Nature of Academia · Teaching Political Science · This Week in Bad Journalism

Breaking News: Students with Higher Grades Give Higher Evaluation Scores

This article on the Chronicle defends student evaluations as “not worthless.”

We’ve talked about evaluations before, and the Poli Sci Bitches have strong beliefs that they are, in fact, worthless and biased against women.

But I just want to stop for a second and examine the claim that there is a 0.5 correlation between evaluations scores and student learning, because when I saw that, I was thinking, “I wonder how they measure student learning…”

It turns out, they measure student learning with grades.


Yes, I took a look at a few of those studies linked, and while they do acknowledge the problem of using something like final exam grades to measure student achievement, that’s pretty much what many of them do.

So, there’s a 0.5 correlation between student evaluations of you and how well they did in your class. And this means that evaluations are measuring that you’re a good teacher?  Actually, I think the causal arrow goes the wrong way. You’re getting good evaluations because the students got good grades. Maybe you’re an easy grader!

But wait, it gets better.  In the blog post linked by the author of the Chronicle piece, there is a lovely chart showing a 0.53 correlation between course averages and evaluations.  But it’s a HYPOTHETICAL chart.  It’s hypothetical data, based on “what we would expect based on previous studies.”  Check it out. Hypothetical data.

hypothetical data

I get the point that the blog was trying to make with this hypothetical data scatter plot – that professors with low evaluation scores aren’t necessarily worse, that they don’t necessarily give worse grades (pardon me, they don’t necessarily “fail to incite student learning”). I heartily agree with the notion that ordinal evaluations of professors cannot be compared or used to say whether one professor is better than the other.

But to me, this is exactly the reason why student evaluations are worthless.

Being a Woman · Nature of Academia · Tenure

What’s the Deal with Service?



I am not teaching this summer.  You’d think that would mean time for research and maybe even some well deserved R&R.  But no.  I said yes to one too many committees.  Committees that exist for a purpose in the university or department but still provide essentially zero personal benefit for me.

Research exists that shows that women do more service than men and get less credit, and from my experience, this is absolutely on the nose.  And I think it’s worth taking a moment to think about both parts of that statement (do more, and get less) and how they relate to our experiences in political science.

1.Women do more service than men.  

In my department, administrative and service requirements are disproportionately left to women.  There are, of course, men who hold administrative positions in the department and serve on committees, but those are the “sexy” committees that do things people care about:  research, graduate education, maybe faculty senate if they like being in the spotlight and/or want to run for real office one day.  The boring jobs, like assessment, undergraduate curriculum, or scholarship committees are left to the small number of women in the department.

Research has also shown this is true of student groups and graduate advising, so-called “care work.” When I look around at who advises Pi Sigma Alpha, or who advises the College Republicans, I see a lot of women in those roles. A lot of times they’re just handed to people- “oh, hey, so-and-so retired so now we need someone to advise PSA”- but also a lot of  times, students approach female faculty to advise their groups because they think female faculty are more likely to say yes. Additionally, graduate students tend to drop by female faculty’s office hours more often to discuss issues they’re running into, again because they believe the female faculty are more likely to take the time to talk to them.

Why is this the case?  Some of it is probably due to subtle sexism, where women are expected to do the “chores” at work just like they’re expected to do them at home.  Also, women need to be more available and nicer to students than men do, or they’ll get shitty student evaluations. But I’m not going to shirk all of the responsibility for this; I say “yes” far too often, when I should say “no.”  We are more likely to be asked to be on the university Beautification Committee, and we should say, “No, I am spending my summer on research, not on selecting art for the library.”  But we don’t.  Or at least, I don’t.  I say yes.  And why do I say yes?

Well, I don’t want to be a Problem.  The Unhelpful One.  That’s not a good reputation to have.  In addition, this work needs to get done. Somehow, we have to decide what art hangs in the library, and nothing at a university can be accomplished with a Working Group. Also, while we’re being honest, part of my type A personality enjoys being a part of big decisions affecting general education, or knowing that everyone is going to see a painting that I chose- I feel a sense of (small) power that is rare to feel in higher education. And, of course, I say yes because I want to get the credit for it.

But wait…

2.Women get less credit than men.

I put my service on my C.V.  Maybe not the Beautification Committee, but the university strategic planning committee? Sure! Of course!  I’m spending my summer in biweekly meetings for that committee, you better believe I’m putting it on my C.V.

But no one actually looks at my C.V., and I get the sneaking suspicion that no one in my department actually knows I’m on the committee at all.  I’m representing our department at the university level, making decisions that will absolutely affect our recruitment and advising internally, but no one even knows or cares that it’s happening. It’s that classic problem the hospitality industry has- if you do a good job, no one says anything. It’s when you mess up someone’s order (get known as the Woman Who Said No) that people leave scathing reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor (say you can’t be tenured because you aren’t “collegial”).

When you get a publication and tell your colleagues, you might get some recognition, a congratulations, a mention on the department’s social media page.  When you make a decision on the QEP Committee, you might tell your colleagues. And they’ll go, “Oh, there’s a QEP Committee? What does that stand for?”

3. If we count service, where should it count?

Like I said before, these decisions have to be made- someone has to serve on these committees, and someone has to make sure student groups don’t run amok.  This is a mandatory part of higher ed.  But these things aren’t valued.  I’m not arguing that it should be as much a part of a tenure decision at a major research university as research, obviously, but it should count for something. We’ve started a culture of “Cite Yoself!”  Can we work on a culture of “Brag On Your Committee Achievements?” (Maybe someone can make it more catchy, though…?)

Someone has to be on committees and do administrative work. Women do more service, and we aren’t getting credit for it.  I’m going to try to say NO more often.  And when I do pick the library art, I’m going to email it to every member of my department. YES, in fact, I DID select that lovely lighthouse print.

You’re welcome.

Hilarious But True · Nature of Academia

7 Things I’m Going to Accomplish This Summer

Summer is almost upon us, with most of our fellow political scientists either in the process of giving finals, grading finals, or submitting final grades.  I can see the Promised Land. We’re almost to summer, guys.

So, here are the

7 Things I’m Going to Accomplish This Summer:

  1. Finish my APSA paper.  Okay, okay.  START my APSA paper.
  2. Get an article out for review.  I’m like thisclose to finishing this article up.  Just a few more tables and I’m good to go.
  3. Start a new article.  I’ve had ideas cooking all semester, and I haven’t had a chance to actually get any of them on paper.
  4. Work on that new course prep.  I’m finally getting to teach the course I’ve been begging to teach for years this fall. Which means I need to actually write it.
  5. Revise curriculum requirements.  The committee that I shouldn’t have volunteered for has been slacking. Summer will be the time to catch up.
  6. Read more political science.  Pretty sure I haven’t picked up a journal since my second baby was born.
  7. Get that July conference presentation ready.  I forgot I submitted to that conference. Probably need to figure out what I’m going to say.


hahahaha guys. I’m totally kidding.  Let me write the real list:

Thing I’m Going to Accomplish This Summer:

Hilarious But True · Nature of Academia

The 5 Types of Couples in Political Science

At first, I thought it was weird how many political scientists are married to each other.  I mean, do they actually talk about political science at home? How horrible is THAT?  I’ll leave my political science at the office, thank you very much.

As I’ve been in the discipline for a while, I’ve seen my share of political science couples, and in traditional Poli Sci Bitches format, I’m presenting you a list of the 5 Types of Couples in Political Science:

  1. The Famous Power Couple.  These are political scientists who probably met in grad school, and have been together ever since.  They both have extensive CVs and awesome books. Maybe a few of them are co-authored with each other, but their individual contributions stand alone. Everyone knows who they are, and if they’re on the job market, universities go out of their way to make sure they both get full time faculty positions.  Celebrity Couple Equivalent: Beyonce & Jay Z. Even Obama wants to hang out with them.
  2. The Imbalance of Power Couple.  So, one of them is a star with a CV that goes on for days, and book deals in the works.  A rising star in the discipline, maybe. On some editorial boards and making a name for him/herself.  But the political science spouse? Not so much.  Maybe some good teaching evaluations, but not many publications.  The spouse gets hired too, of course, but no one in the department is very happy about it.  Celebrity Couple Equivalent: Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe. She didn’t even remember him in her Oscars acceptance speech.
  3. The Spouse Who Gets Hired As Staff.  One political scientist, and then another political scientist who somehow gets hired to do advising or run the Model U.N. program or something.  Weird, right?  It’s great for the department because building inroads in administration can be helpful. Also, getting gossip from the Other Side is nice. Everyone likes the Staff Spouse because staff make our lives easier.  Celebrity Couple Equivalent: Chris Pratt and Anna Faris. We love them, and the fact that he’s more famous than she is doesn’t bother anyone.
  4. The Couple With A Guy Who Likes Students. A Lot. So gross, but sadly too common.  In its “best” form, this political scientist collects pretty young female grad students to “mentor” but doesn’t cross the line.  At worst, the guy cheats on his wife with undergrads.  Yes, I’m calling it a guy, because it almost always is, but women who cheat on their husbands with students are also equally gross, for the record.  Unfortunately, the guy has tenure and the nature of academia means that running him out is an uphill battle.  Celebrity Couple Equivalent: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. Don’t sleep with the nanny, Ben.
  5. The Non-Academic Spouse Couple.  This person married smart and doesn’t have to talk about political science at home.  The spouse probably has a way cooler job than political science (professional chef! movie critic! hacker!) but is usually ignored at political science events anyway.  Celebrity Couple Equivalent: George and Amal Clooney.  Remember when all anyone cared about was her baby bump at her U.N. hearing?




The Academic Hierarchy: Observations from #MPSA17

I always love Chicago and MPSA, and this year’s conference was fantastic. I loved seeing friends from grad school, friends from former jobs, coauthors, friends of friends. Oh, and the panels and learning, too (can’t forget that part).  The conference was fantastic this year, and MUCH gratitude to the program/section chairs, and to all of the staff that worked hard to make it so great!

One thing that was particularly noticeable to me this year was the academic hierarchy. In typical Poli Sci Bitches fashion, here is our list of 3 Examples of Academic Hierarchy, as observed at MPSA.

  1. At my panel. My panel was sort of a unique hodge-podge, as many of them are. I can’t even imagine the challenge of trying to find 3-5 papers that are thematically similar, especially in some of the more obscure sub-sub-subfields.  So, perhaps no surprise: my paper was almost in direct contradiction with another paper in the panel.  Being confident in my work, I presented my contradictory finding, and during the Q&A, the author of the other paper (who was significantly older and more tenured than I am) started talking about some research design suggestions that I know are simply inaccurate. But, being the less tenured one, I felt less confident speaking up, or throwing shade.  Strike One for Academic Underlings.
  2. At the bar.  Everyone knows the look. It’s the checking-out-of-the-name-tag. Someone approaches, and before you’ve even had a chance to say hello, they’re looking for your affiliation on your badge.  If it isn’t good enough, they’ll probably take less of their time talking to you.  But it was especially interesting this year, because half of these people follow The Bitches on Twitter! Little did you know, Mr. CHYMPS, that you just liked my post a few hours ago 🙂  Honestly, almost everyone at the conference was polite and friendly and did NOT Name Badge Shame me.  Even so, for those of us at smaller or less research intensive institutions, it’s Strike Two for Academic Underlings.
  3. With a vagina.  This year was a great year for women at MPSA, in my opinion. I was so pleased to see how active Women Also Know Stuff was on Twitter and at the conference in general.  I didn’t personally observe a single Manel.  But, we still have a long way to go.  “Women’s” subfields are still less valued. There are still plenty of panels with only ONE woman. And there’s still the inevitable possibility of getting hit on during a work event.  Strike Three for Academic Underlings. We have come a long way, but we can do better.


Hilarious But True · You Know You're a Political Scientist When...

You Know You’re a Political Scientist When… (MPSA Edition)

  1. You always forget how pretty the ceilings are in the Palmer House, but you NEVER forget how slow the elevators are.
  2. The discussions on Poli Sci Rumors about the best hookers in Chicago no longer shock or surprise you.
  3. Your entire trip to Chicago is filled with back-to-back cocktail hours with grad school friends, co-authors, former coworkers, current coworkers, and other “networking” opportunities.   “Dry Second Half of April” is the Political Scientist version of “Dry January.”
  4. More than half of your events in #3 involve a woman and a man having drinks unsupervised. Mike Pence would not approve.
  5. And you’re officially a political scientist when you’ve graduated from starstruck grad student to confident scholar at the bar. Now you’re the one the grad students ask for career advice (while hitting on you).

MPSA Presentations: Finding Women Who Know Stuff!

The Americanist Bitch gets to go to MPSA this year (IR Bitch Note: I spent all my travel funds on ISA.)  and instead of finishing up the paper I’m supposed to be presenting, I’ve been combing the program for panels I want to go to.  I feel like I’m being really ambitious, but I’d like to attend at least TWO panels I’m not presenting on.  So, to make life easier for all of you who are similarly looking for interesting panels, I’ve created a handy list of a few panels, by subfield, where you can find Women Who Know Stuff!

Comparative Politics

Parties, Politics, and Institutions in Latin America

Interested in Latin America, and want to see a handful of women (that’s right! more than one!) presenting research on parties and bureaucracy? Check out this panel on Saturday at 9:45.

Political Violence

Gender, Discourse, and Radicalization: The Case of ISIS Jihadi Brides

Wow, talk about a fascinating (and maybe depressing?) topic, this roundtable is made up exclusively of women who definitely know stuff and political violence and gender.  Thursday at 11:30.

International Political Economy

Causes and Consequences of International Cooperation

Interested in trade agreements or the WTO? Check out this presentation on WTO negotiations. One woman surrounded by men. We’ve all been the Token Woman, so show up to support her on Thursday at 9:45.

Political Theory

Okay, to be honest, I’m not interested in theory. But Women Do Know Stuff about it, so if theory is your thing, find a theory panel that’s not a manel.


Networks Theory and Applications

Women Who Methods are some of our role models, because it’s such a male-dominated subfield. Despite what Barbie told us as kids, Math is NOT hard for girls, at least not any harder than it is for boys, especially if there are great female role models in the field. Find one at this panel on Saturday at 8am (yikes) which features another woman surrounded by men.

Gender and Politics

Gender and the U.S. Supreme Court

As an Americanist, this one is right up my alley, and the papers are all similar thematically, which should make it a very interesting panel. Check out presentations by more than one woman, and then watch them discussed by more than one woman on Friday at 9:45.

Families, Politics, and Policymaking

The Bitches are both moms. This panel takes a look at some family situations and how that translates into politics and policy. Lots of great women presenting their research on Thursday at 11:30.

Teaching and Learning

Alternative Teaching Methods

I thought that zombies were on their way out, but apparently not, because there’s a really fun paper title in this panel. Teaching & Learning isn’t taken particularly seriously as a research agenda in political science, which is a shame because we’re uniquely situation to use our training as researchers to do great research on teaching.  Check out Zombies and more at this panel Saturday at 9:45.

This list is certainly not exhaustive. There are countless Women Who Know Stuff presenting at MPSA this year. Have a female scholar to recommend? Or want to promote yourself? Let us know, we want to promote you, too!