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UW–Madison conferred the most PhDs in 2017

March 5, 2019 By Meghan Chua

The University of Wisconsin–Madison granted more doctorates than any other U.S. institution in 2017, rising from 2nd place the year before.

The 844 awarded doctorates place the UW at the top of PhD-granting institutions, according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates. Overall, U.S. institutions granted 54,664 doctorates, a decrease of about half a percent from 2016.

The university also granted the second-most doctorates in the life sciences, which encompasses agricultural sciences and natural resources, biological and biomedical sciences, and health sciences.

“Graduate school uniquely prepares students to contribute their talents to our society, and to be the engines of innovation, which drives our economy,” says Graduate School Dean William J. Karpus. “The quality of a UW–Madison graduate education stems from a strong research enterprise, dedicated faculty, and the network of ideas and resources that exist here.”

UW–Madison supports students throughout graduate school with opportunities to strengthen their academic, research and professional skills. In an exit survey given to all graduating doctoral students, more than 80 percent rated their UW–Madison graduate program and academic experience as excellent or very good.

Another survey in 2017 on understanding PhD career pathways found that over 75 percent of UW–Madison graduate alumni felt their programs prepared them extremely well or very well for their careers. This sentiment increased among alumni further from graduation and more established in their careers.

“The graduate training I received at UW–Madison helped me overcome self-doubt and trained me in the art of ‘idea sharing,’” says Alejandra Huerta, who earned her doctorate in plant pathology in 2015 and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Colorado State University studying resistance to diseases in plants.

“Graduate school does that — we’re always casting new hypotheses, they’re not always right, we’re always reformulating them and, most importantly, learning from the process,” she says.

UW–Madison graduates go on to careers in a variety of fields. Over half of doctoral alumni who responded to the career pathways survey reported working in any type of job in higher education, including faculty, administration, research and staff positions. Of the total respondents, 34 percent are faculty members.

About a quarter of alumni reported working in the business sector. Smaller percentages of alumni reported working in government (8 percent), nonprofit organizations (6 percent), and elementary and secondary education (2 percent).

Jessa Lewis Valentine came to UW–Madison to study the economic benefits of college, eventually earning her PhD in sociology in 2015. She took advantage of training opportunities through the Interdisciplinary Training Program in the Education Sciences (ITP) and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, which led to her current work as a higher education consultant with DVP-PRAXIS LTD.

“My experience with ITP, combined with the sociology department’s strong research methods training, prepared me very well for my current role,” says Valentine. “I had wonderfully supportive mentors who all loved their own academic careers but who were very supportive of my pursuit of a different path.”

With the career pathways survey, UW–Madison seeks to better gauge the relationship between its doctoral training programs and career outcomes, while also identifying ways to strengthen support and programming for current students.

“As the university continues to be a powerhouse in research and graduate education, we’re recognizing and acting upon a need to make career outcomes data available, allowing us to further improve the quality of the Wisconsin experience,” Karpus says.

Prospective and current students, and members of the public, can see data from the UW–Madison pathways survey online. In the coming months, the Graduate School will also publish the data in an interactive visualization, and share data briefs to inform the campus community.