UC releases survey showing low unemployment, high satisfaction among doctoral alumni

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A survey released Monday found an approximate 1 percent unemployment rate among alumni who obtained their doctorates at UC campuses, along with other findings indicating degree satisfaction.

The survey inquired about employment, campus-activity involvement and student loan debt. The UC Berkeley Graduate Division created and administered the survey among its own alumni in 2012, and the UC Office of the President — with the help of campus graduate divisions and alumni offices — expanded the study to include UC doctoral alumni.

Andrew Smith, assistant dean for research and planning at the division, said the survey was inspired by questions about a changing job market in which doctoral degrees may have lost their value. He noted that the number of students on the tenure track has not changed, indicating that concern over a lack of faculty jobs might be unfounded.

“It’s just amazing that 95 percent of students would start all over again if given the choice,” he said about UC Berkeley doctoral alumni surveyed. “That’s an incredibly high rate of satisfaction.”

The university reached out to 26,000 alumni who obtained their doctoral degrees in the last 40 years, and 7,200 responded. More than half of the engineering and computer science graduates pursued careers in the private, for-profit sector, while 62 percent of arts and humanities graduates obtained tenure-track positions.

“The data we collected will be helpful to us as we continuously evaluate how well we’re serving our students and helping them prepare for their professional lives,” said UC spokesperson Shelly Meron in an email.

But Iman Sylvain, a third-year graduate student pursuing a doctorate in plant and microbial biology, expressed skepticism about the survey’s low unemployment and high degree-of-satisfaction findings.

Sylvain is involved in a University of California Student Association jobs campaign, which conducted a study about how prepared UC graduate students feel about entering the job market. According to the study’s findings, doctoral students feel significantly less prepared than master’s and professional students. UCSA’s study also found that the further along students are in their degree, the more ill-prepared they feel.

“Faculty mentors generally feel their students are going to replace them,” she said. “It is frowned upon to leave academia.”

Still, she said the results of the survey are encouraging and her surprise could stem from her stance as a student versus that of an alumna. Sylvain added that the findings could be skewed because people often stay in their doctoral programs if they are unable to immediately find a job, artificially decreasing unemployment rates.

The survey reported that arts and humanities alumni were the most likely to graduate with debt, at 52 percent, and engineering and computer science alumni were the least likely, at 23 percent. Still, 40 percent of those with debt reported paying it off within five years.

Smith said humanities and social science students graduate with more debt because their programs are longer and require a bigger investment from the institutions. He noted that many students deal with these costs by obtaining fellowships and working as graduate student instructors or researchers.

But Melanie Plasencia, a third-year graduate student pursuing a doctoral degree in ethnic studies, said GSI work can be extremely time-consuming on top of a student’s own research and can prolong the time it takes to earn a doctorate.

Contact Frances Fitzgerald at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @f_fitzgerald325.