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Some of the Brigham Young University students who will graduate on Thursday will pursue doctorates at America's most prestigious graduate schools, continuing a tradition that has resulted in BYU ranking 10th in the nation in the number of graduates who earn doctoral degrees, according to a new nationwide, federally financed study.

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago issued an analysis of every Ph.D. earned in the United States from 1995 to 2004 and tracked the schools where the newly minted Ph.D.s had earned their undergraduate degrees. With 2,116 alumni earning doctorates in that period, BYU came in ahead of universities such as MIT, Yale and Stanford. The study was funded by six federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.

The top-ten ranking demonstrates that BYU is succeeding in one of its primary goals – providing an excellent undergraduate education, said BYU Academic Vice President John Tanner.

"This ranking is pleasing both because it measures something our Board has asked us to be particularly good at – undergraduate education – and because it is based on hard evidence of actual student performance, rather than perception," Tanner said. "We hope to continue to provide a first-rate undergraduate education that is both intellectually and spiritually strengthening and that leads our students to pursue lifelong learning."

Spencer Jones, graduating in chemistry this week, credits that combination of what he called a "spiritual education and a scholastic education" with bringing him to BYU. He's leaving with a fellowship to study organic chemistry at Princeton after turning down offers from Harvard and Caltech.

"BYU has been really successful in preparing me for my graduate program," Jones said. "The difficulty of the course work in my major and the personal attention of the faculty have helped me a lot. Particularly with my research I have received a lot of personal attention from my mentor."

Jones and his faculty adviser, Steven Castle, are publishing a paper this week in Organic Letters, a scholarly journal, about a chemical they created that has a molecular structure similar to that of morphine.

"When I visited the programs that had accepted me, the professors who reviewed my application said they were impressed with the amount of research I was able to do as an undergraduate," Jones said.

Mentored experiences like Jones' are offered across campus to give undergraduates opportunities similar to graduate students at other schools. To support student mentoring in the 2005-06 academic year, the university awarded $557,000 to 370 undergraduates whose research proposals merited grants. BYU also gave approximately $1.5 million to 102 faculty members for projects involving undergraduates.

Related at BYU: In 2003, then-BYU undergraduate Taylor Maxwell co-authored a paper with associate professor of integrative biology Michael Whiting that was featured on the cover of the prestigious science journal Nature. Maxwell went on to a doctoral program at Washington University in St. Louis. In 2004, Brian Bingham graduated from BYU's neuroscience program, the country's largest at the time, and went on to pursue a doctorate in neuropharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2005, Jacob Durrant earned a bachelor's degree with a double major concurrently with a master's and had his pick of combined medical and doctoral programs.