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Scripps Research ranked in top 10 for chemistry and biology

Scripps Research ranked in top 10 for chemistry and biology
The graduate school at The Scripps Research Institute is ranked in the top 10 for its graduate programs. (John Dole)

The Scripps Research Institute ranks among the top 10 educational centers in the nation for chemistry and biology, according to a U.S. News & World Report survey.

The Skaggs Graduate School of Chemical and Biological Science at Scripps Research was judged against other independent institutions, along with colleges and universities across the country.

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  • In chemistry, a 6th place ranking.
  • For subspecialties within chemistry, the Skaggs graduate program came in 2nd in biochemistry; and 5th in organic chemistry.
  • In biology, the Skaggs school ranked 10th.

The survey was released March 20.

The La Jolla nonprofit has long been recognized for its expertise at the nexus of chemistry and biology. This has resulted in numerous discoveries and spinoffs of biotech companies putting those discoveries to commercial use. One spinoff, Receptos, was purchased for $7.2 billion by pharma giant Celgene in 2015.

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Scripps Research was named first worldwide for its scientific impact, in a 2017 report by the top-tier journal Nature. It scored highest for its research on semisynthetic life, Ebola and HIV.

In this year's rankings, choosing among the top schools was evidently difficult.

  • For chemistry, the Skaggs School tied with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign along with Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
  • For the biochemistry subspecialty, the school tied with Harvard University.
  • For biology, the school tied with Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, and Duke University, in Durham, NC.

While TSRI gathers plaudits for its current work, Skaggs Graduate School is fixated on the future, training the newest generation of scientists.

Unusually, the program isn't affiliated with any department. While interdisciplinary in its structure, the program excels in specific disciplines. Phil Dawson, dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies, said this structure gives graduates an unusually wide exposure to various aspects of sciences.

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Dawson said he especially appreciated that breadth of opportunity when he took part in the program as a graduate student. The lack of traditional institutional disciplines meant he didn't need to get special permission to cross departmental barriers.

"When I was looking for programs to join, there were about 10 labs I wanted to work with at Scripps," he said. "In most other places, there were two or three."

Dawson said the lure of the faculty outweighed his concern about joining a new program that lacked the long-term history and prestige of Ivy League and other established universities.

Last year, the graduate school said it would receive tens of millions of dollars to better nurture its students. Dawson said this money will encourage students to ask "bolder questions" than those often funded by conventional grant sources.

The gift came from the Skaggs family, longtime Scripps Research benefactors. In 1996, food and drugstore pioneer L.S. "Sam" Skaggs and his wife, Aline, gave $100 million to Scripps Research.

Recognizing the importance of its doctorate-granting role, the institute held its 25th graduate commencement last year with a keynote speech by Gerald Chan, a biomedical billionaire and Scripps board member.

In the overall rankings:

  • First place in biology was a three-way tie between Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, MA; along with Stanford University and University of California Berkeley.
  • First place in chemistry went to Pasadena’s CalTech, followed by Harvard University.
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