment, and who plan to live in the United States.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2019. Related detailed table 44, table 51, and table 52.

Median salaries

In 2019, doctorate recipients who had definite commitments for a postdoc or other employed position in the United States in the coming year reported basic annual salaries that varied by their field of study and the type of position to which they committed.

In every field except humanities and arts, median expected salaries for doctorate recipients committing to jobs in industry were higher than those in postdocs and academe; in humanities and arts, salaries were similar regardless of sector. The median salaries for postdocs in all broad fields were relatively similar, ranging from $50,000 to $55,000, except for postdocs in mathematics and computer sciences, who had a median salary of $60,000. Doctorate recipients in engineering and those in other non-S&E fields, such as business, reported the highest median academic salaries ($83,000 and $95,000, respectively). Those in mathematics and computer sciences, in engineering, and in other non-S&E fields reported the highest median salaries in industry positions ($140,000, $110,000, and $117,000, respectively) (figure 24).

Median expected basic annual salary of doctorate recipients with definite commitments in the United States, by position type and broad field of study: 2019

(Dollars)
Broad field of study Postdoctoral position Employed position in academe Employed position in industry or business
Life sciences 50,000 67,000 100,000
Physical sciences and earth sciences 50,123 54,000 109,000
Mathematics and computer sciences 60,000 74,000 140,000
Psychology and social sciences 50,000 64,000 100,000
Engineering 50,000 83,000 110,000
Education 50,000 65,000 80,000
Humanities and arts 50,000 52,000 52,750
Other non-S&E fields 55,000 95,000 116,500

S&E = science and engineering.

Note(s):

Definite commitment refers to a doctorate recipient who is either returning to predoctoral employment or has signed a contract (or otherwise made a definite commitment) for employment, including postdoctoral study, in the coming year and plans to stay in the United States. Industry includes all nonacademic sectors, including self-employment, private for-profit and private nonprofit, and government.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2019. Related detailed table 48 and table 49.

Temporary visa holders and postgraduation

In 2019, 79% of temporary visa holder doctorate recipients in S&E fields with definite commitments reported that the location of their postdoc or other employment position was in the United States, up from 74% in 2000. Expected stay rates were highest in fields where temporary visa holders were more heavily represented: mathematics and computer sciences, engineering, life sciences, and physical sciences and earth sciences (figure 25).

Temporary visa holder doctorate recipients with definite commitments in the United States, by broad field of study: Selected years, 2000–19

(Percent)
Broad field of study 2000 2010 2019
S&E fields 73.9 75.7 78.7
Life sciences 72.7 81.6 79.0
Physical sciences and earth sciences 81.8 81.4 79.9
Mathematics and computer sciences 80.9 75.5 83.4
Psychology and social sciences 54.3 49.8 59.1
Engineering 77.8 79.0 82.8
Non-S&E fields 46.4 57.1 65.9

S&E = science and engineering.

Note(s):

Definite commitment refers to a doctorate recipient who is either returning to predoctoral employment or has signed a contract (or otherwise made a definite commitment) for employment, including postdoctoral study, in the coming year. Percentages are based on the number of temporary visa holders who reported definite commitments and plans to stay in the United States.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2019. Related detailed table 51 through table 53.