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Survey of Earned Doctorates



Survey OverviewBullet 1 Key Survey InformationBullet 2 Survey DesignBullet 3 Data Collection and ProcessingBullet 4 Survey Quality MeasuresBullet 5 Data ComparabilityBullet 6 Data Products

1. Survey Overview (2013 survey cycle) Top of Page.

  1. Purpose:The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) collects data on the number and characteristics of individuals receiving research doctoral degrees from U.S. institutions.
  2. Data Collection Authority: The information collected by the SED is solicited under the authority of the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended.
  3. Major Changes to Recent Survey Cycle: None.

2. Key Survey Information Top of Page.

  1. Frequency: Annual
  2. Initial Survey Year: academic year 1957–58.
  3. Reference Period: Most recent year of available data: 2013
  4. Response Unit: Individuals.
  5. Sample or census: Census.
  6. Population Size: Approximately 52,000.
  7. Sample Size: Not applicable.
  8. Key Variables: Key variables of interest are listed below.
    • Academic institution of doctorate
    • Baccalaureate-origin institution (U.S. and foreign)
    • Birth year
    • Citizenship status at graduation
    • Country of birth and citizenship
    • Disability status
    • Educational attainment of parents
    • Educational history in college
    • Field of each degree earned (N=317 fields)
    • Graduate and undergraduate educational debt
    • Marital status, as well as the number and age of dependents
    • Postgraduation plans (work, postdoc, other study or training)
      • Primary and secondary work activities
      • Source and type of financial support for postdoctoral study or research
      • Type and location of employer
      • Basic annual salary

    • Race and ethnicity
    • Sex
    • Sources of financial support during graduate school
    • Type of academic institution (e.g., historically black institutions, Carnegie codes, control) awarding the doctorate

3. Survey Design Top of Page.

  1. Target Population: The population for the 2013 SED consisted of all individuals receiving a research doctorate from a U.S. academic institution in the 12-month period beginning 1 July 2012 and ending 30 June 2013. A research doctorate is a doctoral degree that (1) requires the completion of an original intellectual contribution in the form of a dissertation or an equivalent culminating project (e.g., musical composition) and (2) is not primarily intended as a degree for the practice of a profession. The most common research doctorate degree is the PhD. Recipients of professional doctoral degrees such as MD, DDS, JD, DPharm, and PsyD are not included in the SED.
  2. Sample Frame: The total universe included over 52,000 persons from 421 research doctorate-granting institutions.
  3. Sample Design: The SED is a census of all individuals receiving a research doctorate from a research doctorate-granting U.S. institution in the academic year 1 July through 30 June of the next year.

4. Data Collection and Processing Top of Page.

  1. Data Collection: Three modes of data collection are used in the SED: self-administered paper surveys, Web-based surveys, and computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI). Paper surveys were mailed to institutional coordinators in the graduate schools who then distributed the surveys to students receiving research doctorates. The institutional coordinators collected the completed surveys and returned them to the survey contractor at the National Science Foundation for editing and processing.

    Since 2001, a Web-based SED option has been available. At some universities, institutional coordinators distributed paper surveys and a link to the SED survey registration website to students when they applied for graduation; at other universities, institutional coordinators distributed a link to the survey registration website without providing paper surveys. Upon registering at the SED survey website, students received PIN and password information via e-mail, as well as the URL of the Web-based SED. The proportion of completed surveys from respondents using the Web-based SED has increased each year since 2001, and it reached 84% in 2013.

    Both paper and the Web-based survey are used during follow-up interviews with nonrespondents. Beginning in 2005, CATI was used to administer an abbreviated questionnaire to nonrespondents. Approximately 1%–2% of respondents use the CATI-based SED each year. A paper survey was also mailed to individual respondents and institutions when critical SED questionnaire items were missing.
  2. Data Processing: The data collected in the SED are subject to automated editing procedures. No imputation is performed for missing data items. In the calculation of median salary, hot-deck imputation is used to impute a salary value when the respondent selected a salary range without providing an exact salary value.
  3. Estimation Techniques: The survey is a census, which does not require any sampling; weighting is not used to adjust for nonresponse.

5. Survey Quality Measures Top of Page.

  1. Sampling Error: Because the SED is a census, there is no variability due to sampling.
  2. Coverage Error: Due to the availability of comprehensive lists of doctorate-granting institutions and their high levels of participation in the survey, coverage error of institutions is minimal. Because the graduate schools collect the questionnaires from degree recipients at the time of doctorate completion, coverage error for the universe of doctorate recipients is also minimal. Comparisons of the institutions and the number of research doctorate recipients covered by the SED with the total number of doctorate recipients (including nonresearch doctorate degree recipients) reported by institutions to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) confirm that there is minimal coverage error of doctorate recipients. Institutions that begin to confer research doctorates are asked to join the SED. If a university that confers research doctorates does not wish to participate in the SED, slight undercounts may result.
  3. Nonresponse Error: Unit nonresponse. Of the 52,760 new research doctorates granted in 2013, 92% completed the SED. Records for nonrespondents are constructed from limited information (doctoral institution, year of doctorate, field of doctorate, type of doctorate, and, if available, baccalaureate institution, master's degree institution, and sex) collected from commencement programs, graduation lists, and other similar public records. Student nonresponse was concentrated in certain institutions. The 42 institutions with the highest percentage of students not responding accounted for 68% of the total number of nonrespondents.

    Item nonresponse. Item nonresponse rates in 2013 for the key SED demographic variables ranged from 0.02% for sex to 8.6% for location after graduation.
  4. Measurement Error: Measurement error in the SED is attributable to several sources, including error in recording respondent data (calculated at less than 1%), and coding error (calculated at 0.34%) for some variables due to the difficulty of defining some concepts. For example, an SED respondent may classify his or her doctoral field of specialization differently than the department or university does in its institutional reporting for the NCES Completions Survey.

6. Data Comparability Top of Page.

  1. Data Availability: Each year's survey data are compiled into the Doctorate Records File (DRF) and trend data are available back to 1957–58; more limited information (sex, institution, field, and year of doctorate) is contained on the DRF for PhDs who graduated from 1920–56.
  2. Data Comparability: Because of procedural changes implemented during the 1990 survey cycle to improve the completeness of race, ethnicity, and citizenship data, the data from 1990 and later years are not directly comparable to data before 1990. The distribution method of the survey forms does not ensure that doctorate recipients in any given year use a current form. This lowers the response rate to items the first year they are introduced on the survey form. Therefore, data for new items should be used with caution.

7. Data Products Top of Page.

  1. Publications: The data from this survey are published annually in a publication series reporting on all fields of study, the latest edition of which is Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2013. Additional data from this survey for earlier years are published in Science and Engineering Doctorates: 1960–91 (NSF 93-301). Also available is the interagency report U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century, which provides an overview of the development of a national resource—the American system of doctoral education—from 1900 to 1999.

    Information from the survey is also included in the series Science and Engineering Degrees, in Science and Engineering Degrees, by Race/Ethnicity of Recipients, in Science and Engineering Indicators, and in Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering.
  2. Electronic Access: Access to tabular data on selected variables from 1966 onward is available through WebCASPAR, on the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) website. Beginning with the 2007 SED, data on race and ethnicity, sex, and citizenship status of doctorate recipients are no longer available within WebCASPAR. The following variables remain available for analysis: academic institution (both the doctorate-granting institution and the baccalaureate-granting institution of doctorate recipients), institutional control (public versus private), highest degree awarded, state, and academic discipline (both detailed and broad categories). Reducing the number of SED variables available in WebCASPAR is a part of a larger program to strengthen the confidentiality protections applied to SED data while still meeting the needs of SED data users.

    To continue to provide data users with access to race and ethnicity, sex, and citizenship data from 2007 onward, NCSES developed another data access tool, the SED Tabulation Engine. This tool is designed to display estimates that do not disclose personally identifiable information in tables using race and ethnicity, sex, or citizenship variables. It provides users with the ability to generate statistics using all of the SED variables previously available in WebCASPAR except baccalaureate institution and the highest degree awarded by those institutions.
  3. Restricted Access: Access to restricted data for researchers interested in analyzing microdata can be arranged through a licensing agreement.

8. Contact Information Top of Page.

Lynn Milan
Project Officer
Human Resources Statistics Program
National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965
Arlington, VA 22230
Phone: (703) 292-2275
E-mail: lmilan@nsf.gov


Last updated: December 18, 2012