UNC has a long history of training and equipping life science PhD trainees with the skills needed to succeed in a wide array of scientific careers.  We are proud to have trainees contributing to the advancement of science through fulfilling careers in many research-intensive and research-related careers in academic, industry, government, and non-profit sectors.

The UNC training model is focussed on engaging trainees in the highest-quality and best-funded science in the world. UNC is consistently ranked in the top 10  among universities in terms of overall research R&D spending, NIH grant funding, and overall federal funding. Since the start of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program (BBSP) in 2007, our PhD retention rate is 92.5%.  This is a testament to UNC’s supportive environment.  Similarly, the average time from the first day of new student orientation to PhD graduation ceremony for trainees who enter through BBSP is 5.5 years, far below the national average of 6.9 years (ref).

From 2000-2014, 1105 PhD trained biological/biomedical scientists have graduated from UNC (Figure 1). At the end of 2015 we used a variety of methods to reach out to these alumni to ask what careers they are currently in.  We gathered accurate placement data for 91% of these alumni and the charts below show where they are now and how they are using their training to benefit the scientific enterprise.

Figure 1.  UNC Life Science PhD Graduates from 2000-2014 (n=1105)

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Figure 2. Snapshot of UNC’s Life Science PhD graduates from 2000-2014 (n=1105)


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You’ll notice that 26% of the graduates shown in Figure 2 are currently in postdoctoral training.  These postdoctoral trainees are among our most recent graduates and as their training ends they choose many different career paths.  Therefore it is instructive to look at the career distribution of our trainees without the grey-colored “Postdoc Training” or peach-colored “Info Not Available” pieces of the pie.

Figure 3. Non-training Career Placements of UNC’s Life Science Graduates from 2000-2014 (n=718)

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Figure 3 shows that after removing temporary postdoc trainees, the greatest percentage of our graduates (31%) choose a career in Academia, which includes tenure track researchers at R1 institutions, tenure track educators at liberal arts colleges, and research track professors.  The next largest career path is industry research (28%), which includes positions at pharmaceutical companies, biotech startups, contract research organizations and other similar careers.  Other graduates are making important impacts on the scientific research enterprise through careers in business development, science administration, consulting, intellectual property, science policy, science communication, and other fulfilling careers.

Many trainees wonder what percentage of our recent graduates continue their training in postdoctoral appointments.  In the most recent graduating cohort roughly 62% of graduates were in a postdoctoral training appointment one year after graduation.  Figures 4-6 below show graduate career placements in 5-year cohorts based on graduation year.  One can see the percentage of postdocs diminish as the trainees take their first positions in the academic, industry, government and non-profit sectors.

Figure 4. Career Placements and Postdoctoral Training for Graduates from 2010-2014 (n=462)

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Figure 5. Career Placements and Postdoctoral Training for Graduates from 2005-2009 (n=350)

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Figure 6. Career Placements and Postdoctoral Training for Graduates from 2000-2004 (n=196)

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Starting in 2012 we have been surveying our current PhD trainees to ask about their career interests.  In general, the careers that trainees state an interest in during graduate school (see Figure 7), mirror the career placements shown in the figures above.  If you have any questions about the data presented here please contact Dr. Patrick Brandt, Director of Career Development and Training, at pdb@unc.edu.

Figure 7. Career Interests of Current UNC Graduate Students From 2012-2014.


Figure 4 legend. Survey response data from 2012-2014 showing career interests of current PhD trainees.


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