The National Research Council's Assessment of Research-Doctoral Programs


A Statement from Allan M. Brandt, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School
of Arts and Sciences

I am exceedingly gratified to report that Harvard University’s doctoral programs have received exceptionally strong evaluations in the National Research Council’s long-awaited Assessment of Research Doctoral Programs, released today. The National Research Council report, containing both a rating and a ranking of 4,838 programs in 62 fields at 212 institutions, shows that in the dominant, core disciplines that are crucial to the overall strength of any institution of higher learning, our PhD programs are remarkably strong, vibrant, and successful.... Read more.


Browse this page for details and background information.

High Marks for Doctoral Programs (Harvard Gazette, 9/28/10)

*Graphics generated by Harvard University


Download the NRC's Assessment and data tables



On September 28, 2010, the National Research Council will release its long-awaited Assessment of Research-Doctoral Programs, containing both a rating and a ranking of 4,838 programs in 62 fields at 212 institutions.

This report is likely to be considered useful by prospective students, faculty, granting agencies, and industries — anyone who is investigating the character and nature of graduate education in America today.

The National Research Council (NRC) functions under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. Its mission is to improve government decision making and public policy, increase public education and understanding, and promote the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in matters involving science, engineering, technology, and health.

The NRC periodically (every ten years or so) conducts surveys to assess the quality and characteristics of the nation’s research-doctorate programs. Previous reports were released in 1983 and 1995. Like those previous efforts, the 2010 report is designed to: help universities improve the quality of these programs through benchmarking; provide potential students and the public with accessible, readily available information on doctoral programs nationwide; and enhance the nation's overall research capacity.


Information for GSAS Programs About the Survey and
the Release

GSAS and the other institutions whose programs were assessed by the NRC will receive embargoed copies of the report on September 20, 2010. During the week of the 20th, GSAS will analyze the report and distribute a packet of information to the Directors of Graduate Study of each surveyed program. The packets will contain the NRC findings for each program, the data that was submitted on each program's behalf, and an appendix identifying all data definitions and sources. This package will also include rankings from the 1995 report (the last one done by the NRC) and the most recent Graduate School Rankings from US News & World Report.

About the Survey

  • The NRC report will evaluate programs in three dimensions (faculty productivity, student outcomes, and diversity of environment), as well as overall, on the basis of the values of 20 key variables. Of these dimensions, faculty productivity is by far the most important.
  • The data collected in these two key areas were weighted using faculty-defined, area-specific weights. These were derived in two ways:
  • The "R-rankings" are regression-based and have a reputational component. Faculty raters were asked to rank the programs they reviewed. These rankings were then regressed against the 20 key variables that went into the rating. For every program, 500 regressions were run, and 500 ordinal rankings were thus derived. The 5th percentile is the value of the ranking at that point in the distribution, as is the 95th. We can say with 90% confidence that the true ranking falls inside this interval.
  • The "S-rankings" are constructed differently. Faculty respondents were asked to identify the most important of every one of the 20 key variables. Weightings for every variable were derived based on that identification. Programs were then ranked on every program’s value of those 20 variables, weighted accordingly. The 5th – 95th percentile measures represent the 90% confidence interval for the true ranking of the program.
  • Programs will be placed in a range of rankings with comparable programs in other institutions (eg 3rd to 5th out of 50 programs), rather than be awarded a point ranking.
  • While the survey is based on faculty and student data that comes from the period 2001-02 to 2005-06, we nonetheless expect these NRC rankings will be used by prospective students and faculty members, and by grant-making organizations.

Disseminating the Results

  • Download the NRC's Assessment and data tables.
  • GSAS will work with the President’s Office and Institutional Research, and with individual programs, to review the results.
  • In each department, the Director of Graduate Studies will be the internal point person for faculty questions or concerns.
  • DGSs should bring any and all such questions — about the results, the data submitted on departments' behalf, or the NRC methodology — to:
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Senior Analyst
    Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
  • Communication to the rest of Harvard, and to the outside world, will be coordinated by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at the Harvard Office of Public Affairs and Communication.


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