Following the suggestion of @Davidmh, I want to start a discussion about this recently holded question.

First of, the facts (as I see them):

  • The question has been put on hold (with 5 community votes, no direct closing by a mod). I think given the tone and scope of the question as written, this is in line with our usual practices. One can argue that the question is currently all of unclear, opinion-based, and maybe also somewhat of a rant.
  • However, the question has also garnered a lot of responses: there are 32 upvotes (2 downvotes), 2000 views, 9 answers, and many, many comments. We do not all that often have questions that trigger more community interest in such short time.

The second point makes me think that there has to be something relevant in this question, something that a good edit may be able to salvage. However, I am not entirely sure what the golden core is that makes this question more interesting to the community than all the other "I hate grad school, shall I quit?" questions that we usually close rather unceremoniously. I have the theory that it has a lot to do with the impression that the OP's self-esteem seems rather unhealthily tied to her grad student status, but I am not sure.

What are your opinions on this question?

  • Anyone know if the question was on the "hot list"?
    – StrongBad
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 10:44
  • @StrongBad I am not sure. Would it matter?
    – xLeitix
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 11:30
  • 4
    @StrongBad I remember seeing it there Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 11:41
  • 8
    @xLeitix questions on the hot list often attract lots of views and votes regardless of their quality or fit.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 11:51
  • 2
    @StrongBad Sure, but to get on the host list a question already needs some starting velocity, right?
    – xLeitix
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 12:14
  • 4
    @xLeitix - Not anymore. I'll try to find the link, but they changed the algorithm and it's much more of a random sample now than it used to be.
    – eykanal
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 15:57
  • 2
    Questions asking for the best cat videos to defeat boredom would probably be of great interest to many in the community while being about as off-topic as you can get.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 12:47
  • It was most definitely on the hot list.
    – bmargulies
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 11:55
  • 2
    Sometimes (SE-)crap gets upvotes and excites people -- doesn't make the crap less crappy. People with legit but utterly unsuited questions should be directed to Academia Chat.
    – Raphael
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 13:47
  • 1
    If the community obviously likes something but it is beyond the current scope, the scope is not properly defined and should be broadend to include these questions.
    – Dilaton
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 21:23
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    @Dilaton the scope is not properly defined and should be broadend [sic] to include these questions. Or better worded without changing the range of the definition?
    – Palec
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 14:33

5 Answers 5


I'm in favor of closing it as soon as possible.

It matches this closing criterion perfectly:

This question appears to be off-topic because it seems to seek specific advice for a very specific situation, and it's likely that only someone with a good understanding of your situation will be able to provide an objectively correct answer.

It attracted, and will continue to attract, all the worst of 'personal advice' that one gets in such a situation, ranging from pet-social theories to pseudo-psychology and plain old judgment (not to mention daunting walls of text). While one or two answers will eventually be sort of interesting for the OP, it's unlikely that the whole batch will be worth archiving.

Our site, IMHO, shouldn't be about telling people to loose weight, whether or not their use of dating websites is appropriate, or whether or not they should quit their PhD. We don't know that.

Example of content that I find utterly out of place:

From answers:

"I think you should not quit your PhD. Not right now. There will be time for that, maybe."

"You are smart, you can lose weight, you can dress better"

"You can quit if you like."

"Always be grateful, never compare yourself with people better then you, but think about people who are in worse situation then yours".

"Don't quit. Quitting easily becomes habit forming."

From comments:

"Research shows a high correlation between online dating and depression"

"Diet is 95% of weight loss, you don't need to exercise"

"Consider learning dancing. Dancing is really good exercise, is social, and is fun."

  • 9
    I see a lot of value in this answer.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 14:30
  • 1
    Given the nature of Meta questions, I am not sure whether it makes sense to "accept" an answer here. Basically, this is a discussion. Whether I as the OP like your answer shouldn't be more important than whether the other community members like it. (I upvoted though)
    – xLeitix
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 8:19
  • I have closed the question again, given the margin of upvotes this answer has.
    – ff524
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 9:12
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    @xLeitix I agree that accepting discussion meta questions doesn't make much sense.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 14:19
  • @xLeitix I think it is reasonable to accept meta answers since it lets the community know you found and answer which clarifies the issue. As for wether or not the community does something based on the answers, both accepted and not accepted, is tied to the votes and not the green tick.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 20:15

IMHO, being to eager to close is not a good thing (especially for community-building):

In the case of doubt, I would judge the question by answers it brings. If they make sense and are highly upvoted, I wouldn't close a question.

For this particular case, I voted to reopen (though, before answers, I wasn't so sure). This question is general enough (i.e. presents a general issue, rather than a very specific one).

  • 4
    Echo here. (and re-open vote too.)
    – Nobody
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 12:06
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    I tend to agree (although I think semi-agressive question closing is a fundamental principle of why SO works), but it kinda still seems to me that the question needs some editing before it should be re-opened. The problem with "Question got good answer, question is fine" is that one can never tell in advance whether a question will bring in good answers ... so conservatively, you should never close anything.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 12:17
  • There were a couple (or three?) of "Unclear what you're asking" close votes before Piotr made an edit.
    – Nobody
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 12:19
  • @scaaahu Piotr only added some tags. Certainly helpful, but nothing that would make the question itself clearer.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 12:20
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    @xLeitix For such open-ended question my rule of thumb is that they should generate good answers soon (1-2 days?). I edited only title and added tags - to pinpoint the main issues rather than to left it vague and unanswerable. Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 12:21
  • There is an extensive literature in reply to people like Sachs. The quick summary is that the SE format is the worst format imaginable for a QA site -- except for all the others that have been tried. If you choose to go this way, you risk the problems of the things SE was invented to avoid.
    – bmargulies
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 23:07
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    @xLeitix then the question should be left alone when in doubt, to see if interesting answers turn up. Conserning SO, the SO model of moderation (including very aggressive closing of questions) is not appropriate for a high-level academic site. The MathOverflow model, also successfully applied on Theoretical Computer Science which is research-level too fits better to academic/scientific communities.
    – Dilaton
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 21:32

(Being the first one to answer and the one that got 39 upvotes for the reply, I think I have to weight in...)

Yes, the question is probably out of scope.

Yes, my answer is probably out of scope.

The reason why I did it is that that was a cry for help and I would have been a terrible person saying: sorry, your question does not belong here. I chose to sit in the "Be nice" part of academia.se, and this is the part why I love this site, more than others: it is a safe space, where people are treated like people. I've read warm and honest answers, and many questions here are related to how people feel in academia. This, to me, it's important for community building and thus for the project as a whole.

I've seen other projects go bad because the community felt they had to be stricter with rules. I would dare to say that is better to be a bit out of scope but more welcoming, but that is an opinion. I would love to see some research confirming or refuting my insights (for example, what is the rate of male/female users in academia.se?)

  • 1
    What do you believe would the ratio of male/female users tell you?
    – Cape Code
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 12:47
  • 2
    That there are more females here than in other projects. I know this may sound funny, but the Wikimedia community has a well-know gender gap issue, and this is attributed (among other factors) to a harsh, competitive culture within Wikipedia.
    – Aubrey
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 13:09
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    @Aubrey Feel free to ask demographic questions here: meta.academia.stackexchange.com/questions/467/…. Though its always voting sample + I bet there will be a strong effect when it comes to representation from disciplines (how could you distinguish it from effect of community being more friendly?). Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 17:35
  • Thanks! Well, I couldn't distinguish it. But large site as Wikipedia have less than 10% female users, and it's bigger and more complicated regarding disciplines and topics. So I'd like just to have a quick, not definitive answer.
    – Aubrey
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 17:43
  • 2
    Done! meta.academia.stackexchange.com/a/1596/26682 I hope my wording is correct enough.
    – Aubrey
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 23:40
  • 2
    I think what we've seen on this question is the less favorable side of allowing questions that are out of scope to stay. While you may post a warm, sympathetic, answer, there is a lot of well-meaning but misplaced, and possibly harmful, advice posted there too. In my opinion, the only way to avoid the latter is to close the question and add a comment directing the OP to where she might get help from a qualified professional (eg, campus mental health services).
    – ff524
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 9:09
  • 2
    In other words, I think your answer would have been better if you had closed the question and posted the text of your answer as comments.
    – ff524
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 9:10
  • Thanks, ff524, I understand your concern. I also had doubt on how to react to the question. I'm also not really into moderation mechanisms in AC.SE (e.g. I don't even know if I can close a question). Will remember for next time.
    – Aubrey
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 9:37

I'd like to thank everyone for the lovely answers to my question. I was not in the best mood a couple days ago, and I'm feeling much better now, although still slightly miserable.

However, I am not entirely sure what the golden core is that makes this question more interesting to the community than all the other "I hate grad school, shall I quit?" questions that we usually close rather unceremoniously. I have the theory that it has a lot to do with the impression that the OP's self-esteem seems rather unhealthily tied to her grad student status, but I am not sure.

I think it's because a lot of people feel (or have felt) the same way as me, so they have opinions and want to help. But usually people don't talk about this stuff, because it's taboo to do a PhD for any reason other than passion for the subject, let alone fear of being a fat loser. I think there's a general expectation that grad students not care too much about money (except research funding) or social status (except within the academic community).

  • 6
    Disapproving of your question as inappropriate for SE is of course not the same thing as disapproving of you as a human being. Hang in there! A better place to post about this kind of thing might be here: physicsforums.com/forums/career-guidance.193 (Despite the domain name, physicsforums isn't just for physicists.)
    – user1482
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 16:57
  • @BenCrowell: Thanks for the link!
    – Jennifer
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 18:14
  • 2
    And Academia Chat, of course.
    – Raphael
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 13:48

I am torn because it is a terrible question (I was going to vote to close until I saw the responses) but it is a site of community-making in action (which is why I ended up voting to keep it open).

We have to admit that the 'chat' function of SE (at least A.SE) is broken and we don't use it for communal conversation. So popular questions like the one in question is really where we see community building.

That being said, it's still a bad question. But I would suggest rather than rapidly closing it -- we allow people to use it to build a sense of community -- and then when the number of answers starts to fade, that we close it for all the right reasons (it's off topic).

[I also wish we had a downvote option for comments given all of the bad personal advice being given through that vector].

  • 3
    Perhaps it should be protected, though?
    – jakebeal
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 16:04
  • I agree, protection would be useful. You have enough rep to do so.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 16:27
  • Since it's not a crisis, I figure I'll wait a little longer to see if there's any objection to the idea...
    – jakebeal
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 16:41

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