A new paper examined the career preferences of Ph.D. students in science and engineering. Unlike previous studies that looked at cross sections of cohorts, this study looked at the same group of Ph.D. students from 39 US research universities during their first and fourth years in their programs.
In the first year, 80% of Ph.D. candidates were interested in an academic career. By the fourth year, only 60% were interested in an academic career. Furthermore, 25% of those not interested in an academic career in the fourth year were interested in their first year and 5% of those interested in an academic career had earlier belonged to the 20% with no initial interest in such a career path.
The study, linked above, concludes that the reasons for the change in preference for an academic career is not necessarily an adjustment to labor market expectations but, rather, due to the fact that most new Ph.D. students don’t have a clear career plan and working closely with faculty exposes the students to many aspects of the academic career that don’t appear as attractive upon closer examination.
We’d like to stress that this study only examined Ph.D. students in science and engineering. It’s feasible the same conclusions may not be valid for Ph.D.s in other fields.