I recently posted this question, which was closed as off-topic for being too specific to my situation. I admit I'm a little bit confused, since it didn't seem particularly more situation-specific than this question. I'd like to improve the question by generalizing it so it can be reopened; since I clearly missed something when I was writing the question, I'd like some feedback on my proposed changes.

Here's a rough outline of how I would like to re-word the question:

What background is necessary to do research in computational linguistics?

I'm getting ready to enter graduate school, and I would like to do PhD-level research in computational linguistics and natural language processing. I know that these two fields are very interdisciplinary and draw on various subfields of linguistics, computer science, math, and statistics. I also know that research in comp ling and NLP is done in different departments at different schools, with some schools having it in the CS department, and some in the linguistics department.

Ideally, what background knowledge should someone have in order to do research in computational linguistics or natural language processing? Which areas of linguistics, computer science, math, and statistics are necessary or helpful in studying comp ling and NLP, and is there one field among those four which is overall more necessary than the others?

(Note: per this question from Linguistics.SE, the distinction between comp ling and NLP is pretty blurry, which is why I mention both in my question.)

I'd like to know if there's any more room for improvement, if this looks like a valid, on-topic question, or if there's no saving this question and I should delete it.

  • For the record, I think the question you linked definitely should have been closed. I wouldn't use it as a reference of a reasonable question :)
    – ff524
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 6:47
  • @ff524 Noted, it looked shaky to me too, but I don't spend much time on this site. If anything, I thought mine was less specific than that question since mine would at least would be relevant to all people who want to study computational linguistics.
    – tsleyson
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 7:01
  • Given the positive vote count of the answer and total lack of objection from anyone, I'd say go ahead; add a comment on the question with a link to this meta post in case anybody has something to say :)
    – ff524
    Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 2:42
  • @ff524 Will do, thanks for your support!
    – tsleyson
    Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 7:54

2 Answers 2


I'm not sure whether a question that asks

What background do I need to do research in specific field X?

is considered a general Academia question, or a domain-specific question about X (which would be off-topic here). I couldn't really find any questions like this on the site.

Perhaps we can find out now :) vote this answer up if you think this should be on-topic, and vote down if you think this should not be on-topic.

(Since I can't vote on my own post, here's my opinion: I think such a question should be on-topic.)

  • Thanks for your answer. My thought process was that the question touches on "Transitioning from undergraduate to graduate researcher". I checked Linguistics.SE to see whether a question like this would be more on-topic there, and it seemed like its case over there was even weaker.
    – tsleyson
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 6:59
  • Well, that latter point doesn't necessarily make it on-topic here :) but we'll see what others think about this.
    – ff524
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 7:00
  • @ff24 You're right, I worded that badly. If the question is totally off-topic here too, I'll delete it, but I thought it would be on-topic based on my reading of the guidelines.
    – tsleyson
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 20:59

Coincidentally, recently I had asked a question which I believe that it is closely related to yours. It was closed as off-topic, the main reason was indicated in this comment:

the question concerns the subject matter of persons within academia, not academia itself

I asked the reason why in the meta, and I can inferred that user jakebeal agreed that this kind of question is on-topic. However, when I ask if my question could be reopened, the answers were no. The answerers suggested me to ask on Reddit, Quora or in biology.SE.

The result? Biology.SE was the best to ask, I was saluted with the answer in there. You can also see the meta question in biology.SE I asked. The question on Quora attracted low quality answer. I didn't ask on Reddit, but I think if you are patient enough to read all the comment, you will find somethings useful thought.

So my advice to your question: stick to linguistic.SE. People in here will find a reason to close your question ;)

  • Sorry, I should have mentioned that I did repost this, here, and it wasn't closed, although it didn't exactly light the world on fire. TBH I was afraid of Linguistics.SE because I've seen the community do some pretty rotten things to new users, or get sidetracked into tangential arguments in comments. But glad to hear you had a good experience with Bio.SE, and I'll keep your points in mind in the future.
    – tsleyson
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 22:15

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