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NRC Ranks CCNY PhD Program Among Best in US

Dr. John Tarbell, chair of biomedical engineering

In 1999, the City University of New York began training PhD candidates in biomedical engineering, three years before its engineering school, the Grove School at The City College of New York, even had a biomedical engineering department.  Fast-forward 12 years to 2011 and the program is now one of the nation’s best, according to National Research Council (NRC) rankings.

Using NCR’s “S” measure, which is based on 20 quantitative criteria that are ranked and weighted by survey participants, the CCNY program is tied with The Johns Hopkins University and University of Pennsylvania in 11th place out of 74 programs nationwide.   Currently about 40 students are enrolled in the program, which has produced 30 PhDs to date.

“The NRC rankings, which are revised every 10 years, are generally considered the gold standard of national ranking systems,” noted Dr. John Tarbell, chair of the Grove School’s biomedical engineering department. “They take into account detailed quantitative measure of faculty productivity, student achievement, financial support for students, peer recognition, diversity and many other criteria.”

NRC scores are expressed as a range between the fifth percentile and 95th percentile of rankings from survey respondents. City College had a range of 5 – 28 for the “S” measure.  The Johns Hopkins University (5 – 26) and University of Pennsylvania were essentially tied with City College.  California Institute of Technology ranked first with a range of 1 – 3.

On individual measured criteria, CCNY ranked seventh on research productivity (range 4 – 27), and first for diversity (range 1 – 4).  In addition to a diverse student population, six of the 12 full-time faculty members are members of minority groups or women, Professor Tarbell noted.  

NRC originally released its rankings of PhD programs in 2010, putting the CCNY program in the middle of the pack.  They were revised after errors in its analysis were brought to its attention.  “We thought we had done OK in the original rankings, but we were very pleasantly surprised by the revised rankings,” he added.

The strong ranking was not a total surprise to recent graduates, however.  Dr. Zhong-Dong Shi, a September 2010 graduate now working as a postdoctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan-Kettering noted that the program’s faculty, which includes two members of the National Academy of Engineering, Dr. Sheldon Weinbaum and Dr. Stephen Cowen, “not only have strong backgrounds, but are great at communicating with students and developing a rapport with them,” he said.

Dr. Yi Duan, who completed her PhD in 2009 and is now a senior scientist with Kinetic Concepts Inc., a San Antonio-based biotech company that makes biological tissue-based products for wound healing, said she was “a little surprised, but not astonished” to learn of the ranking.

The ability to access experts is one of the program’s strengths, she said.  In addition to her mentor, Dr. Weinbaum, whom she called “the most prestigious professor in the field,” she was able to get training from top experts at Yale, Cornell and Mount Sinai medical schools.  She also cited the “super-friendly environment at City. “They made us feel at ease and help each other to grow.”

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Ellis Simon
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