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Having seen some questions asking about the costs/risks/benefits of doing a PhD I wonder if any academic teaching organisations actually contact their students after graduation and seek structured feedback (qualitative and quantitative) about the perceived or actual longer-term costs and benefits of their degree (bachelor's, master's or doctorate). And if so, do any of them publish the results? My own alma mater have never asked for feedback (just contributions!).

  • I took part in a survey for my alma mater, but I have not seen the results yet. Only the plans to measure success. And yes, they asked for contributions :). My earlier alma mater did ask a question about how prepared the alumni felt for the job, with good approval ratings, but it is a small, ridiculously selective institution in a not-so-Western country, and is hardly generalizable to anything. – StasK Oct 28 '14 at 15:20
  • @Stask. The plans look quite serious. I suppose that any interest in performance measurement is better than no interest. But the value of self-assessed performance reports is always questionable, e.g. who reports on the students who dropped out along the way? – steveOw Oct 28 '14 at 23:15
  • One learns from failures more than from successes. So yes, the dropouts should be in the picture. But they are impossible to get -- alumni are hard enough. – StasK Oct 29 '14 at 3:28
  • "objective survey of [...] satisfaction" Hmmm ... I am so glad I'm not in a people science. – dmckee Feb 8 '15 at 18:22
  • @dmckee. Ha! I guess life must be so much simpler in Physics... dealing with all those concrete concepts like spin, charm, light, virtual photons, ... ;-). – steveOw Feb 9 '15 at 17:03
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Yes, here is an example.

A quantitative assessment of the 'long-term costs and benefits' is complicated by the subjective aspects of many parameters. For example, some individuals value salary over independence, other don't. But my alma mater, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) does objective surveys and statistics on alumni employment. These numbers should be interpreted knowing that answers are given on a voluntary basis and, the EPFL being modest in size, n is small.

Some examples of the results (for 2011):

"One year after graduation, MSc graduates who did not start PhD studies are employed at 90.9% by the industry in Switzerland. It took them an average of 9.5 weeks and 12 job applications to find a job (less than in 2010). Their average entry-level salary (in Switzerland) was CHF 77,967 in the private sector and CHF 76,591 in the public sector (slightly more than in 2010).

One year after PhD graduation, 90.5% of graduates have a job. However, finding a job was harder: they needed an average of 14.9 weeks and 19 job applications (significantly more than in 2010). Salaries are also lower than before, average entry-level salaries were CHF 93,716 in the private sector and CHF 82,720 in the public sector."

They also asked PhD graduates if they think their degree is 'useful for their careers':

  • 29% said it was mandatory,
  • 29% that it gave them significant advantage over non-PhDs,
  • 40% that it was sometimes an advantage, sometimes detrimental depending on the employer,
  • 4% that it gave them no advantage whatsoever, and
  • 1% had no idea.

Some more data on work satisfaction of PhD graduates:

                    very high    high    average     low     very low
overall sat.        21%          54%     23%         1%      1%
interesting job     19%          51%     24%         4%      1%
adequate training   22%          41%     22%         14%     1%
degree recognition  24%          38%     28%         9%      0%
salary              8%           29%     51%         10%     1%

Here is the link to the original document (in French).

Notes: translations are mine, 1CHF=~1US$, the MSc is considered the 'undergraduate degree', global unemployment in Switzerland is <4%, PhD studies are funded with a salary of roughly CHF 50'000 with negligible tuition, these are numbers for PhD in sciences and engineering, numbers for humanities are very different.

  • Very informative, thanks for abstracting it so clearly. I guess its always going to be difficult to get meaningful data unless enforced by government. But this does at least seem to show that 75% of PhD graduates were more than averagely satisfied. It would be interesting to compare different institutions and (as you indicate) the "very different" results for humanities. By the way CHF 50,000 salary for a PhD student sounds rather good even considering high living costs in Switzerland. – steveOw Oct 28 '14 at 17:56
  • @steveOw, yes the PhD salaries are good in Switzerland, the 'sacrifice' is much smaller than, say in the US, where you live on meager stipend and lose many years of good pay. – Cape Code Oct 28 '14 at 18:03

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