50 Best Graduate Research Institutes

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Updated September 30, 2020

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Over half of all research activity conducted in the United States takes place at research universities. These hubs of academic discovery are credited with groundbreaking research including life-saving drugs, medical treatments, and vaccines as well as the latest and greatest advancements in engineering and technology.

From a student's perspective, graduate research institutes provide opportunities for hands-on learning, fellowships, and even prestige. Thus, prospective grad students with dreams of becoming leaders in their respective fields would be wise to identify the schools and research institutes known for their high research activity and expenditures, cutting-edge facilities and resources, and innovative approaches to collaborative study. To help with this discovery process, our team of editors has identified the very best institutes at the top research universities around the country. The initial pool of research universities is drawn from universities with a Carnegie classification of R1: Research Universities (Highest research activity).

Top 10 Best Graduate Research Institutes

#1 Cornell University Ithaca, NY
#2 Columbia University New York City, NY
#3 University of California – Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
#4 University of Arizona Tucson, AZ
#5 University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA
#6 Duke University Durham, NC
#7 Northwestern University Evanston, IL
#8 The University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX
#9 University of Minnesota Austin, MN
#10 University of California – Berkeley Berkeley, CA

Rating and Ranking Methodology

University R&D Expenditures

  • Over $2 million – 3 points
  • Over $1 million – 2 points
  • Over $500,000 – 1 point

Awards and Recognition (Related to Research)

  • National Level – 2 points
  • Regional Level – 1 point

LEED Certified Facilities

  • Platinum – 3 points
  • Gold – 2 points
  • Silver – 1 point

Interdisciplinary Approach – 1 point

MGP (Majority Graduate/Professional) Enrollment – 1 point

RU/VH (Very High Research Activity) – 1 point

"Wow" Factor –1 point awarded for each feature that "wowed" us

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These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online graduate degree programs. Figuring out where to apply? Consider one of these online Master’s or PhD programs.

Best Graduate Research Institutes

The research institutes that we present below are exceptional in that they receive support and funding from the most active graduate research universities in the country. These are institutions with the most updated facilities and interdisciplinary programs in the nation.

We have applied the rating and ranking methodology above and listed them here in descending order. In the case of a tie, we awarded the higher ranking to the most affordable school affiliated with the research institute. Please note that the dollar amounts listed for R&D expenditures represent thousands of dollars. For example, an expenditure listed as $200,000 actually indicates a figure of $200 million.

  1. Cornell University

    Ithaca, NY



    Center for Advanced Computing

    R&D Expenditures: $883,292

    The Cornell University Center for Advanced Computing (CAC) in Ithaca New York is one of the leaders in creating data solutions, high performance computing systems, and applications that are instrumental in successful research. Founded in 1985, CAC was one of the original five supercomputer centers to provide high-speed technology for research professionals. The center provides computing resources based in software including Red Hat Linuz, Hadoop, CentOS, Eucalyptus and MySQL. The CAC works with a national community as partners of the National Science Foundation-funded Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment.

    More information on Cornell University

  2. Columbia University

    New York City, NY



    Earth Institute

    Points: 11
    R&D Expenditures: $890,642

    Founded in 1995 at Columbia University, the Earth Institute consists of 30 research centers and over 850 scientists, students, and fellows working toward sustainable development. The cutting-edge projects conducted here are rooted in the mission that existing science and technology can be utilized to meet the needs of the impoverished worldwide. By employing a multidisciplinary approach of scientific study, research, and education outreach, this institute works toward establishing stability for global issues facing climate, urbanization, energy, poverty, and ecosystems. The Earth Institute is also home to the Marie Tharp Fellowship, awarded to three outstanding female earth scientists per year.

    More information on Columbia University

  3. University of California – Los Angeles

    Los Angeles, CA



    UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

    Points: 10
    R&D Expenditures: $966,659

    The UCLA Institute of Environment and Sustainability was founded in 1997 to address a need for pivotal research in global environment and sustainability issues. This institute's programming is an interdisciplinary approach combining education, research and outreach to the community. By both distributing knowledge and providing active solutions, UCLA encourages the next generation to be strong leaders in improving the planet's health. The research programs associated with these efforts focus on climate change, energy, biodiversity, air and water quality, environmental economics, and related areas.

    More information on the University of California Los Angeles

  4. University of Arizona

    Tucson, AZ



    BIO5 Institute

    Points: 9
    R&D Expenditures: $588,088

    The BIO5 Institute was founded in 2001 as a result of the Technology and Research Initiative (TRIF). Its name is derived from its interdisciplinary approach to research, which promotes collaboration amongst five core disciplines: Agriculture, Engineering, Medicine, Pharmacy, and Science. The Institute brings together hundreds of researchers from more than 20 different schools and departments across the university. The result is innovative solutions to global biological problems such as disease, nutrition, hunger, and the environment. Graduate students work alongside top geneticists, biochemists, engineers, computer scientists, mathematicians, and other experts to perform cooperative research.

    More information on the University of Arizona

  5. University of Pittsburgh

    Pittsburgh, PA



    Aging Institute

    Points: 8
    R&D Expenditures: $856,806

    Founded to serve the growing needs of the geriatric population, the Aging Institute at the University of Pittsburgh is committed to delivering full-service, high-quality healthcare. This institute is part of a large network of experts in geriatric medicine, providing more resources in the field than most medical centers in the nation. In addition to caring for older adults, AI performs clinical trials that have proven pivotal in the study and treatment of Alzheimer's disease, depression, and the effects of caregiving on families.

    More information on the University of Pittsburgh

  6. Duke University

    Durham, NC



    Duke Clinical Research Institute

    Points: 8
    R&D Expenditures: $992,821

    Duke Clinical Research Institute is a world-renowned, state-of-the-art facility that has proven itself a leader in scientific investigation. While it's known for groundbreaking cardiology research, DCRI's expertise spans pediatrics, geriatrics, primary care, proteomics, oncology, and other specialties. Duke's research unit performs studies in 65 countries, the results of which have been published in more than 9,300 peer-reviewed journals. In order to produce the most comprehensive results, DCRI's clinical trials consider long-term outcomes, quality of life, and economic factors.

    More information on Duke University

  7. Northwestern University

    Evanston, IL



    Stanley Manne Children's Research Institute

    Points: 8
    R&D Expenditures: $645,333

    Since its establishment in 1986, the Stanley Mann Children's Research Institute has become one of the most prominent pediatric research facilities in the country. The Institute is comprised of ten core facilities including the Clinical Research Unit, the Pritzker Research Library, and the Research Histology Library. Graduate students engaged in research at Stanley Manne belong to one of three graduate programs at Northwestern University: the Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences, the Medical Scientist Training Program, and Northwestern University's Interdepartmental Neuroscience PhD program.

    More information on Northwestern University

  8. The University of Texas at Austin

    Austin, TX



    Center for Transportation Research

    Points: 7
    R&D Expenditures: $585,251

    As one of the oldest institutes on our list, the Center for Transportation Research at The University of Texas at Austin facilitated research designed to foster advancements in transportation science and technology. Recognized as one of the leading facilities of its kind, the Center promotes research in nearly every aspect of transportation including economics, transportation policy, driver behavior, traffic congestion relief, and public transit. Over 200 graduate and undergraduate engage in research at the center each year, and its research library houses over 30,000 publications.

    More information on University of Texas at Austin

  9. University of Minnesota

    Austin, MN



    The Hormel Institute

    Points: 7
    R&D Expenditures: $876,870

    The Hormel Institute of the University of Minnesota is a globally recognized leader in revealing the dietary factors that can control or prevent cancer growth. A few of the groundbreaking discoveries attributed to Hormel include coining the terms omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and revealing the anti-cancer benefits of green tea compounds. This institute utilizes High Performance Computing (HPC), expressly designed for biomedical research, scientific advances, and new drug development in cancer research. HPC allows scientists to screen millions of molecules to find matches between a chemical and its protein target, a resource often less available in other laboratory facilities.

    More information on University of Minnesota

  10. University of California – Berkeley

    Berkeley, CA



    Berkeley Energy & Climate Institute

    Points: 7
    R&D Expenditures: $744,343

    Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute (BECI) was established in 2010 in collaboration with the University of California and external research partners. BECI brings in top-performing PhD students and respected figures in policy, business, and research. The primary objectives of this institute are to increase interdisciplinary research and improve the marketing of climate and energy education throughout the college and beyond. The educational programming of BECI is another key component, as its curriculum is actively cultivating a next generation of leaders and energy innovators.

    More information on the University of California Berkeley

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