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Scope of the Field

The majority of people with PhDs in STEM fields don't work in academia, according to a report from the American Institutes for Research. Engineering PhDs are the most likely to work outside of academia —74 percent do — while 52 percent of biological science PhDs do.

The AIR report draws on data from the 2010 Survey of Doctorate Recipients by the US National Science Foundation and the National Center for Science Engineering and Statistics to examine employment patterns among STEM PhD holders.

For instance, it found that about half of Black, Hispanic, and white women and Black and Hispanic men with STEM PhDs don't work in academia, and that two thirds of Asian women and three quarters of Asian men with STEM PhDs work outside of academia.

Most nonacademic STEM PhD-holders work in the private, for-profit sector, the report notes. About half of STEM PhD holders with nonacademic careers work in research and development, the report says. However, older PhDs were less likely to be working in R&D, a trend the report notes holds across gender and ethnic group.

Outside of R&D, the next biggest primary work activity for STEM PhD holders was management and professional services. Female Black, Hispanic, and white PhD-holders, the report noted, were more likely to report management as their primary work activity (21 percent to 30 percent) and more likely to report working in professional and other services (32 percent to 35 percent), as compared with Asian women and all men.

"Although most PhD programs focus on training future professors and researchers to become highly proficient in research practices, our analyses showed that performing work unassociated with R&D in nonacademic careers is common, particularly among female STEM PhD holders," the report says. "As a result, PhD students lack training in areas that may feature strongly in their career pursuits. Connections to and retention in STEM, particularly for underrepresented groups may improve if PhD training and career guidance were more relevant to the nonacademic career sectors that most students will enter and the common work activities in which they will engage."

HT: Science Careers