Ecology

Amy Olson

The University’s ecology and environmental science program is ranked number one by a respected scientific periodical.
The ranking, which appeared in the October issue of Science Watch, should propel the nationwide search for a new dean of the University’s College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, which is currently underway, as well as the search for the chairmanship of the ecology department.
Science Watch, which is published by the Institute for Scientific Information, also ranked the University sixth in agricultural sciences and ninth in pharmacology.
The institute ranks colleges and universities in 21 broadly defined categories based on the number of times its professors’ published research is cited by other papers over the last five years. This is the institute’s second evaluation.
The first-place rank means the work done by the University’s ecology and environmental researchers is the most frequently cited work in the nation. It also means other universities draw on ecology research from the University more than any other school.
Unlike other rankings, which include subjective factors like reputation, the institute’s ranking is the only broad, objective measure of the impact of an institution’s work, said Bob Sterner, interim chairman of the ecology, evolution and behavior department.
Patrice Morrow, the former chairwoman of the department who stepped down in September, said other ranking methods use a combination of objective and subjective factors, like overall reputation, to rank schools.
Morrow said the overall ranking is a good indicator of the quality of research. If a researcher’s work is not cited, she said it doesn’t have an impact on other research.
Horace Loh, chairman of the Medical School’s department of pharmacology, agreed.
“If your paper is important, you get cited more often,” Loh said, adding the ranking is a good indicator of the caliber and quantity of scientific work being turned out.
The University did not just narrowly earn its first place ecology ranking.
Morrow said the difference in the number of citations between first place and second place was about the same between second place and 10th place.
“We’re not just number one, we’re really number one,” Morrow said.
In the institute’s previous rankings, the University had been ranked in the top 10 in pharmacology, and in the top five in agricultural sciences and ecology.
But the high rankings don’t surprise researchers like Morrow, who said once a department has built a strong reputation, it is maintained through hiring outstanding new faculty members and continued funding. Morrow said the University has had a strong reputation in ecology since the 1920s.
Loh said the reputation of his department has risen over the last decade. He was recruited to the University from the University of California-San Francisco about 10 years ago after the department’s reputation had declined. Loh said the department’s faculty are recognized particularly for molecular pharmacology, or how drugs work at the molecular level.
While the rankings might enhance the University’s reputation, researchers don’t expect to see any increase in funding as a result of the ranking alone.
Phillip Larsen, interim dean of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, said getting grant funding for individual research projects will depend more on the quality, creativity and productivity of the researcher’s previous work.
Morrow said she doesn’t expect the ranking to impact the way graduate students are recruited because most students match their research interests with those of faculty members at universities. But as an adviser to undergraduate students, she said a school’s ranking might influence the suggestions she gives her students.