Using university rankings as a research student
Now that you’ve had a chance to take a look at the three main university rankings, compared side by side, it’s worth getting a sense of how rankings work as a whole – and what to pay attention to when using them to evaluate the top PhD universities in the world.
Each ranking uses a slightly different methodology, but they all aim to produce a list of the very best universities in the world, according to the quality of their research, teaching and wider reputation.
To do this, they collect a range of data about each institution. They then use their own systems to weight and normalise this data in a way that allows universities to be given a specific place in a global league table.
Turning university rankings into ‘PhD rankings’
An overall league table is great if you’re a higher education anorak, looking to see which university is ‘best’ or who ‘beats’ who in a given year. But it’s not necessarily that useful for PhD students and won’t always show you where the best PhD programmes are. At least not on its own.
You’ll obviously benefit from the overall quality and reputation of your university, but you’re going to rely much more on the skills and expertise of your supervisor (and other academic staff) as well as the quality of your graduate school's facilities and resources.
What's more, the quality and potential of your actual PhD research will matter at least as much as the reputation of your university.
So, when it comes to PhD study, it's important to take rankings with a pinch of salt. That's what the following explanation will provide.
Making sense of metrics – what do rankings actually measure?
To get the most out of university rankings when choosing a PhD, you need to be able to do two things:
Firstly, you need to know how rankings work and what they measure. Secondly, you need to be able to know which of those measurements matter most for PhD-level work.