Appendix E
Estimating the Path of Master’s Degree Recipients in the Biological Sciences

Annually, U.S. institutions award 1.3 master’s degrees in the biological sciences for each doctorate awarded in that field. For example, there were about 7,800 master’s and almost 6,000 Ph.D.s awarded by U.S. institutions in the biological sciences in 2004. We can examine the national data further to better understand the pathways of graduate students through master’s and doctoral programs to careers.

On average, the time-to-degree for new doctorates in the biological sciences was 6.7 years in 2004. About 40 percent, or 2,400 of the 6,000 new Ph.D.s, had earned a master’s degree en route. Assuming, then, that these students started graduate study in 1997 and those who were awarded the master’s degree received it in 1999 (after two years of study), then about 4,400 of the nearly 6,800 master’s recipients in the biological sciences that year (1999) earned a master’s degree and did not continue to the doctorate. However, we know from National Science Foundation data that only about 55%, or 3,700, of master’s degree holders in the biological sciences earn no further degrees. This suggests that of the 4,400 who earned a master’s degree and no doctorate, about 700 earned some other advanced degree.

In sum, then, we have four groups of students: (1) 3,700 who earned the master’s degree and no other degree; (2) 700 who earned a master’s degree and an advanced degree other than the doctorate (medicine, law, business, etc.); (3) 2,400 who earned a master’s, mainly as a stepping-stone



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Appendix E Estimating the Path of Master’s Degree Recipients in the Biological Sciences Annually, U.S. institutions award 1.3 master’s degrees in the biologi- cal sciences for each doctorate awarded in that field. For example, there were about 7,800 master’s and almost 6,000 Ph.D.s awarded by U.S. insti- tutions in the biological sciences in 2004. We can examine the national data further to better understand the pathways of graduate students through master’s and doctoral programs to careers. On average, the time-to-degree for new doctorates in the biological sciences was 6.7 years in 2004. About 40 percent, or 2,400 of the 6,000 new Ph.D.s, had earned a master’s degree en route. Assuming, then, that these students started graduate study in 1997 and those who were awarded the master’s degree received it in 1999 (after two years of study), then about 4,400 of the nearly 6,800 master’s recipients in the biological sci- ences that year (1999) earned a master’s degree and did not continue to the doctorate. However, we know from National Science Foundation data that only about 55%, or 3,700, of master’s degree holders in the biologi- cal sciences earn no further degrees. This suggests that of the 4,400 who earned a master’s degree and no doctorate, about 700 earned some other advanced degree. In sum, then, we have four groups of students: (1) 3,700 who earned the master’s degree and no other degree; (2) 700 who earned a master’s degree and an advanced degree other than the doctorate (medicine, law, business, etc.); (3) 2,400 who earned a master’s, mainly as a stepping-stone 

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 SCIENCE PROFESSIONALS to the doctorate; and (4) 3,600 who earned only a doctorate.1 There are no data sources that will allow us to tease out, for the biological sciences, how many of those who earned only a master’s degree intended to earn just that degree and how many had hoped to go on to a doctorate. 1 T. B. Hoffer et al., Doctorate Recipients from United States Uniersities: Summary Report 00 (Chicago: National Opinion Research Center). The report gives the results of data collected in the Survey of Earned Doctorates, conducted for six federal agencies—NSF, NIH, USED, NEH, USDA, and NASA—by NORC. The SED reports 5,937 Ph.D.s in the biological sciences in 2004, 703 of which were in biochemistry. Biochemists had a time-to-degree of 6.1 years, and 31.25 reported having a master’s degree. Other Ph.D.s in the biological sciences had a time-to-degree of 6.7 years, and 40.3 percent had master’s degrees. Number of master’s degrees in the biological sciences is from the National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics 2006, Table 255, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d06/tables/ dt06_255.asp (accessed October 26, 2007).