The survey and its analysis
Small Times introduced its university rankings in 2005, based on a survey sent to research institutions in the United States. After that first publication, we assembled an advisory panel of directors at university-based micro- and nanotech centers to refine the questionnaire, which now includes 26 questions (though some are multi-part and fairly complex). Because education of technicians becomes increasingly important as small tech evolves and grows, this year we also wanted to include technical and community colleges-and so devised a questionnaire for them as well.
The questionnaire covers the school year beginning August/September 2005 and ending May/June 2006 and is divided into four sections:
- Infrastructure: This section asks the universities to detail their research facilities, annual facility budgets, access to industry, etc.
- Tech transfer/university programs: Here, respondents provided measurable proof of success, such as the number of micro- and nanotech patents awarded in FY 2006, the number of companies formed, partnerships with industry, and so on.
- Engineering and sciences: This section was designed to assess the university’s science and engineering educational and research programs, with an emphasis on micro- and nanotechnology. Questions ranged from the number of science and engineering faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students to the numbers of micro- and nano-specific courses and degrees.
Universities also were asked to provide figures on grant expenditures and papers published in refereed journals and proceedings. Small Times and its advisory panelists agreed that questions dealing with micro- and nano-specific grants and papers would be difficult, if not impossible, to track and report. Consequently, those answers covered all sciences (excluding the social sciences) and engineering.
Respondents also were asked to give their opinion on which universities they considered tops in micro- and nanotech research and commercialization. Their replies were tabulated to create the peer rankings.
- Index material: This section asked the universities to describe their small-tech programs in 250 words or less.
Responses from the four sections provided the data for a quantitative analysis of each university’s strengths in micro- and nanotech research, education, facilities, industry outreach, and commercialization. If a university responded that data was not available, or left a question blank, it was recorded as 0. Responses were also vetted for misinterpretations.
Some universities did not respond to the survey but appear in the magazine because they were named among the top schools in the peer rankings section. Several other universities expressed an interest in participating but did not meet the deadline for submission.
Technical and community colleges
This year we devised a second, less-complex questionnaire for technical and community colleges. This survey covers the same basic areas as the university survey, but requires less detail-which is appropriate, considering that two-year colleges are just beginning to offer courses and programs in small tech and therefore have less to report at this early stage.
Because this segment of the higher-education community is so new to micro- and nanotechnologies, we received just four community college submissions. Instead of ranking them, then, we summarize their programs in the sidebar, “Community colleges are critical,” on page 28). Don’t dismiss them as less important than the well-established university programs; community and technical college programs will prove essential to the growing list of small-tech developers, who will ultimately need many more technicians than Ph.D.s.