After three decades of steadily improving its research prowess, the University of Rochester now claims to rank among the most influential scientific research institutions in the country-and has the evidence to prove it.
A report compiled by Thomson Reuters shows that the findings of UR researchers have a disproportionate influence on the thinking of other scientists. The report measured the amount of scholarly research at institutions and how often that institution's findings were cited by others in peer-reviewed journals, placing UR 17th among citations by other scientists.
UR had a relative citation rate of 1.71, with 1 considered the average citation impact for the world, considering the field and the year of published papers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology topped the list with a relative citation rate of 2.28.
The report uses a measure called relative citation impact, taking into account the number of citations, the prominence of the journals in which they appear and the field in which an individual specializes. This is intended to measure the quality of scientific output as opposed to quantity, an area where UR's score has increased steadily over the last 30 years, university officials said.
"This report is further evidence of the exceptional and innovative work being done by our scientific faculty," UR president Joel Seligman said. "It is also an affirmation that our researchers are global leaders and innovators in critical scientific fields such as medicine, engineering, optics and energy."
For other universities in the Association of American Universities, a group of 63 research institutions in the United States and Canada, growth in citations has been relatively flat over the last few decades, while at UR it has risen nearly 15 percent, said Ralph Kuncl, UR provost.
Being listed among institutions like Yale University is a validation of the work done at UR and will have a strong influence on future work, Kuncl said.
"Being tied for No. 17 (with Yale and Boston University) puts us in a rarified group of very productive places," he said. "It's not that we produce a lot of stuff compared to the largest institutions, but what we do produce has a huge impact on the world of science, and other scientists in turn look at our work as being worthy of citation."
Kuncl said the ranking reflected a gradual buildup of research in the natural, biological and physical sciences over the last 30 years. In that time the university has recruited faculty members who are more aggressive in seeking funding for research and begun major initiatives in research, such as work at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics.
"The bar has risen here in terms of expectations about productivity of scholars, and those are what I would define as cultural changes," Kuncl said. "That kind of change doesn't happen overnight."
The period measured by the report, 2005 through 2009, was a busy one for UR researchers. During that time the university received $1.8 billion in external research funding and scientists produced important work like the creation of a new scientific discipline to examine the potential health risks of nanoparticles and work identifying cancer patients at risk for deadly blood clots.
The discoveries have a strong impact on both UR and the surrounding community. The university consistently ranks among the top 10 nationally in royalty revenue generated from licensed technologies, and in 2007 it received $53 million in all.
Many of the startup ventures founded at UR stay in the community and contribute to economic development, university officials said. But beyond Rochester, the findings also help keep the United States at the forefront of scientific leadership and create economic benefits nationwide.
"The academic principle of disseminating scientific knowledge is essential to the process of translating discoveries into new treatments, innovation and technologies," said Bradford Berk, CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center. "The process of harnessing shared and accumulated knowledge to advance science and improve health is a vital component of U.S. global economic and scientific leadership. This report underscores the unique and central contribution that research universities make to the nation's economic vitality."
With a number of other publications making college ranking lists based on student surveys or other less scrupulous measures, having a ranking based on the thoughts and reactions of scientists is pivotal to the university, Kuncl said.
"This is far, far more important than the kind of diluted rankings that are found everywhere in the media," he said. "The classic example is the U.S. News and World Report rankings of universities, which is an interesting exercise but is not the way scientists view the university's importance."
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