As a 20-year-old with the attention span of a squirrel, it takes a truly phenomenal professor to hold my attention for 50 minutes, let alone an hour and 25. Cornell definitely has more than its fair share of life-changing teachers; I’ve had about one per year, and considering the implications of “life-changing,” I know I’m inordinately lucky. But it’s not just luck. I seek out — and successfully pinpoint — these professors with the help of a website called RateMyProfessor.
Most students have heard of RateMyProfessor, but not many consider it a serious tool in the biannual quest for classes that fulfill requirements and don’t make one want to throw oneself down Libe Slope. It’s predominantly considered a platform for anonymous vitriol against teachers who have wronged you, and all the faculty I’ve broached the subject with explain to me that it attracts feedback primarily from two ends of the spectrum: the extremely grateful, and the absolutely furious. This may be true to an extent, but as I’ve said before, I have had three life-changing professors at Cornell. Each one had a RateMyProfessor score of at least 4.5 out of five stars.
4.5 truly is the magic number. A scale breakdown runs as follows: one to two stars out of five indicates near-universal hatred. It inevitably comes down to two factors: either the professor assigns an overwhelming amount of work, or has chosen the wrong calling in life — or, in some lucky cases, both! Two to four stars is average. Here you will find a wide disparity of reviews: the kids who slept through the final exam and blamed it on the professor, the kids who were genuinely failed by their professors, the kids who hold on to the belief that if they brown-nose on an obscure internet forum the professor will write them glowing recommendations of reciprocity and the kids who fall unexpectedly and deeply in love with the course. When you hit 4 stars, you encounter individuals who communicate their knowledge effectively, efficiently and consistently, and who actually care about their pupils, which is a rarer and more interesting quality than the aforementioned competence.
But 4.5 stars? Here lie the professors who are not only experts in their fields, who are not only totally and obviously enraptured by the material they teach, who not only remember students’ names and ask about their individual well-being, but who possess an undeniable charisma, a distinct charm. My freshman year life-changing professor happened to be the most quick-witted and hilariously sarcastic individual I have ever encountered. My sophomore year mentor had an unequaled knack for telling comical childhood stories with a poignant twist that ultimately caught up with me when I couldn’t sleep at two in the morning. These professors taught me multitudes about legal precedence, the politics of poverty and the oddities of France’s royals, but more importantly, they taught me about who I want to be. At some point, I am an amalgamation of all the men and women I have ever admired, and these professors, with their wry asides and deep passions and unlikely backgrounds, have figured not a little in my growth over the past three years.
My point is, a few minutes spent scanning RateMyProfessor before drearily adding a class to Student Center is a worthwhile endeavor. As an added incentive, the professor reviews often have excellent entertainment value. To be clear, this is not a method I advocate to effectively determine the competence of your professor. However, it is extremely amusing, and allows one a wonderful feel for the kid you’ll end up sitting next to at 8:40 a.m. on the Ag Quad. My personal favorites are: “You can’t cheat in her class because no one knows the answers,” “I don’t wear my seatbelt driving to school because I want to die before I can make it to this class” and “This teacher was a firecracker in a pond of slithery tadpoles.”
The cream always rises to the top. As weird and wacky, or biased and spiteful, or effusive and sickly-sweet as the reviews might be, numbers, as it turns out, don’t lie. Trust your fellow students and scan RateMyProfessor before your 7 a.m. course enroll wakeup. Look for the 4.5’s; you deserve to find inspiration to last you a few more winters on The Hill.
Pallavi Kenkare is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jabberwocky runs every other Wednesday this semester.