Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Grad school, rankings, and geniuses

At long last, the National Research Council has finally released their rankings of graduate programs, the first such ranking since 1993. Their methodology is extremely complicated, and the way they present the data is almost opaque. This is a side effect of an effort to address the traditional problem with rankings, the ridiculousness of trying to assign a single number to something as complex and multivariate as a graduate program. The NRC has gone out of their way to make it possible to compare programs on many issues, and that's generally a good thing, but at the same time it makes navigating the data painful. The best aid I've seen in this is this flash app by the Chronicle of Higher Education. It does a great job of showing, graphically, the range of rankings that is relevant for a particular program, and you can do side-by-side comparisons of multiple programs. As I had suspected, most programs have a fairly broad range of possible rankings, except those at the very top (e.g., Harvard's physics department is, according to the "S" rankings, which are those based on the metrics that faculty members themselves identified as important to them, somewhere between 1 and 3 in the country.). One thing to note: the "S" rankings probably mean more about department quality than the pure research "R" rankings, since the "R" rankings will naturally bias in favor of larger departments. The other thing that becomes obvious when playing with this app for a few minutes is that some departments had clear data entry problems in their NRC data. As an example, my own department appears to have "zero" interdisciplinary faculty, which is just wrong, and undoubtedly didn't help our ranking.

In other news, the MacArthur Foundation has released their 2010 list of Fellows, known colloquially as recipients of "Genius Grants". I'm only familiar with some of the ones that touch on physics, and the people involved are all very good and extremely creative, which is exactly the point, I guess! Congratulations, all. Now let the speculation begin on the Nobel Prizes, which are going to be announced next week.

Finally, I wanted to link to this great post by my friend Jennifer Rexford, who has intelligent advice for first-year graduate students.

1 comment:

Anzel said...

John Dabiri here at Caltech is awesome. He definitely deserved it.