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UT biomedical sciences doctoral programs ranked among best

Published: March 11, 2011 by Deborah Mann Lake, UTHealth Office of Advancement

George M. Stancel, Ph.D.

HIGHLY-RANKED DOCTORAL PROGRAMS - The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston led by Dean George M. Stancel, PhD, fared well in a nationwide comparison of programs offering PhDs.

Doctoral programs in The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) at Houston – a joint program between The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center – ranked among the best in the nation in the National Research Council assessment released in September 2010.

The NRC assessment offers an unprecedented collection of data on more than 5,000 doctoral programs in 62 fields at 212 universities in the United States. The NRC report is the newest version of rankings last released in 1995, though the methodology is completely different from the previous assessment.

Eleven GSBS doctoral programs were assessed in the NRC rankings, which were based on 20 weighted criteria in the broad areas of research activity, student support and outcomes, diversity and overall rank. The criteria included items such as faculty publications, diversity of the faculty and students, number of doctoral degrees awarded and facilities available for student research.

The highest ranked program at GSBS – Cancer Biology – was in the top tier of rankings alongside Harvard, Stanford and Johns Hopkins in the major category of Cell and Developmental Biology. Programs were not ranked with single numbers, but with ranges indicating the 90 percent confidence level to account for the variation in weights assigned to the 20 parameters by a large number of US faculty members polled by the NRC.

The Cancer Biology Program at GSBS ranked between second and ninth among 123 programs submitted for ranking in that category. Only a program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ranked higher in this category.

“We are extremely pleased with the results of this thorough assessment of our programs,” said George M. Stancel, PhD, GSBS dean. “Our UTHealth Graduate School is in some impressive company from both the East and West coasts, along with Baylor College of Medicine and our sister institution UT Southwestern in Dallas.”

The Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences Program was also ranked highly (range of seven to 24), right next to those from Stanford, the University of Washington and Johns Hopkins.

The other GSBS programs ranked by the NRC were Genes and Development; Molecular Pathology; Human and Molecular Genetics; Cell and Regulatory Biology; Immunology; Molecular Carcinogenesis; Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Neuroscience; and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.

Nearly all these programs are approximately in the top quarter of programs that participated in the NRC assessment. However, many programs elected not to participate, so the overall national rankings of GSBS programs may be considerably higher. For example, for Cancer Biology, 123 programs were ranked by the NRC in the broad area of cell and development biology, but Peterson’s Guide - Graduate Schools lists 291 doctoral programs in cell biology at U.S. universities.

“We are absolutely delighted,” said Peter Davies, MD, PhD, provost and executive vice president for research at UTHealth. “This is the first objective measure of academic quality that’s been available, and this survey demonstrates that we already have top-quality graduate programs and indicates areas in which we can improve even further. These rankings are a tribute to the excellent faculty assembled at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences – both at UTHealth and MD Anderson Cancer Center – and the fine students who are part of our programs.”

The NRC’s ratings of GSBS programs are welcome news but not surprising, said Raymond DuBois, MD, PhD, provost and executive vice president at MD Anderson. “The faculty and leadership of MD Anderson and UTHealth are dedicated to providing a top-quality research education for our graduate students. This first attempt by the NRC to objectively rate graduate programs confirms that ours are highly competitive nationwide,” DuBois said. “It’s also important to note that the 20 criteria measured cover not only vital faculty and institutional characteristics but also reflect the accomplishments of our students.”

Davies noted that 2005 data used for the survey represents a historic benchmark from which the progress of the school can be referenced.

The NRC created two sets of rankings: the “S” rankings, which are based purely on 20 objective criteria and the “R” rankings, which includes an indirect reputational component. UTHealth summaries are based on the objective “S” rankings.

“When the GSBS programs were ranked in 1995, the rankings were based entirely on perceived reputation, and all of our programs were in the top half among those participating with many in the top quartile,” Stancel said. “With the new, more objective rankings, six of our programs are ranked alongside the top 10 nationally, taking into account the highest ranking in the range provided.”

Programs were ranked within broad categories, so in some cases, multiple GSBS programs were ranked in the same category. Only three health-related institutions in The University of Texas System participated in the NRC rankings and assessments: UTHealth and UT MD Anderson through the GSBS and UT Southwestern Medical Center. The University of Texas at Austin also participated in the study.

The NRC dataset will enable university faculty, administrators, governing boards and legislators to compare, evaluate and improve programs, while prospective students can use the data to help identify programs best suited to their interests and needs. Universities will be able to update important data on a regular basis so that programs can continue to be evaluated and improved.

The assessment also illustrates how the data can be used to rank the quality of programs based on the importance of particular characteristics to various users. It does not include an authoritative declaration of the “best programs” in given fields, but rather provides rankings as ranges, as the study committee concluded that no single such ranking can be produced in an unambiguous and rigorous way.

The assessment includes a report describing the approach used and general findings about US doctoral education, as well as an Excel spreadsheet containing the data and illustrative rankings. The report and spreadsheet may be downloaded free of charge at, along with a revised guide to the study methodology.