UA doctoral programs rank high in survey


Katherine Martin

Five University of Alabama doctoral programs ranked high in a National Research Council survey.

The ranking was based on the categories of student support and outcomes, research activity of faculty and diversity of the academic environment, according to a UA news release.

The University’s doctoral programs in mass communication, chemistry, mechanical engineering, physics and psychology ranked among the top 25 to 40 percent in all three aspects of the survey, the release stated.

Eight additional programs ranked in the middle range among national peers.

Dave Francko, associate provost and dean of the graduate school, said the results of the survey have many positive implications for recruiting new graduate students.

“Prospective graduate students want to enter strong academic programs that are supportive and diverse so that they can graduate as soon as possible and develop the kind of resume that lands them a job,” Francko said.

The research council’s study, which reflects data collected from 2000-2006, confirms that the University performs just as well in the areas of the survey as any major university in the U.S., he said.

“If UA were being evaluated in 2010,” Francko said. “We would fare even better in the rankings.”

The results of the survey will allow the University to fine-tune quality improvements over the next several years, he said.

“Supportive, diverse doctoral programs, rapid time-to-degree, high graduation rates, high placement of graduates and other measures of excellent student support and success are the key to recruiting the best, brightest and most diverse group of new graduate students and graduate faculty to the Capstone,” Francko said.

Beverly Thorn, professor and chair of the psychology department, said of the five UA programs that placed in the top half of their peer programs, psychology likely ranks the highest, because it is the closest to the top 25 percent of the 239 doctoral psychology departments in the U.S.

Thorn said she hopes the psychology department will benefit from the high rankings. She said she would like to see additional staff members hired, reconsideration of the standard teaching load in the psychology department and an increase in the number of graduate stipends.

“Other UA departments that were in the top five NRC rankings have considerably lower teaching loads,” Thorn said. “We are proud to serve the growing number of students at the University through quality learner-centered teaching, yet with a course load similar to these other top UA NRC departments, we feel we could further increase our NRC rankings.”

It is clear that the University is now on the map as a serious, research-focused institution, she said.

Tess Neal, a graduate student studying psychology, said the psychology department stands out because of the great team of faculty who are able to recruit top-notch students.

Neal said she chose the University specifically because it was one of the most prestigious options available in her area of interest.

“The better the program is, the better faculty, students and speakers we will be able to attract,” she said. “Strong faculty and graduate students conduct strong research, which can move the entire field of psychology forward.  As great research is published from UA folks, international recognition will continue to be directed toward UA.  This cyclical process will continue moving our department, our University and our field forward.”

Neal said coming from a top-ranked program will increase her chances of success.

“I am applying for an internship this year, which is a one-year, full-time training experience required for every clinical psychology doctoral student in the U.S. and Canada in order to graduate,” she said.  “The internship process is competitive, and coming from a very strong program will enable me to hopefully obtain a competitive internship.”

The chemistry program ranked 33rd out of 180 departments, higher than those at Johns Hopkins, Florida State University, Iowa State University, Case-Western Reserve University and five other SEC programs, the release stated.

Kevin Shaughnessy, chair of the chemistry department, said the results of the most recent NRC rankings are highly positive for the chemistry program and the UA graduate program in general.

“These rankings show that the UA chemistry department compares very favorably with our peers in the region and throughout the country,” he said. “These rankings will improve the visibility of the UA chemistry department nationally.”

The improved visibility, Shaughnessy said, will hopefully lead to improved success in securing major research funding for the department.

“I was very pleased to see that we had come as far as we have over the past 15 years,” Shaughnessy said. “Our goal after the last NRC ranking in 1996 was to move from the third quartile to the second quartile. It is very gratifying to know that the hard work by our faculty, students and staff has allowed us to achieve this goal.”