It’s not news that most holders of Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields do not find careers in academe. A study released on 1 April by the American Institutes for Research, The Nonacademic Careers of STEM PhD Holders, casts revealing light on which Ph.D. researchers do what kind of nonacademic work. It also shows how gender, ethnic origin, and field of study relate to where they end up working. The study is based on data from the National Science Foundation's 2010 Survey of Doctorate Recipients, and it covered Ph.D. researchers who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents under the age of 76.

Here are some interesting points from the report:

  • "Approximately half of Black, Hispanic, and White female STEM PhD holders and Black and Hispanic male STEM PhD holders were in nonacademic careers, whereas two thirds of Asian female STEM PhD holders and almost three fourths of Asian male STEM PhD holders were in nonacademic careers," the report states. "About three fifths of White male STEM PhD holders were in nonacademic careers."
  • Women of all ethnic groups were less likely to do R&D work than the men in their groups. Overall, about half the Ph.D. researchers doing nonacademic work focused on R&D. Among men and women, Asians had the highest percentages of working in R&D (66% and 58%, respectively). At 37%, black women were the least likely to work in R&D. Among men, whites were the least likely to do R&D work, at 57%.
  • Most Ph.D. researchers doing nonacademic work were employed by government or for-profit companies. White, black, and Hispanic women were likelier to work in government and less likely to work in private companies than Asian women were, and less likely than men of all ethnic groups.
  • Mathematics had the highest percentage of Ph.D. graduates working in academic positions—61%—while engineering had the lowest, at 26%.

Overall, about 20% of the Ph.D. researchers did not work in STEM fields. The number was highest (about 28%) for black, white, and Hispanic women. It was lowest for Hispanic men and Asian women (18%) and for Asian men (16%).

Beryl Lieff Benderly writes from Washington, D.C.