with the biological mechanisms that are ultimately related to human health. These fields are listed in Appendix C. In this report we have attempted to focus on these specific areas, but on occasion, the available data may refer to biological sciences in general because sometimes no grouping of specific biomedical disciplines is available, and in these cases we have emphasized this point in the discussion. The workforce discussion below includes individuals who may also hold other degrees, such as an M.D. through an M.D./Ph.D. program or other dual-degree programs, but it does not include individuals with an M.D. degree alone. This is a shortcoming of the analysis, because a significant number of M.D.s have conducted and continue to carry out basic research in the fields listed in Appendix C, and some have won Nobel Prizes for their contributions. However, pertinent demographic information on these degree holders is limited. The American Medical Association maintains a national database that tracks the careers of all practicing physicians, but there is no database that specifically tracks the academic careers of graduates from medical schools, except for the data collected by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and published annually in its Directory of Medical School Faculty. However, this database does not identify research areas. The analysis of the clinical research workforce in Chapter 5 will address these biomedical researchers to the extent that they can be identified. It should also be acknowledged that the committee’s analysis does not include individuals with doctorates in other professions, such as nursing, dentistry, and public health, if they do not hold a Ph.D. in addition to their professional degree. There are important workforce issues in the first two of the three fields just cited, and they will be addressed in separate chapters in this report.


Most researchers working in the United States in the biomedical sciences obtained their doctorate degrees from U.S. research universities, but a substantial number come from foreign institutions, either directly into a graduate research program, or more frequently via a postdoctoral position in the United States.1

For many in the biomedical sciences, interest in the field begins at an early age, in high school or even grade school. In this regard, over the past 20 years, the percentage of high school graduates who took a biology course has remained about the same at around 90 percent. This level is less than 99 percent of high school graduates who have taken mathematics course but greater than the percentage of any other type of science; only 60 percent of high school graduates have taken a chemistry course, for example.2 The characteristics of the students planning a postsecondary education can be examined by the percentage taking the biology AP examination. The number has increased from about 32,000 in 1985 to 150,000 in 2008 and is second to mathematics at 280,000.3 The interest in biology continues into college with 6.8 percent of the 2006 freshman science and engineering population declaring a major in biology. This is the second highest field preference in science and engineering (S&E), exceeded only by computer science. Overall, from 1980 to 2008 the fraction of the freshman college population who are biology majors increased from 4.9 to 9.3 percent. The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological sciences was fairly constant in the 1970s and 1980s at about 40 thousand, and increased to 60,000 in the mid-1990s. Since that time it has steadily increased to nearly 78,000 in 2008. These data are for all areas in the biological sciences and are presented to show the trend in the field in pre-graduate education.

The number of students entering graduate school possibly in order to prepare for advanced degrees (M.S. and Ph.D.) in the biological sciences was about 9,400 in the early 1990s and increased to a little less than 12,400 in 2008. Obviously, some of these first-year students are only pursuing a master’s degree, but the 32 percent increase in number of students does show the substantial overall growth of interest in the field. If we focus on students that enter into doctoral-granting biomedical sciences department, the entering student population was 8,800 in the early 1990s and has increased to 11,800 by 2008. The total full-time graduate enrollment in the biomedical sciences was fairly steady in the 1990s until the doubling of the NIH budget. The doubling began in 1998, and after a two-year lag, the number of biomedical graduate students increased steadily by a total of 22 percent over the period 2001-2006 (see Figure 3-1).

Such an increase should yield a proportionate increase in the number of Ph.D.s awarded from 2005 and succeeding years, an increase that has now been detected (see Figure 3-2). It should also be noted that about three-quarters of the Ph.D. graduates in biomedical programs also received their bachelor’s degree in the same field.4 In addition, since 1998 there have been more female than male graduate students enrolled in biomedical programs such that in 2008 females represented 56 percent of the graduate students. As a result of the increased participation of women in graduate school, the gender distribution of Ph.D.s in the biomedical sciences was almost equal in 2008 at 3,584 males and 3,511 females. The data on student enrollment do not accurately reflect the doctoral population and are presented to show the growth in the field over time. A more accurate assessment of total enrollment in Ph.D. programs comes from the research-doctorate study for one year, the fall of 2005, on Ph.D. enrollment (see Table 3-1).


National Center for Educational Statistic, Digest of Educational Statistic, 2008.


National Center for Educational Statistic, Digest of Educational Statistic, 2008.


National Science Foundation, 2010. Science and Engineering Indicators, Washington, DC: NSF.


Unpublished tabulation from the Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2001.

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