Career Tracking of Doctorate Holders 2017

ESF kicks off a career tracking survey of doctorate holders with nine research performing and funding organisations on board


Who's participating?

Further to the open call for expressions of interest launched in 2016, the following nine organisations joined this survey:

  • The University of Maastricht, the Netherlands
  • Technical University of Munich, Germany
  • Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
  • University of Bucharest, Romania
  • University of Split, Croatia
  • University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg
  • Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, Luxembourg
  • Institute of Science and Technology, Austria
  • The AXA Research Fund, France

Why a career tracking survey?

Universities and non-university-based research performing organisations, as well as research funding organisations all want to better document the career trajectories of doctorate holders, to assess the impact of investment in research career development and to analyse practices aimed at the development of research careers.

With this survey, we aim to:

  • Understand where doctorate holders in the participating organisations moved in their careers (research vs. non-research careers);
  • Help understand and inform about occupational patterns of researchers, not only in academia but also industry, education, health and public administration;
  • Contribute to evidence building regarding the challenges, bottlenecks and opportunities that arise for people pursuing research careers;
  • Help universities and non-university research performing organisations to better tailor their doctoral education and career advice to meet researchers’ needs;
  • Explore whether doctoral training enabled respondents to develop towards their desired career goals within or outside academia;
  • Collect evidence that help funding organisations to evaluate the wider impact and benefit of schemes supporting research career development.

What is involved?

The ESF, together with its experts and partner organisations, designed an online questionnaire to collect anonymised data on doctorate holders up to seven years after PhD completion. This is a retrospective cross-sectional survey, which can be repeated at regular intervals or be a stand-alone project. Some of the participating organisations have already taken part in the pilot survey carried out in 2015, and will be able to compare the findings with the previous data collection.

The questionnaire has a core part common to all organisations, as well as additional organisation-specific modules elaborated together with the participating organisations. The total target population is being surveyed, which requires availability of up-to-date contact data for doctorate holders within participating organisations. We will collect relevant demographic, career mobility and social and economic outcome data of the doctorate holders including skills utilisation patterns and transfers.


The survey builds on the results of the ESF Member Organisation Forum ‘European Alliance on Research Career Development’ (EARCD) , and specifically its report ‘Research Careers In and Beyond Europe’  and for the Working Group report ‘How to Track Researchers’ Careers’ . It also builds on recommendations by the European Commission’s Expert Group on the Research Profession on ‘Excellence, Equality and Entrepreneurialism’ .

ESF designed, peer reviewed and tested the questionnaire for the pilot study ‘Career Tracking of Doctorate Holders’ that was successfully completed in 2015 . The following organisations took part: the AXA Research Fund, France, the Fonds National de la Recherche (FNR), Luxembourg, the Goethe Graduate Academy (GRADE), Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany, the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), Switzerland, and TDR, the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, a co-sponsored programme of UNICEF, UNDP, the World Bank and WHO.

Expected outcomes

  • Follow-up to the pilot study and further development of a framework for future career tracking studies
  • Explore methodological choices and challenges and adapt the questionnaire to the participants needs
  • Provide organisational level reports (one per participating organisation) including a statistical analysis for their cohort and comparison with the pooled results/data across all participating organisations
  • Provide the global final report for all participating organisations with the analysis of aggregated trends across all participating organisations
  • Advocate a joint initiative to promote career tracking studies across Europe

The Questionnaire

  • Focused on career tracking and follows the needs for participating organisations
  • Methodologically sound and pre-tested
  • User-friendly with around 45-50 concise questions and takes about 15-20 minutes to complete
  • Structured into sections: doctorate education, transition from the doctorate degree to the first position, employment situation and career related experience, physical, virtual and inter-sectoral mobility, and demographics

Active involvement of partner organisations

Partner organisations are required to provide a contact list of doctorate holders in the period of up to seven years after PhD completion (name, email and year of graduation); they actively participate in the survey preparation through membership of the Steering Committee and feedback on the methodology, analysis and progress of the project. Partner organisations are also required to make a contribution of funding towards the project.


ESF project team
Julia Boman – Science Officer/Project Manager
Julija Baginskaite – Junior Science Officer
Tiphaine Sturtz – Administrative Assistant

ESF Experts – Survey methodology
Professor Maresi Nerad, College of Education, University of Washington, US
Dr Nejc Berzelak and Dr Barbara Brečko, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia


Julia Boman
Science Officer
European Science Foundation
1, quai Lezay Marnésia BP 90015
F-67080 Strasbourg Cedex France
Phone: +33 (0)3 88 76 21 71
Email: ctmp[at]esf[dot]org