Tuesday, December 26, 2006

More Caltech bragging rights: patents and PhDs

Guess which university completely dominates all others in patents issued, when normalized to the size of institution? My graduating class was 186 -- compare to MIT (about 1000) and Stanford (about 1600).

2005 USPTO university patent rankings:

1) 10 campuses of the University of California System, 390 patents
2) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 136 patents
3) California Institute of Technology, 101 patents
4) Stanford University and the University of Texas, each with 90 patents each.

For Nobel prize domination, see here.

For ranking by percentage of undergraduates going on to complete a PhD, see here and here. (I think I saw this on Dave Bacon's blog a while ago.) Caltech leads with about 50% of all undergrads going on to earn a doctorate. Reed College, MIT, Harvey Mudd, Swarthmore, etc. all do pretty well. Interestingly, Yale does well in the humanities, but Harvard is not to be found on any of the lists. That makes their kids the smartest of all, as they probably go directly to Goldman Sachs or hedge funds with no wasted time :-)

To be honest, graduate school seemed a lot easier than undergrad for me. A typical load at Caltech might be 5 technical courses and 1 humanities-social science course - for example, 3 physics classes, a math class, a CS class, and, for relaxation, something like history or economics ;-) In grad school 3 physics classes at the same time was a typical load.


Anonymous said...

You got Nobel prizes and patents, but MIT stole the Fleming cannon, so let's call it even.

Steve Hsu said...

I followed the Caltech-MIT prank exchange some time ago, but I have to say it wasn't that impressive. Some of the stuff with the cannon was basically brute force theft. Not nearly as elegant as the Rose Bowl prank from when I was a freshman :-) The scoreboard was changed to read Caltech -- MIT instead of Illinois -- UCLA (was that the Pac-10 team?); all on national TV as millions watched. Some senior did it as a EE class project, hacking the scoreboard with a remote control.

Note, MIT is bigger and better known to the general public, so it often seems like Caltech is sponging off of its bigger sibling in these prank wars. MIT students probably think more about hacking the Harvard-Yale game or blackjack schemes in Vegas than about Caltech.

Steinn said...

Well, you should have gone to grad school at Caltech!

Steve Hsu said...


Believe me, I couldn't wait to get out of there, and headed to the biggest, most diverse university with a top physics PhD program that I could find (Berkeley)!

Caltech is great for the education, but potentially stifling in other respects...

Steinn said...

Couldn't agree more.
Just that I went the opposite way...

Anonymous said...

Having lots and lots of patents ... is good?

What a weird world you live in ...

Steve Hsu said...


Lots is better than few. It shows there are a lot of good researchers around. Normalizing to number of students is also reasonable, since it captures the ease with which an individual student can find a good researcher to work with or learn from.

Perhaps you don't like our patent system - I've actually blogged here about how it is broken. But given the system, a university with a high patents to student ratio seems to be a good place to study science or engineering.


It might have been better to do things in the opposite order, who knows! BTW, I like your HOWTO guide for aspiring astro students...

Anonymous said...

Tired of being the weird roommate, I moved offcampus from Caltech to a commune, where I could be the straight one.

I've been involved in several patent applications, and earned 6 figures consulting for Patent Law firms.

But as to those Nobel Prize statistics. Does this mean that I still have a 0.1% chance of winning one?

Does it help that I coauthored with Feynman?

Heck, after going elsewhere for Grad School, and working in other states, I moved back to Pasadena to be close to Caltech. Nowhere else like it.

-- Jonathan Vos Post


Steve Hsu said...


I just read your nerd bio. You win! (On second thought, I guess there might be some MIT guy who has a better nerd CV than you, there are so many of those guys :-)

I'm proud to have attended the same school as you :-)

Anonymous said...

Hey! Good News! Coach Roy Dow and his squad of Beavers beat Bard College of New York 81-52 on Saturday night, ending a mathematically improbable run of 207 consecutive NCAA Division III losses. NOW you can have some school pride!

Annie said...

as a potential techer (i'm considering bio E at berkeley or biomedical engineering at jhu also), i have to ask...what did all of you find so negative about caltech? i'd really like more opinions before i commit to a $50k school. prefrosh weekend blew me away, but i'm not sure if caltech is always as great as it seemed...

Steve Hsu said...


I'd recommend UCB or Caltech over JHU.

UCB is more cost effective, but the research opportunities might not be as good for an undergrad. The average brainpower around you will be much higher at Caltech -- that could be a plus or a minus, depending on how you look at it. If you are maximally ambitious at this stage I would say go to Caltech. For some kids it is much better to start more slowly as an UG and then attend grad school at a place like Caltech -- you can get burned out there if you aren't ready for it. If you have a mellow, non-competitive personality type (i.e., driven by curiosity and not needing to be top dog) you will probably be OK, but if you are competitive you better be *really* smart or you will be in for a shock at Caltech.

The social life will be better at UCB, although it is much better these days at Caltech than when I was there.

If you have specific questions feel free to email me.

Jim Ausman said...

Sure, Caltech has a great percentage of undergrads who go on to grad school, but what percentage of admitted freshman go no to grad school? When we were there, the washout rate was something like 35%, right?

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