On September 28, 2010, the National Research Council (NRC) released its ranking of PhD programs across the nation. The survey evaluates over 5,000 PhD programs in 62 fields and 212 universities in the United States.

The PhD program of the Department of Computer Science was scored in the ranges 3-16 (using the S-Ranking) and 6-18 (using the R-ranking) by the NRC.

These scores put the Department of Computer Science within the top 10 of the nation's PhD programs in Computer Science.

Looking at the mean value for the S-ranking of Computer Science Departments, Computer Science at UCSB is tied for 5th with CMU and Berkeley, just behind Stanford, Princeton, MIT and U Penn. Alternatively, based on the mean value for the R-rankings, UCSB CS ranks 9th among all programs, after such traditional powerhouses as Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The NRC rankings provide a more accurate measure of a department's quality than other rankings, for example, the US News and World Report, due to the NRC’s reliance on collected data and statistical analysis. Where the US News and World Report rankings are purely based on an opinion poll, the NRC rankings are based on a vast amount of collected data that are analyzed using a sophisticated ranking formula. Below we describe the graduate program in Computer Science at UCSB. At the bottom, we describe the NRC ranking in more detail.

The UCSB Computer Science Graduate Program

In 1996, 45 PhD and 39 MS students were enrolled in our graduate program. Fifteen years later, in 2011, we had 130 PhD and 52 MS students, corresponding to a 189% increase in our PhD enrollment. This growth in our PhD program was intentional, as was the change in focus to a more PhD-centric program. While increasing the size of our graduate program, we also improved the success rate of our students. In 1996 we graduated 2 PhD and 16 MS students, whereas, in 2010, we graduated 14 PhD and 27 MS students. This corresponds to more than 6-fold increase in our PhD production, and more than 50% increase in our MS production.

  • Our department's effort to create an outstanding graduate program was recognized on the UCSB campus by two awards in 2007. In addition to an Outstanding Graduate Mentorship Award given to Prof. Amr El Abbadi by the UCSB Academic Senate, our Department received the Departmental Graduate Mentorship Award from the UCSB Graduate Council and Graduate Division. Our department was recognized for its exemplary efforts to recruit and retain top graduate student candidates, to increase diversity, and to create an open and collegial environment conducive to student success. Recent surveys of our PhD and MS graduate students indicate the positive experience of our students during their graduate education.
  • The employment of our graduate students after graduation has been a testament to the success of our graduate program. Our graduate students have been employed by top academic institutions, including: Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, MIT, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, Ohio State, Purdue, University of Rochester, University of Florida, Virginia Tech, University of Delaware, Cal Poly, CSULA, Hofstra University, Mount Holyoke, ETH (Switzerland), Chinese University of Hong Kong, Polytechnic University of Hong Kong, University of Birmingham (UK), METU (Turkey), UFMG (Brazil), and National Chengchi University (Taiwan). For industry and research labs, our students have gone on to Google, Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, Yahoo, IBM, Citrix Online, Amazon.com, Ask.com, Adobe, Lucent, Nokia, NEC and others.
  • Our graduates conduct award winning research after graduation. Gustavo Alonso (PhD ‘94 and currently a Professor at ETH, Switzerland) received the prestigious Ten Year Award at the premiere database conference, Very Large Data Bases (VLDB), in 2010 for his earlier work. The impact of this work, especially on the management of data in large clouds and data centers, is another clear indicator of the type of forward-looking research incubated at UCSB. Research conducted by UCSB CS alumni has also been recognized by the prestigious NSF CAREER awards given to Sunil Prabhakar (PhD 1998, currently a Professor at Purdue), Hakan Ferhatosmanoglu (PhD 2001, currently an Associate Professor at the Ohio State University), Kai Shen (PhD 2002, currently an Associate Professor at the University of Rochester) and Tamer Kahveci (PhD 2004, currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Florida, Gainesville).
  • Our outstanding research faculty have received 18 CAREER awards from the National Science Foundation, and our department has four winners of the prestigious TR35 award. This is the same number of TR35 winners as found in the much larger departments of CMU and UC Berkeley, and is exceeded only by MIT.
  • Our department maintains a very high standard for teaching. In the last five years, four members of our faculty received Distinguished Teaching Awards from the UCSB Academic Senate.
  • In summary, in the past fifteen years, our department has demonstrated outstanding performance in increasing the size and the quality of our graduate program. While the data presented above point to an obvious upward trend of a department that is gaining visibility and reputation, we are particularly proud of our conscientious effort in fostering an open and collegial atmosphere for our students. We have extremely dedicated, award winning faculty and staff who consider the success of our graduate program a top priority. Our goal is to continue the momentum we gained in the last fifteen years in improving the quality of our graduate, undergraduate and research programs.

What is the NRC Ranking?

The National Research Council(NRC) is part of a nonprofit institution that provides science, technology and health policy advice to the United States government and the public. As a part of its mission, the NRC periodically assesses the quality of doctoral programs in the United States. The assessment is based on data collected for each program on the following 20 characteristics:

Publications per faculty member Percent non-Asian minority students Citations per publication Percent female students Percent faculty with grants Percent international students Percent interdisciplinary faculty Average PhDs granted from 2002 to 2006 Percent non-Asian minority faculty Percent students who obtain their degree within 6 years Percent female faculty Average graduation time for students (Time to degree) Awards per allocated faculty Percent students who obtain academic positions after graduation Average GRE-Quantitative score for students Student work space Percent 1st-year students with full support Health insurance for students Percent 1st-year students with external funding Number of activities available for students

The data were collected during 2005-2006 through questionnaires sent to institutions, departments, faculty and the students.

The NRC study divides these 20 characteristics into three general categories:

  1. Research activity: Includes characteristics such as publications, citations, percent of faculty holding research grants, and recognition through honors and awards.
  2. Student support and outcomes: Includes characteristics such as percent of fully funded students, the percent of students completing their degrees in a given time period, and expected placement in academic positions.
  3. Diversity of the academic environment: Includes characteristics such as the percent of faculty and students from underrepresented minority groups, the percent of faculty and students who are female and the percent of students who are international.

NRC provides two rankings called S (or survey-based) rankings and R (or regression-based) rankings. These rankings differ in the way they assign weights to different characteristics. The weights used in the S-rankings were obtained based on a survey that asked faculty to rate the importance of 20 different program characteristics in determining the quality of a program. The weights in the R-rankings were obtained indirectly by first asking a randomly selected group of faculty to rate the quality of a set of programs in their field, and then determining (using statistical techniques) what set of weights would generate the same ratings. The weights for both S and R-ratings vary from field to field since they reflect the responses of the faculty in a particular field.

The NRC assessment reports the final rankings as a range rather than a strict ordering of programs. Each program was ranked 500 times by using a different subset of the data to account for variability in the data. Each of these 500 rankings can give a different rank for each program. NRC excludes the lowest and highest five percent ranking for each program and reports the 5th and 95th percentile rankings. For example, UCSB Computer Science (CS) received a range of 3-16 for the S-ranking, which means that in 5% of the results UCSB was in the top 3 among all CS programs and in 95% of the results UCSB was in the top 16 among all CS programs. If one looks at the mean value for the S-ranking, UCSB CS ranks 5th among all programs after Stanford, Princeton, MIT and CMU.

How can you explore the NRC rankings and the data?

The PhDs.org website allows users to browse the NRC assessment data interactively. In addition to showing the S and R-rankings, this site allows users to assign different weights to different characteristics and obtain a ranking based on the assigned weights.

The complete data set for the NRC assessment and the NRC report on the assessment can be obtained from the National Academies Press.