Waiting for Godot Or Graduate Program Rankings, Whichever Comes First

UPDATE July 8: The methodology report (which describes how the assessment of graduate program rankings was conducted) will be released Thursday July 9th at noon Eastern. Download it here. The 20th century play "Waiting for Godot" is about the interactions between two men who are eagerly awaiting the arrival of an acquaintance named Godot, who never, in fact, arrives. I'm no literature buff, but I couldn't resist a comparison to the graduate students and the education community that've been eagerly awaiting an update to an authoritative set of grad program rankings for several years now. shutterstock_27027490-kittyrankWe all know that the publishing and entertainment industries love to put together lists and rankings encompassing everything from leading scientists to excessively cute animals. In the education business, the biggest rankings cash cow seems to be U.S. News and World Report's annual rankings of colleges and graduate programs. Trouble is, their methodology for ranking science doctoral programs is pretty subjective, relying on a questionnaire sent to academics that asks them to rate institutions on a 1 to 5 scale. U.S. News just averages those survey numbers to reach the rankings they publish. There are alternatives to U.S. News- and one of the most useful is a set of rankings and institutional data gathered, analyzed, and published by the National Research Council (NRC), which functions under the National Academy of Sciences. The assessment contains demographic data, time to degree information, funding and support info, and more, and it is a highly valuable resource for prospective graduate students, educators, and administrators alike. I used the data when I was applying to grad schools- I liked having the ability to customize my rankings based on the criteria that were most important to me. But (and this is a big but) the NRC's rankings haven't been updated since 1995. They've been working on an update for some time, as you can tell from the NRC webpage that tracks the project and this more general NRC website on the project. Every so often, an article gets published that assures us that the rankings will be published soon, dangling a proverbial carrot in front of our noses. But alas, nothing's been published yet. This has irked some folks, as exemplified by the not-so-thinly veiled sarcasm in the blogosphere (see here and here, for instance). This week, the clamoring made it into the pages of Science, and two of the folks heading up the study responded. They hint at a summer 2009 release date, saying that the data "will be made available to faculty and students well before the beginning of the next academic year." Still no exact date on the project tracking website, though. We'll have to wait and see, I suppose. Image: Adapted from Shutterstock (and an homage to CBC)

Author: Carmen Drahl

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  1. UPDATE:
    The methodology report (which describes how the assessment of graduate program rankings was conducted) will be released Thursday July 9th at noon Eastern. Download it here.