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Title: The career outlook of engineering PhDs : Influence of postdoctoral research positions on early career salaries and the attainment of tenure‐track faculty positions
Abstract Background

The number of engineering PhDs pursuing postdoctoral research scholar (postdoc) positions has steadily increased in the last 30 years. Postdoc positions are commonly thought of as a step toward academic careers. However, engineering PhDs are more likely to work in industry, which leaves open the question of the role of postdocs in the career trajectories of engineering PhDs.


This study examines the factors associated with attainment of postdocs. It also identifies the influence of postdocs on attainment of tenure‐track faculty positions and early career salaries.


Super's “life span, life space” theory informs the analytical approach. Descriptive and regression analyses, and propensity score matching, are conducted using a nationally representative sample of engineering PhDs from the 1993–2013 National Science Foundation Survey of Doctorate Recipients data set merged with the 1985–2013 Survey of Earned Doctorates.


Engineering PhDs primarily funded by research assistantships and who graduated from a doctoral program with higher‐ranked research activities and greater proportions of previous cohorts pursuing postdocs are more likely to attain postdoc positions. Among engineering PhDs, postdoctoral scholars are more likely than PhDs in nonacademic positions to attain tenure‐track faculty positions. Early career average salaries are relatively similar between postdoctoral scholars and PhDs without postdoc experiences working in the academic sector.


Postdoctoral research positions can provide a viable pathway toward careers in the academic sector. Engineering doctoral programs can potentially apply research findings toward student career development and preparation, and engineering students and PhDs can leverage the career outlook information for decision‐making and career preparation.

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Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Engineering Education
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 977-1002
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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