Executive summary

Doctoral education trains scientists, engineers, researchers, and scholars, all of whom are critical to the nation’s progress. These individuals create and share new knowledge and new ways of thinking that lead, directly and indirectly, to new products, services, and works of art. Annual counts of doctorate recipients from U.S. universities are measures of the incremental investment in human resources devoted to science, engineering, research, and scholarship, and these counts can serve as leading indicators of the capacity for knowledge creation and innovation in various domains.

Changes in the characteristics of this population over time reflect political, economic, social, technological, and demographic trends. These include the following:

  • Changes in representation of doctorate recipients in different demographic groups
  • Growth in science and engineering (S&E) fields and changes in their relative size
  • Different pathways to the doctoral degree
  • Changes in completion time for doctoral study
  • Expansion of the postdoctoral researcher pool
  • Shifting academic employment opportunities after graduation

Understanding these connections is necessary to informing policy discussions regarding this country’s doctoral education system.

In addition, this report highlights recent doctorate recipients’ graduate experiences and postgraduation plans in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The data in this report cover the 2022 academic year (1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022) and were collected primarily from doctorate students who completed the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) as they approached graduation. In 2021, NCSES added new survey questions specifically designed to measure the pandemic’s impact on doctorate recipients. This report compares the results of these data to the previous year.

Key takeaways from the 2022 SED data include the following:

  • The number of doctorate recipients from U.S. universities increased after two years of decline. The increase from 52,194 doctorate recipients in 2021 to 57,596 in 2022 was the sharpest 1-year increase (10%) since 1970.
  • Between 2021 and 2022, the number of U.S. citizen and permanent resident doctorate recipients increased by 11% to 35,311, while temporary visa holders increased by 10% to 19,633.
  • The increase in the number of doctorate recipients between 2021 and 2022 was proportionately larger in S&E fields (11%) than in non-S&E fields (7%).
  • Over two-thirds of the 51,063 doctorate recipients who responded to questions about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022 indicated their research had been disrupted, compared to less than half of the 41,060 doctorate recipients who responded in 2021. For 80% of them, disruptions stemmed from limited or no access to resources needed for research.
  • Over half of doctorate recipients who responded to the COVID-19 pandemic impact questions in 2022 indicated the timeline for completing the doctoral degree was delayed by the pandemic—the second most frequently reported impact. In contrast, 1 in 10 said funding for their doctoral studies had been reduced or suspended.
  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic varied largely by field and nature of doctoral work, with research disruptions reported in larger proportions by doctorate recipients in fields where laboratories, equipment, and other facilities are indispensable, such as biological and biomedical sciences, physical sciences, and visual and performing arts.
  • In 2022, the proportion of doctorate recipients with definite postgraduation commitments increased from 2021 in all fields. However, non-postdoctoral study (postdoc) academic employment commitments declined, while industry or business commitments increased. In addition, the postdoc rate in the United States declined or remained flat in most fields.
  • Larger proportions of S&E doctorate recipients who were still seeking employment or negotiating job offers at graduation reported impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to their counterparts with firm postgraduation commitments.