University of Wisconsin–Madison

Career Pathways


Tracking PhD Career Pathways

The University of Wisconsin–Madison Graduate School is part of a $2 million, multi-institutional grant aimed at studying PhD career pathways. Data collected throughout this project will be used for program improvement at participating institutions.

As part of the project, the University of Wisconsin Survey Center, which the Graduate School chose to administer the survey, will survey more than 7,000 alumni and 5,000 current PhD students across the arts, humanities, social, biological, and physical sciences.

Understanding PhD Career Pathways for Program Improvement is led by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

Project goals

  • Strengthen career support, professional development, and mentoring for current students
  • Gain insight into the relationship between doctoral training programs and career outcomes
  • Demonstrate the range of academic and nonacademic careers that PhD alumni pursue
  • Generate data to assess learning outcomes and inform program review
  • Initiate a system of employment tracking to extend into the future

Traditionally, PhD programs prepared students for the professoriate, but in recent decades, graduate career interests and matching career opportunities have broadened. They now land jobs in industry, non-profits and government sectors, become entrepreneurs and leaders – yet the path to this array of employment outcomes has gone largely unstudied.

William J. Karpus, Dean of the Graduate School

Project updates:

June 2018

  • The Graduate School administered the PhD career outcomes and aspiration survey to nearly 2,200 doctoral alumni (3, 8, and 15 years after graduation) and 1,000 current doctoral students (in 2nd and 5th years of their study) in Fall 2017 and Spring 2018, respectively. The response rates were 33% and 43% in the alumni and student surveys, respectively.
  • Key takeaways from the Fall 2017 alumni survey are as follows.
    • Over 75% of the respondents felt that their programs prepared them either extremely well or very well for their careers.
    • More than 80% of the respondents are employed in jobs closely related to their PhD majors.
    • More than 40% of the respondents are working in careers outside academia, although the rate varies significantly across the divisions. In Biological and Physical Sciences over 50% are working in careers outside academia, whereas only 20% are working outside academia in Social Sciences and Arts and Humanities divisions.
    • Respondents are broadly satisfied with campus’ professional and career development opportunities, with the exception of grant writing and leadership skills development.