Study: Labour market outcomes of Canadian doctoral graduates

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In 2005, about 4,200 candidates earned a doctorate degree in Canada, roughly one-tenth of the 43,400 doctorates awarded in the United States.

By 2007, 12% of doctoral recipients who had graduated from a Canadian university in 2005 were living in the United States. The majority of those graduates were planning to return to Canada.

There were two fields of study (life sciences and computer, mathematics and physical sciences) that accounted for the highest proportions of doctoral graduates who left Canada for the United States. The vast majority of doctoral graduates in both fields had a job waiting for them in the United States.

The factor most commonly cited for attracting doctoral graduates to the United States was the quality of the research facilities or the commitment to research in that country.

In 2007, two years after they graduated, the median income of all doctoral graduates amounted to $65,000. This study showed an important earnings gap of $18,000 between those who planned to take a postdoctoral position after graduation and those who intended to enter directly into the labour market. Graduates who planned to take a postdoctoral position had a median income of $54,000, while those who planned to directly enter the labour market had a median income of $72,000.

The difference was largest in the life sciences, where graduates who intended to take a postdoctoral position earned a median income of $45,000, compared with the $72,000 of graduates with no postdoctoral intentions.

Employment outcomes of doctoral graduates varied across fields of study. Humanities graduates, for example, showed higher rates of both unemployment and part-time employment compared with graduates in other fields. However, those who were employed had a median income that was comparable to graduates from other fields of study.

About 56% of graduates found employment in educational services, mostly in universities. Employment in educational services was highest among humanities graduates (77%).

Employment in educational services was lowest among engineering graduates (34%), who instead showed more diverse employment patterns, with 31% reporting working in professional, scientific and technical services and 13%, in manufacturing.

This study used two definitions to identify overqualified individuals — one, a self-reported indicator and the other, an indicator which compared the respondent's level of education to the level needed to obtain the job. The analysis shows that the skill set of some graduates was not being fully utilized in the job they held two years after graduation — about 19% of graduates stated that they were over-qualified, while 30% reported that a doctoral degree was not required to obtain the job they were in.

There were notable differences across fields of study. Engineering graduates were most likely to indicate that they were over-qualified for their position (28%). Graduates from education and other fields were most likely to report that that they did not require a doctoral degree to get their job (43%).

Over-qualification had an impact on earnings as well. Employed graduates who reported being over-qualified for their job had a median income that was $5,000 lower than other graduates. There were significant differences between over-qualified and non-overqualified graduates in psychology and social sciences ($5,000), the humanities ($17,000), and education and other fields of study ($14,000).

Note: This report was based on linked data from two data sources that survey similar populations, but at two different points in time. The Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) has provided annual data on doctoral graduates at graduation since the 2003/2004 academic year. The National Graduates Survey (NGS) interviews a representative sample of graduates from Canadian postsecondary institutions two years after their graduation. It has been administered at four- or five-year intervals since 1982. Thus, doctoral graduates in 2005 were interviewed at the time of graduation by SED and again in 2007 by the NGS. Because of the relatively small number of doctoral graduates, both surveys are considered a census of doctoral graduates.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey numbers, including related surveys, 3126 and 5012.

The report, "Expectations and Labour Market Outcomes of Doctoral Graduates from Canadian Universities" is now available as part of the Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics: Research Papers (81-595-M2011089, free) series. From the Key resource module of our website, choose Publications.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (toll-free 1-800-307-3382; 613-951-7608; fax: 613-951-4441;, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics.