UW-Madison awards a record number of Ph.D.s in 2015 and excels in career outcomes of its graduates

December 22, 2016
by Alissa Ewer


Graduates celebrate during UW-Madison's spring commencement ceremony

Photo: University Communications/Bryce Richter

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is now third in the nation for number of Ph.D.s awarded, according to 2015 data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), a federally funded project that has collected this data for nearly 60 years.

When broken down by broad field, the 836 Ph.D.s conferred last year place UW-Madison second in physical and earth sciences graduates, fourth in life sciences, and in the top 15 for all other fields.  In total, American universities awarded 55,006 Ph.D.s in 2015, a number that continues to rise, albeit more slowly in recent years.

“It’s not just quantity that sets our university apart.  It’s the quality of a degree from UW-Madison that is shown in the career outcomes of our graduates, who pursue a breadth of paths across academe, non-profits, government, industry, and more,” says William Karpus, dean of the Graduate School.

According to the most current 2016 SED data, 75 percent of UW-Madison Ph.D. recipients had secured jobs or were in negotiation at the time of graduation.  This is notably higher than the national average of 62 percent.  Eighty-nine percent of UW-Madison doctoral graduates landed jobs in their field of training.

The UW-Madison Graduate School’s exit survey shows that about 19 percent of new Ph.D.s with job commitments have secured positions in tenure-track appointments.  In some disciplines the route to the tenure track includes postdoctoral training.  About 40 percent of UW-Madison doctoral degree recipients take postdoc jobs, a rate about the same as the national average, according to SED data.

The tenure-track first placement figure varies widely by discipline.  For those in the social sciences, it's 35 percent; arts and humanities, 25 percent; and physical sciences, 9 percent.  They find their niches in a range of settings, from large research universities to small liberal arts colleges. 

“Our graduate degree holders bring value to Wisconsin,” Karpus says.  “Over half of our master’s degree recipients and nearly a quarter of our doctoral awardees stay in the state after graduation, a net gain that brings an innovative edge to our state’s economy.”

Career outcome data by academic program is published annually by the Graduate School, and a number of new initiatives from the school place emphasis on planning and professional development as integral to career success.

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