NRC Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs

September 27, 2010

Dean Matt O’Donnell and Chair Alex Jen voice their concerns about accuracy of data used in the National Research Council Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs.

The National Research Council (NRC) Assessment of Research Doctoral Programs was released today. While we respect this ambitious undertaking by the National Academies, we are greatly concerned by clear inaccuracies in the data used in the report.  

At the University of Washington we have identified and reported to the NRC multiple areas where the data is inaccurate, including faculty counts and student academic plans.  For example, college-wide, the number of faculty reported for each department was dramatically inflated (over 3X on average) due to the difficulty in interpreting the complex NRC guidelines; this severely impacted various measures that were calculated on a “per faculty” basis.  As another example, the NRC indicates that 0% of graduating Ph.D. students from our department had plans for academic employment for the 2001-05 reporting period.  In fact, several of MSE’s graduating Ph.D. students during that period accepted full-time academic positions.

We reported these concerns about methodology to the NRC when the data was made available in hopes of an accurate public release; unfortunately corrections have so far not been made.  We will correct the inaccurate numbers on the NRC’s publicly available database when access is granted.   

The NRC rankings are based on data; therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the data be accurate.  We hope the NRC will correct inaccuracies and modify the report accordingly so it can be used as a reliable resource to evaluate the quality of American doctoral programs.

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