11 thoughts on “Should graduate programs report their attrition and job placement statistics for prospective students to consider? Would that information have influenced your graduate school decisions?

  1. Yes, this would have made a big difference for me. I might have chosen a different graduate program if I had had access to this type of information when I was in the admissions process. Statistics on time to completion of the degree would also be very helpful. Ideally, this would include not just the average time-to-degree, but also some indication of the variability/range, such as perhaps the 1st and 99th percentiles of the distribution. In addition to these objective quantitative measures, it would also be very helpful to be able to see some basic survey data from the current and former students of the program (anonymized, and summarized in aggregate, of course), such as ratings of overall satisfaction with the program, and, in the case of students who withdrew from the program, their primary reason for withdrawing.

    Here is a story from a PhD student I know, which illustrates why data on time to degree completion would be helpful. While he was in the admissions process, he decided on a criterion of “around 5 years” as the maximum length of PhD program he was interested in. When he asked a professor in his preferred program how long it takes to complete the degree, she said that the “normative time” to degree is 5 years and explained that the actual average time to degree might be a bit longer than that. He decided that that was close enough to meeting his criterion and entered the program. A couple of years into his PhD program, the university did a study of completion times in all its graduate programs, and this data showed that his graduate program actually took an average of well over 6 years to complete, and this figure had been trending steadily upwards in recent years. Presumably, the professor he had spoken to had not been aware of this at the time because the program was not routinely tracking this data. This was just one of a number of things about the program that turned out to be significantly different from the understandings he had had about it before entering, and it eventually became clear that he had made a big mistake in choosing to enter that program.

    Some of the things that prospective graduate students need to know about graduate programs are not easy to encapsulate in quantitative metrics. But for those that are, if this data was routinely being measured and made available, it would greatly improve the ability of grad students to make good choices, choices that they will be remain satisfied with over time, and that will enable them to accomplish their training goals.

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  2. I wish more graduate programs were forthcoming about these job placement statistics and metrics- how many students were “gainfully employed” as of graduation, as of 6 months after graduation, etc. Are they sending their students to industry, academia, national labs, not profits, start-ups, or post-docs? Are both masters and PhD students finding jobs at the same rate?

    While I am not sure how much these numbers would have effected my personal decision, I know that for a lot of Master’s students, immediate job placement is a huge consideration, especially since there is often less funding and more personal student loans involved.

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  3. Yes, for all of the reasons listed this, is useful information to have. I’d like to add that departments that have contact with their former students can use that as a resource for current students. Specifically, if the department knows what career paths former students have followed, especially if it’s a non-academic track, then they (the former students) can share their experiences with current students.

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  4. It is irresponsible for departments NOT to track their PhD students at least (master’s students are iffy because they change jobs a lot and Ba/BS should be a matter of the alumnae/I offices). Some disciplines do annual surveys of departments to track placement; some departments actually care about and track time to degree. Both should be info widely available at the admissions level.

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  5. This is absolutely essential. In order for market forces to be able to work to correct the current imbalance in the academic labor market, trainees need to have easy access to high quality data on the career trajectories of PhD holders and the skills and qualifications that led to these trajectories. There is a good article about this on naturejobs.com:
    http://www.nature.com/naturejobs/science/articles/10.1038/nj7541-121a?WT.mc_id=TWT_NatureNews

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  6. The current system, in which prospective graduate students do not generally have access to high quality information on graduate program outcomes, is not only unethical to prospective students by allowing them to be easily misinformed, it also hurts the larger economy. This situation is an example of what economists call an “information asymmetry”, a type of market failure that distorts the economy, reducing economic efficiency and slowing economic growth. I do not see how the sciences can claim to be contributing positively to the economy, while we maintain a massive distortion in our labor market by attracting many of the best and brightest young adults into roles that will, in many cases, ultimately prevent them from being able to establish successful careers and maximize the value of their contributions to society in the ways that they use their time and talents. If we want to be able to make a strong case that science is good for the economy, we need to “walk our talk” by correcting this huge market failure.

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  7. Here is another example that illustrates the current lack of transparency about graduate program outcomes and why it is a problem. I know of a university where all of the PhD students are asked to complete a survey when they graduate or withdraw from their program. The survey asks whether they are satisfied with the PhD program they just experienced. The data from this survey is not publicly available, but someone who worked in the graduate school office says that only around half of the PhD students leave satisfied, and it has been that way for quite some time.

    It seems unethical that this data exists but is not being shared with the people who need it most, the prospective PhD students. The outcomes they will achieve in their lives will be partially determined by their choice of whether to enter one of this university’s PhD programs, and this is a very big factor to not be aware of when making that choice. Also, for the scientific funding agencies, the lack of this type of information about PhD program quality creates risk of making poor investments in the training PhD students. It also appears that most of the faculty and administrators of the university are unaware of this data: If more of them where aware of it, they might be more motivated to pursue improvements to the university’s PhD programs.

    The federal scientific and educational agencies should create their own survey of PhD student satisfaction and experiences in each PhD program, and make the results publicly available for prospective PhD students to consider when making admissions decisions and for funders to consider when allocating training funds. This would create a healthy competition between universities, and between PhD programs, to maximize the quality of the training they provide.

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  8. It should be noted that a number of recent reports from leading scientific agencies and organizations have called for the provision of standardized data on graduate program outcomes. Here are links to some of them:

    http://acd.od.nih.gov/biomedical_research_wgreport.pdf

    http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/about/governance/acs-presidential-commission-on-graduation-education-in-the-chemical-sciences.html

    http://www.faseb.org/SustainingDiscovery/Home.aspx

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  9. There are systemic problems in academia with misinforming, or under-informing, of graduate students on topics such as: 1) the job market for degree holders, 2) funding available to pay for graduate school, 3) requirements of mentors, etc. Because of this problem, one of the biggest risks that grad students face is the risk of making major life decisions on the basis of information that is not accurate, complete, or balanced, and ending up losing important opportunities or becoming committed/invested in situations that are harmful to the student’s interests. The misinforming of graduate students is not usually done intentionally. It is sometimes the result of carelessness or lack of awareness of the risks facing graduate students. In other cases it results from the use of a “salesmanship” approach to recruiting, in which the benefits of graduate school are accentuated and the risks are obscured or minimized. The tendency for grad students to be misinformed is exacerbated by the economic incentives to get cheap labor from grad students.

    Some groups who are especially vulnerable to being misinformed include students who are changing fields when they enter grad school, and students who got their undergraduate degree at a liberal arts college with no graduate students, since these groups may not have access to any “inside information” about the less attractive realities of graduate study in the field they are entering. Yet, interdisciplinary scientists play an important role in the progress of science, since the diversity of thought they contribute is essential for solving real world problems that do not respect disciplinary boundaries. Another group that is especially affected is students who need to fully support themselves throughout the admissions process and through grad school, or who have extra needs or responsibilities, such as those who are parents/caretakers or who have disabilities, etc. These students may have less time to search for information, forcing them to rely more heavily on the information they are given and to take more guesses and “leaps of faith”, which may or may not work out for them. The systemic problems with the accuracy and completeness of the information that grad students have access to is especially hazardous to these groups and results in graduate school outcomes that are “structurally discriminatory” against them.

    Anything the NSF can do to reduce the frequency with which graduate students are misinformed about the realities of graduate study in general, or the specifics of the graduate school opportunities they are considering, would help make graduate school a safer, fairer, and more humane experience. It would also make graduate education a more accurate selection mechanism for selecting the most capable future scientists who will contribute the most to advancing science.

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