career patterns of women and men and of the graduates of the 26 leading universities and other life-science PhDs.1 In addition, an analysis has been made of the employment histories of graduates in biomedical and nonbiomedical fields. Because it is difficult to obtain reliable data on foreign nationals with temporary visas who receive their PhDs in the United States and say that they will remain in this country, the tables and figures presented in this chapter and appendix F include only US citizens and those holding permanent visas who had received life-science PhDs from US universities. Nevertheless, it should be recognized that a growing number of foreign students have taken postdoctoral appointments at US institutions and that many of them subsequently seek permanent employment here.

Despite the limitations described above, the analyses that follow provide valuable insights into how the employment opportunities have been changing over the last 2 decades. This historical picture is especially important in showing that the career options of today's students are different from the opportunities that their mentors had when they were in graduate school. This information has already proved useful to the committee in formulating its study findings and recommendations, but it might be of greater interest to graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty. The committee cautions, however, that the national picture of all life-science PhDs presented here does not necessarily apply to students in a particular field or university department. For example, only a small fraction of biostatistics graduates take postdoctoral appointments, whereas most biochemistry PhD recipients.

Faculty Positions

The most important change in the career patterns of life-science PhDs in the 22-year period was a steady decrease in the fraction holding tenure-track faculty positions. The decline, illustrated in figure 3.1, was observed in all PhD cohorts. For the youngest graduates (those 1–2 years after receipt of the PhD), the fraction holding faculty jobs fell from 0.4 in 1973 to 0.14 in 1995. Some of the precipitous drop might be explained by an increase in the fraction of graduates taking postdoctoral appointments during this period. However, a sharp decline was observed in the oldest cohort (9–10 years after PhD) as well. Only 39% of the latter group held faculty positions in 1995, compared with 61% 22 years earlier.2 What might be most remarkable about this trend is the consistency with which it has occurred over the last 22 years.

It is important to recognize that a substantial decline in faculty opportunities was observed in PhD-granting universities, as well as in other academic institutions. In 1995, for example, only 34% of the graduates with 9–10 years of post-PhD experience held tenure-track faculty appointments in doctoral institutions; in 1973, the comparable figure was 47% (see table F.1). If this decline continues, fewer than one-third of the life-science students now completing their graduate training can expect to obtain tenure-track faculty positions in doctorate-granting institutions, which in the past have been the principal employers of PhDs in this field.


In addition to the above limitations, a few caveats pertain. During the 1973–1995 survey period there have been some modifications in the sampling frame and the wording of specific questions asked in the survey. With regard to the former, the survey sample size was substantially reduced in 1991 (from about 13%–8%), and a concerted effort was made to improve the response rate, which rose from 55% in 1989 to more than 75% in later surveys. It is difficult to estimate the effect of this change on the survey results. pursue postdoctoral training. Important differences might also be found among programs within the same field. The committee urges prospective students and postdoctoral fellows to seek detailed career information from the programs that they are considering and to compare this information with the national data presented in this chapter.


It should be noted, however, that the total number holding faculty positions has substantially increased during the 22-year period (see figure 3.14).

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