I'd like to draw your attention to this question:

Is it bad for one's future career prospects if the PhD thesis topic is broad?

My concern is that we're rather quick at jumping to serious conclusions:

  • Firstly, the etiquette

    Be nice.

    Civility is required at all times; rudeness will not be tolerated

  • but even more important, I see harsh judgments (e.g. this answer but also in the comments of @krammer which I cannot link) for which I do not see proper grounds based on the available information. This is not only rude, but it is IMHO also bad scientific practice.

The 2 judgments are:

  • bad supervision: While I think it perfectly reasonable to ask about clarification whether the OP has discussed the question with their supervisor, and also to state in calm words if there is a smell of bad supervisor, IMHO

    • it should be respected if the OP explicitly states "My question does not ask for your opinion about my supervisor."
    • And I actually think that this statement is a symptom/follow-up reaction of the comments beeing rude.
    • There is at least one rather obvious and perfectly harmless situation that could have lead to the OP's question:
      The supervisor may have told the OP (or didn't need to tell because the OP knows) to update the working title of the thesis to a final title, and the OP has trouble formulating this title. Which is a perfectly reasonable task towards the end of the thesis, and a perfectly normal difficulty.
      Thus, I don't see objective grounds for the exclusive judgement that it is the supervision that is bad. IMHO there is a huge difference between stating that the supervision is the problem and that problems with the supervision is one possible underlying reason.
  • the thesis does not deserve the grade: This is an extremely serious judgment.

    In a cursory search, I could not uncover the OPs real name and the papers. Noone else so far stated that they actually know the papers, not even after asking (besides the fact that the thesis may be long-form, and thus may have considerably more content than can be judged by us right now).
    Yet we have statements that "set of loosely connected papers [...] would be called outcome of a good literature survey at my university." (Which may or may not be true, but in fact we don't even know whether the papers are just loosely connected) and "It will depend on the institution, but at the institution I work, you would not be two months from completion. You'd be two years from completion."

    Again, there are perfectly harmless possible explanations, e.g. as @adam.r pointed out in the comment to @MHH's answer: "Sometimes, a student is so absorbed in his work that it all seems obvious, and the student does not recognize how advanced his work really is."

I think the underlying concern that we need to behave ourselves better is related to @badroit's concern with the "bad supervisor meme" at Don't walk. Don't run either

  • 1
    Indeed. Nevertheless, what sensible response can be made to a question that appears mysterious and ineffable (if not unlikely sensible) under the "rules" the questioner attempts to impose? To ask whether there isn't a larger context ... that would make things clearer... surely isn't incivil, although it can be interpreted (especially by "troubled" questioners whose very troubled-ness has helped precipitate the "mysterious" difficulties) as hostile. Of course, it gets muddled when some answers are incivil, thus seemingly justifying a broadly hostile response by the questioner... Jun 4, 2014 at 12:45
  • @LordStryker, whence my questions about larger context in many situations. When it is insisted that a question must be answered under rules imposed by the questioner, and the possible significance of larger context is explicitly denied, typically this certifies that the larger context would, indeed, resolve the "mystery". Refusal to cooperate in clarification...? Jun 4, 2014 at 12:56
  • @LordStryker, as you like. Jun 4, 2014 at 13:01
  • 1
    If you see any non constructive comments, flag for their deletion. The first comment asks about what the supervisor said. The OP didn't answer or update the question accordingly (as far as I can see). Comments are there to help improve questions/answers, other comments can be deleted.
    – user102
    Jun 4, 2014 at 13:34
  • @CharlesMorisset Actually I addressed that question minutes after it was asked. I believe I've since eliminated that comment and folded it into the post. Jun 4, 2014 at 13:45
  • 1
    @LordStryker: I don't see anywhere in your question what was the answer of your supervisor when you asked the same question.
    – user102
    Jun 4, 2014 at 13:48
  • @CharlesMorisset I'm more than certain that meaningful feedback from the community can be created without me asking my supervisor anything or reporting what my supervisor said. Jun 4, 2014 at 13:53
  • 4
    @LordStryker: You're missing the point. Comments are there to improve the question, because the community felt that some information was missing. If you don't want to ask your supervisor, or if you don't want to share his/her answer, that's fine. Nevertheless, you don't address that comment at the moment.
    – user102
    Jun 4, 2014 at 13:56
  • > Comments are there to improve the question - Were you not just criticizing the concept of "opinion-based"? Jun 4, 2014 at 14:09
  • Since the question includes one of my comments(and I realize that my thoughts could have been put in a better way), the question explicitly states that each paper I've published is its own research focus without any connection to the next - Which made me comprehend that they are set of loosely connected papers which usually happens during literature survey where you ponder over a lot of topics to look for suitable research topics, work upon them, publish papers if possible and then settle with one of them for deeper thinking. PhD is supposed to make a dent in the field isn't it.
    – krammer
    Jun 5, 2014 at 4:35
  • 1
    @krammer Could you elaborate what 'make a dent' actually means? Do you consider a peer reviewed publication as a minor contribution to the scientific community? Jun 5, 2014 at 8:19
  • @Martin Quality of peer reviewed publications also matter.(Lots of questions and advice already on ASE regarding this). Though I cannot comment on OPs paper quality(and shouldn't). I only mean, in my part of the world, 5 different and orthogonal research papers without any common goal (on which the OP asked to comment), would probably not be viewed very highly(I am from CS background). Though this doesn't at all mean that the PhD thesis of the OP is bad or unreasonable for his field of study.
    – krammer
    Jun 5, 2014 at 9:02

3 Answers 3


Yes, this question IMHO escalated quickly, and is certainly not the best showcase of the academia.SE community. Clearly, mistakes have been made, both by the OP and some of our community members - from the OP's knee-jerk follow-up comments and edits to EnergyNumber's very derogatory answer (which I downvoted). I originally also wanted to provide an answer this question, but the current state of the discussion leaves me with no desire to get involved.

However, I don't think that this is an inherent problem of our Stack Exchange. I am pretty much daily around here (apparently I am bored at work), and this is one of the few, maybe even the first time, I see this happening to this extend. I would not say that we are in general overly fast to jump to conclusions. The "bad advisor" tag certainly gets thrown around a bit too loosely here, though. Imho, we should indeed watch ourselves a bit in that regard.


This question and the answers is really hard to follow, due to too many comments deleted, making other comments obsolete. EnergyNumbers' and aeismail's answers, that might have been relevant at some point, no longer answer the question (no mention to the career).

I think the moderation team should have a deeper look at this question and tidy it up.

Concerning your points:

but even more important, I see harsh judgments (e.g. this answer but also in the comments of @krammer which I cannot link) for which I do not see proper grounds based on the available information. This is not only rude, but it is IMHO also bad scientific practice.

As said in the comments, if you see non constructive comments, flag for deletion. That said, the OP explicitly comes to ask for judgement (is it good/bad?), so it is not really a surprise that people provide some judgment. As far as I can tell, no answer is supported by data, only by the opinion/experience of the answerers.

I'm not by default against such question, but if they can't be managed properly, perhaps they should be closed a "primarily opinion-based".

  • "It depends" is a perfectly good (objective) response to such a question and can lead to insightful discussions. I completely disagree with anyone who says otherwise. Jun 4, 2014 at 13:55
  • @LordStryker: an objective answer means that it is "not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts". So "it depends" can be subjective, if you can't support it. As it is, an objective answer would be the demonstration of a (lack of) correlation between the generality of the PhD topic with some measure of success.
    – user102
    Jun 4, 2014 at 13:59
  • Insightful discussions should inevitably produce 'evidence'. Jun 4, 2014 at 14:04
  • 3
    @LordStryker: In its current form, Ac.SE is not a discussion forum, but a place to ask questions and receive answers.
    – user102
    Jun 4, 2014 at 14:05
  • You're right. We shouldn't be discussing anything. In fact we should completely do away with the chat rooms, comment sections, etc. Should we flag all of this for the mods to fix? Jun 4, 2014 at 14:10
  • @LordStryker: Have a look at the help section, and please flag if you see content that does not follow the rules.
    – user102
    Jun 4, 2014 at 14:14
  • However, I see a mismatch between asking "is this title good/bad for my career?" which asks for a judgment about the formulation of the headline and receiving "your work is bad" (as opposed to "your title is bad"). And of course, if the data is weak ("anecdata") that should be marked by the corresponding qualifyers ("The underlying problem could be with the supervisor", "If your papers are really not connected, there is a problem") Jun 4, 2014 at 14:16
  • 1
    @cbeleites: I agree with you, and I've left some comments to the answers which have this mismatch. However, note that the original title of the question was Is it bad if your thesis topic is 'broad'?, which could explain some of the answers/comments.
    – user102
    Jun 4, 2014 at 14:19
  • @CharlesMorisset I didn't see anything (at first glance) that stated that 'discussion' was against the rules. Thank goodness I don't have to flag all of these comments. Jun 4, 2014 at 14:21
  • 2
    @LordStryker: From academia.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask: If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about ______”, then you should not be asking here.
    – user102
    Jun 4, 2014 at 14:22
  • 3
    @CharlesMorisset Thank goodness that wasn't my motivation. Jun 4, 2014 at 14:24
  • Please see my answer regarding my "off-topic" answer.
    – aeismail
    Jun 4, 2014 at 14:41

In hindsight, there is a fundamental problem with the question, in that the top-level question and the body subject ask two fundamentally different questions. I responded to the top-level question, rather than the questions posed in the body.

The most equitable solution right now, I think, would be to split the question in two.

  • As I said in my comment, I had the feeling that you were not answering the question in the title, since the link with the impact on the career was not very explicit.
    – user102
    Jun 4, 2014 at 15:28

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