Rising numbers of PhDs but declining career prospects

by Grace

Universities are awarding doctoral degrees at an accelerating pace, despite the fact that the career prospects of those who receive their Ph.D.s appear to be worsening.

That dichotomy is among the starker findings of the annual data on doctorate recipients from the National Science Foundation, drawn from a survey sponsored by the foundation and other federal agencies and conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. The data may for some reinforce the idea that institutions are turning out more Ph.D. recipients than can be absorbed, at least in some fields.

American universities awarded 52,760 doctorates in 2013, up 3.5 percent from nearly 50,977 in 2012 and nearly 8 percent from 48,903 in 2011….

Higher uncertainty about post-graduate employment

The numbers suggest that more people are seeking terminal degrees and that universities are welcoming them with open arms — but the data on what the Ph.D. holders do with their new degrees raise questions about whether the credentials will pay off for the individuals themselves, at least in the short term.

Just 62.7 of doctorate recipients in 2013 had what the survey defines as a “definite commitment” of employment or further study, down sharply from the usual rate over the last 20 years, as seen in the chart below.

20141228.COCDoctoratesFewerJobs1

This comment points out that smart people sometimes don’t seem understand the economics of supply and demand.

Anyone considering starting a PhD should first take undergraduate economics 101 – particularly the bit on supply and demand. This article could be used as a case study.

It is bewildering that smart people choose to do PhDs in fields that have limited employment opportunities – and then complain about how hard it is to get a tenure track job.

Related:  “Hypereducated poor people have not learned the lesson of self-sufficiency”

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Doug Lederman, “Doctorates Up, Career Prospects Not”, Inside Higher Ed, December 8, 2014.

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3 Comments to “Rising numbers of PhDs but declining career prospects”

  1. Well, of course it depends on what your PhD is in. Doctorates in engineering and CS, and some other professional fields, do pretty well. Right now, the competition to snag PhDs in security, data mining, bioinformatics, and fields like nursing is very intense. One big difference is that there is demand for PhDs in these fields in private industry, which doesn’t exist for fields like English.

    And of course, the financial sector depends heavily on physics and math PhDs.

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  2. Yes, it is field dependent. Do you happen to know what types of nursing PhDs jobs are hot? Is the demand mainly in academia?

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  3. Yes, it is academia. Nurses can teach with just a masters, but they are even having trouble recruiting at that level. I remember chatting with an NP (with a masters) at a NYC prestigious hospital, who told me she had been recruited at several major universities but preferred to stay on the clinical side. Also, nursing programs need a certain number of PhDs for accreditation.
    https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/07/22/nursing-schools-face-faculty-shortages

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