In DepthBehind the Numbers

‘Employment crisis’ for new Ph.D.s is an illusion

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Science  20 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6288, pp. 880
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6288.880

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Tracking what happens to U.S. doctoral students in the sciences after they graduate and enter the workforce isn't easy. Last month the National Science Foundation (NSF) reported that U.S. universities awarded a record number of Ph.D. degrees in 2014: 54,070, with 75% conferred in science and engineering. And the media focused on their alleged gloomy job prospects. But those analyses aren't supported by the data. Part of the problem is that NSF conducts two related surveys, one of everybody finishing their Ph.D. and a second one that samples all Ph.D.-level scientists and engineers in the United States. To the untrained eye, the results seem contradictory: The first reports that only three in five had lined up a "definite employment commitment," whereas the second shows an unemployment rate of barely 2%. But the problem goes away if you know what to look for.