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WSCUC Standard 4:

Creating an Organization Committed to Quality Assurance, Institutional Learning, and Improvement

• Quality Assurance Processes


• Institutional Learning and

The institution engages in sustained, evidence-based, and participatory self-reflection about how effectively it is accomplishing its purposes and achieving its educational objectives. The institution considers the changing environment of higher education in envisioning its future. These activities inform both institutional planning and systematic evaluations of educational effectiveness. The results of institutional inquiry, research, and data collection are used to establish priorities, to plan, and to improve quality and effectiveness.



Quality Assurance Processes

Criteria for Review

4.1 — The institution employs a deliberate set of quality-assurance processes in both academic and non-academic areas, including new curriculum and program approval processes, periodic program review, assessment of student learning, and other forms of ongoing evaluation. These processes include: collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data; tracking learning results over time; using comparative data from external sources; and improving structures, services, processes, curricula, pedagogy, and learning results.

The Scripps Research Institute's Graduate Program has taken actions to define and institutionalize its program review process including: (1) development and clarification of each step of the review process; (2) further development of database systems to allow for quantitative evidence to be gathered on students, faculty, courses, and alumni; (3) an Annual Report designed to focus on key performance indicators of student learning and success; (4) a formalized Program Review Policy; (5) an integrated two-campus (CA and FL) External Program Review process; (6) a response and action plan that outlines decisions made, next steps, and timeframes following the completion of self-study and the EPR; and (7) enhancements to communicating Program Review outcomes and action plans.

TSRI Graduate Program Review Process           
Figure 1. Five Step Cycle of Review
(click to enlarge)

TSRI's Graduate Program follows a five-step cycle of Program Review. This Five Step Cycle of Review (Figure 1) was revised to emphasize the importance of gathering meaningful data that inform decision making. Additionally, the importance of documenting and communicating long and short term action plans is emphasized in step five. External feedback continues to guide the overall process every three to five years with a written External Program Review (EPR) Report, external site visit, written EPR Team Report, written TSRI Response and Action Plan Report, and communication and documentation of team findings and resulting decisions.

  • Step 1. Gather Meaningful Data
    During step one, program faculty and administrators gather data that demonstrate how well the program is meeting its mission. The faculty identify who, where, when, and how data are collected and the methods and processes used to analyze data. Data are gathered annually and presented through the Annual Report. Data presented in the Annual Report center on ten areas central to the ongoing success of the Scripps Graduate Program. Additionally, the Deans, self-study chairs, and Academic Advisory Committee regularly gather evidence and conduct analyses to inform issues being studied and reviewed.
  • Step 2. Self-Study and Reflect
    Quantitative and qualitative data are used to study and reflect on issues under review. Reflection occurs through committee meetings and through group email discussions. As technology becomes more embedded in our communications and as time schedules and travel obligations vary, email distribution discussions enables a thread of conversation on topics under study. This collaborative online approach, coupled with the more traditional committee structure, has proven to be an effective method for ongoing reflections, interpretations, and discussions. During the self-study process faculty and administrators draw conclusions on how learning, processes, curricula, and pedagogy might be improved. The self-study process is an opportunity for faculty to develop a shared understanding of how curriculum and laboratory experiences are meeting learning outcomes and the objectives and mission of the Scripps Graduate Program.
  • Step 3. Design and Implement Changes
    After engaging in reviewing evidence and reflecting on next-step approaches, the best way to implement changes are flushed out and documented in an action plan. The Dean’s approval is obtained and the changes are communicated and implemented. Evidence on the impact of changes is gathered and documentation is kept to provide a historical context for the changes.
  • Step 4. Assess Changes
    The effectiveness of the implemented changes and action plans is assessed through the self-study committee, the Dean’s Committee, and the Academic Advisory Committee. External Program Reviews (EPR) occur every three to five years. The EPR includes a written EPR Report, external site visit, ERR Team Report, and a culminating Scripps Response and Action Plan Report articulating the strategy for following up based on the external team’s recommendations.
  • Step 5. Long Term Action Plan
    The Dean’s Committee articulates the follow up action plan, budgetary needs, and the responsible committee and/or personnel who will hold the primary responsibility for carrying out each action. This action plan is articulated in a written Response and Action Plan Report that acts as the future planning document for effecting change.

4.2 — The institution has institutional research capacity consistent with its purposes and characteristics. Data are disseminated internally and externally in a timely manner, and analyzed, interpreted, and incorporated in institutional review, planning, and decision-making. Periodic reviews are conducted to ensure the effectiveness of the institutional research function and the suitability and usefulness of the data generated.

In recent years, the Scripps Research Institute's Office of Graduate Studies has undertaken a steady and significant expansion of technology and institutional research capacity to assess the entire student lifecycle. An online admissions system, student records database, and course registration system have all been developed and implemented. In 2017-18, there will be a systematic review of all the databases and changes will be made. There is a desire on the part of TSRI leadership and Graduate Program administration to have just-in-time data that will inform decisions and provide timely and valuable information for the planning process. In addition, the Office of Graduate Studies is considering the implemetation of a data warehouse approach, with a robust business intelligence module to assist with assessment of student learning and success. Through the program review process, these systems will be reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure optimum utilization of the systems and the usefulness of the data they generate.

Institutional Learning and Improvement

Criteria for Review

4.3 — Leadership at all levels, including faculty, staff, and administration, is committed to improvement based on the results of inquiry, evidence, and evaluation. Assessment of teaching, learning, and the campus environment—in support of academic and co-curricular objectives—is undertaken, used for improvement, and incorporated into institutional planning processes.

TSRI is committed to improving student learning. Assessment, evidence and self-study teams consist of faculty, administrators, deans and vice presidents from across the institute.

4.4 — The institution, with significant faculty involvement, engages in ongoing inquiry into the processes of teaching and learning, and the conditions and practices that ensure that the standards of performance established by the institution are being achieved. The faculty and other educators take responsibility for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching and learning processes and uses the results for improvement of student learning and success. The findings from such inquiries are applied to the design and improvement of curricula, pedagogy, and assessment methodology.

The Scripps Research Institute's Graduate Program partners with the Center for Teaching Development at UCSD to provide practicums on teaching and learning. In these sessions, faculty learn how to prepare an outline, show alternative approaches to problem solving and give students many opportunities to ask questions.

Moreover, TSRI’s Graduate Program is in the process of developing new evaluation tools and systems that will enhance the Program's ability to collect timely and actionable feedback on student progress, learning and achievement; as well as the quality of course curriculum and the effectiveness of faculty teaching. The data collected from these evaluations will be used, on an ongoing basis, to make adjustments to courses and other aspects of the program.

4.5 — Appropriate stakeholders, including alumni, employers, practitioners, students, and others designated by the institution, are regularly involved in the assessment and alignment of educational programs.

The self-study committees consisted of a cross-section of students, postdocs and faculty representing various scientific disciplines. All three committees developed in-depth surveys to explore various graduate schools topics, including communication, faculty mentoring, graduate school resources and support, and research experience. The surveys were administered to students, postdocs, alumni and faculty. The results were used to develop self-study themes, which will be utilized to improve students learning and allocate administrative and financial resources.

4.6 — The institution periodically engages its multiple constituencies, including the governing board, faculty, staff, and others, in institutional reflection and planning processes that are based on the examination of data and evidence. These processes assess the institution’s strategic position, articulate priorities, examine the alignment of its purposes, core functions, and resources, and define the future direction of the institution.

Through the Program Review process described above (see 4.1) and other internal review processes, The Scripps Research Institute's Graduate Program regularly seeks input and feedback from Institute leadership, faculty members, staff members and others, as a part of its ongoing commitment to improve student learning outcomes and provide the best possible environment in which students may acquire world-class scientific training.

One recent example is the development and implementation of a strategic plan for The Scripps Research Institute. Through an environmental scan, participants had the opportunity to reflect upon and develop a keen understanding of the mission and character of both TSRI and its Graduate Program. The key question posed to the TSRI community during this exercise was: how can the Graduate Program maximize its strength, minimize the impact of its weaknesses, evaluate and take advantage of opportunities, and modulate trends and threats to remain a top-ten Graduate Program at the leading edge of innovative graduate education and groundbreaking biomedical research?

During many meetings with TSRI’s administration, faculty, staff and students, the need to define TSRI was always present. This exercise resulted in a rethinking of TSRI’s mission and the development of a set of strategic priorities that are guiding and propelling the Institute and its Graduate Program into the future.

In addition, the Institute undergoes a budgeting process every Spring. The Graduate Program presents and discusses its projected plans and activities for the upcoming year with the Executive Advisory Committee (EAC). Consisting of the Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Senior Vice Presidents, and Vice Presidents, the EAC is charged with providing administrative oversight and support for the long-term budgeting and financial needs of the Graduate Program. The EAC meets semiannually to review Graduate Program issues including: enrollment, budget and planning, self-study and assessment, and programmatic matters.

4.7 — Within the context of its mission and structural and financial realities, the institution considers changes that are currently taking place and are anticipated to take place within the institution and higher education environment as part of its planning, new program development, and resource allocation.

The Scripps Research Institute and the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr) recently formed a strategic alliance, creating a new biomedical research entity that integrates basic scientific and translational research. The move was designed to reduce the costs and timelines associated with the crucial early stages of drug development, leading to the creation of a self-sustaining model for non-profit research in which drug development successes drive the funding of new scientific discoveries and medicines many years into the future. The merger of TSRI with Calibr also provides a unique training environment for graduate students at the interface of basic and translational research, resulting in high-impact publications and preparing them to tackle some of the most important biomedical challenges in academia and industry.

Established before the TSRI-Calibr alliance, TSRI’s partnership with the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) has also provided TSRI graduate students with experience in translational research, with a focus on individualized health care that is based on known genetic factors influencing health and disease. The STSI partnership affords TSRI graduate students opportunities to gain experience with this cutting-edge approach to drug discovery, regarded by many as the future of biomedical research. Serving as a bridge between TSRI’s biomedical programs and Scripps Health’s exceptional patient care and clinical research, STSI provides an optimal setting for training and education while accelerating the conduct of studies that will have the greatest potential impact on the practice of health care in the clinic and the community.

Given the uniquely research-focused nature of TSRI and its Graduate Program, much attention has been given to the increasingly competitive funding environment for biomedical research. To assist with the funding of student research and to provide these future researchers with an essential skill—writing successful proposals to fund their research—the Graduate Program recently began offering first-year students a “Fellowship Boot Camp” course. The course guides students in the preparation of an actual proposal for submission to the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Participating students compose their proposal text and participate in a panel review of proposals to gain perspective on the process of grant review.

The Institute is also aggressively pursuing multiple new avenues of long-term, consistent and reliable financial support for its Graduate Program, including the establishment of new endowed fellowships to fund student research projects and the laboratories in which the students pursue their doctoral studies.