Campus News

September 29, 2010

Graduate School cites NRC report as valuable tool for doctoral education

The National Research Council has released a long-awaited assessment of research doctorate programs in the United States.  

“The wealth of data about ourselves and others provides material to enhance our understanding of doctoral education at Emory in all its diversity and dynamism,” says Lisa A. Tedesco, vice provost for academic affairs-graduate studies and dean of the James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies, about the report.  

A standout feature is the growth and maturation of doctoral education at Emory. When the previous NRC report was released in 1995, about a third of Emory’s doctoral programs were too new or too small to qualify for inclusion. This time, only three of 31 Emory programs were too new or too small.

In 1995, Emory’s graduate school was concentrated in areas represented by Emory College disciplines. Since then the University has expanded in the biological and biomedical sciences, public health sciences and business, so that the graduate school now represents the full range of research at Emory, with strong doctoral programs in all areas.

The NRC assessment is based mainly on data from the 2005-06 academic year and compares doctoral programs along several dimensions, including overall quality, research activity, student support and outcomes, and diversity.

Those comparisons draw on data provided by the participating universities. The data was then assessed using complex analyses, designed in part to reflect the uncertainty involved in attempting to assess something as multifaceted as doctoral education.

The resulting “ranges of rankings” provide some indications where programs fall in relation to others in their fields.

“The ‘ranges of rankings’ that reflect overall program quality – the ‘R’ and ‘S’ rankings – are of course the first things readers of the report will focus on,” says Tedesco. “Overall, we are quite pleased with how our programs reflected on these indices. Although the ranges of rankings are difficult to interpret, it seems clear that we have outstanding programs across all areas of the graduate school.”

PhD programs with “S” ranking midpoints in the top 25 percent are:

in the humanities, English and Religion
in the sciences, Chemistry, Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis, Molecular and Systems Pharmacology and Nursing
in the social sciences, Anthropology and Political Science.

Several other programs had ranges of S rankings where the high point extended into the top 25 percent of their fields, including Comparative Literature; French; History; Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology; Biomedical Engineering; Microbiology and Molecular Genetics; Neuroscience; Nutrition and Health Sciences; Population Biology, Ecology and Evolution; and Psychology.

Among the programs that did not fare as well, some have already been restructured. For example, says Tedesco, “our PhD program in Economics, which shows a mid-point just below 50 percent, engaged in a major restructuring effort some years after the data for the NRC assessment were collected. We are enthusiastic about its new direction, which of course is not reflected in the NRC rankings.”

The NRC is also releasing the data that went into the complex analyses. These data provide a snapshot of doctoral education at Emory and 211 other universities in the U.S.

“We maintain a good deal of data about our programs that we collectively use to build and sustain strengths and to discern and address weaknesses,” says Tedesco, “but naturally the vast majority of those data are from Emory alone.

“The NRC assessment is different, and will allow us to look closely at how our programs compare with programs at other universities,” she adds. “This will help us better determine where we stand, as a major research institution and as individual PhD programs. We look forward to working closely with our faculty and with leadership across the University to seize this opportunity.”

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