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Survey finds strong career satisfaction and high employment rates among UC Ph.D. earners

University of California Ph.D. holders gave high marks to their education and reported success landing academic positions as well as highly-skilled private-sector jobs, according to the first UC-wide survey of doctoral alumni, released today (Oct. 13). 

The University of California Office of the President, in collaboration with campus graduate divisions and alumni offices, surveyed UC Ph.D. recipients who completed their studies within the last 40 years to ask about their career success and satisfaction.

The survey included responses by 7,200 out of approximately 26,000 alumni surveyed. It looked at employment outcomes, alumni perceptions about the value of their graduate education, involvement in campus activities and student loan debt, and how that compared among students who earned their Ph.Ds. from 1969 to 2013.

Highlights of the survey findings are:

  • Unemployment among UC Ph.D. alumni is very low, at roughly 1 percent.
  • The vast majority of UC alumni reported having stable careers in fields that benefited from their degrees. They are also satisfied with their chosen degree, field and campus.
  • 64 percent of respondents had spent their careers in academia in a field closely related to their UC degree, with 42 percent in tenure track positions.
  • More than half of engineering and computer science graduates have gone into the private, for-profit sector. Significant numbers of physical sciences and life sciences graduates also have chosen careers in private industry.
  • UC alumni working in private industry are concentrated in highly skilled fields. More than half are in the professional, scientific or career services sector, which includes the legal, financial, architectural and engineering fields. Another 11 percent are in manufacturing, and 9 percent are in health care.

“These survey results support what we hear anecdotally from our alumni: UC Ph.D. recipients find their graduate education to be worthwhile and relevant, and they go on to achieve career success and make contributions in critically important areas of the economy,” said UC Provost Aimée Dorr. 

The greatest proportion of doctoral alumni, particularly in arts and humanities, have spent their careers in higher education, most as tenure track faculty.

“Even as careers in academia have become more competitive, it’s satisfying to see that our doctoral students do well in the academic job market,” Dorr said. “They become the faculty who will shape the next generation of innovators and critical thinkers. It’s also clear that many who earn a Ph.D. from UC are bringing the knowledge and abilities they honed in graduate school to other sectors.”

Regardless of their discipline and whether they work in an academic setting, respondents said that the skills they had gained at UC — most notably writing, research and presentation skills — had advanced their job prospects. Three quarters of respondents said the reputation of their campus and major had helped them to land a career job.

The survey also found that student debt had become more of an issue among more recent graduates. However, more than half of alumni, even among the most recent graduates, had no education-related debt, either from graduate or undergraduate study, when they completed their Ph.D. degrees.

“People interested in pursuing a Ph.D. rightly want to know: Is it worth it?” said Pamela Jennings, director of Graduate Studies at the UC Office of the President. “We put that question directly to those who had been through our programs over the last four decades. We’re pleased to learn that the vast majority of our doctoral alumni are not only highly satisfied with their graduate school experience, but they would do it again if they had the chance.”