Update 6/27/12: The full report is now posted on the ACD website.
As I blogged last week, and most of you have heard by now, a working group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) that I co-chaired with Shirley Tilghman from Princeton just completed a study of the biomedical research workforce. We reported our findings to the ACD last Thursday (you can find a link to the videocast here).
We gathered a lot of data during this study, which are included in the report (see the ACD site for the executive summary and instructions for obtaining a copy of the full report). The data also are posted on an accompanying website. I plan to highlight some of the specific data in future posts, but first, I’d like to discuss the outcome—the conceptual framework that presents a snapshot of the biomedical research workforce, incorporating the latest available data. The framework of the PhD workforce is presented below, and a companion framework for MDs and MD/PhDs in the biomedical research workforce can be seen in the report and on the website.
First, 9,000 biomedical PhDs graduated in the US in 2009 (including basic biomedical and clinical sciences), and 70% of these went on to do postdoctoral research. As we conducted our analysis, it became clear that there are few reliable data on the number of biomedical postdoctoral researchers in the US. We lack solid information on foreign-trained postdoctoral researchers, and many postdoctoral researchers change their title as they proceed through their training, complicating the data collection. That’s why the estimate of postdoctoral researchers ranges from 37,000 to 68,000.
Looking at the career paths taken by these US-trained biomedical PhDs, we can see that fewer than half end up in academia, either in research or in teaching, and only 23% of the total are in tenured or tenure-track positions. Many other people are conducting research, however, with 18% in industry and 6% in government.
The science related non-research box includes individuals working in industry, government, or other settings who do not conduct research but are part of the scientific enterprise. Many of the career paths represented by this box contribute to the scientific research enterprise and require graduate training in biomedical science. For example, program and review officers at NIH and managers in many biotechnology companies would be included in this group. This is my box too. It’s interesting to note the 18% included in this group is made up of PhDs employed in industry (13% of the total workforce), in government (2.5%), and in other settings (2.5%). This means that all individuals working in industry (research plus non-research occupations) represent about 30% of the workforce, and all those working in government represent about 9% (more than 10,000 individuals).
That leaves 13% in non-science related occupations and 2% unemployed (this does not include retirees or those who choose not to work). These are 2008 data, the latest available from the NSF Survey of Doctoral Recipients.
If you’re a graduate student or postdoc looking at these numbers, particularly the proportion of people in industry and government settings, it makes sense to learn as much about these career paths as possible. I’m very proud that we were able to develop this framework, as it seems that for the first time we have an idea of where domestically trained biomedical researchers are going. I was quite surprised by the idea that the majority of our trainees do not end up in academia. Did this surprise you?
Notes on the figure
The main sources of the original data, from which the graphs in the report were made and these numbers were derived, come from three NSF surveys: the Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates, the Survey of Earned Doctorates, and the Survey of Doctorate Recipients. You can see the specific sources of each number by clicking on the relevant box on the website.
The color of the numbers reflects our confidence in the accuracy of the data: high (green), medium (yellow), or low (red). For more details see colors. In this case, the red numbers in the post-training workforce box are accurate, but the color reflects the fact that we know almost nothing about the distribution of foreign-trained PhDs in the workforce, so the overall picture is an under-estimate.
The post-training workforce boxes are color coded, with light blue denoting those in research positions and academic teaching positions. The science related non-research box is colored dark blue to indicate that many of the careers represented in this box are closely related to the conduct of biomedical research.