11 things I learned about academia by analysing 14 million RateMyProfessor reviews 

I love data visualisation, and every now and then a gem comes along that blows my mind. Last week I came across Ben Schmidt’s tool for analysing gendered language in teaching evaluations. The tool allows you to plug in any word (or two-word phrase) and see how much that phrase is used in 14 million RateMyProfessor.com reviews. You can see usage is split across gender and discipline. While intended to show gender differences, it turns out the tool is excellent for revealing all sorts of weird and wonderful trends.

1. There are predictable and problematic gender differences.
The words ‘smart’ and ‘intellect’ are more likely to be used to review male professors, and ‘genius’ is more likely to describe a male professor in every single discipline for. By contrast, words such as ‘awful’, ‘terrible’, and ‘incompetent’ are used much more in relation to females. More on this here.


2. There are also some less predictable gender differences
Female professors are more likely to be called ‘mad’ and ‘crazy’, while the males are more likely to be ‘strange’. Males are simultaneously more likely to be reviewed as ‘funny’ and ‘boring’.


3. All professors can be ‘dumb’ and ‘stupid’
These two words remain satisfyingly gender neutral (with the exception of in engineering).

4. Men are idiots
By contrast, the word ‘idiot’ seems to be reserved for males.

5. Hair grows in unusual places
A search for ‘hairy’ ranks physics top of the class, due to an unexplained preponderance of hairy females. The hairiest men are overwhelmingly in education and philosophy.


6. Some disciplines have poor dental hygiene
A search for ‘bad teeth’ reveals that male anthropologists and female historians and apparently have problems going to the dentist.

bad teeth

7. Anthropology professors are irritating
As are those in Fine Arts and, ironically, communication.


8. Criminal Justice professors are awesome
As are psychology professors.

9. Music teachers have no dress sense
I personally love elbow patches and tweed, but if you subscribe to the view that they are outmoded attire for the modern academic, you best steer clear of music.

elbow patches

10. You aren’t allowed to claim that your prof is an alcoholic
Yet I couldn’t find any other prohibited phrases. Believe me, I tried all the taboos I could think of.


11. Weird stuff goes on in classrooms.
Even the most unlikely words will have been used in a review somewhere. ‘Tea bag’, ‘sand castle’, and ‘baby food’ all appear, for some reason. Find some solace in the fact that neither ‘naked twister’ or ‘strip poker’ appear in any.


Top 8 #AlternateScienceMetrics

The Twittersphere has been all a flutter with this week with academics writing in with proposed methods for measuring the impact of publications (#AlternateScienceMetrics). This was all kicked off by Neil Hall’s paper in Genome Biology. That and 7 more of our favourites follow.1 Enjoy!

1. The Kardashian Index
Neil Hall’s paper, ‘The Kardashian index: a measure of discrepant social media profile for scientists’, is full of great lines and it is a good idea to go and read the whole thing. In perhaps the most honest description of Kim Kardashian ever written, Hall says 

she comes from a privileged background and, despite having not achieved anything consequential in science, politics or the arts… she is one of the most followed people on twitter and among the most searched-for on Google”

Hall is concerned that Kim Kardashian academics walk amongst us: individuals who are “renowned for being renowned”, who command a strong following on social media but do not match it with significant scientific output. Realising this, Hall wanted “develop a metric that will clearly indicate if a scientist has an overblown public profile so that we can adjust our expectations of them accordingly”. His rather neat solution is to compare the number of followers an academic has on Twitter with the number of citations to their peer-reviewed work.

Where F(a) is the actual number of twitter followers and F(c) is the number of citations.

Where F(a) is the actual number of twitter followers and F(c) is the number of citations.

The outliers, those with a high ratio of followers to citations (a K-index greater than 5), are labelled ‘Kardashians’. A high K-index is a “warning to the community that researcher X may have built their public profile on shaky foundations, while a very low K-index suggests that a scientist is being undervalued.”

kardashian graph

Twitter followers versus number of scientific citations for a sort-of-random sample of researcher tweeters.

It is worth noting however that Hall’s paper, while obviously intended as a joke, is not without its own problems, and not everyone finds it amusing.

2. The Kanye Index
It didn’t take long for academic tweeters to catch on to the potential here, and of course Kanye West was quickly in the line of fire.

We’ve all read a Kanye West paper or two, where the author seems to take great delight in citing themselves multiple times in one paper, so this metric comes in at number two.

3. The Counterfactual Index    

We academics love the idea that we are leaving our mark on the world in some way, contributing positively to society. Yet the reality of the publication mill is that a lot of stuff gets written that is only ever read by a very small number of people. The Counterfactual Index may therefore be both illuminating, and depressing.

4. The Priorities Index

I particularly like this one as I have a terrible record with house/office plants. I once bought a plant called ‘Thrives on Neglect‘, but I managed to kill it after only a couple of weeks. The sad nugget of truth behind this one is that academics are often working so hard on so many different projects that they neglect everything else, from plants to relationships. Calculating your Priorities Index might just help you get a little perspective!

5. The Minion Index

The Minion Index will likely appeal most to PhD students and postdocs, who are frequently required to slog away on papers only to be the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th author. This is often the case even though most disciplines have established rules about the order of authors.

6. The Bechdel Index

The Bechdel Test is a test originally proposed, albeit as a bit of sarcasm in a cartoon strip, to identify feminist-friendly films. The test could feasibly be used in academia to highlight the yawning inequality gap, already being explored by a number of researchers.

7. The Adam Sandler Index

Another classic technique in academia: repackaging something you already wrote as something all new and shiny for submission to another journal. Slightly different, but basically the same: much like the never ending stream of tediously unfunny Adam Sandler films.

8. The Dawkins Index

Poor old Richard Dawkins has experienced something of a fall from grace this week, having yet again put his foot in his mouth. Only natural then that a Dawkins Index was quickly proposed, lambasting his overactive internet presence. The latest research predicts the following timeline for Dawkins: BtuBfG0IAAIxIY5
For some more #AlternateScienceMetrics you can check out this lovely collection. Thanks again to Neil for kicking it all off (no need to retire just yet).


Update: Another good roundup here.

  1. Why eight? It was late and I got tired.