Research Funding for Ph.D. Recipients Helps Fuel the U.S. Economy, According to Science Article Co-Authored by AIR Institute Fellow Julia Lane

Washington, D.C. – Close to 40 percent of newly minted Ph.D.s graduating from a sampling of major research universities took jobs in industry, landing disproportionately in large, high-wage establishments, according to a new article in Science based partly on work conducted at the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

The article, co-authored by AIR Institute Fellow Julia Lane, numbers among the first to track grant-funded doctoral research’s effects on the national economy. Researchers combed U.S. Census Bureau data and institutional information on 3,197 graduate students who worked on federal and non-federal research grants at eight major universities: Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Penn State and Wisconsin. The study scrutinized earnings from 2010-2012 and placement outcomes of people receiving doctorates in 2009-2011.

“While the links we found are not causal, this work is a first step toward describing the connection between research funding and the economy,” Lane said. “And the results are extremely interesting. Doctoral recipients who go into industry earn considerably more and end up in larger establishments with higher payrolls per worker. In the future, the integration of the data with census information will permit even richer analyses, such as the propensity of researchers to start up businesses.”

The paper will appear in the Dec. 11 issue of the weekly journal Science, published by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. The researchers expect that the expansion of the data infrastructure to more institutions than the eight studied— predominantly large public Midwestern universities with sizeable engineering programs and medical schools—will shed additional insights into the economic and scientific results of research funding.

Among the paper’s findings:

  • While most graduate students (57.1 percent) went in to academia, a large percentage (38.7 percent) found jobs in industry—about 17 percent in establishments that perform research and development. By comparison, 10.8 percent of the U.S. workforce is employed in such establishments.
  • For each university studied, one in five doctoral recipients stayed in the state where the university was located. About 13 percent stayed within 50 miles of the university.
  • The share of Ph.D. recipients employed in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, semiconductors and computer systems design was between 4 and 19 times the national average.
  • The median establishment employing doctoral recipients from these institutions had a higher payroll per worker (over $90,000) than the median U.S. establishment, with just over $33,000 per worker.
  • While only 8.3 percent of the U.S. workforce and 24 percent of workers at establishments owned by firms conducting research and development had payrolls per worker over $100,000, just over half (51 percent) of the sample of doctoral recipients did.

“Wrapping It Up in a Person: Examining Employment and Earning Outcomes for Ph.D. Recipients” can be found at

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit


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