Tuesday, April 29, 2014

US News rankings in chemistry graduate schools

The latest U.S. News and World Report rankings in chemistry graduate schools (and their different subspecialties: analytical, theoretical, physicalorganic, inorganic, biochemistry) are out.  Does anyone pay attention to these things?

I will point out that USNWR relies solely on a reputational survey -- and that survey gets a 19% response rate for chemistry.  You might as well throw names in a hat.

Rather than argue about whether or not these specific ranking are baloney, does anyone know of actual rankings of chemistry graduate schools that have any sort of logical basis to them? 

20 comments:

  1. The NIH has a ranking of Chemistry grad schools. Or rather it is a compilation of rankings that factor in a lot of different things (other than reputation - things like employment prospects, funding, graduation rates) and the rankings are given as a score range.

    It is a little bit more useful than the US News one - I can filter my rankings based upon what *I* consider important - but at the same time with so much information and ranges (e.g., 43-112) it is harder to interpret/quantify...

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    1. Do you have a link for that? Thanks!

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    2. Actually, I must have been thinking about the National Research Council (NRC) rankings - since this links to what I was thinking about.
      http://graduate-school.phds.org/rankings/chemistry

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  2. I'm not sure that these ranking, even if 100% objective and accurate, would mean much. They might a little with finding your first job (your advisor would mean far more), but for too many people, their association of you to a school would be based on their perception of the school as it is today, not as it was when you graduated. Better to graduate from an up-and-comer than from a school going downhill.

    Thank goodness UIUC is still up there.

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    1. Shoot! UIUC has really dropped since I went there. #11 in organic. Thanks a lot Hartwig for sucking up resources, leaving, and salting the earth.

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    2. Well, apparently Hartwig's departure helped out Yale. The last time that it was ranked among the Top 10 for Organic may have been when Danishefsky and Schreiber were still there! Besides, Harvard must spend a fortune on "maintaining" its perennial #1 spot...

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    3. I think Harvard is a great department but what about MIT? I feel as though the number of academics that went through Harvard have to contribute to it still being number 1.

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    4. I think the opposite is often true - reputations often have more to do with what a department did 50 years ago than their current work, and people in the working world often read application-related literature instead of JACS. I've been out of grad school for a while myself, and I admit to being out of the loop on the ascent of Texas at #12 and Colorado at #24. My friend's son is applying to grad school this year, and I thought Colorado seemed out of left field compared to the other well-known programs he's considering - now I see it isn't.

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    5. What Anonymous (the first one) said. Second in the world, they told me. You'll be successful if you come here, they told me.

      What I was told by moderately more trustworthy people on applying is that no US rankings are worth even looking at, apart from the US News ones, and even they're not much good. Everything else bases rankings on how much the universities advertise their products. Bizarre.

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  3. anon electrochemistApril 29, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    Interesting that the latter 5 categories are the same 10 names repeated over and over, while the Analytical specialty stands completely alone.

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    1. Many programs with strong reputations in other areas abandoned analytical chemistry during a relative lull and thus missed out on its renaissance with the development of electronic and computer-interfaced instrumentation.

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    2. Analytical as a discipline grew up where the countries old manufacturing base was in the Midwest and Rust Belt, the remnants of which can still be seen today in the dominance of the Big 10 states and the fact that Pittcon is still run out of Pittsburgh even though it outgrew and has not been hosted in its home city for decades. In addition, because of the close focus on industry needs, many faculty at elite universities at the time deemed Analytical to be too applied to count as "real chemistry" (there is an actual quote like this from one of the Ivy's dept chairs at the time), which is why the usual department names don't show up.

      That said, the Analytical list doesn't look like it has changed much over the years either. Other than UT-Austin, all the others would've been considered top-10 when I was looking at PhD programs back in the 90s.

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    3. Yeah, some departments don't even have analytical divisions (it is a big midwest thing).

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  4. Reputational rankings are the only ones that matter. IMO, perception is reality, at least in the hands of whoever is reading your CV.

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  5. "Big data" is upon us, no? One imagines that an independent data analytics company could identify all the papers published by a given faculty in a year, track total references, total grant money, etc, and somehow distill that down into a rating. Of course, who would pay for that?

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  6. I think I actually used a ranking for applying to grad school. I moved to a large metropolitan area and after working a bit, decided to apply to grad school, but I didn't really know much about it, so I looked for some ranking on the internet, and based on the best score for that university, I applied to only that one in the city where I lived. Of course, I applied to some other places as well in other areas, but the other universities in my area were far below the highest ranked one so I didn't bother since every application takes a while.

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  7. In the past year, I saw a departmental ranking by graduate students that considered things such as the average commuting time to be of equal importance to job prospects and quality of education. The rankings were as wonky as you would expect. I wish I could find the link; it was kind of hilarious.

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  8. Concrete DovetailMay 1, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    I think the US News ranking is useful for people applying to grad school. A list of top schools without ranking is probably more realistic. I know that Wisconsin has been on this list for some time, but I never hear people talk about what a great chemistry department it is. Does it really deserve to be ranked so high? I have certain feelings about Illinois. I think a better system would look at number of papers, money and citations per faculty member. Of course, that would have limitations. I think the department where someone obtained their PhD does matter, and knowing the kind of environment where a person obtained their PhD can help in selecting job candidates.

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