UC San Diego's Biological Sciences Programs Ranked Number One in the Nation

September 28, 2010

Photo of student pipetting dangerously close to a bunsen burner

UC San Diego's Biological Sciences programs are ranked number one in the nation, according to the National Research Council's comprehensive assessment of the quality of more than 5,000 doctoral programs in 62 fields at 212 U.S. research institutions.

The NRC Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs, released today, is the most highly regarded "gold standard" rating of doctoral programs and faculty scholarship. Its determinations provide a more comprehensive assessment of doctoral programs and, thus, provide more weight within academe than many current popular rankings done by magazines and other publications.

The "Biology/Integrated Biology/Integrated Biomedical Sciences" category was one of three at UC San Diego that received a top ranking in the nation, based on the results of measurements provided by the NRC. The other two were "Biomedical Engineering/Bioengineering" and "Oceanography/Atmospheric Sciences/Meteorology."

"Biology/Integrated Biology/Integrated Biomedical Sciences" at UCSD ranked 2nd nationally in the study and "Neuroscience/Neurobiology" ranked 4th.

In addition, the UCSD campus as a whole ranked 2nd compared to all public institutions in the nation, and 11th compared to all public and private institutions in the National Research Council assessment.

"The prestigious National Research Council study reaffirms what many other rankings have reported: that UC San Diego's award-winning scholars are leaders at the forefront of their academic fields," said UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. "We are pleased that our life sciences programs and Scripps Institution of Oceanography are highly positioned in the NRC assessment - five of our doctoral programs placed in the top five nationwide, including three ranked number one."

"This ranking speaks to the exciting research environment that we enjoy for biological sciences in San Diego," said Steve Kay, Dean of the Division of Biological Sciences. "We look to leverage this result to continue to improve our program by attracting the best students nationally and internationally."

The NRC collected data that resulted in two versions of rankings that represent two distinct approaches to measuring overall program quality: regression-based (R) and survey-based (S). Of UC San Diego's 25 doctoral programs evaluated as part of the unparalleled NRC assessment, an analysis of the regression-based results indicate that the university ranked 11th in the nation overall compared to all comprehensive institutions (those having 15 or more programs rated) and 2nd in the country compared to all comprehensive public institutions. The top three public institutions are 1) University of California, Berkeley; 2) University of California, San Diego; and 3) University of California, Los Angeles.

Fox added, "This vast resource of data from the National Research Council is not only valuable to us as an institution, it also offers prospective graduate students an opportunity to see how UC San Diego ranks among three broad categories: research activity, student support and outcomes, and the diversity of the academic environment."

The NRC collected data from the academic year 2005-06 covering 20 program characteristics which served as the basis for two illustrative ranges of rankings of overall program quality. The two versions of rankings, regression-based (R) and survey-based (S), produced 500 distinct rankings for each program. The ranges of rankings reported in the NRC assessment represent the middle 90 percent of each set of 500 program rankings.

Both approaches yielded similar results - UC San Diego has six programs ranked in the top 10 using the R-ranking, and seven programs in the top 10 using the S-ranking. The campus chose to focus on the R ranges of rankings, derived by using faculty valuations of program quality to determine the relative importance of each of the 20 program characteristics, as the best way to offer a snapshot of the university's position compared to other institutions. To generate specific program rankings, the midpoint of the R range of rankings was taken for each program and then these midpoints were ranked within each field.

"Given the rigorous, objective and comprehensive way that the NRC assessment was completed, these rankings show the fruition of academic excellence in our faculty and students since UC San Diego's founding just 50 years ago," said Kim Barrett, Dean of Graduate Studies. "The overall performance of our Ph.D. programs was outstanding - almost two thirds of the doctorate programs ranked in the top 20 in their fields. The university has long been recognized as a research leader in science and engineering, but the NRC study also documents our excellence in all parts of the campus. We ranked highly in every academic division."

Beyond the disciplines studied as part of the NRC assessment, UC San Diego also has a long history of emphasizing creative blending of interdisciplinary perspectives and exploring new paradigms. For example, UC San Diego's Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program combines medical and biological approaches to find novel treatments for disease. Other exciting areas of scholarship are being pursued at UC San Diego at the intersection of the performing arts, robotics, computational science and cognitive science.

This massive data collection effort by the National Research Council provides a valuable opportunity to discuss the importance of graduate education and the quality of doctoral programs. The NRC study results provide an additional source of information for prospective graduate students in selecting doctoral programs that are most appropriate to their academic needs.

"U.S. graduate schools are a strategic national asset, and the results of this important study will help academic leaders and policy makers establish benchmarks for higher education both here and around the globe," said Debra W. Stewart, Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) President. "Doctoral education strengthens our country's research base and develops the talent we need to remain competitive in the knowledge-based, global economy of the 21st century," she added.

In 1995, UC San Diego was ranked 10th nationwide in the National Research Council study of research-doctorate programs in the U.S. In the study, UC San Diego was one of only two public institutions in the top 10, and it was the only institution established in the 20th century to achieve a top 10 rating.

"Although the NRC methodologies for the 1995 and 2010 assessments are vastly different, the latest data clearly indicate that UC San Diego has sustained a high national position in graduate education," continued Barrett. "As the campus looks to the future of scholarship and education, these extremely positive NRC rankings offer a benchmark to help us continue to improve and enhance our doctoral programs."

Full results of the National Research Council's Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctoral Programs

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