National Research Council Rankings: Anthropology

The National Research Council finally came out with their rankings of all graduate programs in the United States. Well, not rankings really. Unlike the 1990s report, this one doesn’t do an official rank of #1, 2, 3, and so forth. Rather, they use the data to provide a range within which programs fall, based both on scholarly criteria (research productivity, etc.) and on ratings by professors themselves. They also provide ratings on research, student success, and diversity within each program.

In other words, it is rather confusing!

The Chronicle for Higher Education provides a handy chart with all the information about anthropology graduate programs. I’ve been looking at it since last night, trying to make some sense of it.

Two easy conclusions. On the S-ranking, where “programs are rated highly if they are strong in criteria that scholars say are most important,” the same problems crop up as with journal impact factors and anthropology. The science side of things gets more citations, more articles, more research dollars and so forth. Books, journal articles that take a long time to create, the low dollar amounts involved in cultural anthro research – they don’t play as well in that ranking. A look at the difference in the divisions at Duke and previously at Stanford highlight this – Duke bio is #1, Duke cultural is #33, Stanford sciences is #3, Stanford cultural is #6.

The R-ranking, where “programs are ranked highly if they have similar features to programs viewed by faculty as top-notch,” is more the popularity game – established programs at rich and well-known universities tend to do quite well. Harvard gets a #1 ranking here, as does Michigan, the #1 in the previous NRC report.

Everyone wants a final ranking of top-notch programs. I started crunching numbers, the overall average of their high and low S-rank and high and low R-rank (scholarly and reputation rankings), but that was taking too long!

So I just went with programs where their high S-rank and R-rank were both in the top 10. And luckily that gave 10 programs! Here is the alphabetical list of the graduate programs that met both those criteria:

Arizona
Berkeley
Emory
Harvard
Irvine
Michigan
Northwestern
Penn State
UCLA
U Penn

Of course lots of great programs are left off that list, and the NRC rankings give potential students other ways to look at the data (that Students High ranking, which covers completion rates, financial aid and other criteria could be crucial). Applied programs and specialized programs generally don’t do as well, since those often publish in other venues. In the end, finding a program where there are good professors that match your interests amd where good mentoring happens, that would be my #1 criterion if I were applying again.

Here’s the link to the Anthropology NRC rankings. Check them out for yourself!

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3 Responses to National Research Council Rankings: Anthropology

  1. Geknitics says:

    I think these rankings would be more useful if they were broken out by subdiscipline.

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  2. daniel.lende says:

    John Hawks has some really good commentary on the rankings. See his post
    Anthropology graduate program rankings

    He goes over some of the difficulties in the data, but even better, provides some great advice for students on how to go about looking for the right graduate program.

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  3. gregdowney says:

    I find the whole ranking thing pretty frustrating, as it’s even worse in Australia than in the US (I think). John’s comments on his blog are spot on, but I’d say that our experience here is even worse: the amount of time that’s wasted on this sort of thing is obscene, and the resulting ‘rankings’ are even less satisfying to anyone involved.
    At least you all are ranked by department. We’re ranked by ‘cluster,’ a meaningless conglomeration of departments and centres that resembles no real working relationship within the university (we’re in ‘social and cultural studies’ — there are 20 clusters).
    Worse still, our leadership is obsessed with this sort of thing, so bureaucratic tortures are visited upon us in the pursuit of elusive ‘scores’ based upon overly rule-bound, sometimes arbitrary criteria. I had to start our department’s contribution to the effort last year and tried to warn my colleagues, ‘do not get caught up in this’ as it was obviously going to be an unsatisfying debacle.
    Both you (Daniel) and John point out that it’s much more important to find the program that fits a student’s research interests rather than focus on ranking, and I agree, but I also would caution about taking this as the sole approach. That is, if you find some potential mentor you want to study with, he or she may up and move before you get your proposal written OR the person may turn out to be a compete a****** when you get to know them OR he or she may have a nervous breakdown or have an affair and run off with a grad student… In other words, you’re still picking a program, not a person, when you sign up for grad school.
    I’d still do exactly what John and you suggest: find out where people are producing interesting work. But I’d also suggest, if you find someone producing stuff you like and they’re really early in their career, find out where THEY went to graduate school. Collect all the information you can. Go to a conference and meet with the grad students from your possible programs: do they look weird and exhausted? Do they have intellectual spark? Are they even going to conferences?
    But most importantly, realize that your career will ultimately be in your own hands, and you can write your way to a great degree even in a less-than-top program (and, contrarily, get a worthless degree from a top-ranked department). The last search committee I was on in the US had a ‘long-short list’ of ten people: 9 different PhD-granting institutions were among them. The monopoly of the top programs on all the academic hires is gone as no one has the status to simply insert their top students into available tenure-track positions. The good/bad news is that now more than ever, a graduate student carves out his or her own niche in the end. I know that none of my supervisors worked on the area that I was studying — one of the best supporters I had was an ethnomusicologist on my dissertation committee.
    So my advice is, do everything that people like Daniel and John are recommending: they’re deeply wise guys. But then remember, after you start your degree, that it’s in your own hands, and a PhD seldom goes straight to plan. Start thinking like a professional as soon as possible, building a CV that’s distinctive, has a few accomplishments, and demonstrates you can do the sort of work you want to do. Not making it into the top department hardly ruins your career any more than getting into one makes it.
    Oh, and I’m not just saying this because my alma mater, Chicago, didn’t score better…

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