Illustration by Christine Hipp.

UC Santa Cruz now holds the title of the third most influential research institution in the world, ranking ahead of both Stanford and Harvard, according to a recent report published in The Times Higher Education.

The study, conducted by Thomson Reuters, spanned a six-year period measuring the frequency in which research compiled by UCSC faculty received citation in scholarly journals published by universities around the globe. UCSC received a citation score of 99.9, along with UCSB, Cal Tech and Rice University. Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology scored 100, while Harvard and Stanford received totals of 99.8.

“Getting a ranking like this tells everybody very loudly [that] not only is this a researching university, but that its right at the top of international pyramid in quality,” said Bruce Margon, vice chancellor of research at UCSC.

With a student body of 16,000 and around 650 researching faculty members, UCSC is the second smallest UC campus.

“This will be a very nice reminder to people that yes, we are small, but actually we are a hugely internationally recognized center of research excellence,” Margon said.

Universities with larger faculty populations have the capacity to publish greater amounts of research, which translate to higher citation scores. This makes UCSC’s third overall ranking all the more impressive.

“The nice thing about this study is that it was a study of quality, not quantity,” Margon said. “It was a study of what impact UCSC faculty discoveries make, not how many discoveries they make.”

UCSC came in at No. 110 in the overall world university rankings. Along with research influence, rankings are determined by overall research, international outlook, income and teaching. UCSC received its lowest score in teaching at 28.5, followed by industry income at 29.5 and international outlook at 29.8. Overall research clocked in with a score of 36.5. Scores reflecting teaching, overall research and international outlook are weighed heavily on international reputation, which 46-year-old UCSC lacks on paper when compared to older universities such as UC Berkeley, Princeton and Harvard.

The reputation UCSC is building as a research powerhouse relies heavily on the relationship between faculty and undergraduate students.

“Undergraduate students benefit from research excellence in the university because they are being taught by the creator of knowledge, not just some messenger,” Margon said.

According to Margon, of the 10-campus UC system, UCSC ranks only second behind Berkeley in producing students who go on to pursue graduate degrees.

“Students at UCSC, because it is a small, intimate setting, get a lot of opportunities to work directly with faculty,” Margon said. “They get the spark.They get the fever for how cool it is to do research.”

Many faculty members enjoy the relationship they have with undergraduate students.

“My most rewarding experiences as a professor have been doing research with undergraduates,” said Greg Laughlin, astronomy and astrophysics professor and department chair.

Kevin Schlaufmann, a postdoctoral researcher in the astronomy and astrophysics department, said UCSC is a great place for undergraduates to conduct research, as professors are both internationally recognized through their research and focused on teaching at the same time.

Research conducted at UCSC also generates private funds, namely from federal grants, industry and philanthropy.

“Our research excellence creates greater educational opportunity for our students that wouldn’t be available otherwise, and certainly [won’t] be available as the state of California collapses its financial support for the university,” Margon said.

According to Margon, between $125 and $150 million is generated by the research conducted at UCSC each year. Much of this money is injected into Santa Cruz County, stimulating the local economy.

Past studies based on citation impact and research influence have seen favorable results for UCSC. In 2008, the astronomy and astrophysics department received a top research influence ranking among U.S universities, while the physics department received a top U.S. ranking in 2007. In 2001, UCSC was ranked second worldwide in physical sciences research.

When combined with the recent third-place research influence ranking, some hope UCSC’s growing reputation will contribute to securing needed support during unstable financial times.

“If you are competing for funding, the best predictor of future performance is past performance,” professor Laughlin said. “My hope is that in a tight funding climate, the fact that we have really shown what we can do will help us in competing, and really make this university continue the world-class tradition we have.”