Pitt ranks high in research value study

By Alex Oltmanns

Pitt finished in the top 10 in a recent survey that measured the per-dollar value of… Pitt finished in the top 10 in a recent survey that measured the per-dollar value of institutions’ academic research.

Jeffrey Litwin, an associate dean at George Brown College, conducted a study that ranked Pitt eighth out of 72 universities in terms of publications per-dollar of federal research funding.

Litwin used total research expenditures — deflated to 1996 dollars — divided by the total number of articles published in peer adjudicated journals each year to arrive at his rankings. The list ranks the schools in rising order of spending per publication.

Pitt also ranked eighth out of 72 universities in a 1989-based calculation with $44,990 in total cost per publication and finished eighth again in 2004 standings with $68,460 per publication.

Litwin called that a “pretty good result from a productivity perspective. Most universities moved around quite a bit in the ranking over the years.”

In 2004, Pitt spent $398,581 in total federal sponsored research expenses as opposed to first-ranked Harvard’s $468,313. That number for Pitt rose to $532,776 in 2010.

Boston University also came in atop the list, whereas other high profile schools like MIT and Johns Hopkins finished near the bottom, as they place less of an emphasis on publishing their research.

“I retrieved the research expenditure data from the National Science Foundation WebCASPAR site and the publication counts from Thomson Reuters’ Web of Knowledge,” Litwin, who used a three-year average to determine the values, said. “The process was simple enough. I retrieved the data and did the calculation.”

Pitt has made great strides from a research standpoint. In the Department of Neurosurgery, the University has helped lead innovation in areas such as brain-tumor management, stereotactic radiosurgery, movement disorders and vascular malformations.

Meanwhile, Pitt’s McGowan Institute has emerged as one of the leading bioengineering programs in the country. In September 2003, the school was ranked first nationally in NIH bioengineering research grants.

Research funding is a uniform process in which each university applies for grant money depending on how much it needs. Afterward, national institutions decide how much to aid them.

“Researchers apply for grants (primarily to government agencies and foundations) to fund their research projects, and the amount [received] is dictated by how much money the researchers need to conduct the research and how much the agencies (such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, etc.) give to support those projects,” Pitt spokesman John Fedele said in an email.

In a recent article in the Boston Globe, Litwin stated that schools like Pitt and Duke are similar in the percent of federal funding they spend on life sciences, engineering and mathematics.

Yet Duke receives $81,600 per publication, whereas Pitt gets $61,740, a statistic for which Litwin could not explain the disparity.

Litwin said the 72 institutions evaluated in the study represent around 70 percent of total U.S. research expenses between 1989 and 2004.