The latest (2009) National Science Foundation Survey of Earned Doctorates found significant gains in the number of doctorates earned in the United States. Doctorates awarded grew 1.6% overall, and 1.9% in science and engineering (S&E) fields, over 2008. In S&E fields, the increase is entirely accounted for by a 4.8% increase in the number of doctorates awarded to women; 622 more S&E doctorates were awarded to women in 2009 than in 2008. The number of S&E doctorates awarded to men declined slightly.
This rate of increase is slow by recent standards. Over the period 2004 – 2007, the number of S&E doctorates awarded increased at a rate of 6.5% per year. Still, the new totals — 49,562 total doctorates and 33,470 S&E doctorates — are all-time records. The number of S&E doctorates awarded to women — 13,593 — is also an all-time high.
The growth in the number of S&E doctorates awarded to members of minority groups was also impressive, up 6.4% compared to 2008. The longer-term trend looks better still: Since 2004, the number of S&E doctorates awarded to members of minority groups is up 34.3%.
Also notable: The number of S&E doctorates awarded by U.S. institutions to temporary visa holders declined by 3.35%.
The survey also sampled employment outcomes. The number of S&E doctorate recipients who already had employment commitments was down slightly from 2008 and about the same as in 2007. And of those who had employment commitments, a record number were for postdoc positions. The proportion with employment commitments from industry was down in most fields, while the proportion with employment commitments in “other employed position increased.” This category includes government, non-academic non-profits, primary and secondary schools, and “other employment.” This could indicate an increase in interest in non-traditional science jobs, and it could indicate that the number of S&E doctorate recipients settling for substandard employment is increasing.