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« Lehigh ISE graduate students continue to shine on national stage | Main | Back from Penn State »

September 14, 2010

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A possible explanation is that students who are in contact with effective, dynamic research programs are inspired to pursue one. Students who have no research contact may idealize it and pursue the unknown, the gap in their education. On the other hand, students who have contact with mediocre research, in an environment in which researchers are existing but not prominent, are put off by it.

"How do colleges such as Harvey Mudd, Reed or Swarthmore, with no graduate research programs of their own, manage to interest so many undergraduates into cutting-edge research"

On this first half of the question I'd imagine a large part of that is due to selection bias--smart people who will end up getting advanced degrees anyway will end up attending these schools which attract smarter students (I know that's in-part the case for Carleton College--ranked #6--at the least). Perhaps that is in contrast with some public institutions which may attract students based on say, D-1 sports teams :).

In addition, some of the schools mentioned probably encourage a higher quality of undergraduate research as graduate RAs do not exist in droves so-to-speak.

"How do colleges such as Harvey Mudd, Reed or Swarthmore, with no graduate research programs of their own, manage to interest so many undergraduates into cutting-edge research (after all, that is what getting a PhD is about), while PhD-granting universities with more moderate research activity do not, by far, engage their own undergraduates to the same extent?" Which is cause, and which is effect? I suspect that schools like Harvey Mudd have an organizational culture that promotes activities which stimulate and encourage ambitions for more education on the part of the students. I also suspect that high school students who know, or think, that they want to pursue advanced degrees incline more toward those types of schools, while high school students who have no particular interest in graduate degrees (excluding professional school degrees) gravitate more toward better known schools, which may be in the RU/H category.

Thanks for the comments! You all make fantastic points.

Here's something interesting I noticed: a lot of the schools listed in the NSF study as sending off the most students to graduate school (to get PhDs) also appear in the Washington Monthly rankings of colleges and universities that contribute most to public good.
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/rankings_2010/national_university_rank.php
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/rankings_2010/liberal_arts_rank.php
Coincidence? I don't think so.

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