Carnegie Mellon SCS Ph.D.s ranked first in U.S.

The results are in for America’s top computer science Ph.D. programs. This year, winners are praising their interdisciplinary research for their achievements.

U.S. News & World Report recently released its 2006 rankings for America’s top Ph.D. programs in computer science. Carnegie Mellon University tied for first place with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of California at Berkeley. Each received the maximum score of five points.

U.S. News bases its rankings on the opinions of department heads and directors of graduate studies across the country. These individuals belong to schools that have awarded at least five doctoral degrees between the years 1999 and 2004.

The results are nothing new; U.S. News has ranked Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science (SCS) at or near the top for a while. Frank Pfenning, head of the university’s Computer Science graduate program, said that one reason for the success of SCS is the support that it provides its students.

Pfenning said that SCS admits students with the idea that “every single student that we can admit will be able to succeed through the program.”

In particular, SCS matches each student with an advisor during the first year of study.

Pfenning said that this makes students feel engaged in the environment that they will be in for six years.

“We match the student right away so they will be essentially in good hands from the first day,” Pfenning said.

SCS faculty also meet twice a year to discuss the progress of each student. In these meetings, faculty members discuss each student’s achievements and future direction. The advisor then provides feedback to the student in the form of a letter.

Another attribute of SCS is its interdisciplinary approach to computer science.

Pfenning said that the department views computer science as relating to many different sciences, including psychology, statistics, and biology.

In particular, Carnegie Mellon received a grant in 1999 to partner with the University of Pittsburgh to form a Ph.D. program in chemistry and computational biology, the study of cellular processes using mathematics and computation.

The SCS program can cover anything from machine learning and data analysis to bioimagery and molecular biology. “We believe that Computer Science reaches into many different sciences,” Pfenning said.

On the other side of the country, Standford’s computer science school is at the top for other reasons. The public relations manager for Stanford’s School of Engineering, David Orenstein, said that Stanford is located in a prime area for advancements in industry.

“That means we are exposing students to problems current in the field,” he said. “There’s a real strong relation to the marketplace.”

Orenstein said that this advantage stems from Stanford’s strong alumni connections. He said that Stanford is in an area with many industry resources, such as Sun and google, located in nearby Silicon Valley.

Like Carnegie Mellon, Stanford’s computer science department also offers a variety of different fields, according to Orenstein.

“It’s a broad and deep department,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration.”

Orenstein said that interdisciplinary collaboration allows students and professors to form teams that might not otherwise come together to work on problems.

These problems are in many fields, ranging from biology to business to artificial intelligence.

In artificial intelligence, Stanford computer science researchers are currently working to build STAIR (Stanford AI Robot), a robot designed to assist people in their homes and offices. The researchers intend for the robot to be able to create a bookshelf using tools like screwdrivers and a hammer, throw away trash, or even retrieve a colleague from his or her office.

Additionally, in the field of language, researchers are designing tools to interact with dictionary databases, or catalogs of words.

Researchers are currently working on techniques that will enable non-technical users to visualize word information.

Orenstein said that when it comes to providing students with a wide and deep education at Stanford, “it’s not just a schematic, it’s a reality.”