Press Release

ESF-Science Connect publishes outcomes of its career tracking survey of doctorate holders

Doctorate holders find intellectually satisfying jobs in academia, industry or government, but those in academia are least happy with job security

ESF-Science Connect has just published the report with the findings of its 2017 Career Tracking Survey of doctorate holders. The survey, focusing on doctoral graduates of the years 2010 to 2016, was launched in March 2017 and collected over 2,000 responses, with a response rate of 23 %. The survey studied their employment situation, satisfaction levels, PhD skills utilisation and mobility patterns. This project built on the work of ESF Member Organisation Forum ‘European Alliance on Research Career Development’ (EARCD) and on an ESF pilot study Career tracking of Doctorate Holders (2014) completed in 2015.

The following nine universities and organisations participated in the survey: University of Maastricht, Technical University of Munich, Goethe Research Academy for Early Career Researchers (GRADE) at Goethe University Frankfurt, University of Bucharest, University of Split, University of Luxembourg, Institute of Science and Technology, Austria, and the AXA Research Fund, France. The project enables universities and organisations to monitor careers of their graduates and evaluate their doctoral training and career advice, but also to engage in a discussion on standards, measures and intended outcomes of doctoral training schemes and career development.

“As the central (post) graduate academy of Goethe University Frankfurt, one of our prime goals is to develop and continually improve our program and services so that early career researchers get the best start possible into their future careers at the university or beyond, in industry and society. The Career Tracking Survey coordinated by ESF-Science Connect provides a lot of inspiration and its results will be invaluable for us to achieve our goals”, said Dr. Sybille Küster, Managing Director, GRADE – Goethe Research Academy for Early Career Researchers, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

The findings across all partners included a very high employability of doctorate holders (95%) with a vast majority working as researchers (80%). Doctorate holders also experienced a relatively smooth transition into the job market, with 40 % of them already having a job at graduation, and those without, on average, having found one within four months.

However, the report shows that there is a major difference between academic and non-academic sectors in terms of permanent employment, which indicates a persistent structural problem within academia: only 50 % of those working in universities are permanently employed compared to, for instance, 95 % of those working in industry. University staff are least satisfied with their job security out of graduates in all other workplace categories. Looking at overall job satisfaction levels, doctorate holders working in industry are most satisfied with their jobs, while those working in hospitals and universities are the least satisfied.

About 34 % of all researchers are employed in post-doctorate positions and over 40% in other positions such as research fellows, specialists or Assistant Professors. “While post-doctorate positions are often meant to be temporary – the term “post-doctoral” is not a status, at best a temporal characterization, the lack of more permanent positions for researchers in their later career stages is less acceptable”, says Jean-Claude Worms, ESF Chief Executive.

The majority of respondents work in jobs that are at least partly related to their PhD and are similarly well satisfied with the intellectual challenge offered by their job, whether they work in academia, industry or government.

Overall, respondents see their doctorate as an added value and would do it again if they had to restart their career. However, those engaged in research reported feeling better prepared for their jobs after their doctorate completion than those who took other jobs. The report findings also suggest that organisations could pay more attention to transferable skills training, which are of use both in academia and elsewhere (e.g. communication, networking or project management). This seems especially important since nearly 40 % of researchers are planning to change to a non-research career in the next three years. “Although universities are not the only institutions responsible for ensuring employability of PhDs, they need to adapt their curricula and strategies to help their doctorate holders be even better prepared for professional careers outside academia”, added Jean-Claude Worms.

Among the respondents, a dominant share (60 %) are currently working in the academic field, although it varies across participating organisations (e.g. among the PhD graduates from Technical University of Munich, there are only 35 % who work in academia and nearly 50 % are in industry and other business sector). As the report discusses, growing numbers of doctorate holders in Europe, paucity of permanent positions in academia and low level of transfer to other employment sectors call for more attention on more career guidance informing of alternative career choices.

“We are currently launching a call for universities and research performing organisations to take part in the 2018 survey. There is a clear benefit to continue and scale up career tracking surveys so that we can provide reliable and comparable data to more partner organisations thus building up the benchmarking capacity of the project”, says Julia Boman, Science Officer in charge of career tracking activities at ESF-Science Connect.

More information on the project (including the report) is available on

More information on the call for 2018 career tracking survey of doctorate holders is available on

Testimonials from partner organisations:

"This survey has given post-doctorate researchers the opportunity to have a say. Now we have a clear picture in our institute on the status quo. At the same time we are discussing further improvements and developments. In that sense the survey is extremely beneficial for our current and future doctoral candidates"
Andreas Bladt, Responsible Doctoral Education Unit (HR) at Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), Luxembourg

“Taking part in the ESF-SCIENCE CONNECT survey as a cooperative effort allowed for multiple discussions and reflections on standards, measures and intended outcomes of doctoral training schemes and career development. The results paint a highly differentiated picture of graduate careers and enable us to improve targeted support for doctoral candidates”

Dr. Michael Klimke, Managing Director, TUM Graduate School, Technical University of Munich, Germany

“The careers of IST Austria’s alumni will be one of the most important indicators of success for our young institution. The study conducted by the ESF-Science Connect has provided us with interesting insights about our alumni’s professional life after graduation and given us an overview of how the career paths of our alumni develop”
Georg Schneider, Managing Director of IST Austria

“ESF-Science Connect Career Tracking Survey is a valuable source of information that provides insight into PhD education as a worthwhile investment, and a tool that can help us devise even better PhD program for our students”
Damir Sapunar and Livia Puljak, Directors of the TRIBE PhD program, University of Split School School of Medicine, Croatia

“The University of Bucharest has prioritized doctoral studies, aiming to be not only the best university in Romania, but also to be competitive globally. The ESF-Science Connect survey provides valuable data about the employability of our graduates and about their satisfaction with our doctoral programs, as well as stimuli for strengthening our measures to enhance transferable skills and to stimulate the research activity of the doctoral students”
Prof. dr. Bogdan Murgescu, director of the Council for Doctoral Studies, University of Bucharest.

- ENDS -

Notes to editors

For further information please contact Julia Boman at ctmp[at]esf[dot]org

About European Science Foundation (ESF)
Based in Strasbourg, France, ESF was established in 1974 as an independent, non-governmental, non-profit organisation to provide a common platform for its Member Organisations to collaborate internationally on research programmes through its networking, funding and coordination activities. The launch of Science Connect, our new expert services division, marks the next phase of ESF’s role, borne out of our deep understanding of the science landscape, funding context and needs of the research community at this critical juncture.

About Science Connect
Science Connect is the ESF expert division which mission is to partner with clients in leading successful projects and in facilitating informed decision-making through a broad range of science-support services including Peer Review, Evaluation, Career Tracking, Programme and Project Management and Administration, the hosting of Expert Boards and Virtual Institutes. Building on ESF’s extensive network and experience, Science Connect delivers resources, tools and metrics to support the effective administration of science projects in both the private and public research sector.