Investments in PhD research programs pay higher economic dividends

According to a new study conducted at the Georgia State University, PhD recipients whose research is funded earn high wages after graduation, participate in labour markets nationally as well as internationally and make an important impact on local economic development.

Almost around 40 percent of the PhD graduates enter professional or service industry where they are hired in disproportionate numbers and earn a higher than average salary, all of which contribute to economic growth. The research basically shows how federally and non-federally funded research investment may affect the economy by tracing the human dimension of their impact. The study matches administrative records to U.S. Census Bureau data to examine the subsequent employment and earnings outcomes of nearly 3,200 Ph.D. graduates from eight major research universities.

The research published in Science journal was led by Professors Julia Lane (New York University), Bruce Weinberg (Ohio State University), Paula Stephan (Georgia State University) and Jason Owen Smith (University of Michigan) where the researchers examined an array of outcomes. The study showed that more than 20 percent of these doctoral graduates remain in the state where they graduated from and about 13 percent within 50 miles of their university.

Majority of the PhD recipients (57.2%) remained in academia with possibly a postdoctoral research position while only a small population (4.1%) joined government positions. Seventeen percent of the Ph.D. recipients worked in establishments owned by firms with research and development operations versus 10.8 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Doctoral recipients employed in the pharmaceuticals and medicine manufacturing, semiconductors and computer systems design are between four and nineteen times the U.S average.

The authors also found the median U.S. establishment employing these Ph.D. recipients has a higher payroll per worker — more than $90,000 — than the median U.S. establishment owned by a research and development firm (just under $61,000) and the median U.S. establishment (just over $33,000). Fifty-one percent of these doctoral recipients work in establishments where per-worker payrolls exceed $100,000.

Although the study is descriptive in nature and not causal, Stephan says, “It’s an important first step in providing policymakers the tools they need to assess the broader effects of investments in science”.

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