Washington Update

NSF Releases 2021 Survey of Doctorate Recipients

By: Jacqueline Robinson-Hamm
Thursday, February 23, 2023
National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics released the latest version of the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR) in late January. The SDR collects information on demographics, education, and career history on individuals with a U.S. research doctoral degree in a science, engineering, or health field. 

In 2021, reported unemployment of U.S. residing doctoral recipients was low across all fields at about 1.9 percent. A vast majority of PhDs were employed full time: in all occupations 76.3 percent were full time employed, and in life sciences occupations 80.2 percent were employed full time. Approximately 9.1 percent of PhDs in all occupations were employed part time, and only 5.9 percent of PhDs in life sciences occupations were employed part time. The remaining doctoral recipients were primarily retired, with small portions either unemployed or not seeking work.

Overall, more males were employed than females. In the life sciences, more males compared to females were full time employed, unemployed, and retired. Female life sciences PhDs had slightly more part time employment than males, and far exceeded the number of males who were not seeking work. By sector, there were more female life sciences PhDs working at other educational institutions; otherwise, males were more represented in the four-year educational institutions, private for profits, private nonprofits, federal government, state or local government, and self-employment sectors. For those employed at four-year educational institutions, there were more male life sciences PhD faculty in full professor, associate professor, and assistant professor ranks, and more males were tenured. Furthermore, in 2021 white PhDs dominated the workforce compared to other ethnic and racial groups. Generally, those who identified as Asian were the next most represented, and those who were American Indian or Alaska Native were the least represented. These trends held true across employment types, faculty ranks, and tenure status. Median annual salary was overall higher for male science and life sciences PhDs than females, and this remained the case when disaggregating data by collected race and ethnicity categories. The pay disparity by sex was the greatest for those identifying as American Indian or Alaska Native, and the least egregious for those who were Asian or Black or African American.

Approximately 36 percent of science PhDs and 45 percent of life sciences PhDs indicated their primary work activity was any research and development, such as basic research, applied research, or experimental development. When combined, all other primary work activities, such as management, teaching, professional services, and more, were the dominant primary work activity for science and life sciences PhDs across the country. The overall highest median salaries were seen in the private for profit industry, with the lowest at other educational institutions such as two year colleges and secondary schools. 

The SDR also collected information on postdoctoral appointees during the survey cycle. In 2021, about 21 percent of the life sciences PhD recipients that were serving as postdoctoral scholars were six to ten years removed from completing their PhD. Roughly 53 percent postdocs with life sciences PhDs were 34 years or younger, and 42 percent were between 35 and 44 years old. Majority of postdoctoral positions were at educational institution (70 percent), with the remainder in business or industry (22 percent), or government (7 percent).