The University of Rochester's Political Science Department was recently ranked fourth in two national studies that measure the quality of graduate students produced by the program, based on their job placements and how often their research is cited.
The studies, authored by scholars at Princeton, Harvard, and Purdue universities and the University of California, Irvine, were published in the July issue of the quarterly journal PS: Political Science and Politics.
Political Science Department chair Gerald Gamm noted that Harvard and Rochester were the only two universities ranked in the top five in both the study on job placements and in the study that ranked departments by the percentage of Ph.D.'s they produced who are among the most cited in the country.
Rochester's department is much smaller than nearly all of its peers, with a faculty of about 20 full-time professors, but is disproportionately producing highly successful political scientists, Gamm said.
"The University of Rochester political science department has been placing Ph.D.'s in the top departments since the 1970s," Gamm said. "The news here is the persistence of Rochester Political Science in training the best Ph.D. students in the country."
Gamm also noted that the National Research Council (NRC) ranked the Rochester department's graduate program sixth in the country and its faculty eleventh in its most recent report, published in 1993.
Though authored by different scholars, both of the new studies sought to go beyond ranking departments only on reputation.
The authors of the job placement study write: "Like most measures based on real-world data, this method is not subject to individual biases or sampling and response-rate problems."
In that study, the authors measure the quality of new political scientists from different departments by comparing the proportion of recent Ph.D.'s holding academic jobs and the quality of those jobs, rather than relying on reputations.
In the citation study, the authors evaluated Ph.D.'s in two ways. They tallied per capita citation counts, and also calculated the number of Ph.D.'s from departments in the "Political Science 400"––the 400 most-cited political scientists in the country––in several different ways. One portion of the study compares departments based on the number of Ph.D.'s from their programs who are members of the Political Science 400 in relation to the total number of Ph.D.'s produced by the department. This adjustment gives smaller departments an equal footing with their larger counterparts.
The authors of the citation study write: "It is apparent…that some smaller departments, such as those at Cal Tech, Rochester, and Washington University-St. Louis are better at producing high-quality Ph.D.'s relative to their total production of Ph.D.'s than are some departments with larger Ph.D. production and more highly regarded Ph.D. programs."
Gamm credits the unique culture at Rochester for its success in producing high quality Ph.D.'s over the past four decades. The department places an emphasis on the development of formal theory and the analysis of quantitative evidence, which requires students to use math skills, and as a result creates a more skilled political scientist. Nearly all of the faculty––including some of the foremost authorities in the country––teach and advise undergraduates. Consequently, the same faculty training Ph.D. students at Rochester are actively shaping and leading the undergraduate program.
And the department's small size is considered a benefit at Rochester, not a detriment.
"Being small means we are always together. Being small gives us synergies that are not possible in a larger department," Gamm said. "Our graduate students have their offices on the same floor as the professors, and faculty members take their lunches down to the lounge, so you often have the faculty and the students dining and talking together."
Gamm said the results speak for themselves. The job placement study only examined the period 1990-2004, and Rochester obviously fared well. But Rochester's remarkable success is continuing. Since 2004, the department has placed graduates on the political science faculties of many top universities, among them Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
"I don't think there is another political science department in the country that is doing better than we are at placing graduates in top departments," Gamm said.
The citation study also rated departments using other standards, such as most members in Political Science 400, and total number of cumulative citations between 1960 and 2005.
The authors of the citation study, "Ranking Departments: A Comparison of Alternative Approaches," are Natalie Masuoka and Bernard Grofman of University of California, Irvine and Scott L. Feld from Purdue University. Benjamin M. Schmidt of Princeton University and Matthew M. Chingos of Harvard University authored the job placement study, "Ranking Doctoral Programs by Placement: A New Method."