Reed Leads the Pack In STEM PhDs

New report ranks Reed No. 1 in the nation for STEM grads who go on to earn PhDs.

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | September 27, 2019

Reed is ranked No. 1 in the nation in the percentage of STEM majors who go on to earn PhDs in STEM fields, according to a new report on strengthening the nation’s STEM pipeline that was conducted on behalf of the Council of Independent Colleges. Roughly 38% of Reed STEM grads obtained a PhD in the ten-year timeframe covered by the report, edging out MIT, Caltech, Harvey Mudd, and other tech schools.

The absolute number of Reed STEM PhDs is smaller than traditional engineering powerhouses: 288 Reed grads earned a STEM PhD from 2007 to 2016, compared to 742 from Caltech, for example. But those colleges also have many more STEM majors. When you look at the percentage of STEM majors who later obtain PhDs in the field—known as the “institutional yield ratio” in higher-ed jargon—Reed vaults to the top of the list. 

“This finding illustrates the strength of Reed’s science program, and shows the power of doing STEM in the broader context of the humanities,” says President Audrey Bilger. “STEM majors at Reed graduate with a breadth of perspective that few can match.” 

The report, titled Strengthening the STEM Pipeline Part II, focused on the role of small and mid-sized independent colleges in preparing underrepresented students in STEM. It also revealed that Reed stands at No. 7 on the list for women in STEM, with 18% of Reed’s female STEM grads earning PhDs. (The report excluded Reed and some other small liberal-arts colleges from the lists ranking African Americans or Latinx with STEM PhDs because Reed produced fewer than 25 PhDs in each of these categories.)

Reed’s unique science program combines outstanding professors who work closely with students on research projects at the cutting edge of their disciplines. Majors include biology, biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, environmental studies, math, neuroscience, physics, and statistics. Reed students publish their results in top scientific journals with surprising frequency. Reed also maintains the only nuclear reactor in the world that is run primarily by undergrads. 

“We have a long history of students and faculty learning together at Reed College,” says Prof. Jay Mellies [biology]. “Scientific inquiry involves a lot of trial and error, but gaining new knowledge is exciting, with the realization that there are always more questions to answer.”

Some recent research projects at Reed include:

And some prominent STEM grads include:

The report examined PhDs earned between 2007 and 2016 and was conducted by the University of Chicago’s NORC center on behalf of the Council of Independent Colleges, a nonprofit association dedicated to supporting college and university leadership; Reed is not a member institution.

Tags: Academics, Alumni, Awards & Achievements, Editor's Picks, Institutional, Life Beyond Reed, Research