Taking a postdoc remains a popular option for new psychology graduates hitting the job market, according to the most recent data from APA's Research Office. Its 2003 Doctorate Employment Survey found that about 47 percent of 2003 survey respondents said they had completed or were pursuing a postdoc. Those numbers may reflect the importance for future academics of gaining additional research experience before applying for jobs and future practitioners' need to log supervised hours to become licensed, the report says.

In fact, the percentage of new doctorates in some kind of postdoc position has more than doubled from 10 percent in 1985 to 28 percent in 2003, while the percentage working full time has declined steadily-from 76 percent in 1983 to 64 percent in 2003.

However, the prominence of the postdoc varies across psychology's subfields. For example, in 2003, only 2 percent of industrial and organizational psychologists were in postdocs while 89 percent were employed full time. But among neuroscience and biological psychology doctorates-fields in which a postdoctoral fellowship might be considered a necessity-72 percent were in postdocs versus 19 percent working full time.

The 2003 survey was based on 1,637 respondents who earned doctoral degrees in 2003. About 71 percent held PhDs, 28 percent held PsyDs and 1 percent held EdDs or other degrees.

Moreover, 73 percent of new doctorates were women, an increase of 12 percent over the last 10 years and 24 percent over the last 20. Women have been entering psychology in increasing numbers over the past decades while the number of men entering the field has decreased slightly, data show.

Here are some snapshots of other survey data.

The job market

  • 64 percent of the new doctorates were employed full time, 8.5 percent were part time, 22 percent were full-time postdocs and about 5.5 percent were unemployed-half of whom said they were not seeking employment. Of those unemployed and not seeking a job, 52 percent cited home or child care responsibilities, and 93 percent of them were women.

  • 44 percent of respondents found full-time employment within three months of completing their doctorates; 21 percent before completion; 19 percent in 4 to 6 months; and 9 percent took more than 6 months. Six percent already had their current job when they started their program.

  • Graduates in nonhealth-service provider positions took a bit longer to find work than those in the health-service sector: 73 percent of new graduates in human-service positions landed a job before degree completion or within three months, compared with about 56 percent of their peers in positions in academia, research and business.

  • Of those employed, 68 percent were working full time in one job only, 9 percent part-time in one job only and 23 percent in more than one job. Of those with multiple jobs, 60 percent held a full-time and a part-time position, 29 percent held more than one part-time position to equal a full-time workload and 11 percent held more than one part-time position to equal a part-time workload.

  • Men were more likely than women to be employed full time-73 percent compared with 60 percent. Moreover, a larger proportion of women were employed part time-10 percent compared with 3 percent of men.

  • The average starting salary in 2003 was $54,814, though women earned about $3,000 less than men, on average. Minorities, however, earned about the same amount as whites. Those working in applied psychology settings-such as in business, government, industry and consulting firms-reported the highest salaries, with a median of $71,000.


  • 86 percent of respondents used their own or family resources to pay for their graduate education; 70 percent received university-based support; 60 percent took out student loans; and 15 percent received federal grant support for at least some of their graduate training.

  • 68 percent of 2003 doctorates graduated with some debt, though new doctorates in practice subfields were more likely than those in research subfields to have debt-74 percent versus 54 percent. The median debt of those in practice subfields was $67,000, compared with $22,000 for research subfields.

  • Clinical PsyD recipients faced the highest debt levels, with a median of $90,000, compared with $50,000 for clinical PhDs and $21,500 for PhDs in research subfields. That difference may be due to the fact that PsyD students were more likely than PhD candidates to tap student loans-55 percent versus 19 percent.

  • Median debt levels rose by $10,000 from 2001 to 2003 for clinical PsyD students and $14,000 for clinical PhDs.

Further Reading

 The full report, including starting salaries by subfield can be viewed on the 2003 Doctorate Employment Survey webpage.