Gender, Professor Evaluations, and Key Word Descriptions- Part I

As a former professor who used to get end-of-semester evaluations, and a labor economist who studies gender differences in the labor market, I found this article from the New York Times Upshot (@upshotNYT) blog fascinating:  Is the Professor Bossy or Brilliant: Much Depends on Gender

So I looked up the original website from Professor Ben Schmidt (@benmschmidt) which allows the user to put in any word and see how frequently the word appears in Rate My Professor reviews for male and female professors across more than two dozen disciplines.   

For example, I entered the word "boring" into Professor Schmidt's website and got the following graph, which shows that in most disciplines, male professors were described as boring more often than female professors.

Then I tried something slightly different-- "incompetent."   In Engineering, female professors were described as "incompetent" slightly more than 18 times per milllion words of text whereas male professors were described similarly only about 12 times per million words.

Finally, I tried a word that I did not expect would come up in teacher evaluations--"beautiful."  Female professors had such a descriptor far more frequently than male professors in every academic discipline studied.

I am not the only person fascinated with this exercise--there have been many very interesting and thought provoking articles and blogs on this topic.   A sampling:

This article from Slate about a North Carolina State study that had a set of identical on-line classes taught by the same professor, only telling one group of students the professor was male and the other the professor was female.   According to the study, the class with the "female professor" was consistently rated lower.

This article from the blog Inequality by Interior Design(@tristanbphd) which provides a thoughtful perspective on the issue of gender differences in teaching evaluations based on sociological research and the blog-writers own experiences.

The Washington Post Monkey Cage blog had a five part symposium on Gender Wage Gaps, with this article on gender differences in professor teaching evaluations of particular interest.

In Part 2 of this blog, I'll explain some of the statistical challenges in isolating the effects of gender on teaching evaluations.  Can we interpret all this information to tell us that male professors are more boring, but female professors are more frequently incompetent and beautiful?   Not quite...more on this soon.