How do Canadian PhDs fare in the job market?

Statistics Canada tracks the class of 2005 to find out
||Last Updated: 02/01/2011

About one in 10 candidates (12 per cent) who earn a doctorate degree in Canada move to the United States, but the majority of those that leave are planning to return, according to Statistics Canada.

The agency focused on the class of 2005, when about 4,200 candidates earned a doctorate degree in Canada. By 2007, 12 per cent of them were living in the U.S.

There were two fields of study (life sciences and computer, mathematics and physical sciences) that accounted for the highest proportions of doctoral graduates who left Canada for the U.S. The vast majority of doctoral graduates in both fields had a job waiting for them south of the border.

The factor most commonly cited for attracting doctoral graduates stateside was the quality of the research facilities or the commitment to research in that country.


In 2007, two years after they graduated, the median income of all doctoral graduates amounted to $65,000. This study showed an earnings gap of $18,000 between those who planned to take a postdoctoral position after graduation and those who intended to enter directly into the labour market. Graduates who planned to take a postdoctoral position had a median income of $54,000, while those who planned to directly enter the labour market had a median income of $72,000.

The difference was largest in the life sciences, where graduates who intended to take a postdoctoral position earned a median income of $45,000, compared with the $72,000 of graduates with no postdoctoral intentions.

The job market

Employment outcomes of doctoral graduates varied across fields of study. Humanities graduates, for example, showed higher rates of both unemployment and part-time employment compared with graduates in other fields. However, those who were employed had a median income that was comparable to graduates from other fields of study.

About 56 per cent of graduates found employment in educational services, mostly in universities. Employment in educational services was highest among humanities graduates (77 per cent).

Employment in educational services was lowest among engineering graduates (34 per cent), who instead showed more diverse employment patterns, with 31 per cent reporting working in professional, scientific and technical services and 13 per cent, in manufacturing.

Overqualified workers

This study used two definitions to identify overqualified individuals — one, a self-reported indicator and the other, an indicator which compared the respondent's level of education to the level needed to obtain the job. The analysis shows the skill set of some graduates was not being fully utilized in the job they held two years after graduation — about 19 per cent of graduates stated they were overqualified, while 30 per cent reported a doctoral degree was not required to obtain the job they were in.

There were notable differences across fields of study. Engineering graduates were most likely to indicate that they were overqualified (28 per cent). Graduates from education and other fields were most likely to report that that they did not require a doctoral degree to get their job (43 per cent).

Overqualification had an impact on earnings as well. Employed graduates who reported being overqualified for their job had a median income that was $5,000 lower than other graduates. There were significant differences between over-qualified and non-overqualified graduates in psychology and social sciences ($5,000), the humanities ($17,000), and education and other fields of study ($14,000).

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