Professor or hobo?

November 6, 2011 • 2:19 pm

It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference, isn’t it? Someone at the University of Toronto has posted ten pictures of scruffy individuals, each of which is either a vagrant or a professor.  You have to guess, and your score is revealed at the end. (Sadly, it doesn’t tell you which is which.) I got only seven out of ten, though one of them is bloody obvious.  Greg Mayer, who found this site on Andrew Sullivan’s blog (Sullivan is okay when not nattering about religion), also got the same score.


If anyone recognizes the professors, post their names below.

90 thoughts on “Professor or hobo?

  1. 6/10 here, although when I finished, I was taken to a page with my score, and a list of who was professor and who was not.

    It’s amusing that the only one about which I was absolutely certain is a CS prof at George Fox University…I had him pegged as a math professor, but close enough.

  2. Perhaps your browser is being a little weird, but it’s told me which is which and who is who:

    1 – Hobo

    2 – PROF! Bill Unruh is a Canadian physicist at UBC. He discovered the Unruh effect.

    3 – Hobo

    4 – PROF! David Hansen is a computer science professor at George Fox University.

    5 – PROF! He is a professor of computer science at a Californian university.

    6 – Hobo

    7 – Hobo

    8 – PROF! Kim Sterelny is noted for his work in the philosophy of biology.

    9 – PROF! He is a professor of environment at St. Olaf College.

    10 – Hobo

    I hope I’ve not ruined this for anyone, but there we go…

  3. 7/10, but most of the guesses were more to do with the backgrounds of the photos and props (such as a glass of wine instead of a bottle in a paper bag) than the actual persons.

    1. I posted the same thing a bit farther down. I see “the homeles professor” every once in a while here in Davis. He certainly does fit the name, but he is very intelligent and has raised some brilliant children as well. Knowledge and scholarship before aesthetics, I suppose.

      1. I went out in the field several times with him during my time at UCD. Brilliant dude with endless knowledge and endless crazy, random stories.

  4. 8/10 for me… Here is the rationale I used: most profs, even with a shaggy beard and hair, will still make an effort to trim their ‘staches so they don’t continually eat hair (I’ve been there). Hobos often don’t have that option.

  5. 1 – Guessed wrong. Thought he was a prof, looked semi-decent.

    2 – Correct! I just thought he looked smart and not addicted to cigarettes.

    3 – Correct!. Looked like a guy attending Woodstock, i.e. hobo.

    4 – Correct! Looked too smart. I don’t know, and he was in a house, not in the street.

    5 – WRONG! I said hobo. He looked reasonable but I felt there was some sort of trickery. Looked “too” eccentric?

    6 – Even if he had cropped out the watermark up top, the cigarette stained stash gave it away. Correct!

    7 – Cigarette stained mustache, I guessed CORRECTLY!

    8 and 9 looked way too Prof-like. I’d doubt anyone got these wrong.

    10 – Wrong! Darn it. He looked too happy, and the lack of closeup revealing a weathered face made me guess Prof.

    7/10. Yay!

  6. I’ve worked with street people for 20 years & thought this would be a piece of cake.


    My sweetie (also a former social worker) got 8/10. (we missed 5 and 10 together – I missed 7 in addition)

  7. What, a U of T test and no picture of Larry, so we can vote “Hobo” on him?
    (Says the guy who could easily be mistaken for a hobo before I’ve combed my hair in the morning. Sometimes after, too.)

  8. Woot! 9/10! I marked #7 as a prof when he was actually a hobo … The only one I recognized was Kim Sterelny–not by name, and I never met him, but I knew I’d seen him before. Probably on a book jacket photo–Lord knows I’ve ready enough of his work over the years.

  9. Well, good God. If they don’t have pocket protectors, how can anyone be expected to make an intelligent guess?

  10. 7/10

    That last guy is a well-dressed hobo. I’ve had professors that don’t dress that nicely, but I suppose that the gist of the excercise.

  11. This is sooo hilarious.
    Got 8/10

    Helpful hints:

    Background – Academic Institutions, Field Work etc
    Example Prof of Environment

    Example professor of computer science

    Eyes – Michele “crazy eyes” Bachmann types or that line from The Outlaw Josey Wales “…he had crazy eyes”

    Or if the eyes had “hope” or “despair” or “emptiness”
    Note: Look at the eyes of the Profs versus Hobos

    The last picture was the most tricky of the lot

    1. 9/10. The last one fooled me (the one Jerry cited).

      Agree with the tactics. Notably the background/setting. Add “nice glasses” as giveaway for profs.

  12. BTW, I’ve had some female professors that could be hobos (or hobas) too. How come they’re not represented in this quiz? Of course, in the late 60’s early 70’s the women profs may not have dressed as nicely as they do now.

  13. It is not always an either-or question…I was homeless for a short time and also taught physics at U of Texas (just a TA, but the kids called me “prof”…actually, they usually referred to me as the “barefoot prof”).

  14. Hobos are usually more kempt than bums. Hobos are homeless but are actually migrant workers. Bums don’t work. I think these gentlemen who aren’t professors are most likely bums and not hobos, but there’s probably no way to tell by looking at a picture. Maybe some itinerant professors are closer to hobos, since they may not have permanent housing.

    Okay, enough of this tangential thinking.

    1. I was wondering at the term “hobo” myself. Did not even think it was that applicable anymore. But “bum” is probably too non-PC.

  15. 10/10. The only one I was hesitant about was the last one, who seemed very cheery, and if you notice, most of the professors are smiling and most of the hobos are not. That last one was smiling, but he seemed just a little too unkempt to be a professor, so I guessed hobo.

  16. As Ben’s already alluded to, I immediately thought of the large class of “adjunct” profs at universities these days. Basically the academic equivalent of owner-operators; or temps. Itinerant indeed. And deplorable.

    As an erstwhile flower child, I’ve always loved the hirsute look. Speaking of which, is there an evo-psych hypothesis for male facial hair?

    1. I’ve always loved the hirsute look. Speaking of which, is there an evo-psych hypothesis for male facial hair?

      you posted the question and answer in the wrong order.

  17. Am I the only person who thinks it a little unfair that we’re told the names of the academics, but the “hobos” are all just branded as hobos? How about “Bill Smith has been a hobo for 42 years and has travelled extensively throughout the Americas. He is an expert at staying warm using frequently discarded household items…” etc

    1. I got to meet Professor Steve Steve a few years ago when he came to visit Stockholm.
      Unfortunately he is now lost to science after getting stolen while being looked after by arch-accomodationist Josh Rosenau!

  18. I got 8. The last guy has a wise sparkle in his eye that threw me off.
    And I am skeptical of the other one I got wrong: #5. Why is this person and his institution not named?
    I consider that one a hanging chad.

  19. 8/10 here, but I do object to the professors getting a descriptor and the ‘hobos’ just being labeled ‘Hobo!’ as though they aren’t people. Everyone has a story.

    1. Everyone has a story, but not everyone has a blog, I mean website, where you can look up their biographical details. I don’t think the creator of that page was trying to dehumanize anyone.

  20. I’m really not bragging, but I got 10/10 sitting here in Starbucks without trying that hard. Maybe I have a natural Profdar (or Hobodar)…

  21. People, people, it’s quite obvious who the hobos are.

    1. Hobos live outside, yes?

    2. If 1. is true then all pictures taken outside contain hobos.

    3. Indeed every picture taken outside contains a hobo.

    My goodness, it’s simple logic, people.

  22. I thought they all looked like profs.

    Giveaway in retrospect that all the hobos are outdoors, and all outdoor shots are hobos except for the obvious varsity geek.

  23. I was once about to get on a train with my wife when we saw someone in an ill-fitting, shabby brown suit, with a polo shirt underneath. His beard was scraggly and didn’t look too clean. His glasses were taped at the bridge. He was wearing trainers and holding a plastic carrier bag from a poor-quality supermarket stuffed with paper.

    I began to explain to my wife that he was a professor in my (computer science) department and before I could finish my sentence she said “YES. I CAN TELL.”

    Perhaps either he or I should be offended by this, but I think he’d agree it was a fair comment.

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