Reports on Scientists, and Physicists, in Academia and the Workplace

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Publication date: 
21 September 2006

A number of brief reports have come out over the past year that look at degree, demographic, and workforce issues in the science and engineering (S&E) community and, more specifically, in physics and astronomy.

NSF regularly puts out short "Info Briefs" on such topics. In July, it released data on first-time graduate student enrollments in S&E fields, and a look at career paths following an S&E bachelor's degree. All NSF Info Briefs can be found at

"First-Time S&E Graduate Enrollment of Foreign Students Drops For the Third Straight Year" (NSF 06-321; July 2006): This document looks at data from the 2004-2005 academic year, and finds that S&E graduate student enrollment in U.S. universities increased slightly (less than 0.5%) from 2003 to 2004. This increase, according to the brief, is due to growth in the enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, while first-time, full-time enrollments of foreign S&E students declined 7% between 2003 and 2004. This is the third consecutive year of decline since 2000 when this data was first collected.

The brief also notes that the percentage of women among all U.S. S&E graduate students (citizens and foreign) has increased every year for the past two decades, growing from 37% in 1994 to 42% in 2003.

"What Do People Do After Earning a Science and Engineering Bachelor's Degree?" (NSF 06-324; July 2006): Based on data from surveys taken in 2003, this brief states that "about half of all S&E bachelor's degree recipients (51%) had earned no additional degrees," while "the other half had earned a wide variety of additional degrees." Of S&E bachelor's degree recipients, 13% received an advanced degree in the same broad area as their initial bachelor's degree. The brief also presents survey data on the relevance of the degree to the degree-holder's employment, movement of S&E bachelor's degree-holders into management, and movement into non-S&E fields.

The American Institute of Physics' Statistical Research Center has produced numerous reports exploring similar issues within the physics and astronomy community. These reports are available at

"2004 Physics and Astronomy Academic Workforce" (R-392.6; December 2005): According to this report, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) physics positions in academia has grown by about 1% per year, to 9000 in 2004. But one in five of these positions is now filled by temporary or non-tenure-track faculty. Graduate departments sought more tenured and tenure-track faculty in 2005 than in 2003, but bachelor's departments recruited for more temporary and non-tenure-track faculty (and fewer tenured and tenure-track) than in 2003.

The report finds that "the number of African American faculty members has increased by more than 20% since 2000, and the number of Hispanic faculty members has increased by more than 40%," although the overall numbers are still small in both cases. It also finds that while "the vast majority of newly hired faculty members are male," women are hired into ranked faculty positions at rates at least consistent with past production of women PhD recipients.

"Initial Employment Report: Physics and Astronomy Degree Recipients of 2002 & 2003" (R-282.25; December 2005): This report finds that, of those responding to an AIP survey, the proportion of new physics bachelors who enter directly into the job market "has declined significantly in recent years," while the proportions of those pursuing graduate study in physics, astronomy, and other fields, and those unemployed, have all grown recently. The percentage of foreign physics masters who continue graduate study (80%) is much higher than the percentage of U.S. citizens doing so (26%). Of new physics PhDs responding, the proportion accepting postdoc positions has grown in recent years, to 69% in 2003. This report also provides information on starting salaries, initial employment sectors, long-term career goals, and years of graduate study for PhD recipients. Of both the physics bachelors and PhDs responding to the survey, a large majority would, if they had it to do all over again, still choose to study physics.

"Graduate Student Report: First-Year Physics and Astronomy Students, 2004" (R-207.35; March 2006): This report looks at numbers, demographics, backgrounds and stipends of beginning physics and astronomy graduate students. According to the report, the number of U.S. citizens enrolling in U.S. graduate physics departments has grown significantly in recent years, climbing 47% since the 1998-1999 academic year. U.S. citizens now comprise over half (55%) of first-year physics and astronomy students. More foreign first-year graduate students come from China than from any other country, and their proportion has been increasing. Just under 10% of newly enrolled foreign students "indicated they experienced a delay in entering their...department due to problems in obtaining their visa."

Of first-year graduate students, 21% of those in physics are women, and 46% are foreign; in astronomy, 41% are women, and 24% are foreign. The median stipend for first-year graduate students in the 2003-2004 academic year was $14,500 for Teaching Assistants, $16,000 for Research Assistants, and $18,000 for students with Fellowships.

"Women Physicists Speak Again" (R-441; April 2006): In conjunction with the 2005 Second International Conference of Women in Physics, AIP conducted a web-based survey of women physicists. The results of this survey will be covered in a subsequent FYI.