In 2003, the number of first-year physics and astronomy graduate students
reached the highest level since 1994, according to a report by the American
Institute of Physics' Statistical Research Center. The October 2004
report also highlights an upturn in the number of US citizens who are
starting graduate school in physics and astronomy, while the numbers
of students from China and India continue to grow as well.
The report presents the results of surveys of first-year graduate students
for the academic years ending in 2002 and 2003. "Total enrollment
of first-year physics and astronomy graduate students has fluctuated
considerably over time," the report says. "After reaching
a recent peak of 3,481 in 1992, the number fell to a low of 2,559 by
the end of the decade. Since then, the number has been rising slowly
but steadily, reaching the latest high of 3,076 in 2003." After
an almost thirty-year decline, the number of first-year students from
the US hit a low of 47 % in 2001, but the report finds that "Beginning
with the students who entered in the fall of 2001, the percentage of
students who were from the US began to rise, reaching 54% in 2003."
The report goes on to say, "Although it might be tempting to ascribe
this shift to the impact of the events of September 11, 2001, the shift
actually started with students who had already begun their studies in
the US prior to that date," and may be partly attributable to more
US citizens earning bachelors in physics and astronomy and to a poor
Of foreign students, China and India provide "an increasing number,"
while "Europe showed significant declines." "These findings
are a bit surprising," the report states, "considering many
recent press reports about visa difficulties being especially severe
for prospective Chinese students. However...the class of 2002-03 was
the first to enter after 9/11, and delays in the implementation of many
of the new regulations mean that the full impact may not show up until
we analyze the responses of those entering in the fall of 2003."
The report finds "significant growth in the enrollment of women
among first-year physics and astronomy graduate students...rising from
16% in 1995 to slightly more than 20% in 2003." It says that teaching
assistantships are the most common type of financial support for first-year
graduate students, although "it is expected that a large proportion
of the teaching assistants will move into research assistantships by
the time they are in their third year of study." It also says that,
"For US students, the most popular subfields are astronomy and
astrophysics (16%), condensed matter (14%), and particles and fields
(11%). Among foreign students, condensed matter (22%) is first, followed
by particles and fields (10%)." Most of those students planning
to obtain a PhD want to work in academia, while "an industrial
setting is the most popular goal" for those who only plan to complete
a masters degree.
The report, "Graduate Student Report: First-Year Physics and Astronomy
Students in 2002 and 2003," (R-207.34), is available on the AIP
web site, along with many other reports on physics education and workforce
issues, at http://www.aip.org/statistics.
Select "Graduate Education" and click on "Full Reports."