By Erica Evans
Amid growing national concern over doctoral student employment opportunities, Stanford’s Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Institution Research & Decision Support (IR&DS) recently partnered to release the Stanford Ph.D. Alumni Employment Study, Stanford’s first attempt to provide University-wide research on where Ph.D. students are employed.
The data comprehensively summarizes the career paths of Ph.D. students from different departments. In particular, the results show that more science and engineering doctoral students choose to pursue careers in business, while humanities doctoral students continue to pursue careers mainly in academia.
The study surveyed Ph.D. students from two groups — graduates from five years ago and graduates from 10 years ago — and looked at both their initial employment after graduation as well as their current employment.
Vice Provost of Graduate Education Patricia Gumport, who spoke of the study at Faculty Senate meeting in October, reported that Stanford, which awards around 750 doctoral students every year, is nationally ranked as the eighth-largest school with graduating doctoral students and has invested approximately $3 billion into doctoral students over the past 25 years.
“This is great by national standards,” Gumport said. “We have a lot to be proud of here.”
But until the latest study, there was no comprehensive information available about the end result of these investments.
Gumport and other administrators, including Brian Cook from IR&DS, are excited about the new interactive website that IR&DS has built to accompany the study’s data. The website utilizes interactive filters to allow anyone with interest to explore the data from multiple perspectives through various charts, graphs and maps.
“We have views of employment sector, position type and academic institution type along with some other views that allow you to compare different departments,” Cook said.
Using the website’s features, viewers are able to look at geographic locations of past Ph.D. students as well as what sectors graduated students are employed in and data specific to certain fields.
“For example, if we were interested in engineers, you would click on engineers, and you see a pretty big difference, where 46 percent are in business, 26 percent in academia,” Cook said.
The data showed that 44 percent of students went into academics, while 25 percent moved into the business sector. Small percentages of students also went into government and nonprofit sectors.
Michail Savvas, a third-year doctoral student in the math department, stated that he would like to stay in academia and find a tenure-track position, unlike math Ph.D. peers who will move into the finance sector after graduation. However, according to Savvas, coming from a purely mathematical program does not easily translate into marketable skills.
“It’s very common for people who know a lot of math and have been doing internships in the past [to move into finance] because they have a lot of other skills,” Savvas said. “For me personally, I would have to be trained somehow.”
According to Rachel Kirkwood, a current Ph.D. student studying English, some majors just generally do not allow much flexibility into different industries.
“In the humanities, alternative career paths are rare because a Ph.D. in English, for example, only really prepares you to teach English,” Kirkwood said.
Kirkwood’s observations about Ph.D. career paths in the humanities versus those in the sciences matched the study’s findings.
“It seems that at least comparatively, there are tons of opportunities for people who get Ph.D.s in the sciences to do things other than academia,” Kirkwood said.
Professor of Ethics in Society Debra Satz emphasized at the Faculty Senate meeting, however, that humanities Ph.D. students must stop viewing non-academic career paths as a “Plan B.”
According to Satz, only 50 percent of humanities Ph.D.s end up in tenure-track positions.
“Some of our best students actually wind up outside academia,” Satz said.
“I think that is a really important thing for us to tell ourselves and tell our students that, for all kinds of reasons, students wind up pursuing non-academic career paths,” she added.
Contact Erica Evans at elevans ‘at’ stanford.edu and Alexandra Nguyen-Phuc at amn17 ‘at’ stanford.edu.