2003: Doctorate Employment Survey

Marlene Wicherski and Jessica Kohout
APA Center for Workforce Studies
August 2005
Report Text

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 2004 from 2003 doctorate recipients in psychology.


The Doctorate Employment Survey (DES) is conducted during the year following receipt of the degree. Graduate department 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 2003, the chairs of 484 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 from July 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003. The list of departments is compiled from the APA publication Graduate Study in Psychology (2005), the APA Research Office's file of psychology-related graduate departments, and the membership roster of the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology. The 322 (66.5%) responding departments provided the names of 2,731 PhDs, 1,230 PsyDs, and 34 EdDs. Based on available data (i.e., responses to the annual Survey of Earned Doctorates (NORC, 2004)), it was possible to determine that departments provided the names and addresses of 83% of the PhDs awarded in psychology. The 1,230 names and addresses of PsyD recipients represented about 85% of the total count for 2002-2003. It does appear then that the pool of survey recipients was representative of the majority of doctorates awarded in psychology in 2002-2003.

The questionnaire was mailed to each of the doctorate recipients in February 2004 (The appendix of this report contains a copy of the questionnaire.). Of the survey recipients, 201 indicated that they had not received their doctorates in the 2002-2003 academic year. Another 155 (0.4%) were returned as undeliverable. Nonrespondents were sent reminder postcards in March 2004 and a complete set of materials was sent again in April 2004 to those who still had not responded.

A total of 1,637 useable questionnaires were returned—1,161 PhDs, 452 PsyDs, and 24 EdDs—yielding an overall response rate of 41%. Response rates differed based on the type of doctorate awarded; approximately 42.5% of PhDs, 36.7% of PsyDs, and 70.6% of EdDs responded. The level of participation was lower than in 2001, when it was 52%.

Demographic Characteristics

Table 1 indicates that 73% of responding new doctorates were women, an increase of 12 percentage points in 10 years and 24% in 20 years. 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 representation of women among DES respondents is slightly higher than the 67% reported for new PhDs by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2002.

Almost 80% of respondents were white. (NSF reported that not quite 85% of new PhDs in 2002 were white). Of those respondents providing an answer, Hispanics and Asians each comprised 5% of the new doctorates while Black or African Americans represented just under 5%. Only one Native American responded to the survey, while those who specified multiple race/ethnicity were just over 2% of respondents. About 1% of respondents claimed that they were an “other” racial/ethnic category. Thirty-one of the 1,637 respondents did not report their racial or ethnic background.

About 63% of the respondents were younger than 35, with an additional 22% between 35 and 44 years of age. Almost 13% were 45 to 59 years old and just under 1% was 60 years or older. The average age of respondents was 35.1 which is slightly lower than the 36.4 reported by 1993 DES respondents.

Sexual Orientation
Of those who specified, 94% stated that they were heterosexual. Three percent were homosexual, and just under 2% responded that they were bisexual. Three respondents claimed an "other" orientation.

Degree Type
Just under 71% of the respondents earned a PhD; nearly 28% were awarded a PsyD (compared to 8% in 1985 and 16% in 1993), one percent reported earning an EdD, and less than 1% earned another degree in 2003. Table 2 depicts additional data on educational characteristics of new doctorates.

Employment Status

Sixty-four percent of the new doctorates were employed full time, about 8% were employed part time, 22% were working on postdoctorates, and just over 5% were unemployed—half of whom were seeking employment, while half were not seeking employment. Over the past two decades the proportion working full time has declined steadily (from 76% in 1983 and 72% in 1993 to 2003’s low of 64%), while the proportion working part time has remained fairly stable. A more noticeable shift can be seen among new doctorates in postdoctorate positions: the percentage has more than doubled, from 10% in 1985 to 22% in 2003. 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 1986 survey, postdoctoral training has climbed steadily among new doctorates in these subfields from just over 10% to just over 25%. At the same time, full-time employment declined from three quarters of research doctorate recipients to 65.5% in 2003. NSF data also point to an increase in the numbers of PhDs holding postdoctorates over the past decades (Burrelli, 2003).

Forty-four percent of respondents were employed in their current primary position within 3 months of completing the degree. Twenty-one percent found employment before completion, and 6% had the job when they started the program. Comparisons of the amount of time to find human service 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 sector.

Men were more likely than women to be employed full time (73% vs. 60%), while a larger proportion of women were employed part time (10% vs. 3%). When asked for a reason for choosing part-time employment, almost 36% of women vs. 3% of men cited family responsibilities, and nearly 99% of those offering this reason were women. Men were far more apt than women to state that they preferred a broader range of responsibilities (42% vs. 22%, respectively). (See Table 1.).

Minorities and white respondents were about equally likely to report full-time employment (66% vs. 63%). Black respondents reported the highest rate of full-time employment at 80%, while about 3/4 of Hispanics and only about half of Asians chose full-time status. Just over half of those with multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds reported full-time employment. The highest rate of postdoctoral study was found among the small number of respondents reporting an “other” ethnic background, at 41%. Asians, who represented a more numerous group of respondents, followed at 34%. The proportions with full-time employment have declined steadily since 1986 across all racial/ethnic groups, while proportions in part-time employment and postdoctorate positions have risen.

Although unemployment remains low among new psychologists, the proportion of new doctorates that were unemployed and seeking employment (2.7%) is up from 1.6% in 1985. Less than 3% reported being unemployed but not seeking employment. The largest single proportion of this group (52%) cited home/child care responsibilities for their decision, and 93% were women.

Subfield of Degree
Table 2 presents the employment status for graduates of the various types of doctoral programs. The rates of full-time employment, part-time employment, postdoctoral involvement, and unemployment did not vary substantially for graduates from the health service provider and the research subfields when considered in the aggregate. However, when we consider specific subfields, there is variability. Only 29% of clinical neuropsychology doctorates were employed full time at the time of the study while 57% held postdoctorates. Fully 84% of the new doctorates in educational psychology were employed full time with only 9% in postdoctoral positions. I/O graduates were far more likely to be employed full time than to be in postdoctorate positions (89% vs. 2%) while the reverse is true of those in neuroscience and biological psychology (19% vs. 72%). This variability highlights the different patterns of work and training across the subfields of psychology. In spite of the overall growth in postdoctorates across psychology, clear contrasts emerge 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 could be called a "necessary" step for the biologically based areas. Sixty-three percent of respondents in these subfields were engaged in postdoctoral study in 2003, compared to fewer than 21% in the remaining research fields. This represents a continued need for postdoctoral training, especially for graduates in the bio-based cluster, where the proportion in such training was at 41% in 1986 and had risen to 60% in 1993.

Across all subfields the level of unemployment remains low, with little difference between psychologists trained to deliver health services and those in research specialties. Very small numbers impede detailed interfield comparisons.

Perceptions of the Job Market
About a third of respondents rated the job market as "fair", while 48% rated it "good" or "excellent". This represents a healthy increase over responses from ten years before, when only 27% of respondents gave a "good" or "excellent" rating.

The relationship between perceptions and employment status varied somewhat by gender. Men employed full time responded positively (only 13% said bleak or poor, while 52% said good or excellent about the job market). On the other hand, men employed part time or in postdoctorates were substantially less likely to respond positively (38% of those working part time said bleak or poor as did 21% of men in postdoctorates). Women employed full time also responded positively about the job market with 55% providing a response of good or excellent. Unlike men, women employed part time and those in postdoctorate positions continued to provide positive evaluations of the job market (38% and 44%, respectively).

Employment Patterns

Full-time employment was characterized in the present survey as working a minimum of 35 hours a week, 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).

Of the 1,179 respondents for whom employment information was available, 68% (799) were employed full time in one job only (they did not have a second or third position), while 9% (102) worked part time in one job only. Twenty-three percent (273) of employed respondents were working more than one job in 2003.

Sixty percent of those working more than one position held a full-time position and a part-time position. Twenty-nine percent were employed full time but in more than one part-time position. Finally, 11% of those with more than one position were employed part time in two or more part-time jobs.

Employment Settings

Full-time Employment
Table 3 presents data on the employment settings of the respondents by type of employment pattern. Overall, the leading category of primary full-time setting was university settings at 18.5%, followed closely by business, government, and other settings at 18.2%. Almost 14%, each, could be found in hospitals, more often public than private, and in organized health care settings such as university counseling centers, rehabilitation facilities and outpatient clinics. Eight percent reported working in managed care settings, most of which were CMHC arrangements.

Overall, 42% of full-time positions were in the human service sector; 28% were in academia, 18% were located in business, government, and other settings, and just over 11% could be found 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 5%). This pattern is appropriate for new doctorates that have yet to accumulate the hours to sit for licensure.

Fully 41% of respondents who reported working in both a full-time position and secondary employment chose a higher education position (e.g., university, college, and community college) as their secondary position. Independent practice trailed at 25%. The single strongest category in the business, government and other grouping continues to be "independent consultant".

Doctorates employed full time as the result of two or more part-time positions were located most often in other human service settings (19%), independent practices and university settings at 17% each, and business, government and other settings (14%) as their primary employment positions. Most secondary settings for this group were in independent practice (23%), business, government and other (19%), and universities (15%).

Part-time Employment
Table 3 also provides information on those who were employed part time (those with one or more positions totaling less than 35 hours). Sixty percent indicated their primary setting was in the human service sector (about one third in independent practice). Thirty-seven percent of those with a secondary job were in independent practice.

Respondents working part time were asked why they chose to do so. The proportion of men working part time was over three times that of women (3% vs. 10%). As in previous surveys, reasons tended to vary by sex. Women were much more likely than were men to name family responsibilities (36% vs. 3%). Both sexes stated that they could not find an appropriate full-time job (29% of men and 20% of women). Forty-two percent of men and 22% 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 for 2003 doctorates. Business, government and other settings and universities claimed the largest proportions of new doctorates, at 18% each, edging out hospitals and other human service setttings at 14% each. School and other educational settings followed at 11%, while managed care trailed at 8%. Independent practice was reported by 5% of new doctorates, four-year colleges by 4% and medical schools by just under 4%.

The broad category of human service settings predominated as the primary employer of new doctorates in the practice fields at 54% of all full-time employed doctorates, with hospitals (18%) virtually tied with other human service settings (e.g., rehabilitation centers or nursing homes) at almost 19%, and business, government, and other settings trailed at 12%. The 2003 data follow a pattern of decreasing proportions of new doctorates in the health service provider subfields entering hospital settings (24% in 1993, decreasing to 18% by 2003). The single largest proportion of doctorate recipients in the field of school psychology (63%) was found in schools and other educational settings. Clinical doctorates were found distributed across all the human service settings.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents graduating in research subfields were employed in universities, while 4% found work in four-year colleges. A substantial proportion (33%) indicated that they had found work in business, government and other settings. Focusing on the research fields, almost 45% of those in business, government and other settings had received their degrees in the field of industrial/organizational psychology. Nineteen percent of graduates in industrial/organizational psychology were employed in university settings, with 70% in business, government and other settings. Fully half of all the graduates who found work in business, government and other settings were from the research fields.

At least half the doctorates in cognitive, comparative, developmental, neurosciences, personality, psychometrics, quantitative, and social psychology could be found in university or four-year college settings. This is true also of other research doctorates but the Ns are so small that the percentages are very high and misleading. 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.

Job Satisfaction

Table 5 reports responses of employed 2003 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 53% of the respondents, the doctoral degree was an essential tool in attaining their present position; another 28% deemed it helpful. Asked specifically about the doctorate in psychology, 54% rated it essential, while just under one third said it was helpful. 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 (46% vs. 64%). Interestingly, the situation was reversed when respondents rated the psychology doctorate specifically, 57% of health service providers judged the psychology degree essential, compared to 50% of those working in other positions. This pattern has been found consistently over ten years of this survey.

Commensurability of Employment
Overall, three quarters of employed respondents indicated that their primary position was their first choice. About 9% of the respondents in the human services would have preferred a different employer and another 14% mentioned a different type of position. A quarter of those in non-practice positions stated a preference for a change. Six percent mentioned a new employer while 19% went with a new type of position, most often a faculty position.

Three fourths indicated that their general graduate training was closely related to their current employment. Seventy-one percent stated that courses in the major subfield were closely related. Doctorate recipients working in human service positions were somewhat more likely than those in other positions to describe coursework in their major specialty area was closely related to their current employment (76% vs. 68%, respectively). Research and teaching assistantships were far less frequently deemed closely related to current employment by the health service providers (11 and 7%, respectively) than was the case for those in research and academic positions (42% and 38%). Not surprisingly, predoctoral internships with a clinical focus were deemed closely related by a majority of respondents in the human service positions (78%). Other practicum or internship experiences were also more highly valued by those in health service provider settings than was true of those in research or academic positions. Fully 60% of health service providers versus 41% of those in the research or academic areas found these experiences closely related.

When asked if the employment position was related to the field of study, 79% of those in human services strongly agreed compared to 65% of those in other positions. The pattern of response to the question on whether or not the job was commensurate with level of training was similar across human service positions and research and academic positions (about half in both position types strongly agreed that the position was commensurate with the level of training).

Satisfaction with Current Position
Most new doctorates appeared to be fairly satisfied with their current positions. With the exception of opportunities for promotion, salary, and opportunities for recognition, seventy percent or more of the respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with benefits, opportunities for personal development, supervisors, colleagues and working conditions. The highest levels of job satisfaction across the board were derived from co-workers (where applicable), and working conditions. 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, recognition and working conditions. In general, those in human service positions were noticeably more likely than those in non-practitioner positions to express dissatisfaction in these areas.

Obtaining Employment
Fully 27% of the new doctorates were in their present employment positions prior to completing graduate school, while an additional 44% obtained employment within three months of completing the doctoral program. Those in human service positions tended to find work more quickly than those in other positions (larger proportions of those in other positions took more than 6 months to find their current primary employment). Other positions include the academic, research and business settings.

Job search strategies most often used by new doctorates included informal channels, at close to 70%, Monitor ads (33%), electronic resources (29%), faculty advisors (27%), classified ads in a newspaper (26%), and Chronicle of Higher Education advertisements (16%). See Table 5. The most successful method, regardless of type of position, remains informal channels (31%), including colleagues, professors and friends. Electronic resources came in second at 11%. Interestingly, electronic resources were used by only 11% as recently as 1997 and were the sole best method for 2% in that year.

Postdoctoral Study

Just over 47% of the 2003 doctorate recipients indicated that they were pursuing or had completed postdoctorate study. Twenty-eight percent were current at the time the survey was conducted, while 19% had already completed their postdoctorates. Doctorate Employment Survey data have shown a steady increase in postdoctorates since 1985, at which time approximately one out of ten new doctorates pursued postdoctoral training. Almost 90% of the postdoctorates were full time. NSF data also reveal an increase over the past decade (Burrelli, 2003).

Demographic characteristics of postdoctorates can be found in Table 1. Eighty percent of those still primarily engaged in postdoctoral studies at the time of the survey were white. Eight percent were Asian and around 3% each were Hispanic, Black, and multi-racial. Women comprised 75% of the postdoctorate population compared with 73% of new doctorates. Seventy-six percent were less than 35 years of age and the mean age reflects this relative youth (33.1) in relation to the overall mean of 35.1.

Table 2 addresses the doctoral education of respondents currently in postdoctoral training. Eighty-one percent had earned a PhD compared to 19% with a PsyD. Sixty-four percent of the respondents had received their doctorates in the health service provider subfields, while 25% were in the traditional research fields. Clinical postdoctorates represented 79% of the postdoctorates in a practice subfield and less than one fourth of the clinical degrees. Similar proportions of new doctorates in service delivery subfields and research subfields were in postdoctorate positions (22% and 25% respectively).

Fewer respondents reported current and completed postdoctorate experiences emphasizing research training than service delivery. Fully 55% focused on clinical service, close to 29% on research, and 15% on a combination of the two. More research postdoctorates (94%) were full time compared to 86% of those with a health 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.

Length of Postdoctoral Appointments
Three quarters of full-time postdoctoral training in service delivery was between one and two years in duration, with fully 65% at one year. Research postdoctorates tended to be longer in duration with only 20% of research postdoctorates reporting fellowships between one and two years. Half of research postdoctorates were two years long compared to 12% of those with a service delivery focus. Close to 21% of postdoctorates with a research focus were longer than two years compared to less than 1% of those with a service focus. The average duration of a research postdoctorate was reported as 24 months compared to 15 months for those with a service delivery focus and 21 months for those with a combined research/practice focus.

Reasons for Postdoctoral Study
Table 6 reports the reasons 2003 doctorate recipients cited for taking a full-time postdoctoral fellowship. The top reason among respondents whose fellowships emphasized research was to complement their research knowledge and skills in the same field as their doctorate (27%), followed closely by those who primarily sought to become more employable (26%). Another 19% were interested primarily in obtaining research knowledge or training in another subfield.

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 (67%). Obtaining specialized clinical training was a distant second (20%). Respondents engaged in postdoctoral study with a dual research/practice focus also sought to obtain supervised postdoctoral hours in preparation for the licensing exam (37%) and to obtain specialized clinical training (19%).

As Table 6 suggests, improving employability (26% vs. 4%) remains 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 increased employability (80%), complementing research knowledge and skills in the same subfield of the doctorate (76%), the opportunity to work with a particular scientist and research group (70%), and obtaining research knowledge in another field (50%). In contrast, the postdoctorates with a service delivery focus were more apt to seek out supervised postdoctoral hours to prepare for the licensing exam (93%), to obtain specialized clinical training (73%), and to become more employable (65%). Those with a combined research/practice focus most often chose obtaining supervised postdoctoral hours to take the licensing exam (92%), complementing research knowledge and skills in the same field as the doctorate (73%), increasing employability (70%), and obtaining specialized clinical training (69%).

Source and Level of Support for Postdoctoral Training
Just over 73% of postdoctoral fellows received stipends in 2003. Research fellowships were rarely unpaid; only 6% of respondents who were gaining additional research training received no stipend. Looked at another way, 94% of the research postdoctorates were paid compared to 62% of those training for service delivery. Overall, those in unpaid positions were more apt to be part-time postdoctorates than those in paid positions (29% vs. 8%). Still, over half of respondents (71%) 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 at some distance by federal research grants and by university and college sources. The stipends of health service postdoctorates were funded most often by miscellaneous sources such as hospital or clinic funds, followed by client fees and university or college sources. Those with a combined research/practice focus most often reported receiving funding from federal research grants and university and college sources. Overall, stipends were supported, in descending order, by other sources including hospital/clinic funds, university/college sources, federal fellowships, federal research grants, client fees, nonfederal fellowships, and Canadian fellowships.

Analyses of levels of support for full-time positions revealed differences in levels of support by primary emphasis of fellowship. Those with research postdoctorates reported a monthly median stipend of $2,900. Monthly stipends for postdoctorates with a service emphasis were quite a bit lower at a median of $2,000 per month. The most generous full-time awards overall in 2003 were federal fellowships or training grants at a median of $3,000, followed closely by federal research grants, which provided a median funding level of $2,680. The lowest full-time stipends were reported for nonfederal nationally awarded fellowships at a median of $2,000 per month. The longest-term appointments yielded the highest level of funding. Medians for fellowships lasting more than two years were $3,000 per month. The shortest appointments, those lasting less than one year in duration, paid a median stipend of $2,000.

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 predoctoral training of 2003 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 NSF data. They indicate that federal sources have slipped as a primary source of support for psychology graduate students and that 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 of support accounted for 23%. In 1993 this had fallen to 4%. By 2003, still only 4% of new doctorates reported using grants (primarily federal) as a primary source of support. University resources comprised 32% of the primary support in 2003, with loans at 28%. Own earnings and family support were cited as a primary source by 25% of recent doctorates. Almost 8% did not specify their primary source of support. The data indicate a continuing reliance on sources that represent the potential for increasing student debt loads and financial hardship.

National Science Foundation data confirm that sources of support have shifted slightly away from federal funds to personal or family sources in the past two decades. In 1979, NSF data indicated that some 17% of full-time psychology graduate students in doctorate-granting institutions relied primarily on federal sources of support. By 2001, this had fallen to just under 11%. At the same time, the percentages relying primarily on university sources of support (e.g., research or teaching assistantships) have increased from 36% in 1979 to 41% in 2001. Those relying on self-support had inched up from 41% in 1979 to 44% in 2001 (NSF, 1984; NSF, 2003). Several science fields stand out by virtue of the large proportion of students dependent upon "self or own sources of support" in comparison with the proportion using research or teaching assistantships; psychology is among these fields.

The new doctorates' responses to a question about all sources of support underscored the heavy reliance on personal sources of support for graduate training. Full 86% of the respondents used own or family resources. Some 70% received support from university-based resources. Student loans were a source of support for 60% of the respondents. Finally, 15% had received federal grant support at some point during their graduate training.

Sources of support were analyzed by various demographic and educational factors for the 2001 graduates. First, minority graduates were slightly less likely to have used personal resources during their training (77% vs. 88%). Indeed, 28% of the white doctorate recipients who specified a primary source of support chose personal resources, while 20% of minorities did so.

The analyses of sources of support by degree type continue to underscore the differential debt levels being assumed by graduates seeking PhDs vs. PsyDs. The largest single proportion of PhD students indicated that they relied primarily upon university sources of support (44%), with 19% using loans and 21% using own resources. PsyD graduates presented a different picture with only 1% reporting university sources as their primary source of support, 55% relying on loans and 34% using own or family support. Admittedly, some of these differences are the result of the different educational settings in which the two degrees are offered but this does not lessen the consequences for the graduates of the various programs.

The data also revealed variation across broad subfield, with graduates in research and other fields relying most heavily upon university assistantships (52%), with own or family resources a far second at 19%. Loans were employed primarily by 10% and grants by 5%. The picture is different for the graduates in the health service provider subfields where we find that only 21% used assistantships primarily, turning instead to loans (37%) and own or family earnings (28%).

Debt Levels of New Doctorates by Subfield

Tables 8 thru 10 address the issue of indebtedness upon completion of graduate study in psychology. As can be seen in Table 8, 68% of the 2003 doctorates reported some level of debt upon receipt of the doctoral degree. There were noticeable subfield differences; with 74% of new doctorates in the practice subfields reporting any debt compared to 54% of those in the research subfields. Graduates in clinical neuropsychology and counseling psychology reported the highest proportion with debt (80% and 78% respectively). Although other subfields in the practice areas did report debt, in some cases the small Ns in these subfields render interpretation difficult. However, as Table 10 shows, many new doctorates in the practice subfields have assumed debt and at very high levels. Ten percent of new doctorates in the research subfields owed $5,000 or less related to their graduate education; the comparable percent for the practice graduates was just 4%. At the high end of the scale, close to two thirds of the new doctorates in the practice subfields owed more than $30,000. Forty-four percent of these had debt in excess of $75,000. In contrast, 40% of new doctorates in the research subfields owed more than $30,000 and only 12% owed more than $75,000. The median level of debt for those in the practice subfields was $67,500 compared to $22,000 for those in the research subfields.

Debt levels analyzed by field and type of degree revealed some interesting differences. Fully 78% of 2003 PsyD recipients reported some debt (This was 79% for Clinical PsyDs.), while 64% of those with PhDs did so (69% of Clinical PhDs reported debt.).

A graduate with a PsyD in Clinical psychology reported a median debt level of $90,000 in 2003, up from $80,000 just 2 years ago, $70,000 in 1999, and $53,000 in 1997. The Clinical PhD reported a median level of debt of $50,000, up from $36,000 in 2001. Graduates with PhDs in the research subfields had markedly lower median levels of debt by comparison ($21,500 across all research subfields). Fully 60% of PsyD graduates owed more than $75,000 compared to only 24% of PhDs. These debts have real implications for productivity and lifetime earnings among substantial segments of the doctoral population in psychology. Although debt levels may be lower for those in the research fields and for those earning PhDs, it is important to add that debt levels increased in 2003 for practice and research graduates alike. It is important to disseminate this information to students who may be considering a career in psychology, so that their decisions can be fully informed.

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 and for direct human service positions in school settings. These can be converted to 11-12-month salaries by multiplying by 11/9.

The overall median starting salary in 2003 was $52,556 with an average of $54,814 and a standard deviation of $16,889. Women reported a median salary that was $3,000 lower than that reported by men ($52,000 vs. $55,000, respectively). Women’s mean salary was also lower by more than $3,000 and the standard deviation reported by women was less. Median salaries reported by minorities were identical to those reported by nonminorities ($52,778). The mean salaries were $54,792 and $54,983, respectively.

Most graduates reported median starting salaries between $46,000 and $58,000. I/O graduates were the exception with an overall median at $70,000. The higher salary is driven by the fact that most I/O graduates are employed in business and industry, consulting firms, and government settings. In fact, median salaries for doctorates in research subfields overall were also higher than those in practice subfields ($58,000 vs. $51,000 respectively).

The highest median 11-12-month salaries were reported by doctorates in applied psychology settings ($71,000), particularly those working in consulting firms ($75,000). The highest median 9-10-month salaries were reported by clinical psychology doctorates ($50,000) delivering services in elementary or secondary schools, and assistant professors in university Education departments. In general, applied and administrative positions were characterized by higher salaries in contrast with other positions. 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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Burrelli, J. (2003). Graduate students and postdoctorates in science and engineering: Fall 2001. (NSF 03-320). Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.

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Table 1 Demographic Characteristics of 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology, by Employment Status (PDF,58KB)
Table 2 Educational Characteristics of 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology, by Employment Status (PDF, 57KB)
Table 3 Primary and Secondary Employment Settings for 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology, by Employment Pattern (PDF, 129KB)
Table 4 Degree Subfield by Primary Full-time Employment Setting: 2003 Psychology Doctorate Recipients (PDF, 81KB)
Table 5 Tables 5a through 5d Job Search and Satisfaction Reported by 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology, by Type of Employment Position (PDF, 202KB)
Table 5a Importance of Degree for Attaining Present Position Reported by Employed 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 21KB)
Table 5b Extent Graduate Training Related to Current Primary Position Reported by Employed 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 36KB)
Table 5c Level of Satisfaction with Current Position Reported by Employed 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 37KB)
Table 5d Appropriateness of Current Primary Position Reported by Employed 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 28KB)
Table 6 Reasons for Postdoctoral Study for 2003 Doctorate Recipients with Full-time Postdoctoral Appointments by Major Emphasis of Study (PDF, 30KB)
Table 7 Sources of Financial Support for Doctoral Training Reported by 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 18KB)
Table 8 Debt Related to Graduate Education on Receipt of the Doctoral Degree: 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 32KB)
Table 9 Level of Debt Related to Graduate Education Owed on Receipt of Doctorate: 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology Who Reported Any Debt (PDF, 30KB)
Table 10 Level of Debt Related to Graduate Education Owed on Receipt of Doctorate: 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology Who Reported Any Debt (PDF, 54KB)
Table 11 Starting Salaries for Full-time Employment Positions: 2003 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 50KB)

The Doctorate Employment Survey is a product of APA's Research Office, a unit within Central Programs. The authors are grateful for the continued support of Dr. Michael Honaker, Executive Director for Central Programs and Chief Operating Officer of the Association, and Dr. Norman Anderson, Chief Executive Officer of the APA. We also thank William Pate for his work on the development of the instrument and database.

We 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 are used by staff across all Directorates at the APA in planning for the future, as well as by staff at various federal agencies evaluating their own data gathering efforts and the employment of new doctorates.