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NORC at the University of Chicago to Conduct a Groundlaying Study on Career Pathways of STEM PhDs

Press Release

CHICAGO, September 11, 2018 — NORC at the University of Chicago is conducting a new study to better understand how doctorate-granting universities and their doctoral programs collect and use data on the career pathways that STEM PhDs take. Ultimately, this information will help students to select graduate programs and faculty to continually improve them. The study, led by Tom Hoffer, senior fellow, NORC at the University of Chicago, is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The grant supports four main activities:

  • Web-based national survey of graduate deans in fall 2018
  • Series of focus groups of graduate deans in December 2018
  • One-and-a-half-day conference in May or June 2019
  • Multipronged dissemination of project results

“Empirical evidence overwhelmingly suggests that a large majority of STEM PhD holders pursue careers outside academia,” said Debra Stewart, senior fellow, Higher Education Analytics Center at NORC, and president emerita, Council of Graduate Schools. “Only by understanding—institution by institution—the nature of these actual career pathways will we have the necessary information to guarantee program improvements and produce a globally competitive STEM workforce.”

Information gleaned from the national survey (the first-ever systematic effort to collect these data) and focus groups will guide the framework for the spring conference, which will bring together 40 graduate school deans, university leaders, and research experts to develop standards for collecting and reporting data on doctoral career pathways. NORC will distribute its findings widely, through publications, electronic dissemination of a final working paper, in-person briefings of government and academic leaders, and conference presentations.

Through these activities, NORC hopes to find answers to the following questions, among others: What currently are the practices across universities regarding collecting and utilizing data on career pathways of research doctoral graduates? What are the primary obstacles to collecting these data? What kinds of data would be most useful? What’s the best way to collect them? At which point should data collection begin—at the start of graduate school or at graduation? At what intervals should data be collected?

Findings from the study will lay the groundwork for establishing aspirational standards for career information that can be made available directly to STEM graduate students and encourage universities to adapt curricula and guidance that will better serve their students.

“Empirical evidence overwhelmingly suggests that a large majority of STEM PhD holders pursue careers outside academia.”

Debra Stewart

Senior Fellow

“Empirical evidence overwhelmingly suggests that a large majority of STEM PhD holders pursue careers outside academia.”

About NORC at the University of Chicago

NORC at the University of Chicago conducts research and analysis that decision-makers trust. As a nonpartisan research organization and a pioneer in measuring and understanding the world, we have studied almost every aspect of the human experience and every major news event for more than eight decades. Today, we partner with government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world to provide the objectivity and expertise necessary to inform the critical decisions facing society.

Contact: For more information, please contact Eric Young at NORC at or (703) 217-6814 (cell).