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FIGURE HE-4 S&E doctoral degrees earned in US universities, by field and underrepresented minority S&E doctoral degrees, by race/ethnicity: selected years, 1977-2001.

SOURCE: National Science Board. Science and Engineering Indicators 2004. NSB 04-01. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2004. Figures 2-19 and 2-21.

In the 1990s, several events led to a national discussion of the content and process of doctoral education that continues today. In the late 1980s, labor-market forces pointed toward an impending shortage of PhDs in the arts and sciences in the early to mid-1990s. When the end of the Cold War, a national recession, state budget cuts, and the end of mandatory retirement for college faculty led instead to disappointing job prospects for new PhDs in the early 1990s, a national debate on the doctorate and the job prospects of PhD recipients ensued.

Also, in the 1990s, for the first time, more than half of PhDs in science and engineering reported that they held positions outside academe (see Figure HE-6). This trend has generated interest in providing graduate students with more information about their career options, including whether they should pursue a master’s or doctoral degree and whether they should seek opportunities in government, industry, or nonprofit organizations as well as academe. In turn, this trend has focused attention on the need for training that provides the practical career skills needed in the workplace: pedagogic skills, technological proficiency, the ability to communicate well in writing or oral presentations, experience working in teams, and facility in grant writing and project management.

One great problem in discussions of workforce issues is the paucity of reliable, representative, and timely data. Often policy-makers are making decisions about the future based on data that are 2-3 years old.

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