Social Sciences PhDs – Five Years Out

The Social Science PhDs—Five+ Years Out survey is CIRGE’s latest contribution to the PhD career path and retrospective program evaluation research. Funded by the Ford Foundation, Social Science PhDs—Five+ Years Out, surveyed PhD recipients who received their degrees between 1995 and 1999 from 65 U.S. universities in six disciplines—anthropology, communications, geography, history, political science, and sociology.


The survey was designed to assess current employment status, types of job sectors and job satisfaction, to better understand career trajectories among recent PhD awardees, and to evaluate graduate programs.  Because it often takes doctorates up to  4 years to find stable employment situations, surveys taken immediately after completing the doctorate are not helpful in understanding the career paths of doctorates. A survey five years after the PhD completion is also the optimal time to reflect on the PhD program in which one has studied, because the program experience is still relatively fresh in the respondents’ mind. Therefore, CIRGE’s Social Science PhDs–Five+ Years Out survey focused on the job search, employment and retrospective evaluation of the PhD program, and the usefulness of the PhD for careers five + years after degree completion.

Main Findings

 The data collected provides tools for program evaluation, benchmarks for comparison, and objective information on PhD career outcomes. Key findings are:

  1. Among surveyed social science PhDs, 6 to 10 years post-PhD, 63% were tenure-track or tenured professors, 19% held other kinds of jobs at colleges and universities, and 18% worked in business, government, and non-profit sectors.
  2. Men and women were equally likely to begin careers in tenure-track faculty positions; however, women experienced more work-family conflict, were more likely to be single and to forgo desired children, and lagged behind men in achieving tenure.
  3. Respondents gave high quality ratings to their PhD programs for training in analytical competencies central in doctoral education, but often felt their PhD program had neglected career preparation, socialization into the academic community, and writing and publishing.
  4. Fewer than half of respondents reported the availability of formal training in teaching in their PhD program.
  5. Reflecting the usefulness of doctoral study in the social sciences, respondents in all disciplines and job categories rated as “very important” in their current jobs: critical thinking, data analysis and synthesis, and writing and publishing.
  6. Respondents often viewed their programs as failing to train them well in research design and writing and publishing.
  7. Competencies not traditionally central in PhD programs were very important in many respondents’ jobs—including team work, communication skills, working in interdisciplinary contexts, and managing people and

Investigators: Maresi Nerad, Elizabeth Rudd, Emory Morrison and Joseph Picciano

Download: Highlight Report

See note in Inside Higher Education


  • Morrison, E., Rudd,  E., & Nerad, M. (2011). Early Career of Recent U.S. Social Science PhDs., Learning and Teaching, The International Journal of  Higher Education in the Social Science, Vol. 4, issue 2, pp. 6-29. Download: Early Career…
  • Morrison, E, Rudd, E. Picciano, J, Nerad M. (2011). Are You Satisfied? PhD Education and Faculty Taste for Prestige-Limits of the Prestige Value System.   Research in Higher Education 52 (1) pp. 24-46.  Download: Are You Satisfied?
  • Morrison, E., Rudd, E., Zumeta, W., & Nerad, M. (2011). What Matters for Excellence in PhD Programs? Latent Constructs of Doctoral Program Quality Used By Early Career Social Scientists, Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 82, no 5, pp 535-563. Download: What Matters for Excellence in PhD Programs?
  • Rudd, E., Nerad, M., Morrison, E., & Picciano, J. (2008). CIRGE Spotlight #2 on Doctoral Education: “Professional Development for PhD student: Do they Really Need it? Findings from Social Science PhDs—Five+ Years Out”. CIRGE: Seattle, WA.  Download: Do they Really Need it?
  • Picciano, J., Rudd, E., Morrison, E., & Nerad, M. (2008). CIRGE Spotlight #3 on Doctoral Education: Does Time-to Degree Matter? Findings from Social Science PhDs—Five+ Years Out. CIRGE: Seattle, WA.   Download:  Does Time to Degree Matter?