BYU is Top-5 launching pad for PhDs

Published: Saturday, Aug. 27 2011 12:31 a.m. MDT

Ben Palmer right, smiles as he waits in the shade prior to walking with other graduates to BYU's Summer Commencement Ceremony at the Marriott Center Thursday afternoon. Palmer graduated in manufacturing engineering, Thursday, August 14, 2008.

Geoffrey McAllister, Deseret News archives

SALT LAKE CITY — Mamas, don't raise your babies to be Golden Bears or Cougars — unless you want them to grow up and earn doctoral degrees.

New survey results show that the University of California at Berkeley is the most prolific undergraduate institution for producing students who go onto Ph.D. programs. Between 2005-09, over 2,200 Golden Bear grads earned doctorates.

BYU finished fifth nationally, with 1,336 former Cougars obtaining a Ph.D. during the same timeframe.

Janet Gilmore, campus spokeswoman for UC Berkeley, believes a confluence of unique factors cultivates students to succeed in their graduate studies.

"UC Berkeley undergraduate students are exceptionally talented academically and driven," Gilmore said. "During their time here on campus they have the opportunity to participate in hands-on research, select from a very broad range of course offerings and fields of study, and learn from Nobel Laureates and other scholars who are leaders in their field."

BYU academic vice president Brent W. Webb attributes much of the university's strong showing to a mentoring program that partners undergraduates with faculty for meaningful academic research.

"We believe BYU is successful in preparing students for graduate school because of our strong emphasis on providing a first-rate undergraduate education," Webb said. "While we are very pleased with the quality of our classroom instruction, the student experience at BYU is also enhanced significantly by undergraduate mentoring, which allows undergraduate students to conduct significant research alongside faculty. The mentoring experience at BYU is great preparation for both graduate-level education as well as lifelong learning."

Daniel Mortensen, a recent BYU grad, will begin Berkeley's prestigious chemistry Ph.D. program next month. Already the lead author for a study published by a prominent chemistry journal, Mortensen embodies the high praise Webb extolled for BYU's undergraduate research program.

"BYU allows students to get a lot of hands on experience that isn't necessarily available anywhere else," Mortensen said. "The one-on-one discussions with professors and actual lab work helped me figure out how things work and what I wanted," he said.

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago conducted the Survey of Earned Doctorates on behalf of the National Science Foundation and five other federal entities.

Top Ph.D. launching pads

Undergraduate institutions of doctorate recipients: 2005-09

1. UC-Berkeley, 2,225

2. Cornell University, 1,585

3. University of Michigan, 1,516

4. University of Texas, 1,356

5. BYU, 1,336

6. UCLA, 1,319

7. University of Wisconsin, 1,317

8. University of Illinois, 1,313

9. Penn State University, 1,268

10. Harvard University, 1,247

Source: National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago

EMAIL: jaskar@desnews.com, Twitter: askargo

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