Indicator

Years to Attainment of a Humanities Doctorate

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Obtaining a doctoral degree in any field involves a significant investment of time, energy, and money (both in terms of foregone earnings and expenditures like tuition), and in recent years reformers in the humanities have focused on reducing time-to-degree while preparing graduates for an array of career options beyond academia.1 As data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) show, the road to the Ph.D. is longer in the humanities than in other academic fields.

(Note: These indicators present data for Ph.D.’s in both the humanities and the arts, which the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics combine in its public reporting of findings from the SED. But because the humanities produces substantially more Ph.D.’s each year than the fine/performing arts, the SED provides useful insight about the state of doctoral education in the humanities.)

Endnotes

  • 1MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature, Report of the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature (New York: MLA, May 2014); and Scott Jaschik, “A Broader History Ph.D.,” Inside Higher Ed, March 20, 2014.
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* Time in doctoral program is measured as the difference between the month and year the doctorate was granted and the month and year the doctoral program was started; however, program start is based on master’s program entry if the master’s degree was at the doctoral institution in the same fine field of study or was a prerequisite to the doctorate. The values for time to degree for years 2003 to 2012 are derived from custom tabulations purchased by the Humanities Indicators in 2014. Starting in 2014, the Indicators’ method for calculating time-to-degree (as time in doctoral program) was adopted by the data collector, but they did not include a value for 2013 in any of their published reports.
** Life sciences includes agricultural sciences and natural resources; biological and biomedical sciences; and health sciences.
† Physical sciences includes earth, computer, and information sciences, as well as mathematics. The latter three fields were reported separately beginning in 2015.

Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). A custom tabulation of SED data was prepared for the Humanities Indicators by NORC at the University of Chicago for the years 2003–2012. Since 2014, the values have been reported by NCSES in its annual Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, Table 31, https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/doctorates/ (accessed 2/15/2022). Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

The data on which this indicator is based are collected as part of the federal Survey of Earned Doctorates, a national census of recently graduated doctorate recipients.

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* Time in doctoral program is measured as the difference between the month and year the doctorate was granted and the month and year the doctoral program was started; however, program start is based on master’s program entry if the master’s degree was at the doctoral institution in the same fine field of study or was a prerequisite to the doctorate. The values for time to degree for years 2003 to 2012 are derived from custom tabulations purchased by the Humanities Indicators in 2014. Starting in 2014, the Indicators’ method for calculating time-to-degree (as time in doctoral program) was adopted by the data collector, but they did not include a value for 2013 in any of their published reports.
** “Letters” encompasses American literature (U.S. and Canada); classics; comparative literature; creative writing; English language; English literature (British & Commonwealth); rhetoric and composition; and speech and rhetorical studies.

Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). A custom tabulation of SED data was prepared for the Humanities Indicators by NORC at the University of Chicago for the years 2003–2012. Since 2014, the values have been reported by NCSES in its annual Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, Table 31, https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/doctorates/ (accessed 2/15/2022). Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

The data on which this indicator is based are collected as part of the federal Survey of Earned Doctorates, a national census of recently graduated doctorate recipients.

II-27c: Median Number of Years Spent by Ph.D. Recipients in Their Doctoral Programs, by Field and Phase of Program, Graduation Years 2004–2012*

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* Estimates include years in master’s degree program if part of the doctoral program. Respondents were directed to report years taking courses or preparing for exams as whole, rounded years.

Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED). A custom tabulation of SED data was prepared for the Humanities Indicators by NORC at the University of Chicago. Data presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

This indicator is based on data yielded by a question asked as part of the annual Survey of Earned Doctorates (see item A12 on the 2012–2013 questionnaire). The question consists of two parts, asking “How many years were you: a. taking courses or preparing for exams for this doctoral degree (including a master’s degree, if that was part of your doctoral program)?” and “b. working on your dissertation after coursework and exams (non-course-related preparation and research, writing and defense)?” The responses were given in whole, rounded years. Life sciences includes agricultural sciences and natural resources; biological, biomedical sciences; and health sciences. Physical sciences includes mathematics and computer and information sciences. Social sciences includes psychology.

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