1996: Doctorate Employment Survey
Jessica Kohout, Marlene Wicherski, and Kate Woerheide, APA Research Office
APA Center for Workforce Studies
The Doctorate Employment Survey (DES) was conducted on an annual basis between 1975 and 1985. Beginning in 1987, the decision was made to move the survey to a biennial schedule. The data on which this report is based were collected in 1997 in a survey that was supported by the Sloan Foundation.
The Doctorate Employment Survey (DES) is conducted during the year following receipt of the degree. Chairs are contacted for the names and addresses of persons awarded doctorates during the previous year. A questionnaire is mailed to these individuals requesting information on their experiences entering the psychology labor force and the relevance of their graduate training to their employment situation. In September and October 1996, the chairs of 451 doctorate granting departments in the United States and Canada were contacted and asked to provide the names and addresses of individuals who had received their doctorates between July 1, 1995 and June 30, 1996. The list of departments is compiled from the APA publication Graduate Study in Psychology (1996), the Research Office's file of psychology-related graduate departments, and the membership list of the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology. The 319 (71%) responding departments provided the names and addresses of 3,532 new psychologists. Included in their lists were 2,837 PhDs, 561 PsyDs, and 69 EdDs. Based on available data (i.e., responses to the yearly National Research Council Survey of Earned Doctorates), it appears as though the pool of survey recipients was representative of the majority of PhDs awarded in psychology (85%). However, data may not be as representative of the population of PsyD recipients as they are of PhD recipients and for this reason the results should be interpreted with caution. The questionnaire was mailed to each of the doctorate recipients in January 1997 (see Appendix). Of the 3,532 survey recipients, 136 indicated that they had not received their doctorates in the 1995-96 academic year. Another 246 (6.9%) were returned as undeliverable. Nonrespondents were sent reminder postcards in early March, and a complete set of materials was sent on March 31, 1997 to those who still had not responded.
A total of 1,686 useable questionnaires were returned, yielding an overall response rate of 51.3%. Response rates differed only slightly based on the type of doctorate awarded; approximately 48% of PhDs, 50% of PsyDs, and 46% of EdDs responded. The level of participation increased slightly from 1995 when it was 48% overall.
Table 1 indicates that just under 69% of responding new doctorates were women, up 17% from 1985. As in other science and engineering fields, women have been entering psychology in increasing numbers over the past several decades. At the same time, the numbers of men in psychology have been decreasing slightly. The gender distribution of DES respondents is only slightly higher than that reported for new PhDs by the National Research Council in 1996 (66%), lending credence to the representativeness of the sample.
Over 85% of respondents were white. Hispanics and Asians each comprised about 4% of the new doctorates, and just fewer than 4% were African Americans or Black, irrespective of citizenship. American Indians and "other" each represented less than 1% of the sample, and 1% specified multiple race/ethnicity. Of the 66 respondents who identified themselves as Hispanic, 26% were of Mexican heritage, 20% were Puerto Rican, 44% were other Hispanic and approximately 11% did not specify. Over the past decade the proportion of ethnic minority doctorate recipients has edged up from almost 7% in the 1985 survey to nearly 15% in 1996.
Fifty-seven percent of the respondents were younger than 35 with an additional 28% between 35 and 44 years of age. Almost 15% were 45 to 59 years old and less than one percent was 60 years or older. The average age of respondents was 35.9, roughly equal to the means for recent years. The median age at doctorate was 33, which is comparable to the median age at doctorate (33.2) reported by the National Research Council for new PhDs in 1996.
Twice as many new doctorates received the PsyD as did a decade ago (almost 17% in 1996 compared to 8% in 1985). Just under 81% of the respondents earned a PhD, and almost 2% earned the EdD. Table 2 depicts additional data on educational characteristics of new doctorates.
Almost 68% of the new doctorates were employed full time, 11% were employed part time, 15% were working on postdoctorates, 3% were unemployed and seeking employment, and 2% were unemployed and not seeking. During the past ten years the proportion working full time has declined steadily (from 80% in 1985 and 75% in 1991), while the proportion working part time has increased slightly from 7% in 1985 to 11% in 1996. Another shift has been tracked among new doctorates in postdoctoral positions; the percentage has risen from 10% to 15% between 1985 and 1996. This increase might be attributed in part to changes in the instrument; the section on postdoctorates is now more amenable to describing pre-licensure training for clinical doctorate recipients. But the shift away from full-time employment toward postdoctoral fellowships is also apparent among graduates in traditional research and other specialties. Since the mid 1980s, the percentages in postdoctoral training have climbed steadily among new doctorates in these subfields to the point that they represent about one fifth of the total in the research subfields. At the same time, full-time employment among research doctorate recipients has hovered around two thirds. National Research Council data also point to growth in the proportion of new psychology doctorates pursuing postdoctoral study (Coyle & Bae, 1987; Thurgood and Weinman, 1991; Henderson et al, 1998) from 18.4% in 1986, to 20.1% in 1990, to 27.6% in 1996 , supporting the validity of the apparent trend.
The largest single proportion of respondents found their present employment position before completing requirements for the doctoral program (36%) and a further third found it within 3 months after completion. Just under 12% took more than 6 months to find their current job. This situation is somewhat more positive than that noted for respondents to earlier surveys; most doctorate recipients had located employment within 3 months, but 17% in 1991 and 20% in 1989 reported a 6-month search for their present job. Comparisons of the amount of time to find human services positions versus other types of positions, presented in Table 5, showed that the new doctorates in non-health-service provider positions appeared to take somewhat longer to find work than did those in the health service areas.
Men were more likely than women to be employed full time (72% vs. 66%), while a larger proportion of women was employed part time (13% vs. 7%). When asked for a reason for choosing part-time employment, women (99% vs. 1%) cited family responsibilities almost exclusively.
Minorities and whites reported full-time employment at comparable levels, 66% and 68%, respectively. The highest rate of postdoctoral study continues to be reported by Asians (just under 21%); the number on which this percentage is based is very small, but Asians have led this category each time the survey has been conducted. Again, this year, as was true last year, an unusually high percentage of Hispanic respondents reported postdoctoral study (15%, compared to 4% in 1986, 7% in 1991 and 19% in 1995). The proportions with full-time employment have declined steadily over the decade across all racial/ethnic groups.
Although unemployment remains low among new psychologists, the proportion (52 individuals (3.1%)) unemployed and seeking employment has risen slowly from 1.6% in 1985. Thirty-seven graduates were unemployed but were not seeking employment. The majority (59%) cited home/child care responsibilities for their decision.
Subfield of Degree
Table 2 presents the employment status for graduates of the various types of doctoral programs. The rate of full-time employment was about the same for graduates in both the health service provider and research subfields (68% and 67%, respectively). The two categories were fairly similar in rates of part-time employment (13% and 8%, respectively) and postdoctoral training (14% and 19%).
The only clear contrast emerges when programs focussing on the biological basis of behavior (e.g., physiological and neuroscience) are examined separately from other research psychology fields (e.g., developmental and social). The postdoctoral fellowship has become a necessary step for the biologically-based areas. Sixty-three percent of respondents in these subfields were engaged in postdoctoral study, compared to only 14% in the remaining research fields. This represents a pronounced growth in the need for postdoctoral training, especially for graduates in the bio-based cluster, where the proportion in such training was at 41% in 1986 and 49% in 1991.
The level of unemployment was minimal across all subfields, with little difference between psychologists trained to deliver health services and those in research specialties.
Perceptions of the Job Market
Data on job market perceptions were somewhat skewed in 1996 due to the placement of this question among those to be completed only by those who were employed. Responses were far more positive than they have been when all respondents answered this item and the data should not be compared with that from earlier years.
Full-time employment was characterized as a minimum of 35 hours a week in the present survey, including situations where the person held multiple jobs totaling 35 or more hours. Part-time-employed persons were those who held one or more part-time positions totaling less than 35 hours (see Table 3). Twenty-nine percent of employed respondents held more than one job.
Fifty seven percent (958) of the 1,686 respondents for whom information was available were employed in one job only (they did not have a second or third position). This represents 72% of all employed respondents (1,331). Eighty-six percent were employed full time in one job only. The remaining 14% were employed in one part-time position only.
Almost one quarter (23%) of all respondents, or 29% of all employed respondents, were working in more than one job. Half of those working more than one position held a full-time position and a part-time position. Thirty-five percent were employed full time but in more than one part-time position. Finally, 15% of those with more than one position were employed part time in two or more part-time jobs.
Table 3 presents data on the employment settings of the respondents by type of employment pattern. The leading category of primary full-time setting was university settings at just under 20%, followed by business, government, and other settings with slightly less than 18%. Another 14% with a full-time position were working in hospitals and almost 13% could be found in organized health care settings such as university counseling centers, rehabilitation facilities and outpatient clinics.
Just under 44% of full-time positions were in the human service sector, nearly 30% in academia, 18% in business, government, and other settings, and 7% in schools and other educational settings. Most of those employed in full-time human service positions worked in organized care settings rather than individual or group private practices (36% versus 8%). This pattern is appropriate for new doctorates that have yet to accumulate the hours to sit for licensure.
Approximately 22% of respondents who reported working in a full-time position as well as secondary employment chose a part-time independent practice. Another third chose four-year colleges or university settings as their secondary position. Percentages choosing four-year colleges and business government and other increased from 1995.
Doctorates employed full time as the result of two or more part-time positions were located most often in other human service settings (21%), independent practices (18%) and university settings (18%) as their primary employment positions. Most secondary settings for this group were in independent practice (27%), universities (20%) and business, government and other (16%).
Table 3 also provides information on those who were employed part time (those with one or more positions totaling less than 35 hours). Sixty-four percent indicated their primary setting was in the human service sector (28% in independent practice). Almost half of those with a secondary job were in human service settings.
Respondents working in one or more part-time positions were asked why they chose to do so. As in previous surveys, reasons tended to vary by sex. Women were much more likely than men to name family responsibilities (33% vs. 2%). Both sexes stated that they could not find an appropriate full-time job (42% of men and 30% of women). One fourth of men and a fifth of the women cited the broad range of responsibilities that comes with one or more part-time positions.
Full-time Employment Settings by Subfield
In Table 4, data are presented on full-time employment settings by field of psychology. The broad category of human service settings predominated as the employers of new doctorates in the practice fields, with hospitals slightly ahead at 18%, followed by other human service settings at just under 18%. The majority of doctorate recipients in the field of school psychology (60%) were found in schools and other educational settings. Doctorate recipients in the subfields of clinical and counseling were found distributed across all the human service settings.
Thirty-eight percent of respondents graduating in research subfields were employed in universities, while a substantial number (29%) indicated that they had found work in business, government and other settings. At least half the doctorates in cognitive, developmental, experimental, neurosciences and social could be found in university or four-year college settings. This is true also of many of the other bio-based doctorates but the percentages are high and misleading because the Ns are so small. Graduates in these fields also were found in business and government settings. However, data on full-time employment settings do not represent many new bio-based doctorates, given that the majority finds postdoctoral training necessary before securing full-time employment.
A little more than one fifth of graduates in industrial/organizational psychology were employed in university settings while the majority was located in business, government and industry settings.
Tables 5, and 5a-5d report responses of employed 1996 doctorate recipients in terms of their satisfaction with selected elements of their job, commensurability of the job with their training, and the importance of the doctorate in obtaining employment.
Importance of the Doctoral Degree
For half of the respondents, the doctoral degree was an essential tool in attaining their present position; another quarter deemed it helpful. Slightly higher proportions rated the doctorate in psychology essential (53%) or helpful (32%). A smaller proportion of respondents in health service delivery positions found the doctoral degree to be essential than did those in research or academic positions (43% vs. 61%). Interestingly, the situation was reversed when respondents rated the psychology doctorate specifically, and the gap narrowed: 57% of health service providers judged the psychology degree essential, compared to 47% of those working in other positions.
The majority of employed respondents did not consider themselves underemployed. Almost 70% indicated that their primary position was their first choice, with new doctorates in the human services more apt to respond positively than those in research. Among those who did indicate some underemployment, responses of individuals in both position types were similar; about 15% attributed it to their job not being commensurate with their level of training, and 14% said they were currently looking for a position that was commensurate. Ten percent stated that they would prefer a more challenging position.
Almost 70% indicated that their general graduate training and courses in their major subfield were closely related to their current employment. Doctorate recipients working in human service positions were more likely to describe coursework in their major specialty area as being closely related to their current employment than those working in other positions (72% vs. 64%, respectively). Less than a quarter of health service providers who had research and teaching assistantships deemed them closely or somewhat related to their current employment. In fact, the question was not relevant to more than a third of health service providers, who had not had such experiences. Even among respondents not employed as practitioners, almost one fifth indicated that questions on research and teaching assistantships were not applicable. Not quite 60% of those who had these opportunities and were not working in a human service setting found them closely related to their job. Courses outside one's specialty area were considered somewhat related by 45% of those who had taken any; 16% of health service providers indicated they had not. Almost 80% of those who had predoctoral internships in clinical, counseling or school psychology judged them closely related.
Satisfaction with Current Position
Most new doctorates appeared to be fairly satisfied with their current positions (see Table 5c). With the exception of opportunities for promotion and salary, over two thirds of the respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with benefits, opportunities for personal development and recognition, supervisors, colleagues and working conditions. The highest levels of job satisfaction across the board continue to be derived from co-workers and supervisors (where applicable). These aspects have received uniformly high ratings from respondents each year the survey has measured them.
Areas of disagreement between practitioners and other respondents were salary, benefits, and opportunities for promotion and personal development. In general, those in human service positions were noticeably more likely than those in non-practitioner positions to express dissatisfaction in these three areas.
Almost 70% indicated that their current position was their first choice. Respondents in human services positions who would have preferred a different position were interested in changing employers to a greater extent than they were in switching to an alternate type of position. The situation was reversed among those in non-practice positions. These individuals preferred a different type of position, most often, a faculty position.
Just over a third of the new doctorates were in their present employment position prior to completing graduate school, while an additional third obtained employment within three months of completing the doctoral program. (see Table 5). Although the differences are not large, those in human services positions tended to find work more quickly than those in other positions.
Job search strategies most often used by new doctorates included informal channels (78%), classified ads in a newspaper (43%) or the APA Monitor (43%), faculty advisors (35%), sending unsolicited vitae (24%) and Chronicle of Higher Education advertisements (18%). The most successful method, regardless of type of position, remains informal channels (33%), including colleagues, professors and friends. Newspaper ads were most popular with those in human service settings, while Monitor ads worked best for those in other positions.
About 26% of the 1996 doctorate recipients indicated that they were pursuing or had completed a postdoctorate. Fifteen percent were current at the time the survey was conducted, while 11% had already completed their postdoctorates. DES data have shown a steady increase in postdoctorates since 1985, at which time approximately one out of ten new doctorates pursued postdoctoral training. Of the current postdoctorates, 79% were full time. Demographic characteristics of postdoctorates can be found in Table 1. The ethnic profile is about the same as it has been in recent years. Of those still primarily engaged in postdoctoral study at the time of the survey 82% were white, 6% were Asian, 4% were Hispanic, 2% were African American, and 0% were Native American. Some 2% indicated multiple racial/ethnic categories. Women comprised almost 60% of the postdoctoral population. Sixty-nine percent were less than 35 years of age and the mean age reflects this relative youth (33.5) in relation to the overall mean of 35.9. Table 2 addresses the doctoral education of respondents currently in postdoctoral training. Almost 87% had earned a PhD compared to 10% with a PsyD. Fifty-nine percent of the respondents had received their doctorates in the health service provider subfields, while 41% were in the traditional research fields. Clinical postdoctorates represented 82% of the postdoctorates in a practice subfield and 15% of the clinical degrees. Thirteen percent of the new doctorates in service delivery subfields were in postdoctorates compared to 17% of those in research and other subfields. More respondents reported current and completed postdoctorate experiences emphasizing service delivery than research training. Just over 55% focussed on clinical service, 28% on research, and 15% on a combination of the two. Most research postdoctorates (90%) were full time compared to 74% of those with a service focus.
The remainder of this section explores in more depth such aspects of the full-time fellowship as length of appointment and sources of support. Also addressed are the reasons respondents pursued postdoctoral study. The data on reasons for postdoctoral study are presented in Table 6.
Length of Postdoctoral Appointments
Most full-time postdoctoral training in service delivery is between one and two years in duration, while research training typically lasts upwards of two years.
Reasons for Postdoctoral Study
Table 6 reports the reasons doctorate recipients cited for taking a full-time postdoctoral fellowship. In a switch from previous years, the top reason among respondents whose fellowships emphasized research was to become more employable (almost 32%). The second most frequent reason was to complement their research knowledge and skills in the same field as their doctorate (19%). The single most important impetus for those in postdoctoral study focussing on clinical service delivery was to obtain supervised experience so as to be eligible to take the licensing exam (53%), while obtaining specialized clinical training followed distantly (31%). Respondents engaged in postdoctoral study with a dual research/practice focus sought to obtain supervised postdoctoral hours in preparation for the licensing exam (27%) and to obtain specialized clinical training (24%). As Table 6 suggests, improving employability (32% vs. 3%) and lack of available employment (13% vs. 5%) remain more salient to those with postdoctoral appointments in research training than those in clinical service. Responses to this question have remained fairly constant since 1985 and appear to indicate a somewhat less optimistic employment situation for this specific group. Respondents were also given the opportunity to name all the reasons for accepting a postdoctoral appointment. For research postdoctorates, common reasons included increase employability (73%), to complement research knowledge and skills in the same subfield of the doctorate (73%), to work with a particular scientist and research group (59%). In contrast, the postdoctorates with a service delivery focus were more apt to seek out supervised postdoctoral hours to prepare for the licensing exam (88%), to obtain specialized clinical training (77%), and to become more employable (67%). Those with a combined research/practice focus most often chose increasing employability (80%), followed closely by obtaining specialized clinical training (79%), and by obtaining supervised postdoctoral hours to take the licensing exam (73%).
Source and Level of Support for Postdoctoral Training
The vast majority of fellowships were paid in 1996 (88%). Research fellowships were rarely unpaid; only 4% of respondents who were gaining additional research training received no stipend. Looked at another way, 97% of the research postdoctorates were paid compared to 82% of those training for service delivery. Overall, those in unpaid positions were more apt to be part-time postdoctorates than those in paid positions (40% vs. 12%). Still, over half (58%) of respondents without a stipend reported that the position was 35 or more hours per week. The largest proportion of paid full-time research postdoctorates depended on federal fellowships or training grants, followed by federal research grants. Four (3% of the research postdoctorates) had Canadian fellowships. The stipends of service postdoctorates were funded most often by miscellaneous sources such as hospital or clinic funds, followed by client fees, and university or college sources. Overall, stipends were supported, in descending order, by federal fellowships, other sources including hospital/clinic funds, client fees, university or college funds federal research grants, nonfederal fellowships, and Canadian fellowships. Analyses of levels of support for full-time positions indicated that median stipends were about even in 1996 for postdoctoral study in research and service, $1,750 and $1,800 per month, respectively. The highest awards overall were Canadian fellowships ($2,300 in Canadian dollars) followed by nonfederal fellowships ($2,000). Universities and colleges provided the lowest level of funding, at a median of $1,667 per month.
The longest-term fellowships did not necessarily yield the highest level of funding. In fact, the median stipends for appointments less than one year in duration were $2,000, compared to $1,800 for those lasting 2 years or more. This suggests that some 1996 doctorate recipients found it necessary to remain for at least two years in underpaid positions gaining additional preparation before entering the professional labor force.
Sources and Levels of Support for Doctoral Study
Table 7 presents data on all sources of financial support and the primary source of support used for the graduate training of 1996 doctorate recipients. In 1996, the Association altered the survey question to reflect sources of support more generally. APA's data have followed paths similar to those noted below in the National Science Foundation (NSF) data. They indicate that federal sources have slipped as a primary source of support for psychology graduate students. In order to compensate for these shrinking resources, students have had to look elsewhere, to personal resources, student loans and university sources of support. In 1979, federal sources accounted for 23% of utilized sources. In 1996, only 6.5% of new doctorates reported using grants (primarily Federal) as a primary source. Personal resources and student loans were cited by almost half of the responding graduates in 1989 and 1991 as primary sources of support. Graduates this year reported an increase to 55%. University resources comprised 28% of the primary support in 1985 and 32% in 1996. The data point to an increasing reliance on sources that represent the potential for increasing student debt loads and financial hardship. NSF data confirm that sources of support have shifted slightly away from federal funds to personal or family sources in the past two decades. In 1981, NSF data indicated that some 13% of full-time psychology graduate students in doctorate-granting institutions relied primarily on federal sources of support. By 1996, this figure had slipped to 9%, even though the numbers have continued to grow slowly. At the same time, the percentages relying primarily on university sources of support (e.g., research or teaching assistantships) have hovered between 39% in 1981 and 42% in 1996 increasing in number from just over 8,600 to 11,823. Those relying on self support have expanded from 41% to 46% and the accompanying numbers have risen from 9,222 to 13,055. The new doctorates' responses to a question about all sources of support underscored the heavy reliance on personal sources of support for graduate training. Fully 90% of the respondents used own or family resources. Just over 70% received some support from university-based resources. Student loans were a source of support for 62% of the respondents. Finally, less than 15% had received federal support at some point during their graduate training.
Sources of support were analyzed by various demographic and educational factors. First, minority graduates were less likely than whites to have used personal resources or loans during their training (89% vs. 96%). Indeed, 43% of the white doctorate recipients who specified a primary source of support chose personal resources, while only 30% of minorities did so. At the same time, minorities were only slightly more likely to have received any university or federal support (78% vs. 75%). Most likely to benefit from federal sources were graduates whose area of study was biobehavioral research. Clinical PhD recipients were a great deal more likely to receive university-based support than clinical PsyDs (77% vs. 36%), which is to be expected, given that this resource is tied to institutional structure and form. Federal support for clinical training also was more characteristic of the PhD than the PsyD (12% vs. 2%).
Patterns and Levels of Debt
Table 8 contains data on the patterns of debt among 1996 doctorates. Two thirds of respondents indicated some debt in 1996. The incidence of debt was higher among graduates in the health service provider fields than in the research and other fields, and particularly so for those with degrees from professional school settings versus those with degrees from traditional university settings. This difference is generally the result of the higher costs associated with professional schools of psychology and what may be a lower availability of research and teaching assistantships in the professional school settings. Patterns are the same as those recorded in 1993.
Tables 9 and 10 present information on the levels of debt reported by graduates. The largest single proportion of respondents reported that they owed between $21,000 and $30,000 on their graduate education. In fact, 28% of the new doctorates in 1996 owed more than $40,000 in debt associated with their graduate education. This percent has almost doubled since 1993 when just under 15% stated that they had more than $40,000 in debt. In general, the amounts and the proportions of respondents are higher for those in the health service provider subfields than for those in the research and other subfields. Thirty five percent of the new doctorates in the health service provider subfields reported debt levels over $40,000 compared to just 13% of those in the research and other subfields.
Salaries of New Doctorates by Positions and Settings
Table 11 presents the salaries of full-time-employed U.S.-resident new doctorates by employment position and setting. No statistics are provided where there are fewer than ten respondents in an employment setting. Caution should be exercised in interpreting those statistics based on small numbers or where the standard deviation is large. Salaries for direct human service settings are presented separately for subfields with ten or more constituents reporting salaries. Salaries are reported on a 9-10-month basis for faculty positions (with the exception of medical school faculty) and for direct human service positions in school settings. These can be converted to 11-12-month salaries by multiplying by 11/9. The highest median 11-12-month salaries were reported by doctorates in applied psychology settings ($54,000), particularly those working in consulting firms ($60,000). The highest median 9-10-month salaries were reported by doctorates in assistant professor positions in other academic units ($37,636). In general, applied and administrative positions were characterized by higher salaries than were others. Definitions of the position types used in the survey are contained in the instrument, which can be found in the Appendix.
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1996 Doctorate Employment Survey Instrument (PDF, 3.3MB)
The Doctorate Employment Survey is a product of APA's Research Office, a unit within Central Programs. The authors are grateful for the support of Dr. Michael Honaker, Executive Director for Central Programs and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Association, and Dr. Raymond D. Fowler, Chief Executive Officer of the APA.
In 1997, the APA was the recipient of a Sloan Foundation grant managed through the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST). The purpose of the grant was to bring professional associations together to work toward gathering common data on new doctorates in their respective fields. We would like to thank Dr. Catherine Gaddy and the staff at CPST as well as the Sloan Foundation for their support.
We also would like to acknowledge the tremendous contribution that the new doctorate recipients make to ongoing databases on psychologists by participating in this survey. The data will be used by staff across all Directorates at the APA in planning for the future.