Chapter 3
Profile of 2005 doctoral degree graduates two years after graduation

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Of the 3,500 doctoral graduates from the Class of 2005 who lived in Canada or in the United States two years after graduation, slightly more than four out of ten (41% or about 1,440 individuals) were granted their degree by an Ontario university. Between 1995 and 2005, Ontario institutions saw their number of doctoral graduates increase by 15.7%, compared to an increase of 10.7% in all other provinces combined.

One-quarter of Ontario 2005 doctoral recipients graduated in life sciences and a fifth graduated in psychology and social sciences. The proportions of graduates in the other four fields were similar at 13% or 14% within each (Appendix table A.1.1).

The proportions of graduates in Ontario were comparable to the proportions of graduates in the other provinces in three fields of study, namely: engineering (14% and 13% respectively), computer, mathematics and physical sciences (14% and 12%), and education and other fields of study (13% and 15%). Outside Ontario, however, the life sciences accounted for almost one-third (32%) of doctoral graduates (versus 25% for Ontario), while one out of ten doctoral recipients graduated in the humanities compared to 14% in Ontario.

Women were still clustered in traditionally female fields of study

Data from the Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS), which includes data from 1992 to 2009, show that the share of university graduates accounted for by women in Canada has consistently surpassed that of men, increasing from 56% in 1992 to 60% in 2009. 

On the other hand, when it comes to doctoral studies, men make up the majority of graduates. In 1992, women accounted for less than one-third of doctoral graduates (32%) with that proportion rising to 41% eight years later, in 2000.  Between 2004 and 2009, the share of women doctoral graduates fluctuated between 43% and 45%.1

Data from the NGS show that, among the Class of 2005, women represented 45% of doctoral graduates from Ontario universities and 46% of graduates from universities in the rest of Canada. This was comparable to the share of women in the Class of 2000 (43% for both groups of graduates), but an increase of 10 percentage points from the Class of 1995, which stood at 35% for both Ontario graduates and those in the rest of Canada (Appendix table A.1.2, Chart 1).

The difference between the proportions of female and male graduates in Ontario was highest in engineering, where for every female (20%) there were four male graduates (80%), as well as in computer, mathematics and physical sciences, where the proportion of men, at 73%, was almost three times that of women (27%). Although the gender gap in these fields of study was somewhat more pronounced in the other provinces, with women accounting for 16% and 26% of the graduates, these proportions were not significantly different than the proportions in Ontario.

On the other hand, women made up the majority of Ontario graduates in three fields of study: psychology and social sciences (59%); education and other fields of study (56%) and life sciences (53%). The proportions of women in these fields of study were comparable outside the province, except in psychology and social sciences where almost seven out of ten graduates were female (69%), a difference of 10 percentage points between Ontario and the other provinces.

Chart 1 Proportion of women doctoral graduates by field of study, Class of 2005, Ontario and Canada without Ontario

More Ontario women were granted a doctoral degree in life sciences in 2005 than in previous cohorts

The distributions of women across the different fields of study were similar in Ontario and outside the province. Women were mostly clustered in life sciences (29% in Ontario and 33% in the other provinces) and psychology and social sciences (26% and 27%, respectively). Education and professional fields of study came third at 16% in Ontario and 18% in the other provinces, followed by the humanities at 14% and 11% (Appendix table A.1.1).

On the other hand, there were significant differences between Ontario and the other provinces in the distribution of male graduates by field of study. While life sciences posted the highest proportions of men in both Ontario and outside the province, the proportion in Ontario was 9 percentage points lower than that in all the other provinces combined (22% compared to 31%). Conversely, Ontario posted significantly higher proportions of male graduates in psychology and social sciences (15%) and the humanities (14%) than was the case outside the province (11% and 9%, respectively).

The distribution across fields of study of Ontario male graduates from the Class of 2005 was similar to that of the Classes of 2000 and 1995. However, proportionally more Ontario women were granted a doctoral degree in life sciences in 2005 (29%) than in 2000 (22%) and 1995 (21%) and fewer had chosen a career in the humanities (14%) compared to 19% in the earlier cohorts (Appendix table A.1.1).

The youngest graduates were found in computer, mathematics and physical sciences, as well as in life sciences

The median age of doctoral graduates at graduation was similar whether or not they graduated from an Ontario university, at 32 and 33 years, respectively. In both groups of graduates, those from education and other fields of study reported the highest median age, at 41 and 42 years, respectively (Appendix table A.1.3, Chart 2).
 
Conversely, the lowest median ages at graduation were found in computer, mathematics and physical sciences (30 years in both Ontario and the other provinces) and in life sciences (31 years, both groups).

Chart 2 Median age at graduation of doctoral graduates by field of study, Class of 2005, Ontario and Canada without Ontario

The relatively high age of graduates from education and other professional fields of study can be explained by the fact that they were, on average, 9 years older than their counterparts in other major fields of study at the start of their programs, at 36 years old compared to a median age across all programs of 27 years. This is likely due to the fact that most of them were out of school during the 12 months before enrolling in their programs — six out of ten students in education and other fields of study were working prior to commencing their doctoral studies, compared to just over one-third of all graduates in Ontario (35%) and 40% of graduates in other provinces (Appendix table A.5).

In contrast, about one-fifth of 2005 Ontario graduates in computer, mathematics and physical sciences (22%) and just over one-third of graduates in life sciences (35%) were working during the 12 months before the start of their doctoral programs.

Furthermore, graduates in education and other professional fields of study were also less likely to have taken their entire program on a full-time basis (53% for Ontario and 57% for the other provinces respectively) compared to all graduates combined (82% in Ontario and 78% in other provinces). Indeed, the majority of graduates in education and other fields of study (70% in Ontario and 62% outside the province) indicated that the reason they did not take the entirety of their program full-time was because they had a full-time job.

The median age of doctoral graduates from the other two cohorts was similar to that of the Class of 2005 in all fields of study except in the case of graduates in psychology and social sciences, who were younger by two and four years, for Ontario and the other provinces, respectively, compared to their counterparts from previous cohorts (Appendix table A.1.3).

Compared to other provinces, Ontario had more doctoral graduates whose mother tongue was a non-official language

Since Canadian universities deliver their programs in either English or French, and since the pursuit of a doctoral program requires very high level literacy skills, it is worth exploring the literacy profiles of doctoral graduates by examining the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood by the graduates; that is, their mother tongue.

Slightly more than two-thirds of Ontario doctoral graduates (67%) reported English or French as their mother tongue whereas 34% had a mother tongue other than English or French (Appendix table A.2).

Outside the province, the proportion of graduates whose mother tongue was one of the two official languages was slightly higher, at 72%. This was mostly due to Quebec, where almost two-thirds (60%) of doctoral recipients had French as a mother tongue. In addition, the proportion of allophones2 in other provinces was significantly lower than in Ontario, at 28%.

The proportion of allophones earning a doctorate in Canada has grown continuously over the past 20 years. Both in Ontario and outside the province, their proportions doubled between the Classes of 1995 and 2005, rising from 16% to 34% in Ontario and from 14% to 28% in other provinces.

Three out of ten Ontario graduates whose mother tongue was a non-official language were Chinese speakers

After English and French, Chinese languages3 were the third largest group. The proportion of Ontario 2005 graduates who reported a Chinese language as their mother tongue, at 10%, was significantly higher than was the case in all the other provinces combined, at 7%. It is interesting to note that these proportions are identical to the percentages of Chinese speakers who hold a doctorate degree in the general population (10% in Ontario and 7% in the rest of Canada).4

Furthermore, Chinese speakers accounted for almost three out of ten Ontario doctoral graduates whose mother tongue was a non-official language (29%), while the proportion in other provinces was 25%. In addition, the vast majority of allophones from Ontario universities lived in Canada two years after graduation rather than in the United States, whether their mother tongue was Chinese (84%) or another non-official language (86%).

The proportion of graduates with a non-official language mother tongue varied greatly across fields of study. More than two-thirds of engineering graduates (68%), and four out of ten graduates in computer, mathematics and physical sciences (40%) from Ontario universities had a non-official language as their mother tongue. The first two fields of study also posted the highest proportions of allophones in the other provinces combined (61% and 35% respectively). However, allophones accounted for a quarter of life sciences graduates in these provinces, 7 percentage points less than in Ontario.

Fields such as the humanities (18% in Ontario and 17% in other provinces) and education and other fields of study (25% and 19%, respectively) posted relatively low proportions of graduates who reported a non-official language as their mother tongue. However, Ontario posted a higher proportion of allophones in psychology and social sciences (25%) than was the case in the other provinces (16%), a difference of 9 percentage points.

The proportions of graduates who were members of a visible-minority group were higher in engineering than in any other field of study

Overall, more than one-quarter of doctoral graduates were members of a visible-minority group (29% in Ontario and 26% in the other provinces). The proportion was highest in engineering (67% in Ontario and 58% in other provinces), followed by computer, mathematics and physical sciences (33% and 32% respectively) and life sciences (29% and 25%, respectively). The humanities posted the lowest proportions of visible minorities, at 10% in Ontario and 11% in the other provinces (Chart 3).

Psychology and social sciences in Ontario posted a significantly higher proportion of graduates who reported being a member of a visible-minority group (20%) than was the case outside the province (13%). Apart from this field of study, there were no significant differences between Ontario and the other provinces in the proportion of graduates who were members of a visible-minority group.

Chart 3 Proportion of doctoral graduates who were members of a visible-minority group, by field of study, Class of 2005, Ontario and Canada without Ontario

The overall proportion of doctoral graduates from the Class of 1995 who identified themselves as members of a visible-minority group was comparable to that of the Class of 2005. Moreover, all fields of study, except computer, mathematics and physical sciences in Ontario, had proportions of members of a visible-minority group similar to the Class of 2005.

This is in contrast with the Class of 2000 where members of visible-minority groups accounted for just one-fifth of Ontario doctoral graduates (20%) and slightly less than one-quarter of graduates in other provinces (23%) (Appendix table A.3.1). These results can be attributed in part to engineering where the proportions of graduates from visible-minority groups decreased by 17 percentage points in Ontario and by 18 percentage points in the other provinces in 2000 compared to the Class of 1995. Five years later, in 2005, their proportions had sharply increased from 47% to 67% in Ontario and from 44% to 58% in the other provinces (Appendix table A.3.1).

The vast majority of foreign-born doctoral graduates from the Class of 2005 were naturalized or landed immigrants by 2007

The high proportions of graduates from visible minorities in engineering and in computer, mathematics and physical sciences can be attributed to the fact that many of them were born outside Canada. Indeed, about three-quarters of engineering doctoral recipients (76% in Ontario and 73% in other provinces) as well as 44% and 45% of graduates in computer, mathematics and physical sciences in Ontario and other provinces, respectively, were born outside Canada compared to 37% and 36% for all fields of study combined (Appendix table A.3.2, Figure 1).

However, the vast majority of foreign-born5 graduates from the Class of 2005 who were living in Canada or the United States two years after graduation (92% in Ontario and 91% in other provinces) were naturalized citizens or had become landed immigrants by the time of the interview in 2007. As shown in Figure 1 below, more than three-quarters of foreign-born Ontario doctoral graduates were already naturalized by the time of the interview (76%). Moreover, among foreign-born Ontario graduates who became landed immigrants, most did so before graduating from their doctoral program in 2005 (59%).

Figure 1 Citizenship status in 2007 of 2005 doctoral graduates, Ontario and Canada without Ontario

Overall, the proportions of foreign-born graduates in the Classes of 2000 and 2005 were comparable, at 32% and 37%, respectively. However, there were significantly more foreign-born graduates in engineering in the Class of 2005 compared to the Class of 2000, a difference of about 20 percentage points (76% compared to 56% in Ontario). The difference in the other provinces was not statistically significant (73% compared to 64%).6  

Half of doctoral graduates had a parent whose education was at least a bachelor degree

Previous studies have suggested that higher parental education results in higher education levels among their children, and that the type of postsecondary education pursued by young Canadians is strongly associated with parents' educational attainment. For example, Knighton and Mirza (2002) find that young people whose parents had a university degree were three times more likely to pursue university studies than were those whose parents had a high school diploma or less.7

Moreover, a study of doctoral graduates in the United States showed that doctorate recipients who were American citizens were more likely than their non-citizen counterparts to report that at least one of their parents had attained at least a bachelor degree.8

As shown in Chart 4, half of doctoral graduates had a parent whose highest level of education was at least a bachelor degree (53% in Ontario and 49% in other provinces). In addition, the proportion of graduates who reported that at least one of their parents held a graduate degree was identical in Ontario and outside the province, at 24%. On the other hand, Ontario posted a higher proportion of graduates whose parents had a bachelor or other university degree below the master degree than was the case outside the province, at 29% compared to 25%, but a lower proportion of graduates with parents who had a postsecondary education below the bachelor level (15% in Ontario and 18% in other provinces). This is likely due to the differences in the educational systems between provinces.

In Ontario, there were no significant differences between Canadian- and foreign-born graduates when comparing the educational attainment of parents. Outside the province, however, foreign-born students were more likely to have parents who had not pursued postsecondary education (38% versus 30% for the Canadian-born) whereas Canadian-born students were more likely to have parents who had completed postsecondary education below the bachelor level (20% compared to 14% for foreign-born). Again, this can be explained by differences in the structure of educational systems in Canada, which possess a well-developed system of community and applied arts and technology colleges compared to other countries (Chart 4 and Appendix table A.4).

Chart 4 Highest level of parental education, Canadian- and foreign-born doctoral graduates, Class of 2005, Ontario and Canada without Ontario

A higher proportion of Ontario graduates were in school before entering their program than was the case in other provinces

More than half (55%) of Ontario graduates were in school in the year prior to enrolling in their doctoral program; this is 7 percentage points higher than was the case for graduates in other provinces (48%). In those provinces, four graduates out of ten were working before the beginning of their doctoral studies, compared to just over one-third in Ontario (35%) (Chart 5).

The highest proportions of graduates to have been in school just prior to their doctoral studies were those in computer, mathematics and physical sciences, where more than six graduates out of ten, both in Ontario and outside the province (68% and 61% respectively), had been in school. In Ontario, these graduates were followed by graduates in the humanities (61%), psychology and social sciences (60%), life sciences (58%) and engineering (52%). Outside the province, they were followed by graduates in psychology and social sciences (56%), life sciences (52%) and the humanities (46%). The proportion for engineering graduates in school before the start of their doctoral program in these provinces was significantly lower than in Ontario, at 40%.

As discussed earlier, fewer graduates in education and other fields of study were in school before starting their doctoral program. This was even more pronounced in Ontario, where only 21% had been students, compared to 26% of education and other fields of study graduates in the other provinces (Appendix table A.5).

Chart 5 Main activity of doctoral graduates 12 months prior to enrolment in a doctoral program, Class of 2005, Ontario and Canada without Ontario

The proportion of 2000 Ontario graduates who were in school prior to the start of their program (53%) was similar to the Class of 2005, whereas the percentage for the Class of 1995 (49%) was lower. Significant differences between the Class of 1995 and the Class of 2005 were observed in two fields of study in particular: computer, mathematics and physical sciences which posted a gap of almost 10 percentage points (59% for 1995 graduates compared to 68% for 2005 graduates), and psychology and social sciences with a gap of 8 percentage points (52% and 60%, respectively).

The majority of doctoral graduates wanted to become university professors

Previous studies have shown that a large proportion of doctoral graduates expected to be employed by a higher education organization once they had obtained their degree.9 Thus, becoming a university professor remains one of the main reasons for pursuing doctoral studies in Canada.

About two-thirds (65%) of Ontario graduates pursued a doctoral degree with the intention of becoming university professors, a proportion that was higher than was the case for graduates in other provinces by 7 percentage points (58%) (Appendix table A.6.1).

In Ontario, the proportions were comparable across most fields of study, at approximately 60%. A notable exception was in the humanities where almost nine out of ten graduates (86%) planned to become university professors.

In other provinces, however, there were greater variations between fields of study. The proportion was above the average in the humanities (71%) and education and other fields of study (64%), but below the average in computer, mathematics and physical sciences (51%) and psychology and social sciences (50%). Life sciences (59%) and engineering (58%) for their part were on par with the average.

Graduates not wishing to become university professors were asked why they did not consider that choice of career. The reasons given by graduates can best be described as being reasons of perceiving better opportunities outside academia or of personal choices (Appendix table A.6.2, Chart 6).  

Among this group of graduates, only 5% indicated that the fact that there appeared to be no university faculty positions available in their discipline was the reason. The percentage for graduates in other provinces is slightly higher at 7%.   However, three out of ten (29% in Ontario and 30% in other provinces) indicated that they could make more money or have better job opportunities outside a university setting. A relatively higher proportion (44% and 43%) gave a diverse range of other reasons such as: preferring clinical or practical work, wanting to do research only or just not interested in teaching. An additional 13% were unhappy with academic life. The remaining graduates indicated that they found a career as a university professor to be too much stress (8% in Ontario and 6% in other provinces).

Chart 6 Reasons why the graduate did not want to become a university professor, Class of 2005, Ontario and Canada without Ontario

Results were comparable across most fields of study, except for Ontario graduates in psychology and social sciences and in the humanities. Among graduates who did not choose a career as university professors, the vast majority of those in the humanities (80%) were just not interested in teaching and more interested in other careers such as research only, clinical or practical work. Almost four out of ten graduates in psychology and social sciences (38%) believed there were better job opportunities outside academia or that they could make more money in other careers.

Substantially more graduates from the Class of 2000 who did not want to become university professors considered that better opportunities or income were available outside academia, at 49% in Ontario and 51% in other provinces, compared to 29% and 30%, respectively, for the Class of 2005. No significant difference was observed when examining fields of study.10

At the time of graduation, more than three-quarters of 2005 graduates had firm plans post-graduation

Upon graduation, most doctoral recipients may have firm plans to enter the labour market, continue their research, pursue further studies or to pursue other activities; while others are undecided. At the time of graduation in 2005, more than three-quarters of doctoral graduates (78% in Ontario and 77% in other provinces) had made firm plans for either employment or postdoctoral studies or further training for the year following their graduation (Chart 7).

According to the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), the proportion of Ontario graduates with definite plans upon graduation was statistically comparable across all fields of study, ranging from 66% to 85%. However, Canadian-born graduates (83%) were more likely than their foreign-born counterparts (72%) to have definite plans at the time of graduation for the following year. This was also the case for Canadian-born and foreign-born graduates in other provinces, where the proportions were 83% and 67%, respectively.

Engineering graduates outside Ontario were less likely to have made definite plans than graduates from other fields of study, that proportion being 60%. On the other hand, there were no substantial differences between men and women, whether in Ontario (81% for men and 76% for women) or outside the province (75% and 79%, respectively).

Chart 7 Proportion of 2005 doctoral graduates with definite plans at graduation, Class of 2005, Ontario and Canada without Ontario

Whether they graduated from an Ontario university or not, more than half the graduates with firm plans (54% in Ontario and 53% in other provinces) expected to join the labour market upon graduation (Appendix table A.6.3). Proportionally more women graduates (61% and 64% respectively) than men (49% and 44%) had plans for employment, whereas more than half the men (51% and 56%) were planning to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship or other training (see Box 2 for a definition of postdoctoral fellowship).

Box 2: Postdoctoral positions

The Survey of Earned Doctorates defines a "postdoctoral position" or a "postdoc" as a temporary position primarily for gaining additional education and training in research, usually in academia, industry, or government.

In Canada, individuals who contract with a university (and sometimes with a specific faculty member) to conduct academic or scholarly research that will further professional development and expand their expertise in a specialized subject are usually referred to as "Postdoctoral Fellows" or "Postdoctoral Research Associates."  Historically, they have mostly been considered as being trainees rather than employees by the university or research institution.  However, in 2010, the Canada Revenue Agency and the federal government made clear that, for tax purposes, post-docs are to be considered employees.

These appointments normally occur within five years of the completion of a doctoral degree and are time limited (often to a maximum of three years), with the possibility of renewal. The postdoctoral researcher may be funded through a salary, a stipend or sponsorship award. The annual amount of the fellowship typically varies between $25,000 and $50,000 depending on the field of research, the funding agency and the research institution.

Source: Information gathered from diverse Canadian universities' web sites.

In addition, there were marked differences in the type of definite plans across fields of study. Almost all Ontario graduates in education and other fields, as well as in the humanities (93% each), were planning to work immediately upon receiving their degree. These were followed by graduates in psychology and social sciences (70%). In contrast, more than two-thirds of life sciences graduates (69%) and three-quarters of computer, mathematics and physical sciences graduates (76%) had plans for postdoctoral studies or research when they graduated in 2005.

In Ontario, although the proportion of foreign-born graduates who had definite plans for postdoctoral studies was 11 percentage points higher than that of Canadian-born graduates (at 53% and 42% respectively), the difference was not statistically significant.

When comparing across fields of study, results for graduates outside Ontario painted a similar portrait. The majority of graduates in education and other fields of study (92%), the humanities (82%) and psychology and social sciences (70%) were planning to work upon receiving their degree, whereas the majority of those in life sciences and in computer, mathematics and physical sciences (both at 68%) had plans for postdoctoral studies.

In contrast to what was observed in Ontario, foreign-born graduates in the other provinces were far more likely than their Canadian-born classmates to plan to pursue postdoctoral studies, at 59% versus 41%.

Similar proportions of engineering graduates in Ontario and outside the province planned to enter the labour force or to pursue postdoctoral studies, the proportions varying between 48% and 52% (Appendix table A.6.3).

Summary

Ontario accounted for four out of ten of the country's doctoral graduates in 2005, slightly more than its share of the Canadian population. Although female doctoral graduates from the Class of 2005 in Ontario were still clustered in traditionally female fields of study, proportionally more women were granted a doctoral degree in life sciences in 2005 than in the two previous cohorts and fewer had chosen a career in the humanities.

Compared to other provinces, Ontario had more doctoral graduates whose mother tongue was a non-official language.  Moreover, the proportion of allophones earning a doctorate in Canada has grown continuously over the past 20 years. Both in Ontario and outside the province, their proportions doubled between the Classes of 1995 and 2005.

About two-thirds (65%) of Ontario graduates pursued a doctoral degree with the intention of becoming university professors, a proportion that was higher than was the case for graduates in other provinces by 7 percentage points (58%). Among graduates who did not wish to become university professors, a substantial proportion (44% in Ontario and 43% in other provinces) gave a diverse range of reasons for pursuing a doctoral degree, such as preferring clinical or practical work, wanting to do research only or just not interested in teaching, and three out of ten (29% in Ontario and 30% in other provinces) indicated that they could make more money or have better job opportunities outside a university setting.


Notes:

  1. Statistics Canada. Table 477-0020 – Public Postsecondary Graduates, by Pan-Canadian Standard Classification of Education (PCSCE), Classification of Instructional Programs, Primary Grouping (CIP_PG), Sex and Immigration Status, Annual (Number), CANSIM (database).
  2. The term "allophone" refers to those whose mother tongue is a language other than English or French.
  3. Chinese languages include: Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Taiwanese, Chaochow (Teochow), Fukien and Shanghainese.
  4. Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population.
  5. Includes visa students; however, these accounted for only 4% and 5% of all foreign-born graduates in Ontario and in the other provinces, respectively.
  6. Graduates from the Class of 1995 were not asked questions about their country of birth or citizenship status.
  7. See for example: Knighton, Tamara and Sheba Mirza. 2002. "Postsecondary Participation: The Effects of Parents' Education and Household Income."  Education Quarterly Review. Vol. 8, no. 3: p.25-32. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 81-003-XPB2001.
  8. Hoffer, T.B., M. Hess, V. Welch Jr. and K. Williams. 2007. Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report 2006. Chicago: National Opinion Research Centre, 203p.
  9. See King, Eisl-Culkin and Desjardins (2008) and Auriol (2010).
  10. No comparable data were available for 1995 graduates.
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