When not vigorously exercising to purge holiday excess…
January 7th, 2011

When not vigorously exercising to purge holiday excess or catching up to emails and deadline-sensitive commitments, I have been chewing over the latest Statistics Canada report, “Expectations and Labour Market Outcomes of Doctoral Graduates from Canadian Universities.” As with almost all reports, it’s not exactly a page turner, but it does reveal some juicy material about the current employment environment.

To save you the agony of pouring through 60 or so pages, here is a digest of the key findings:

•    [Although] doctoral graduates represent only a small proportion of the Canadian workforce — 0.8% in 2006 – they have a significant impact on Canada’s long term economic prosperity due to their contributions to innovation and productivity growth through research and educational activities.
•    Canada lags [far] behind other developed countries in the production of doctoral degrees.
•    Two years following graduation, 24% of leavers had returned to Canada after spending some time in the United States, while the majority still in the United States continued to have intentions of returning.
•    A possible exodus of highly-educated workers or the threat of a “brain drain” not only out of the country, but also out of the labour market remains an important policy issue.
•    Fewer doctorates in Canada are employed by the private sector than in many other countries.
•    Fewer Canadian doctoral graduates in 2005/2006 were expecting to be employed by industry than were American graduates, by about 5 percentage points. Instead, Canadian graduates were more likely to be employed by governments.
•    Two fields of study accounted for nearly half of all 2005 doctoral graduates who lived in Canada or the United States in 2007: 29% graduated from life sciences programs and 19% from psychology and social sciences programs.
•    Women accounted for 46% of doctoral graduates in the class of 2005; an increase of 11 percentage points compared to their proportion in the class of 1995, which stood at 35%.
•    Although the median age of doctoral graduates was 33 years at the time of graduation in 2005, graduates in education and other fields of study reported the oldest median age at 42 years. These graduates were also much older at the start of their doctoral program; 36 years compared to an overall median age of 27.
•    After English and French, Chinese languages were the third largest group, as 8% of doctoral degree holders reported a Chinese language as their mother tongue. This percentage is more than twice the proportion reported in the general Canadian population (3%).
•    Overall, 28% of doctorate graduates reported being members of a visible minority group and this proportion varied by field of study.
•    More than half the graduates with firm plans (56%) expected to join the labour market upon graduation. Proportionally more women graduates (61%) than men (52%) had plans for employment, whereas about half the men (48%) were planning to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship or other training.
•    In 2007, the median income for all graduates was $65,000, while graduates at the 25th percentile were paid $48,387 and those at the 75th percentile were paid $79,000.
•    Graduates’ incomes also showed considerable variation across fields of study.
•    The highest incomes were reported by graduates of programs in education and other fields of study ($80,000).
•    Income differences were also noted between men and women and between immigrants and Canadians by birth. Across all fields of study, men were paid a median income of $65,000 compared to $61,000 for women. The difference was largest in education and other fields of study as well as in the life sciences, where the difference in median income was about $8,000. While in education and other fields, the men were paid more than the women, in the life sciences it was the women who earned more than men, $57,000 versus $49,462. Psychology and social sciences was the only other field for which there was a significant difference, namely $7,000. It is unclear how much of the difference may be due to more specific field of study choices within these aggregate categories.
•    There were notable differences across fields of study. Engineering graduates were the most likely to indicate that they were overqualified for their position (28%), while graduates from education or other fields were the most likely to report that education below a doctorate was required for obtaining their job (43%). On both definitions, life science graduates were the least likely to be overqualified (16% and 21% respectively).
•    The report shows that the skill set of doctorate graduates is not being fully utilized as nearly one third of graduates did not require a doctoral degree for the job they were currently doing. That being said, this finding applies to graduates only two years following graduation. It might be expected that with career progression, these doctorate holders may see the education-job skills match improve over time. This has implications for the economy and for the education choices that individuals are making.

These findings, which are the key highlights, are fascinating. To me, they indicate that Canada still doesn’t know what to do with its earned doctoral cohort, even though the trend is to encourage more PhDs. We’re still catching up to ourselves, it seems.


Thanks to jessamyn for sharing their photo via flickr and creative commons.

Dr. Faye Murrin is Dean pro tempore of the School of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of Biology. She completed her B.Sc. (Hons.) at Memorial University, her M.Sc. at Acadia University, and her Ph.D. at Queen's University. Her research interests have always been focused on fungi, in particular the cell biology of insect pathogenic fungi and, more recently, the ecology of mycorrhizal mushrooms in the boreal forest. Dr. Murrin has served in a number of positions on the Council of the Mycological Society of America and was awarded the title of MSA Fellow for her contributions. She was awarded the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Membership Award as founding co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Summer Program. Dr. Murrin participates in public lectures and workshops, and is a Director on the board of Newfoundland Foray, Inc.

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