Doctoral degrees are an undertaking. A new NSF report indicates the payoff: PhDs in science and engineering make you much more employable than someone without.
The unemployment rate for those in the United States with engineering doctoral degrees was 1.9% in February 2013. That’s less than a third of the 6.3% unemployment rate of the general population 25 years of age and older.
Ph.D. holders in computer and information sciences had similar unemployment rate at 1.8%, while that for mathematicians and statisticians was the lowest of all science and engineering fields at 1.2%.
For engineers, unemployment numbers are back to what they were before the recession hit in 2008. Unemployment was 1.8% in pre-recession October 2008, and 2.8% in recession-encumbered October 2010. As an aside, the numbers uncannily mirror the aftermath of the dot-com bubble. In April 2001, before the worst of the bust, unemployment was 1.7%, but it had increased to 2.7% in October 2003.
In February 2013, says the NSF report, 150,600 individuals in the US had PhDs in engineering. Of this doctoral population, 90.5%, or 136,300, were in the workforce. That includes people who were employed full time or part time and those who were unemployed but actively seeking work. An estimated 82.7% were working full-time while 6.1% were part-time. An additional 8.4% of the engineering doctoral population was retired, and the rest (1.1%) was not seeking work.
Where do engineering PhDs work? The report shows that 58.1% were at for-profit firms, 26.2% were at educational institutions, 7.4% were in government, while the rest were at private nonprofit firms, were self-employed or in other sectors.
Of course, going to graduate school is never an easy decision. You might come out at the end with a higher paying job, but there are many costs to consider. Lower unemployment rate, or higher job security, is an important factor to add to the equation.
Illustration: Erik Vrielink; Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Doctorate Recipients