PhD Students Can Access Top Departments

Interdisciplinary Reach Links Bren to World-Class Departments at UCSB

In addition to excellent faculty advisors and first-rate facilities, Bren PhD students can easily access what have recently been recognized as some of the top academic departments in the nation. That’s according to the National Research Council (NRC) Assessment of Research Doctoral Programs, which was conducted during the 2006-2007 academic year and gives high national rankings to a number of PhD programs at UC Santa Barbara.

Among the 31 UCSB doctoral programs assessed by the NRC, 10 earned a range of rankings that reach into the top 5 in the country; 14, or 45 percent, are in the range of the top 10; and 20, or nearly two-thirds, are in the top 20.

The Bren School is not included in the rankings, which do not cover interdisciplinary departments, but because most Bren faculty have appointments at Bren and one another department on campus, such as Economics or Earth Science, Bren is closely linked to these highly ranked disciplinary centers. Further, the emphasis that both the Bren School and the university place on interdisciplinary research assures Bren PhD students of easy access to expertise, equipment, and advice from departments that complement the focus of their Bren studies.

When PhD student Victoria Broje (2006) redesigned a drum skimmer used to clean up oil spills, she collaborated with UCSB experts in the Departments of Marine Science (top 5 ranking), Chemistry (top 10), and the UCSB Materials Science Department, which received the NRC’s number-one national ranking. The skimmer is now sold commercially and was used to recover oil during the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Samuel Bennett’s doctoral work involves researching the environmental implications of free radicals formed when nanoparticles are exposed to sunlight in the environment. The work requires him to interact with colleagues in the Chemistry Department (Top 20 ranking), Chemical Engineering (ranked second), and the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology (top 5 ranking).

“We’re interdisciplinary here, and there are disciplines where I need knowledge, so having access to the other departments makes a big difference,” he says. “In Chemistry, specifically, there are people who are smarter and more trained than I am and are willing to help by sharing knowledge, materials, and equipment. I’ve also had lots of interaction with people at Chemical Engineering, and I currently have a project working with ecologists in EEMB.”

Current PhD student Natalija Glusac focuses on emerging technology in the energy-generation sector and, particularly, “how to get new technologies off the test bench and into use.” Her work requires her to have regular contact with faculty and researchers in Materials Science, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering (top 5 ranking), and Economics, access that is indispensable to her research.

“I’ve looked, and I couldn’t do what I do the way I do it anywhere else but here,” she says. “It has a lot to do with the culture at the university. Professors are readily accessible. At most other schools, there’s no way I could go into someone’s office in another department, introduce myself, explain what I’m doing, and have them instantly refer me to someone who will give me great information for what I’m working on.

“These are world-class researchers who are at the forefront of their field, and I can get all the time I need with them,” she adds. “That’s valuable, as well as being able to do something so interdisciplinary that it’s sometimes difficult for my own PhD committee to establish a vernacular for what I’m doing. I don’t think I could put together the team I have anywhere else.”

The new rankings reflect UCSB’s rapid rise to world-class stature over the decades, and the quality and diversity of the doctoral programs here. In the 1995 NRC report, four campus departments and programs were ranked in the top ten in the country, and one in the top five. Most departments and programs improved their standing over the 1995 report, some dramatically.

According to key indexes presented in the study results, ten departments and programs across the disciplines at UCSB were ranked in the top five. Leading these programs was the Materials Department, which was ranked number one over its entire range, and was the only department in the country to be ranked so highly in any field of engineering. Other campus graduate programs with ranking ranges in the top five included Chemical Engineering, Communication, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Geography, Marine Science, Mechanical Engineering, Physics, and Theater and Dance.

Of these, Theater and Dance, Marine Science, and Communication were not evaluated previously by the NRC.

UCSB’s programs in Anthropology, Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, Hispanic Languages and Literature, and History received rankings reaching into the top 10. Art History, Chemistry & Biochemistry, Comparative Literature, English, Psychology, and Religious Studies had ranking ranges reaching into the top 20.

See an overview of the
NRC study results