Even students with open eyes, though, will have a hard time sleuthing through the U.S. News rankings. They are based entirely on unaudited surveys conducted by each law school, using questions devised by the American Bar Association and the National Association for Law Placement. Given the stakes and given that the figures are not double-checked by an impartial body, each school faces exactly the sort of potential conflict of interest lawyers are trained to howl about.
The surveys themselves have a built-in bias. As many deans acknowledge, the results are skewed because graduates with high-paying jobs are more likely to respond than people earning $9 an hour at Radio Shack. (Those who don’t respond are basically invisible, aside from reducing the overall response rate of the survey.)
Certain definitions in the surveys seem open to abuse. A person is employed after nine months, for instance, if he or she is working on Feb. 15. This is the most competitive category — it counts for about one-seventh of the U.S. News ranking — and in the upper echelons, it’s not unusual to see claims of 99 percent and, in a handful of cases, 100 percent employment rates at nine months.
A number of law schools hire their own graduates, some in hourly temp jobs that, as it turns out, coincide with the magical date. Last year, for instance, Georgetown Law sent an e-mail to alums who were “still seeking employment.” It announced three newly created jobs in admissions, paying $20 an hour. The jobs just happened to start on Feb. 1 and lasted six weeks.
A spokeswoman for the school said that none of these grads were counted as “employed” as a result of these hourly jobs. [snip]
As absurd as the rankings might sound, deans ignore them at their peril, and those who guide their schools higher up the U.S. News chart are rewarded with greater alumni donations, better students and jobs at higher-profile schools.It's been years since I've seen the US News ranking for chemistry departments; as I recall, they lined up with the conventional wisdom quite well (H-bomb on top, etc., etc.)* I don't think they relied particularly strongly on post-graduation employment. (Law school rankings, I believe, are far more reliant on those numbers.)
I suspect that if the question was "At year 3 after receiving your doctorate, how many of your graduates are employed by private employers?", the numbers would begin to look a lot worse. Certainly postdoctoral fellowships should not count as 'employment'; it's unknown if BLS counts them as "employed", but I know that ACS does not. (It doesn't count them as being 'unemployed' either, but breaks them out into their own separate category.)
At some point in the future (especially if things don't recover with the overall economy), these questions will have to be answered by graduate schools in chemistry.
*Anon011020110850a challenges me to update the rankings. For overall chemistry graduate schools, they are: tied for 1st: Berkeley, CalTech, MIT, 4th: Harvard, Stanford, 6th: UIUC, 7th: TSRI, Northwestern, UW-Madison, 10th: Columbia and Cornell.