Teaching math is "hazardous" for your career, study concludes

A study shows math faculty are more likely to receive negative evaluations from students than faculty in other disciplines, Colleen Flaherty reports for Inside Higher Ed.

Bob Uttl, professor of psychology at Mount Royal University, conducted the study with Dylan Smibert, a doctoral candidate in organizational and industrial psychology at Saint Mary's University. They looked at 14,872 class evaluations from New York University, which were based on approximately 325,538 individual student ratings. The evaluated classes included quantitative courses like math and statistics, as well as less quantitative courses like English, history, and psychology. The researchers grouped evaluations into five categories, ranging from "poor" to "excellent."

They found that the instructor's academic discipline was strongly correlated to the instructor's rating. Professors teaching quantitative courses tended to have lower ratings; these instructors were:

  • 1.88 times more likely than their peers teaching less quantitative courses to have a rating lower than the average (mean) across all professors;
  • 3.17 times more likely than their peers teaching less quantitative courses to fail to meet the standard for "very good;"
  • 6.02 times more likely than their peers teaching less quantitative courses to fail to meet the standard for "good."

The report concludes that teaching quantitative courses may be "hazardous" to your career. 

Also see: Why don't more faculty members adopt learning innovations?

The value of student evaluations has been questioned before because of research suggesting they are biased against female professors. Ken Ryalls, president of evaluation vendor IDEA, says that while student opinions matter, colleges should "adjust the weight they give to student ratings of instruction depending on factors outside of the instructor's control, including discipline."

The researchers emphasize that there may be a difference between student success and student satisfaction, and that administrators need to decide which one they value more (Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 5/10; Uttl/Smibert, PeerJ , 5/9). 

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