USA survey of PhD graduate futures

By Grant Jacobs 14/04/2014 2

You have your PhD. Now what?

Hopefully most doctoral students try think about that well before they complete their PhD. Either way, this infographic drawn from data from post-doctoral fellows in the USA makes for interesting reading –

(Source: the acsb post, 'Where Will a Biology PhD Take You?' by Jessica Polka.)
(Source: the acsb post, ‘Where Will a Biology PhD Take You?’ by Jessica Polka.)

The full-size image can be seen on the acsb (American Society for Cell Biology) blog; I have excerpted the relevant portions below for easier viewing.

The general pattern shown bears some resemblance to that in other countries – I’ve shown charts for New Zealand and the UK near the end of the article.

The tenured (or tenure-track) academic career position is reached by a minority of Ph.D. graduates; a majority say this is their preferred option –


There is a fairly heavy early exit, with fewer than half of starting PhD students going onto post-doctoral positions –


Most do find jobs that relate to science, but a substantial number (eventually) move out of science entirely –


The post-doc portion of the data is cyclic, with a large minority doing more than one post-doc.

This data is taken from several sources, but in particular a survey of post-doctoral researchers


There is considerably more data, graphs and discussion arising from these, including:

The ascb blog indicates that better data may be available once the NAS (National Association of Science) post-doc report is available.

For comparison I have brought forward two of the graphics from when I last wrote on this subject below.

For New Zealand, less than 2% of graduates become professors –

(Source: MoRST, click on image for original.)
(Source: MoRST.)

(For those from outside of New Zealand or other (former) British Commonwealth nations, professor in New Zealand follows the British scheme.)

The UK shows a similar trend, but with a larger exodus from permanent research staff  –

(Original from The Royal Society publication, The Scientific Century: securing our future prosperity.)
(Source: The Scientific Century: securing our future prosperity by The Royal Society.)

Early next month (May, 2014) the 2014 Early Career Researchers meeting will be held in Wellington. At least three of the break-away groups examine science outside of academia (‘Non-academic use of research’, ‘Industrial scientists’ and ‘Working outside the government cash flow’).


Hat-tip to Alex / Lab & Field via twitter (@thelabandfield)

Some career-related posts on Code for life:

From science PhD to careers outside academia: what might help?

On alternatives to academic careers and “letting go”

Career pathways for NZ science Ph.D. students

Science PhD career preferences surveyed

Career paths, redux — the academic research career is the exception

On alternatives to academic careers and ’letting go’

’Other’ career paths — #IamScience

More inclusive re-entry to encourage departure to businesses?

Career ruminations

Changing the Ph.D.

2 Responses to “USA survey of PhD graduate futures”

  • Cold Spring Harbour has a book Career Options for Biomedical Scientists. The description reads:

    “The majority of PhDs trained in biomedical sciences do not remain in academia. They are now presented with a broad variety of career options, including science journalism, publishing, science policy, patent law, and many more. This book examines the numerous different careers that scientists leaving the bench can pursue, from the perspectives of individuals who have successfully made the transition. In each case, the book sets out what the job involves and describes the qualifications and skills sets required.”

    I recall seeing other ‘career’ books for graduates (not specifically biomedical PhD graduates) – worth a nosey in the library for those interested, perhaps?

    (This via this tweet by
    Karyn MeltzSteinberg – thanks.)

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