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UW-Madison Ph.D. programs near top of doctoral class

September 28, 2010 By Chris Barncard

Twenty-three doctoral programs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison rank in the top 15 percent in their respective fields, according to an assessment released today (Sept. 28) by the National Research Council (NRC).

Seventy-eight of UW–Madison’s more than 100 Ph.D.-issuing programs were rated by the NRC. A number of UW–Madison programs that stood out in 1995 — the last time the NRC issued their assessment — such as chemical engineering, English, mathematics and psychology posted lofty rankings once again.

“It is wonderful, but not surprising, that many of our graduate programs are so highly rated,” says Biddy Martin, UW–Madison chancellor. “The talent and hard work of our faculty, combined with the quality of our students and staff make our graduate programs among the best.”

The council’s “Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States” uses methods that depart from most traditional rankings.

NRC researchers gathered information on 20 characteristics of graduate programs — among them measures of research productivity, interdisciplinary connections, degree completion rates and student demographics — to rate 5,000 programs from around the nation in more than 60 broad fields of study. The characteristics were weighted according to both faculty judgments of their relative importance and faculty perceptions of the quality of programs in their respective fields.

In an effort to reflect the uncertainties that come with gathering such a large pool of data from diverse sources, the assessment reports its results not as specific ratings but as ranges that represent where each program’s ratings fell most often, calculated through an iterative statistical process.

In all, 40 UW–Madison programs emerged from NRC analysis with ranges whose highest ratings placed them in their discipline’s top 10. That total puts UW–Madison in select company among the highest-scoring of the 212 U.S. universities that participated in the roughly decadal review of graduate education from the parent agency of the National Science Foundation and National Academy of Engineering.

The NRC assessment excluded education and business graduate programs, among others.

Disciplines such as forestry, French and economics landed in the top 15 percent in their respective fields, with another 13 programs included in the top 25 percent.

“As much as the landscape has changed in many of these fields since the NRC’s last report, this university remains among the very best in the world,” Provost Paul M. DeLuca Jr. says. “That is a testament to the dedication our faculty put to both advancing their research and educating very bright students.”

While the ratings are a source of pride for the university, access to the expansive stock of data on programs at UW–Madison and similar schools may prove to be the assessment’s true benefit.

“There will be opportunities for each program to evaluate its structure and accomplishments in comparison to its peers,” says Martin Cadwallader, UW–Madison vice chancellor of research and dean of the Graduate School. “It should be a useful tool for self-assessment and reflection, which in turn can make all our graduate programs stronger.”

The NRC began surveying faculty and universities for its report during the 2005-06 academic year.

“I thank the Graduate School for the hard, but important work of gathering data and analyzing the NRC results,” Martin adds.

The NRC’s full report is available at

UW-Madison doctoral programs in the top 15 percent of the NRC assessment:

  • Biochemistry
  • Botany
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Chemistry
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Communicative Disorders
  • Computer Sciences
  • Economics
  • English
  • Forestry
  • French
  • Geography
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Limnology and Marine Science
  • Mass Communications
  • Mathematics
  • Nutritional Sciences
  • Physics
  • Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Zoology

Rounding out the top 25 percent:

  • Animal Sciences
  • Anthropology
  • Biophysics
  • Comparative Biomedical Sciences
  • Dairy Science
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Entomology
  • Environmental Chemistry and Technology
  • Food Science
  • History
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Microbiology
  • Statistics