2009: Doctorate Employment Survey

Daniel Michalski, Jessica Kohout, Marlene Wicherski, and Brittany Hart
APA Center for Workforce Studies
Report Text

The Doctorate Employment Survey (DES) was conducted on an annual basis between 1975 and 1985.  Beginning in 1987, the decision was made to move the survey to a biennial schedule. The data on which this report is based were collected in 2010 from 2009 doctorate recipients in psychology.


The Doctorate Employment Survey (DES) is conducted during the year following receipt of the degree. Graduate department chairs are contacted for the names and addresses of persons awarded doctorates during the previous year. A questionnaire is sent to these individuals requesting information on their experiences entering the psychology workforce and the relevance of their graduate training to their work situation.

From September through December 2009, the chairs of 528 doctorate-granting departments in the United States and Canada were contacted and asked to provide the names and addresses of individuals who had received their doctorates from July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009. The list of departments is compiled from the APA publication Graduate Study in Psychology (2010), the APA Center for Workforce Studies’ file of psychology-related graduate departments, and the membership roster of the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology. The 325 (61.6%) responding departments provided the names of 2,667 PhDs, 967 PsyDs, 9 EdDs; an additional 38 names were provided with the degree type unidentified.  Eleven departments reported that no doctorates were awarded during 2008-09. The total sample was 3,681. 

Based on available data from the National Science Foundation (NSF), it was possible to determine that departments provided the names and addresses of 77% of the PhDs awarded in psychology (NSF, 2010). The 967 names and addresses of PsyD recipients represented about 57% of the total count for 2008-2009 (APA, 2010). Participation by PsyD granting programs was notably lower in 2009 compared to 2007, when the sample that year represented 82% of the total count of PsyDs (Wicherski, Michalski, & Kohout, 2009). However, it does appear that the pool of survey recipients was fairly representative of the majority of doctorates awarded in psychology in 2008-2009.

As has been the case since the mid-2000s, there was both a paper and online version of the questionnaire.   Doctorate recipients with valid email addresses were sent an invitation for the online survey in January 2010. For graduates whose email addresses were unknown, survey packages consisting of a cover letter, survey instrument, and a postage-paid business reply envelope were mailed in January 2010. Those receiving the email survey invitation and not responding were sent three reminders approximately two weeks apart. For those not responding to the mail solicitation, one postcard reminder was mailed approximately four weeks later. (The appendix of this report contains a copy of the questionnaire.) A number of departments indicated that they were unable to directly provide names of graduates to APA, but were willing to forward on survey packages to their graduates. A total of 565 anonymous survey packages were sent out by 44 doctoral departments of psychology on or about April 2010. Of the survey recipients, 197 indicated in their returned survey that they had not received their doctorates during the 2008-2009 academic year. Another 150 survey packages (4.1%) were returned as undeliverable.

A total of 1,280 useable questionnaires were returned — 961 PhDs, 310 PsyDs, 3 EdDs, 3 dual PhD/JDs, 1 dual PsyD/JD, 1 dual PhD/MD, and 1 dual PhD/RhD, yielding an overall response rate of 34.8%. Response rates differed based on the type of doctorate awarded; approximately 36% of PhDs, 32% of PsyDs, and 33% of EdDs responded. The overall level of participation was slightly higher than in 2007, but substantially lower than in 2005, when it was 46% (Wicherski, Michalski, & Kohout, 2009; Wicherski & Kohout, 2007)

This lower than average response indicates that the data may not be as representative of the population of new doctorates as has been the case in the past. Data from other sources (NSF) may be used as available for comparison and to gauge convergence. Percentages reported in text may not add to 100 due to rounding.

Demographic Characteristics


Table 1 indicates that 75% of responding new doctorates were women, an increase of 5 percentage points in 10 years and 18% in 20 years (Kohout & Wicherski, 2003; Kohout & Wicherski, 1991). As in other science and engineering fields, women have been entering psychology in increasing numbers over the past several decades. At the same time, the numbers of men in psychology have been decreasing slightly. The representation of women among DES respondents is slightly higher than the 71% reported for new psychology PhDs by the National Science Foundation in 2006 (NSF, 2008a).  


Seventy-four percent of respondents were white. Similarly, NSF reported that 76% of new psychology PhDs in 2006 were white (NSF, 2008b). Ten years ago we reported that just over 83% were white.  Of those respondents providing an answer, Hispanics/Latinos and Blacks/African Americans each comprised 5% of the new doctorates while Asians represented 7%. Two Native Americans responded to the survey, while those who specified multiple races/ethnicities were 4% of respondents. Twenty-seven of the 1,246 respondents did not report their racial or ethnic background.


About 71% of the respondents were younger than 35, with an additional 19% between 35 and 44 years of age. Seven percent were 45 to 59 years old and less than 1% were 60 years or older. The average age of respondents was 34.0 which is about the same as the 34.8 reported by 1999 DES respondents. Although the mean age has remained consistent during the past ten years, the distribution of new doctorates younger than 35 years has increased 13 percentage points; from 58% to 71% (Kohout & Wicherski, 2003).

Sexual Orientation

Of those who specified, 91% stated that they were heterosexual. Seven percent were gay or lesbian, and slightly under 2% responded that they were bisexual. Seven respondents claimed an “other” orientation. Ninety-three percent of respondents in 1999 indicated that they were heterosexual (Kohout & Wicherski, 2003).

Degree Type

Seventy-five percent of the respondents earned a PhD; 24%% were awarded a PsyD (consistent with that reported in 1999) (Kohout & Wicherski, 2003). However, PsyDs comprised less than 8% of new doctorates during the mid-1980s (Kohout & Wicherski, 2003). Three respondents reported earning an EdD, and four respondents reported earning a JD degree along with either a PsyD or PhD in 2009. Table 2 depicts additional data on educational characteristics of new doctorates. 

Employment Status

Sixty-three percent of the new doctorates were employed full time, approximately 8% were employed part time, 24% were working on postdoctorates, and nearly 6% were unemployed — nearly two thirds of whom were seeking employment. Over the past two decades the proportion working full time has declined steadily (from 82% in 1986 and 69% in 1997), while the proportion working part time has remained fairly stable (Pion & Wicherski, 1989; Kohout & Wicherski, 1999). A more noticeable shift can be seen among new doctorates in postdoctorate positions: the percentage has more than doubled, from about 6% in 1986 to 20% in 2007 (Pion & Wicherski, 1989; Wicherski, Michalski, & Kohout, 2009). This increase might be attributed in part to changes in the instrument; the section on postdoctorates is now more amenable to describing pre-licensure training for clinical doctorate recipients. But the shift away from full-time employment toward postdoctoral fellowships is also apparent among graduates in traditional research and other areas. Since the 1985 survey, postdoctoral training has inched up among new doctorates in these subfields from just over 17% to 24% (Pion, Bramblett, & Wicherski, 1987). At the same time, full-time employment declined from almost three quarters of research doctorate recipients to about two thirds in 2007 (Wicherski, Michalski, & Kohout, 2009). NSF data also point to an increase in the numbers of PhDs holding postdoctorates over the past decades (NSF, 2008b).

Nearly 30% of respondents were employed in their current primary position within three months of completing the degree. Thirty-eight percent found employment before completion, and 6% had the job when they started the program. Comparisons of the amount of time to find positions in the health service sector versus other types of positions are presented in Table 5.

Men were more likely than women to be employed full time (67% versus. 62%), though there was less of a disparity than seen in previous surveys (e.g., 67% versus 58% in 2005, and 78% versus 64% in 1997) (Wicherski & Kohout, 2007; Kohout & Wicherski, 1999). Correspondingly, a larger proportion of women were employed part time (7.8% versus 5.2%), but again the disparity has diminished since a decade ago (13% versus 4%) (Kohout & Wicherski, 1999).  (See Table 1.)

Ethnic minorities reported full-time employment at a slightly higher rate than white respondents (65% versus 62%), with minorities as likely as whites to report postdoctoral study (24%). The highest rates of full-time employment (70%) were reported by Asians.

Unemployment remains relatively low among new psychologists — approximately 6% of survey respondents—despite the severity of the economic downturn that began in 2008. However, this does represent an increase since 2007 when approximately 2% of new doctorates were unemployed (Wicherski, Michalski, & Kohout, 2009). The largest single proportion of those respondents seeking work (36%) indicated that they could find no suitable position in their area and did not want to relocate. Just over 2% reported being unemployed but not seeking employment, almost all of them women (87%). The majority of unemployed respondents who were not seeking work (67%) cited home/child care responsibilities for their decision.

Subfield of Degree

Table 2 presents the employment status for graduates of the various types of doctoral programs. The rates of full-time employment, part-time employment, postdoctoral involvement, and unemployment did not vary substantially for graduates from the health service provider and the research subfields when considered in the aggregate. However, when we consider specific subfields, there is variability. Only 25% of clinical neuropsychology doctorates were employed full time at the time of the study while 67% held postdoctorates. Fully 88% of the new doctorates in general psychology were employed full time. Industrial/organizational (I/O) graduates were far more likely to be employed full time than to be in postdoctorate positions (80% versus7%) while those in neuroscience were more apt to be in postdoctorate positions rather than full-time employment (57%versus 32%). This variability highlights the different patterns of work and training across the subfields of psychology. In spite of the overall growth in postdoctorates across psychology, clear contrasts emerge when programs focusing on the biological basis of behavior (e.g., physiological and neuroscience) are examined separately from other research psychology fields (e.g., developmental and social). The postdoctoral fellowship could be called a "necessary" step for the biologically based areas. A solid majority (56%) of respondents in these subfields were engaged in postdoctoral study in 2009, compared to only 22.3% in the remaining research fields. This represents a continued need for postdoctoral training, especially for graduates in the bio-based cluster, where the proportion in such training was 41% in 1986 and had risen to 63% in 1995 (Pion & Wicherski, 1989; Wicherski & Kohout, 1997). 

Across all subfields the level of unemployment remains low, with little difference between psychologists trained to deliver health services and those in research areas. Very small numbers impede detailed inter-field comparisons. 

Perceptions of the Job Market

Slightly more than a third of respondents rated the 2010 job market as “fair”, while nearly a quarter rated it “good” or “excellent.” This represents a substantial shift from the prior survey results throughout the 2000s. For instance, in 2008, more than half of survey respondents perceived the job market as “good” or “excellent” (Wicherski, Michalski, & Kohout, 2009).

The relationship between perceptions and employment status varied somewhat by gender. While over half of both men and women with full-time employment called the outlook “good” or “excellent” (41% and 40%, respectively), differences between men and women emerged among those employed part time.  Only 13% of part-time-employed men gave the job market a good or excellent rating yet 30% of the women did. 

Employment Patterns

Full-time employment was characterized in the present survey as working a minimum of 35 hours a week, including situations where the person held multiple jobs totaling 35 or more hours. Part-time-employed persons were those who held one or more part-time positions totaling less than 35 hours (See Table 3). 
Of the 914 respondents for whom employment information was available, 72% were employed full time in one job only (they did not have a second or third position), while 8% worked part time in one job only. Twenty percent of employed respondents were working more than one job in 2009. 
Of those working more than one position, 52% held a full-time position and a part-time position. Twenty-nine percent were employed full time but in more than one part-time position. Finally, 18% of those with more than one position were employed part time in two or more part-time jobs.

Employment Settings

Settings Full-time Employment

Table 3 presents data on the employment settings of the respondents by type of employment pattern. Overall, the leading categories of primary full-time setting were both university settings and business, government, and other settings at 21% each. Hospital settings, predominantly VA medical centers, represented 14%, followed by other human service settings at 11%. Other human service settings included university/college counseling centers, outpatient clinics, and primary care offices or community health centers. Just over 8% of those surveyed indicated schools and educational settings for their primary full-time position. Slightly less than 6% of respondents indicated independent practice as their primary position setting. Similarly, 6% worked in managed care; most of which were in Community Mental Health Center (CMHC) settings. 
Overall, 37% of full-time positions were in the human service sector; 32% were in academia,  21% were located in business, government, and other settings, and 8% could be found in schools and other educational settings. Most of those employed in full-time human service positions worked in organized care settings rather than individual or group private practices (31% versus 6%). This pattern is to be expected for new doctorates that have yet to accumulate the hours to sit for licensing exams.

Nearly 59% of respondents who reported working in both a full-time position and secondary employment chose a higher education position (e.g., university, college, and community college) as their secondary position. Independent practice trailed at 17%.   

Doctorates employed full time as the result of two or more part-time positions were located most often in independent practices (31%), university settings (22%), and other human service settings (14%) as their primary employment positions. Most secondary settings for this group were in universities (33%), independent practice (26%), and business, government and other settings (15%).

Part-time Employment

Table 3 also provides information on those who were employed part time (those with one or more positions totaling less than 35 hours). Less than half (43%) indicated their primary setting was in the human service sector, with about 20% in independent practice. Twenty-six percent of those with a secondary job were in universities.

Full-time Employment Settings by Subfield

In Table 4, data are presented on full-time employment settings by subfield of psychology for 2009 doctorates. Universities and business, government and other settings claimed the largest proportions of new doctorates, at 28% and 21%, respectively, edging out hospitals (14%) and schools and other educational settings (9%). Managed care followed at 7%, independent practice was reported by 6%, and four-year colleges trailed at 5%.

The broad category of human service settings predominated as the primary employer of new doctorates in the health service provider subfields at 47% of all full-time employed doctorates, with hospitals in the lead (21%), followed by managed care (11%), and independent practice at 8%. Other human service settings (e.g., rehabilitation centers or nursing homes) trailed among the human service settings at 7%. As anticipated, the single largest proportion of doctorate recipients in the field of school psychology (61%) was found in schools and other educational settings. Clinical doctorates were most often found in hospitals (29%). Seventy-one percent of forensic psychology doctorates full-time positions were in business, government, and other settings.  

Slightly more than two fifths (43%) of full-time-employed respondents graduating in research subfields were employed in universities, while 9% found work in four-year colleges. A substantial proportion (31%) indicated that they had found work in business, government and other settings. Focusing on the research fields, 38% of those in business, government and other settings had received their degrees in the field of I/O psychology. Eighteen percent of graduates in industrial/organizational psychology were employed in university settings, with 69% in business, government and other settings. More than half (52%) of social psychology graduates indicated university work settings and  53% of all the graduates who found full-time positions in business, government and other settings were from the research subfields. 

At least half the doctorates in cognitive, developmental, educational, experimental, personality, and quantitative psychology could be found in university or four-year college settings. Eighteen percent of neuroscience doctorates were employed in medical schools.

Job Satisfaction

Table 5 reports responses of employed 2009 doctorate recipients in terms of their satisfaction with selected elements of their job, commensurability of the job with their training, and the importance of the doctorate in obtaining employment.

Importance of the Doctoral Degree

For 62% of the respondents, the doctoral degree was an essential tool in attaining their present position; another 24% deemed it helpful (Table 5a). Asked specifically about the doctorate in psychology, 54% rated it essential, while 29% said it was helpful. A smaller proportion of respondents in human service delivery positions found the doctoral degree to be essential than did those in research or academic positions (58% versus 68%). Interestingly, the situation was reversed when respondents rated the psychology doctorate specifically, 66% of health service providers judged the psychology degree essential, compared to 49% of those working in other positions. This pattern has been found consistently across nearly twenty years of this survey.

Commensurability of Employment

Overall, slightly less than three quarters (72%) of employed respondents indicated that their primary position was their first choice. 

Nearly three fourths indicated that their general graduate training was closely related to their current employment (Table 5b). About two thirds of respondents stated that courses in their major subfield were closely related. Research and teaching assistantships were far less frequently deemed closely related to current employment by the health service providers (at 7% and 6%, respectively) than was the case for those in other positions (36% and 31%, respectively). Not surprisingly, predoctoral internships with a clinical focus were deemed closely related by a majority of respondents in the human service positions (80%). Other practicum or internship experiences were also more highly valued by those in health service provider settings than was true of those in research or academic positions. Fifty-seven percent of health service providers versus 29% of those in the research or academic areas found these experiences closely related. 

When asked if the employment position was related to the field of study, 79% of those in human services strongly agreed compared to 64% of those in other positions. The pattern of response to the question on whether or not the job was commensurate with level of training was similar across human service positions and research and academic positions (54% in human service positions and half of other positions strongly agreed that the position was commensurate with the level of training). 

Satisfaction with Current Position

Most new doctorates appeared to be fairly satisfied with their current positions. With the exception of opportunities for promotion and salary, seventy-five percent or more of the respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with benefits, opportunities for personal development and recognition, supervisors, colleagues and working conditions. The highest levels of job satisfaction across the board were derived from co-workers and working conditions. These aspects have received uniformly high ratings from respondents each year the survey has measured them.

Obtaining Employment

More than 44% of the new doctorates were in their present employment positions prior to completing graduate school, while an additional 29% obtained employment within three months of completing the doctoral program. Those in human service positions tended to find work more quickly than those in other positions (larger proportions of those in other positions took more than 6 months to find their current primary employment). Other positions include the academic, research, and business settings.

Overall job search strategies most often used by new doctorates included informal channels, at more than 69%, electronic resources (32%), faculty advisors (29%), APA Monitor on Psychology ads (25%), and Chronicle of Higher Education advertisements, and classified ads in newspapers (15%). See Table 5. The most successful method, regardless of type of position, remains informal channels for those in human service positions and other positions 35% and 33%, respectively.

The most successful job search strategies have shifted markedly in the past decade. Reliance on ads in the Monitor, Chronicle of Higher Education or newspapers has fallen markedly while electronic resources came in second in 2009 at 18% (Wicherski, Michalski, & Kohout, 2009). Interestingly, electronic resources were used by only 11% as recently as 1997 and were the sole best method for only 2% in that year (Kohout & Wicherski, 2003).

Postdoctoral Study

Nearly half (47%) of the 2009 doctorate recipients indicated that they were engaged in or had completed postdoctoral study. Twenty-four percent were current at the time the survey was conducted, while 23% had already completed their postdoctoral training. Doctorate Employment Survey data have shown a steady increase in postdoctorates since 1985, at which time approximately one out of ten new doctorates pursued postdoctoral training. Ninety percent of the postdoctorates were full time. NSF data also reveal an increase over the past decade (NSF, 2008a).

Demographic characteristics of postdoctorates can be found in Table 1. Seventy-six percent of those still primarily engaged in postdoctoral study at the time of the survey were White. Seven percent were Hispanic/Latino, 5% each were Black and Asian, and 4% were multiracial. Women comprised 76% of the postdoctorate population compared with 75% of respondents to the survey overall. Fifty-three percent were younger than 35 years of age.  Interestingly, this represents a decrease since the 2007 survey, when 78% of respondents were less than 35 years old.

Table 2 addresses the doctoral education of respondents currently in postdoctoral training. Seventy-seven percent had earned a PhD compared to 22% with a PsyD. Sixty-seven percent of the respondents had received their doctorates in the health service provider subfields, while 32% were in the traditional research fields.  Clinical postdoctorates represented 62% of the postdoctorates in a practice subfield and 24% of the clinical degrees. A somewhat higher proportion of new doctorates in research subfields were in postdoctoral study than were those from service delivery subfields (24% and 18% respectively).  

Fewer respondents reported current and completed postdoctorate experiences emphasizing research training than service delivery. Nearly 53% focused on clinical service, 31% on research, and close to 15% on a combination of the two. The vast majority of research postdoctorates (95%) were full time compared to 88% of those with a health service focus. 

The remainder of this section explores in more depth such aspects of the full-time fellowship as length of appointment and sources of support. Also addressed are the reasons respondents pursued postdoctoral study.

Length of Postdoctoral Appointments

Ninety percent of full-time postdoctoral training in service delivery was between one and two years in duration, with 65% at one year. Research postdoctorates tended to be longer in duration with only 30% of research postdoctorates reporting fellowships lasting less than two years. Fully 70% of research postdoctorates were two years long compared to 10% of those with a service delivery focus. Twenty-six percent of postdoctorates with a research focus were longer than two years compared to less than 1% of those with a service focus. The average duration of a research postdoctorate was reported as 24 months compared to 14 months for those with a service delivery focus and 21 months for those with a combined research/practice focus.

Reasons for Postdoctoral Study

Table 6 reports the reasons 2009 doctorate recipients cited for taking a full-time postdoctoral fellowship. The top reason among respondents whose fellowships emphasized research was to become more employable, which at 31% edged out those whose primary reason was to complement their research knowledge and skills in the same field as their doctorate (21%). Another 19% were interested primarily in obtaining research training in another subfield.

By far the most important impetus for those in postdoctoral study focusing on clinical service delivery was to obtain supervised experience so as to be eligible to take the licensing exam (61%). Obtaining specialized clinical training was a distant second (23%). Respondents engaged in postdoctoral study with a dual research/practice focus also sought to obtain supervised postdoctoral hours in preparation for the licensing exam (33%) and to complement research knowledge & skills in the same subfield (11%). 

As Table 6 suggests, improving employability (31% versus 6%) remains more salient to those with postdoctoral appointments in research training than those in clinical service. Responses to this question have remained fairly constant for two decades and appear to indicate a somewhat less optimistic employment situation for this specific group. 

Respondents were also given the opportunity to name all their reasons for accepting a postdoctoral appointment. For research postdoctorates, common reasons included increased employability (81%), complementing research knowledge and skills in the same subfield of the doctorate (70%), the opportunity to work with a particular scientist and research group (68%), and obtaining research knowledge in another field (51%). In contrast, the postdoctorates with a service delivery focus were more apt to seek out supervised postdoctoral hours to prepare for the licensing exam (89%), to become more employable (66%), and to obtain specialized clinical training (62%). Those with a combined research/practice focus most often chose obtaining supervised postdoctoral hours to take the licensing exam (88%), obtaining specialized clinical training (69%), and complementing research knowledge and skills in the same field as the doctorate (65%). To become more employable was also a reason for 60% of these respondents.

Sources and Levels of Support for Postdoctoral Training

Just over 95% of postdoctoral fellows received stipends in 2009. Research fellowships in particular were rarely unpaid; only two respondents who were gaining additional research training reported receiving no stipend. Looked at another way, almost all of the research postdoctorates were paid compared to 92% of those training for service delivery. 

The largest proportion of paid full-time research postdoctorates depended on federal fellowships or training grants (36%), followed by federal research grants or contracts (35%) and by university and college sources (11%).  The stipends of health service postdoctorates were funded most often by miscellaneous sources such as hospital or clinic funds (35%), followed by university or college sources (23%) and client fees (17%).  Those with a combined research/practice focus most often reported receiving funding from federal research grants or contracts (28%), and university and college sources (27%) and other sources (21%). Overall, stipends were supported, in descending order, by other sources including hospital/clinic funds, university/college sources, federal fellowships, federal research grants, client fees, nonfederal fellowships, and Canadian fellowships.

Analyses of levels of support for full-time positions revealed differences in levels of support by primary emphasis of fellowship. Those with research postdoctorates reported a monthly median stipend of $3,100.  Monthly stipends for postdoctorates with a service emphasis were lower at a median of $2,668 per month and postdoctorates with a combined emphasis received a monthly median of $3,000. The most generous full-time awards overall in the U.S. were federal fellowships/traineeships, which provided a median funding level of $3,333. US federal training grants paid a median of $3,083, followed by Canadian provincial/federal fellowships/traineeships at $2,917. The lowest full-time stipends were reported for postdoctorates paid by university sources that paid $2,667 per month and client funds which paid a median of $2,500 per month. The longest-term appointments yielded the highest level of funding. Medians for fellowships lasting more than two years were $3,200 per month, followed by those lasting two years at $3,000. The shortest appointments — those less than one year in duration — paid a median stipend of $2,500.

Sources and Levels of Support for Doctoral Study

Table 7 presents data on all sources of financial support and the primary source of support used for the predoctoral training of 2009 doctorate recipients. APA’s data have followed paths similar to those noted below in the NSF data. They indicate that federal sources have slipped as a primary source of support for psychology graduate students and that to compensate for these shrinking resources, students have had to look elsewhere, to personal resources, student loans and university sources of support.  In 1979, federal sources of support accounted for 23%. By 1997 this had fallen to 7%. By 2009, still only 6% of new doctorates reported using grants (mostly federal) as their primary source of support. University sources comprised 43% of the primary support in 2009, with federal loans next at 29%. Own earnings and family support were cited as a primary source by close to 16% of recent doctorates. The data indicate a continuing reliance on sources that represent the potential for increasing student debt loads and financial hardship. 

The new doctorates' responses to a question about all sources of support underscored the heavy reliance on personal sources of support for graduate training. Almost 78% of the respondents used their own or family resources. Some 71% received support from university-based sources. Student loans were a source of support for about 56% of the respondents. Finally, 15% had received non-university grant support at some point during their graduate training. 

Sources of support were analyzed by various demographic and educational factors for the 2009 graduates. First, ethnic minority and white graduates reported using their own earnings/family support during their training in similar proportions (79% versus 75%). Little variance was noted in the proportions of ethnic minority and white doctorates that indicated these personal resources as their primary source of support: 12% and 17% respectively.

Analyses of sources of support by degree type continue to underscore the differential debt levels being assumed by those seeking PhDs versus PsyDs. A slight majority of PhD students (52%) indicated that they relied primarily upon university sources of support, with 18% using loans and 15% using own resources. PsyD recipients presented a different picture with 4% reporting university sources as their primary source of support, 65% relying on non-university or federal loans and 22% using their own earnings or family support. This represents a shift since 2007, when 55% of PsyDs reported reliance on federal loans to fund their education (Wicherski, Michalski, & Kohout, 2009). Admittedly, some of these differences are the result of the different educational settings in which the two degrees are offered but this does not lessen the consequences for the graduates of the various programs.

The data also revealed variation across broad subfield area, with over 47% of graduates in research and other subfields relying most heavily on university assistantships, with loans and own earnings each vying for a distant second place at 13%. Slightly less than 10% of graduates in these subfields relied on non-university grants. The picture is different for graduates in the health service provider subfields where only 25% of respondents used assistantships primarily, turning instead to federal loans (39%) and own or family resources (19%). Notably, amongst health service providers, a drop in reliance on own and family resources occurred between 2007 and 2009 from 24% to 19%, respectively (Wicherski, Michalski, & Kohout, 2009).

Debt Levels of New Doctorates by Subfield

Tables 8 through 10 address the issue of indebtedness upon completion of graduate study in psychology. As can be seen in Table 8, just over 68% of the 2009 doctorates reported some level of debt upon receipt of the doctoral degree. There were noticeable subfield differences, with 78% of new doctorates in the health service provider subfields reporting any debt compared to less than half (48%) of those in the research subfields. Among subfields with adequate numbers of respondents, graduates in health, counseling, and clinical psychology reported the highest proportion with debt (94%, 81%, and 79% respectively). Although other subfields in the health service provider areas did report debt, in some cases the small Ns in these subfields render interpretation difficult. However, as Table 10 shows, many new doctorates in these subfields have assumed debt and at very high levels. More than one third of new doctorates in the research subfields had incurred $20,000 or less in debt related to their graduate education; the comparable percent for the health service graduates was less than 14%. At the high end of the scale, nearly half (49%) of the new doctorates in the health service provider subfields owed more than $80,000 and nearly 11% reported debt in excess of $160,000 related to their graduate education. More than one third of these had debt in excess of $80,000. By contrast, only 28% of new doctorates in the research subfields owed more than $60,000 and only about 21% owed more than $80,000; less than 11% owed over $80,000. The median level of debt for those in the practice subfields was $80,000 — more than double that for those in the research subfields ($32,000).

Debt levels analyzed by field and type of degree revealed some interesting differences. Fully 89% of 2009 PsyD recipients reported some debt (This was 90% for clinical PsyDs.), while 62% of those with PhDs did so (75% of clinical PhDs reported debt.).

Graduates with a PsyD in clinical psychology reported a median debt level of $120,000 in 2009, up from $100,000 in 2007, $70,000 in 1999, and $53,000 in 1997 (Wicherski, Michalski, & Kohout, 2009; Kohout & Wicherski, 2003; Kohout & Wicherski, 1999).  Clinical PhD recipients reported a median level of debt of $68,000, up from $55,000 in 2007 (Wicherski, Michalski, & Kohout, 2009). Graduates with PhDs in the research subfields had markedly lower median levels of debt by comparison ($38,500 across all research subfields). Almost 60% of PsyD graduates owed more than $100,000 compared to less than 17% of PhDs. These debts have real implications for productivity and lifetime earnings among substantial segments of the doctoral population in psychology. Although debt levels may be lower for those in the research fields and for those earning PhDs, it is important to add that debt levels increased in 2009 for practice and research graduates alike. It is also important to disseminate this information to students who may be considering a career in psychology, so that their decisions can be fully informed.

Salaries of New Doctorates by Positions and Settings

Table 11 presents the salaries of full-time-employed U.S.-resident new doctorates by employment position and setting. No statistics are provided where there are fewer than ten respondents in an employment setting. Caution should be exercised in interpreting those statistics based on small numbers or where the standard deviation is large. Salaries for direct human service settings are presented separately for subfields with ten or more constituents reporting salaries. Salaries are reported on a 9-10-month basis for faculty positions. These can be converted to 11-12-month salaries by multiplying by 11/9. 

The overall median starting salary in 2009 was $64,000 with an average of $66,008 (SD= $23,861). Women reported a median salary that was $8,000 lower than that reported by men ($70,000 versus $62,000, respectively). Median salaries reported by minorities were similar to that indicated by non-minorities: $65,000. The mean salaries were also close, at $65,962 and $66,314 respectively.

Most graduates reported median starting salaries between $50,000 and $70,000. This does suggest a slight downward shift since 2007 when most reported salaries fell within the range of $52,000 and $72,000. Clinical psychologists working in criminal justice earned the highest median salary of $80,500. Graduates working in applied psychology positions tended to have the highest median salaries with an overall median at $73,332 and for those working in consulting firms, a median salary at $75,000.

The highest median 9-10-month salaries were reported by assistant professors in “other” academic departments in universities ($60,000). Unlike psychology or education departments, other disciplines, such as business, may be more competitive in starting salary packages for recent graduates. In general, applied and administrative positions were characterized by higher salaries in contrast with other positions. Definitions of the position types used in the survey are contained in the instrument, which can be found in the appendix.


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Table 1 Demographic Characteristics of 2009 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology by Employment Status (PDF, 54KB)
Table 2 Educational Characteristics of 2009 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology by Employment Status (PDF, 59KB)
Table 3 Primary and Secondary Employment Settings for 2009 Psychology Doctorate Recipients by Employment Pattern (PDF, 32KB)
Table 4 Degree Subfield by Full-time Work Setting: 2009 Psychology Doctorate Recipients (PDF, 29KB)
Table 5 Job Search and Satisfaction Reported by 2009 Psychology Doctorate Recipients by Type of Employment Position (PDF, 30KB)
Table 5a Importance of Degree for Attaining Present Position Reported by Employed 2009 Psychology Doctorate Recipients (PDF, 21KB)
Table 5b Extent of Graduate Training Related to Current Primary Position Reported by Employed 2009 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 21KB)
Table 5c Level of Satisfaction with Current Position Reported by 2009 Employed Psychology Doctorate Recipients (PDF, 21KB)
Table 5d Appropriateness of Current Primary Position Reported by Employed 2009 Doctorate Recipients (PDF, 21KB)
Table 6 Reasons for Postdoctoral Study for 2009 Doctorate Recipients with Full-time Postdoctoral Appointments by Major Emphasis of Study (PDF, 20KB)
Table 7 Sources of Financial Support for Doctoral Training Reported by 2009 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 17KB)
Table 8 Debt Related to Graduate Education on Receipt of the Doctoral Degree: 2009 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 22KB)
Table 9 Level of Debt Related to Graduate Education Owed on Receipt of Doctorate: 2009 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology Who Reported Any Debt (PDF, 22KB)
Table 10 Level of Debt Related to Graduate Education Owed on Receipt of Doctorate Recipients in Psychology Who Reported Any Debt (PDF, 28KB)
Table 11 Starting Salaries for Full-time Employment Positions: 2009 Doctorate Recipients in Psychology (PDF, 20KB)

The Doctorate Employment Survey is a product of APA's Center for Workforce Studies, a unit within the Science Directorate. The authors are grateful for the continued support of Dr. Steven Breckler, Executive Director for the Science Directorate, and Dr. Norman Anderson, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President of the APA. We also thank Ariel Finno for her work on the development of the instrument and William Pate, Tanya Mulvey, Victoria Pagano, and Trenise Boston for their work on the mailings.

We would like to acknowledge the tremendous contribution that the new doctorate recipients make to ongoing databases on psychologists by participating in this survey. The data are used by staff across all directorates at the APA in planning for the future, as well as by staff at various federal agencies evaluating their own data gathering efforts and the employment of new doctorates.