Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NRC Rankings Are Here... And Extremely Complicated

After several years of waiting with baited breath, the National Research Council's rankings of doctoral programs in the US is here.  In an effort to be true scientists, the rankings come with up to 61 categories which can be weighted in any way your heart desires.  Do you want to see rankings based on average workspace per grad student and availability of academic ethics training? Then look no further.

Another interesting, helpful, and extremely complicated feature is that instead of producing a single set of rankings, they have created probability distribution functions for each schools ranking and then listed the 90% confidence interval.  That means that in Astronomy and Astrophysics programs Harvard, Caltech, UC-Berkeley, and MIT are all ranked "1 - 9", with Arizona and Princeton ranked "1 - 10" and Johns Hopkins ranked "1 - 11".  While more correct given the errors in ranking procedures, it's certainly less fun to say that I'm 90% sure that my department is somewhere between the 5th and the 14th best program in the country using one set of weights for 61 categories measuring aspects of graduate education.


  1. Nick,

    Thanks for posting these. Glad to see Irvine has improved for physics, especially if you use the default setting and say "Research Productivity" is the most important thing. I get that we are now #21 in the whole nation and the #2 UC school overall, even better than UCLA and UCSD! Always good to see improvement. :)

  2. I will say I enjoy the NRC way of doing things so that people can weight what is important for them.

  3. Oops, forgot UCSB is really good at physics: #5 in the nation. One of these days UCSB, one of these days.

  4. I think the NRC way of doing things is good in that it allows you to customize things and it forces you to recognize the level of uncertainty in these somewhat arbitrary rankings. The downside is that CU can now come out claiming to have the #5 astrophysics program in the nation when really we're somewhere between 5th and 14th.

  5. Nick,

    I agree, this is the only rankings I know where there is some uncertainty is attached.

  6. Wow, that's pretty interesting. I like the way the NRC does it as well. Lets you sort by what's really important to you and lets you know that different schools have different strengths. I think that's a more accurate reflection of the real world anyway.


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