US Graduate Education in the Sciences and Engineering

More than 600 public and private institutions offer master’s or doctoral degrees in science and engineering. In the last year on which data are available (1993), these institutions awarded about 80,000 master’s degrees (1993) and 26,500 doctoral degrees (1995) in science and engineering (compared with 72,000 and 19,000, respectively, in 1986).

Most of the growth in the graduate-student population has been due to an increased number of foreign students studying in the United States. This group received 32% of the doctorates in 1992 (up from 19% in 1982). Historically, about half these students leave the United States after receiving their degrees or after serving postdoctoral appointments.

About 450,000 people with doctoral degrees in science and engineering from US universities work in this country. In 1991, 45% worked in 4-year colleges and universities (down from 57% in 1973), 3% in other educational institutions, 36% worked in business and industry (up from 24% in 1973), 6% worked in the federal government, 2% in state and local governments, 3% in hospitals and clinics, 4% in other nonprofit organizations, and the remaining 1% in other occupations.

For more information:

  • Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, 1995

the number of jobs focused on basic research.

Despite the difficulties in finding jobs in basic research, hiring in other fields has been vigorous enough to keep the overall unemployment level of PhDs relatively low. For example, an increasing number of doctorate recipients are engaged in applied research, development, and management in industry.

Those changes have important implications for the graduate education of scientists and engineers. Graduate training and particularly the pursuit of the PhD traditionally have focused on the preparation of young scientists and engineers for academic careers. But more than half of PhDs now work in nonacademic settings, where they often need to call on a broad range of skills.

This nation has a strong interest in ensuring that talented and skilled people continue to pursue science and engineering careers and are well prepared for the careers that they pursue. Government can help colleges and universities to meet these objectives in several ways. Federal agencies should move toward the use of education and training grants to provide financial support to graduate students. (D-1) These grants should be awarded competitively to institutions and departments that work to enhance the versatility of students, both through curricular innovation and through more-effective faculty mentoring to acquaint students with the full range of employment options. Such versatility would enable students to contribute to national goals in academic and nonacademic jobs.

The federal government also should help to establish a national database on employment options and trends in science and engineering. (D-1) The database should be designed and managed by the research community and used both by students and by their advisers to learn more about graduate programs and possible career tracks.

For more information on the research workforce:

  • D-1. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, 1995

Outstanding Scientists and Engineers are Needed in the Federal Government

The federal government has a particular interest in science and engineering education: it is the largest employer of scientists and engineers with more than 200,000 holders of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in science and engineering on federal payrolls. In the past the government has encountered difficulties in recruiting and retaining highly qualified people because of restrictions on pay and professional advancement. The Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 gave agencies the authority to ease these restrictions, but implementation of the act has been uneven.

Federal agencies need to have flexibility in compensating employees, including scientists and engineers. (E-1) Although several promising pilot programs are under way, departments and agencies need greater latitude in redressing pay inequities and rewarding superior performance among scientists and engineers. A “senior research and development service,” modeled on the Senior Executive Service, could help to maintain a high-performance workforce for senior positions.

At the top of the federal workforce are fewer than 80 presidentially appointed persons who give direction to the entire federal effort in science and technology. The federal



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Science and Engineering Research in a Changing World US Graduate Education in the Sciences and Engineering More than 600 public and private institutions offer master’s or doctoral degrees in science and engineering. In the last year on which data are available (1993), these institutions awarded about 80,000 master’s degrees (1993) and 26,500 doctoral degrees (1995) in science and engineering (compared with 72,000 and 19,000, respectively, in 1986). Most of the growth in the graduate-student population has been due to an increased number of foreign students studying in the United States. This group received 32% of the doctorates in 1992 (up from 19% in 1982). Historically, about half these students leave the United States after receiving their degrees or after serving postdoctoral appointments. About 450,000 people with doctoral degrees in science and engineering from US universities work in this country. In 1991, 45% worked in 4-year colleges and universities (down from 57% in 1973), 3% in other educational institutions, 36% worked in business and industry (up from 24% in 1973), 6% worked in the federal government, 2% in state and local governments, 3% in hospitals and clinics, 4% in other nonprofit organizations, and the remaining 1% in other occupations. For more information: Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, 1995 the number of jobs focused on basic research. Despite the difficulties in finding jobs in basic research, hiring in other fields has been vigorous enough to keep the overall unemployment level of PhDs relatively low. For example, an increasing number of doctorate recipients are engaged in applied research, development, and management in industry. Those changes have important implications for the graduate education of scientists and engineers. Graduate training and particularly the pursuit of the PhD traditionally have focused on the preparation of young scientists and engineers for academic careers. But more than half of PhDs now work in nonacademic settings, where they often need to call on a broad range of skills. This nation has a strong interest in ensuring that talented and skilled people continue to pursue science and engineering careers and are well prepared for the careers that they pursue. Government can help colleges and universities to meet these objectives in several ways. Federal agencies should move toward the use of education and training grants to provide financial support to graduate students. (D-1) These grants should be awarded competitively to institutions and departments that work to enhance the versatility of students, both through curricular innovation and through more-effective faculty mentoring to acquaint students with the full range of employment options. Such versatility would enable students to contribute to national goals in academic and nonacademic jobs. The federal government also should help to establish a national database on employment options and trends in science and engineering. (D-1) The database should be designed and managed by the research community and used both by students and by their advisers to learn more about graduate programs and possible career tracks. For more information on the research workforce: D-1. Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, 1995 Outstanding Scientists and Engineers are Needed in the Federal Government The federal government has a particular interest in science and engineering education: it is the largest employer of scientists and engineers with more than 200,000 holders of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in science and engineering on federal payrolls. In the past the government has encountered difficulties in recruiting and retaining highly qualified people because of restrictions on pay and professional advancement. The Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 gave agencies the authority to ease these restrictions, but implementation of the act has been uneven. Federal agencies need to have flexibility in compensating employees, including scientists and engineers. (E-1) Although several promising pilot programs are under way, departments and agencies need greater latitude in redressing pay inequities and rewarding superior performance among scientists and engineers. A “senior research and development service,” modeled on the Senior Executive Service, could help to maintain a high-performance workforce for senior positions. At the top of the federal workforce are fewer than 80 presidentially appointed persons who give direction to the entire federal effort in science and technology. The federal

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Science and Engineering Research in a Changing World government needs to recruit exceptionally able scientists and engineers into its top policy positions to weigh the advice of technical specialists and make key programmatic and policy decisions. (E-2) Disincentives to serve in top positions—for example, unreasonable postgovernment-employment restrictions and inappropriate conflict-of-interest proscriptions—can seriously impede the government’s ability to maintain effective policies in science and engineering research. A particularly important position is that of the president’s adviser for science and technology. As was done at the beginning of the Clinton administration, the early designation of the president’s adviser for science and technology enables the president to call on this person in recruiting highly qualified appointees to science and technology positions in the federal government. Cabinet secretaries and agency heads also can play important recruitment roles. For more information on scientists and engineers in the federal workforce: E-1. Improving the Recruitment, Retention, and Utilization of Federal Scientists and Engineers, Committee on Scientists and Engineers in the Federal Government, 1993 E-2. Science and Technology Leadership in American Government: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments, Panel on Presidentially Appointed Scientists and Engineers, 1992 Toward the Future Leadership in the 21st century will belong to those nations that can capitalize best on change, and science and engineering research has become the most powerful force for change in our society. A strong research capacity will also allow us to deal with a large variety of future challenges, whether national-security threats, environmental problems, medical or public-health emergencies, or crises that we cannot yet predict. Solutions to pressing problems will continue to emerge in unexpected ways from new knowledge. In summary, our capacity for problem-solving and creative discovery will continue to be essential for keeping the United States in its world leadership position economically, militarily, and intellectually. Prudent stewardship of science and engineering research, as much as any other component of government policy, will dictate how our children and grandchildren will live. For Further Information: The World Wide Web site http://www2.nas.edu/21st includes up-to-date versions of all the documents in this series and on-line versions of the reports referred to in this document. Internet Address: jjensen@nas.edu Phone: (202) 334–1601 Fax: (202) 334–2419 Address: National Research Council Office of Congressional and Government Affairs 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20418 © 1997 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. This document may be reproduced solely for individual, non-commercial, and educational purposes without the written permission of the National Academy of Sciences.