4

Time to Degree, Funding, and Completion Rates

Median time to degree in the biomedical sciences is relatively constant across fields: medians range from 4.88 to 5.73 years for all biomedical science fields with a standard deviation of less than or equal to one year (see Appendix E). There is a “model” for doctoral training. In almost all programs, more than 90 percent of students are fully funded in the first two years, about one-quarter with an institutional fellowship and the rest through either a traineeship or research assistantship. By the third year, almost all students are funded through some combination of research assistantships and traineeships. This funding is available for 6 years of doctoral study, although the source of funding may vary.

Table 4-1 shows the funding patterns in the biomedical sciences compared with the broad fields of engineering and the physical and mathematical sciences. Nearly one-third of students in the biomedical sciences receive funding through external fellowships or traineeships after the first year, as compared with a percentage that is less than one-half as large for engineering and the physical sciences. Since funding for the biomedical sciences comes primarily from the National Institutes of Health, NIH can use its influence to encourage program practices in the biomedical sciences in a way that is not available for other fields in science and engineering, where research assistantships on grants to individual investigators are the dominant avenue for funding doctoral students beyond the first year.



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4 Time to Degree, Funding, and Completion Rates Median time to degree in the biomedical sciences is relatively constant across fields: medians range from 4.88 to 5.73 years for all biomedical science fields with a standard deviation of less than or equal to one year (see Appendix E). There is a “model” for doctoral training. In almost all programs, more than 90 percent of students are fully funded in the first two years, about one- quarter with an institutional fellowship and the rest through either a traineeship or research assistantship. By the third year, almost all students are funded through some combination of research assistantships and traineeships. This funding is available for 6 years of doctoral study, although the source of funding may vary. Table 4-1 shows the funding patterns in the biomedical sciences compared with the broad fields of engineering and the physical and mathematical sciences. Nearly one-third of students in the biomedical sciences receive funding through external fellowships or traineeships after the first year, as compared with a percentage that is less than one-half as large for engineering and the physical sciences. Since funding for the biomedical sciences comes primarily from the National Institutes of Health, NIH can use its influence to encourage program practices in the biomedical sciences in a way that is not available for other fields in science and engineering, where research assistantships on grants to individual investigators are the dominant avenue for funding doctoral students beyond the first year. 23

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24 RESEARCH-DOCTORATE PROGRAMS IN THE BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES TABLE 4-1 Sources of Funding for Ph.D. Students by Year of Enrollment 2005-2006, by Percent YEAR 1 YEAR 2 Physical and Physical and Biomedical Mathematical Biomedical Mathematical Sciences Sciences Engineering Sciences Sciences Engineering External fellowships or traineeships alone or with institutional support 9 10 11 11 25 33 Institutional fellowships and assistantships alone or with institutional support 25 27 17 20 34 18 Research assistantships 14 33 28 46 22 33 Teaching Assistantships 45 15 37 11 12 12 Other or less than full support 2 4 2 4 4 3 Unfunded 5 10 4 7 2 2 YEAR 3 YEAR 4 Physical and Physical and Biomedical Mathematical Biomedical Mathematical Sciences Sciences Engineering Sciences Sciences Engineering External fellowships or traineeships alone or with 35 35 institutional support 13 11 13 10 Institutional fellowships and assistantships alone or with 16 14 institutional support 14 18 14 17 37 40 Research assistantships 38 49 43 51 8 7 Teaching Assistantships 2 10 23 8 Other or less than full support 2 4 2 4 3 3 Unfunded 4 7 4 8 2 2

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TIME TO DEGREE, FUNDING, AND COMPLETION RATES 25 TABLE 4-1 Sources of Funding for Ph.D. Students by Year of Enrollment 2005-2006, by Percent (cont’d) YEAR 5 YEAR 6 Physical and Physical and Biomedical Mathematical Biomedical Mathematical Sciences Sciences Engineering Sciences Sciences Engineering External fellowships or traineeships alone or with institutional support 12 9 11 6 34 32 Institutional fellowships and assistantships alone or with institutional support 14 16 12 12 11 10 Research assistantships 47 53 48 52 43 46 Teaching Assistantships 20 7 18 7 6 6 Other or less than full support 2 4 4 6 4 4 Unfunded 4 8 7 14 2 2 YEAR 6+ Physical and Biomedical Mathematical Sciences Sciences Engineering External fellowships or traineeships alone or with institutional support 7 4 26 Institutional fellowships and assistantships alone or with institutional support 9 9 11 Research assistantships 43 40 42 Teaching Assistantships 15 7 6 Other or less than full support 6 6 7 Unfunded 18 31 7

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26 RESEARCH-DOCTORATE PROGRAMS IN THE BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES In terms of completion rates, the average percent of doctoral students who complete their degrees in 6 years or less ranges from 42 percent in genetics and genomics to 56 percent in pharmacology, toxicology, and environmental health. There is substantial variation among programs, however. For example, in immunology and infectious disease, one university had a completion rate of 100 percent, while another had a completion rate of 25 percent, although both programs average 3.4 doctorates per year. The extent to which this difference is due to variations in admissions policies, retention efforts, funding, or other factors, is impossible to say. Case studies or other detailed analyses would be needed to sort this out. It is noteworthy, however, that immunology and infectious disease programs at both institutions had the same median time to degree for those students who did complete. As might be expected, a shorter median time to degree is correlated with a higher completion rate. In at least six fields the coefficient is < -0.3: TABLE 4-2 Correlations Between Median Time to Degree and Average Completion Rate by Field Median Time to Average Degree Completion Field (years) Rate (%) Correlation Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology 5.63 45.9 -0.375 Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering 5.06 46.3 -0.134 Cell and Developmental Biology 5.66 50.1 -0.383 Genetics and Genomics 5.73 41.6 -0.451 Immunology and Infectious Disease 5.36 56.2 -0.071 Integrated Biological and Biomedical Sciences 5.62 47.4 -0.362 Microbiology 5.58 47.1 -0.493 Neuroscience and Neurobiology 5.68 46.2 -0.464 Nutrition 4.88 55.8 -0.165 Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Environmental Health 5.21 56.1 -0.260 Physiology 5.13 50.9 -0.179