APS News

February 2011 (Volume 20, Number 2)

New PhDs Trending Away from Postdoc Positions

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The proportion of recently graduated PhD students accepting a postdoctoral position has declined dramatically since 2004, according to a recently released study from the American Institute of Physics. The ratio has dropped from a high of 67% six years ago to 54% in the latest available data, from the PhD class of 2008.

The survey, which asked recently-graduated students and degree-granting institutions across the country about where students ended up a year after receiving their PhD, found that students are more frequently opting to take jobs that could potentially lead to a permanent career position, up from about 25% in 2004, to 33% today. Graduates are still more likely to end up at a postdoctoral position, but its lead over a potentially permanent position has been shrinking.

Patrick Mulvey, one of the authors of the study, said that a potentially permanent position was a job without a set end date.” If that person wanted to… they could stay in that job forever,” Mulvey said.

The study looked also at in what sectors PhDs were likely to seek a postdoctoral position versus a potentially permanent position. Students with degrees in Atmospheric and Space, Applied Physics and Surface Physics were more likely to take a potentially permanent position, while students with degrees in Astronomy and Astrophysics, Biological Physics and Nuclear Physics were more likely to seek postdoctoral positions

Non-United States citizens were more likely to accept a postdoctoral position than United States citizens. About 61% of foreign citizens took a postdoctoral position, while 49% of US citizens took such positions. At the same time United States citizens were more likely to take a potentially permanent position than a foreign citizen. About 39% of US citizens took a potentially permanent position while only 27% of foreign citizens did. Part of the reason for this difference is because of visa limitations as 6% of foreign citizens said that the reason they took a temporary postdoctoral position was because of visa restrictions.  

Altogether, about 20% of foreign citizens left the United States after earning their doctorate while only about 8% of US citizens left. The employment information covered by the report focused exclusively on the people who stayed in the United States after graduating.

Over a third of students taking a postdoctoral position said that they did so because it was an important step to getting a desired future position. Another quarter said that they wanted to get research experience in their fields.

The study found that about 7% of students also took some other type of temporary position, with an end date, that was not a postdoctoral position. The overwhelming reason graduates gave for taking such a temporary position was that they were unable to land a permanent position.

The survey showed also that unemployment among recently graduated PhDs has been consistently very low, around 4%, for as long as the survey has been taken. Mulvey did say that unemployment among PhDs is not a good indicator of the economy as it is more likely that a student graduating with a doctorate will be working part time or somehow underemployed rather than unemployed.

The study, titled “Physics Doctorates One Year Later,” was released in November.

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Editor: Alan Chodos

February 2011 (Volume 20, Number 2)

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Articles in this Issue
APS Member Count Tops 48,000
New Physical Review Journal Offers Online, Open Access Publishing
Kovar Reflects on State of High Energy Physics, and the Road Ahead
Funding Runs Out to Keep Tevatron Alive
Comments Sought for APS Non-Proliferation Petition
New PhDs Trending Away from Postdoc Positions
Dutch, Spanish Physicists to Give March Meeting Beller Lectures
COMPETES Act Signed Into Law
Top Ten Physics-Related News Stories of 2010
Letters To the Editor
The Back Page
Members in the Media
This Month in Physics History
Washinton Dispatch
Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science
International News