US Universities Hold Strong

Institutions in the US landed 30 spots on THE's top 50 list of universities by reputation.

Full-text access for registered users only. Existing users login here.
New to GenomeWeb? Register here quickly for free access.

The Times Higher

The Times Higher Education-Thomson-Reuter survey of top ranking universities is based on the opinions of 50 people in 15 countries around the world with 90% of the scoring based equally on the quality of teaching, research and publication citation. Interestingly, industry income as a measure of innovation only counted for 2.5%. As so much weight is based on total research funding and publication, the larger the size of the institution, the better its chances for a higher ranking. However, bigger does not necessarily equate with better. In view of the relatively small pool of people surveyed in this primarily opinion-based poll, I would not take its findings too seriously. Presumably, the main impetus for such surveys is to permit evaluation of what makes a world-leading university, and to let prospective students and faculty candidates know where to aim for the best quality education and jobs, respectively.

I am often asked by undergraduate students about where they should consider pursuing their graduate training in the life sciences. My advice has always been to be less concerned about the reputation of universities as a whole but rather the quality of the potential graduate supervisors and the graduate programs that are offered. For graduate students, it is much more important that they evaluate: how interesting the proposed graduate research project is to them personally; the background, productivity, reputation, accessibility and personality of the supervisor; how well funded is his/her laboratory and is there a critical mass and diversity of people (other students, post-doctoral fellows, research associates and technicians); and the interactions available to the prospective students with respect to collaborations, formal courses and seminars. I highly recommend that students ask to see the curriculum vitae of potential supervisors and also interview with graduate students and other members of their research teams before making a final decision.

At the undergraduate level, I don't think there is that large a difference between most major universities. There has been an increasing trend towards few laboratories courses offered at the undergraduate level everywhere. Pretty much the same text books are read by undergraduate students.

For post-doctoral fellows, the selected laboratory for advanced training is again influenced more by the nature of the research interest of the candidate and the international reputation and capabilities of the host laboratory. When these trainees ultimately seek faculty positions elsewhere, the host institutions where they received their education is secondary to their actual individual accomplishments and the specific needs of the hiring departments.

One of the main attractions of seeking to train in the "best" universities in the world is that like-minded students are brought together and they forge relationships that may prove to be useful later in their careers. This may be quite effective in commerce and politics, but is probably not that critical in the life sciences.