Salaries by alma mater – an interactive visualization with R and plotly

April 27, 2017

(This article was first published on Alexej's blog, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

Visualization of starting salaries by college

Based on an interesting dataset from the Wall Street Journal I made the above visualization of the median starting salary for US college graduates from different undergraduate institutions (I have also looked at the mid-career salaries, and the salary increase, but more on that later). However, I thought that it would be a lot more informative, if it were interactive. To the very least I wanted to be able to see the school names when hovering over or clicking on the points with the mouse.

Luckily, this kind of interactivity can be easily achieved in R with the library plotly, especially due to its excellent integration with ggplot2, which I used to produce the above figure. In the following I describe how exactly this can be done.

Before I show you the interactive visualizations, a few words on the data preprocessing, and on how the map and the points are plotted with ggplot2:

  • I generally use functions from the tidyverse R packages.
  • I save the data in the data frame salaries, and transform the given amounts to proper floating point numbers, stripping the dollar signs and extra whitespaces.
  • The data provide school names. However, I need to find out the exact geographical coordinates of each school to put it on the map. This can be done in a very convenient way, by using the geocode function from the ggmap R package:
    school_longlat <- geocode(salaries$school)
    school_longlat$school <- salaries$school
    salaries <- left_join(salaries, school_longlat)

  • For the visualization I want to disregard the colleges in Alaska and Hawaii to avoid shrinking the rest of the map. The respective rows of salaries can be easily determined with a grep search:
    grep("alaska", salaries$school, = 1)
    # [1] 206
    grep("hawaii", salaries$school, = 1)
    # [1] 226

  • A data frame containing geographical data that can be used to plot the outline of all US states can be loaded using the function map_data from the ggplot2 package:
    states <- map_data("state")

  • And I load a yellow-orange-red palette with the function brewer.pal from the RColorBrewer library, to use as a scale for the salary amounts:
    yor_col <- brewer.pal(6, "YlOrRd")

  • Finally the (yet non-interactive) visualization is created with ggplot2:
    p <- ggplot(salaries[-c(206, 226), ]) +
        geom_polygon(aes(x = long, y = lat, group = group),
                     data = states, fill = "black",
                     color = "white") +
        geom_point(aes(x = lon, y = lat,
                       color = starting, text = school)) +
        coord_fixed(1.3) +
        scale_color_gradientn(name = "Starting\nSalary",
                              colors = rev(yor_col),
                              labels = comma) +
        guides(size = FALSE) +
        theme_bw() +
        theme(axis.text = element_blank(),
              axis.line = element_blank(),
              axis.ticks = element_blank(),
              panel.border = element_blank(),
              panel.grid = element_blank(),
              axis.title = element_blank())

Now, entering p into the R console will generate the figure shown at the top of this post.

However, we want to…

…make it interactive

The function ggplotly immediately generates a plotly interactive visualization from a ggplot object. It’s that simple! :smiley: (Though I must admit that, more often than I would be okay with, some elements of the ggplot visualization disappear or don’t look as expected. :fearful:)

The function argument tooltip can be used to specify which aesthetic mappings from the ggplot call should be shown in the tooltip. So, the code

ggplotly(p, tooltip = c("text", "starting"),
         width = 800, height = 500)

generates the following interactive visualization.

Now, if you want to publish a plotly visualization to, you first need to communicate your account info to the plotly R package:

Sys.setenv("plotly_username" = "??????")
Sys.setenv("plotly_api_key" = "????????????")

and after that, posting the visualization to your account at is as simple as:

plotly_POST(filename = "Starting", sharing = "public")

More visualizations

Finally, based on the same dataset I have generated an interactive visualization of the median mid-career salaries by undergraduate alma mater (the R script is almost identical to the one described above).
The resulting interactive visualization is embedded below.

Additionally, it is quite informative to look at a visualization of the salary increase from starting to mid-career.

To leave a comment for the author, please follow the link and comment on their blog: Alexej's blog. offers daily e-mail updates about R news and tutorials on topics such as: Data science, Big Data, R jobs, visualization (ggplot2, Boxplots, maps, animation), programming (RStudio, Sweave, LaTeX, SQL, Eclipse, git, hadoop, Web Scraping) statistics (regression, PCA, time series, trading) and more...

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