Reg Penner
Reg Penner's research is developing ways to recover new properties that are useful for capturing the sun's energy. It's the kind of research excellence that resulted in the Department of Chemistry's positive results in recent National Research Council rankings. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

UC Irvine doctoral programs in everything from the farthest reaches of the universe to the inner recesses of the brain ranked highly in the National Research Council report made public this week. Data collected by the NRC in 2006 from 200 institutions formed the basis of the survey, which is designed to provide a comprehensive assessment of doctoral programs. NRC published its prior survey in 1995.

“UC Irvine collected and contributed data for 65 of its doctoral programs as part of this effort to continuously improve doctoral education,” said Frances Leslie, graduate division dean and pharmacology professor.

“For our highly ranked programs, the subjective ratings are higher than the reputational components,” she said. “This difference indicates that these are growing programs that have not yet established national reputations corresponding to their outstanding productivity. These programs are on an upward growth trajectory and are likely to continue their impressive record in the future.”

UCI’s physical sciences school shone. Earth system science, not rated at all in 1995 because it was too new, ranked this time among the top 10 along with Harvard, Princeton, Caltech and Berkeley.

“That was extraordinary, considering this is a relatively new program,” said Eric Saltzman, an atmospheric chemist who helped gather data information on Earth system science for the rankings.

The doctoral program in mathematics also scored among the top 10 percent, with universities such as Stanford, Yale and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Recruitment of high-level faculty members and increases in extramural funding for graduate students were cited as contributing to the department’s success.

Chemistry and physics & astronomy also were in the top quartile nationally.

“It’s clear that our programs continue to improve, relative to the competition,” said Ken Janda, associate physical sciences dean. “And by the particular criteria that the NRC ranks research, our school may well be in the top 10 percent in the country. This reflects the fact that our individual faculty members are both productive and well-respected.”

Another outstanding program was anthropology in social sciences.

“The highly competitive ranking for anthropology is especially remarkable given the comparative youth, small size and focus on modern sociocultural anthropology,” said Barbara Dosher, social sciences dean. “This strong showing was comparable to that in a number of  highly recognized programs among the top private universities.”

Graduate programs in neuroscience and ecology & evolutionary biology also ranked highly.

“My colleagues and I are very pleased to receive this recognition of UCI’s graduate programs, especially at such a young university,” said Al Bennett, biological sciences dean. “We remain dedicated to our students, undergraduate as well as graduate, as we strive for excellence in the teaching, research and service that are at the core of our mission. As all of us remain focused on this work, these and other rankings will continue to reflect that in which we take such pride – that the University of California, Irvine is a young and innovative campus that is being recognized amongst the best.”