Making Informed Decisions about Advanced Degrees
Rankings play an outsized role in a student's decision about which academic programs to apply to, and eventually, which one to join from available options. However, one must pause to think, is it really possible to reduce the worth of an institution or an academic program to a single number?
There are a multitude of rankings out there with varying reputability and dramatically different methodologies. This article will help students who are considering an advanced degree in computer science at the University of Houston to make an informed decision.
There is consensus in the national computer science community that any evaluation methodology must be data driven. They must meet the GOTO criterion: based on Good data, Open, Transparent, and Objective. The criteria are detailed at gotorankings.org.
According to csrankings.org, which meets the GOTO criteria, University of Houston Computer Science is ranked* among the top 40 departments in the following areas:
- Computer graphics (29)
- Visualization (31)
- Natural language processing (37), and
- Embedded systems (38)
Additionally, the department is ranked* among the top 60 in the following fields:
- Algorithms and complexity
- Computational biology and bioinformatics
- Computer vision
- Economics of computations
- High performance computing
- Human-computer interaction, and
- Web and information retrieval
According to Academic Ranking of World Universities, which relies on publications, citations, and awards as metrics, UH is tied at 47** in computer science and engineering among U.S. universities. UH is proud of this excellent placement among the pool of outstanding universities.
No Faith in US News and World Report Rankings
We are well aware that the aforementioned rankings are at odds with those published by the popular U.S. News and World Report. However, there is no faith in U.S. News rankings among academic computer scientists.
In a statement letter about U.S. News rankings to the computing research community, the Computing Research Association (CRA), an association representing computer science academic departments and research laboratories, boldly states “Anyone with knowledge of CS research will see these rankings for what they are — nonsense — and ignore them. But others may be seriously misled.”
A recent viewpoint published in the Communications of the ACM reinforces the CRA view and presents a clear comparison with GOTO rankings.
U.S. News rankings have three fatal problems. First, they are largely based on reputation, as measured by the perception of chairs and graduate directors of academic programs. However, in a recent meeting of department chairs organized by the CRA, every chair in attendance acknowledged that they had little specific knowledge of the research activities of the vast majority of CS departments.
Second, the quantitative part of ranking is based exclusively on journal publications despite the fact that the field of computer science relies heavily on conferences for dissemination of research. Finally, the rankings are not transparent; hence, there is no way to verify if the data on which they are based is accurate.
Advice to Prospective Graduate Students
For students applying for advanced degrees, our suggestion is to start by identifying areas and types of research that interest you. It is instructive to look at csrankings.org or other GOTO rankings for those areas at UH and elsewhere.
The most important step is to identify a research group that you would like to be a part of and to gain information about the research group from public sources, but most importantly, by contacting the professors and other team members.
Your graduate school experience largely depends on the research group not the department or the university. A little extra effort will go a long way in making a good decision on graduate education. You can visit UH computer science for information about our graduate programs.
*csrankings.org allows rankings to be computed for different periods of time. A period of 10 years up to 2019 was used here. The rankings change dynamically; the rankings referenced in this article were retrieved on October 18, 2019.
**AWRU rankings are for universities worldwide. This rank was obtained by excluding non-U.S. universities.
- Opinion piece written by Jaspal Subhlok, Professor, UH Department of Computer Science