A recent question of mine was apparently put on-hold with the following motivation:

"The answer to this question strongly depends on individual factors such as a certain person’s preferences, a given institution’s regulations, the exact contents of your work or your personal values. Thus only someone familiar can answer this question and it cannot be generalised to apply to others. (See this discussion for more info.)" – Nate Eldredge, Wrzlprmft, gman, Fomite, scaaahu

Quite frankly I think that's nonsense; there are thousands of people who go through the same graduate education as I did and the companies I was referring to are multinational giants that employ in the tens of thousands (if not more) globally.

The importance of GPA in application processes has been up and debated my many here over the past years, not the least by JeffE with his famous example from his own career. So the two main components of the question are clearly relevant to many others than myself, these 53 pages full of hits certainly say so..

So if the reason my question is off-topic due to being too specific, then I ask where do we draw the line? I, for instance, don't feel like I'd ask dumb questions in seminars/conferences, study/work in an American university where I would question the use of funds for sports, nor have I had an overly ambitious student thinking highly of him/her-self, and thankfully I have never had to deal with sexual advances from students.

Should I flag these questions off-topic because we cannot know the intricate details of the situation the people asking these questions? Because surely the answer depends on each and every specific case which may not apply to the general audience?

  • 1
    I liked this question and have voted to reopen --- but then, you might have guessed that since I answered it.
    – jakebeal
    Nov 9, 2015 at 17:49
  • @jakebeal cheers.. I genuinely think the question would have been useful to a wider audience, and thus a good addition to the cumulative knowledge we gather here. Was surprised to see it closed/put on-hold to be eventually deleted..
    – posdef
    Nov 9, 2015 at 19:32
  • @posdef: As long as nobody votes down the answer, your question is not risking deletion.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Nov 9, 2015 at 21:51
  • @Wrzlprmft I am pretty sure that I read on some meta.SE that the only two potential end states for questions that are close/on-hold were either re-opening or deletion. I think it was by Shog9 but I can't remember exactly and couldn't find it within a couple of minutes. :/
    – posdef
    Nov 10, 2015 at 9:09
  • @posdef: What you probably read was that most closed questions should eventually be deleted or reopened. But it’s not inherent to the system. If the linked meta question does not convince you, here is a question that was closed almost four years ago.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Nov 10, 2015 at 12:44

2 Answers 2


I draw the line for this close reason as follows:

Can answers to this question be expected to significantly go beyond saying “it depends” or “ask your supervisor, university, employer, etc.”? If no, vote to close.

For example:

  • If somebody asks about how to write a certain aspect of a thesis, the best answers should almost always include “ask your supervisor and check your university’s regulations”, but often we can give general advice on how to choose if those source do not dictate a choice. If we can’t, then the question should be closed.

  • The highest voted answer on How to ask dumb questions essentially says “it depends”, but it details how it depends. Such answers being conceivable makes the question on-topic.

  • The answers to Why do American colleges and universities have sports teams? do not list the motivation of each individual university to have a sports team, but give general motivations that can be expected to cover the motivations of most, if not all, such universities. If the motivations were indeed vastly inhomogeneous across universities, the question would be closeworthy with the above close reason.

  • I voted to close your question because I could not conceive an answer going significantly beyond “ask the employer“. And in fact a comment and the first sentence in the answer you received (in the grace period after closing) say exactly this.

    While the answer’s second paragraph does add something beyond this, it does not feel like what the question has been looking for to me (I guess you could have thought of that yourself). The answer’s third paragraph is rather a comment on the question and would not make for a standalone answer.

  • I understand your point of view, thanks for taking the time to reply here. However I find "I voted to close your question because I could not conceive an answer going significantly beyond 'ask the employer'." to be an extremely poor excuse, to be honest. It points towards your incapability of conceiving such an answer rather than nonexistence of a useful answer. With the same rationale I'd say half of the questions here on Academia.SE would fall into the same category as the answers essentially boil down to "talk to your supervisor"
    – posdef
    Nov 9, 2015 at 12:35
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    @posdef: Most, if not all, close reasons involve what answers we expect a question to get. For example, we close ambiguous questions as unclear because we expect that answers will significantly differ in their interpretation of the question and we close questions as too broad because we cannot conceive reasonably sized answers. Waiting whether certain answers would appear or problems would actually occur would refute the purpose of closing. Hence, we have to resort to our expectations.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Nov 9, 2015 at 12:48
  • 1
    With the same rationale I'd say half of the questions here on Academia.SE would fall into the same category as the answers essentially boil down to "talk to your supervisor" – Such questions are one of the reasons, I support this close reasons. As I wrote: If I think that a question can only (or almost only) be answered with “talk to your supervisor”, I have no problems with voting to close.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Nov 9, 2015 at 12:51

As with Wrzlprmft, given I was one of the people who voted to close the question, it's probably worth be talking about why I voted that way. And essentially, it's because the answer I'd write in my head is either "It depends" or "Ask them".

A couple factors that influence this:

  • Is there a screening criteria based on GPA, or is this just because someone without a PhD did up the form. Will putting something like '99' cause my application to be round-filed? Is there a threshold GPA I need?
  • Is your "Pass/Fail" GPA convertible to a numeric GPA? For example, I have been at an institution that did have a conversion system for this, and one that didn't. Does the employer have such a system?

These are things we can't necessarily answer. I vote to close questions (among other reasons) if I don't think there's the possibility of giving an answer besides "Well did you ask?" where the answerer can be comfortable of the utility of their answer absent other information.

I'll note that in my mind, jakebeal's answer falls in this category - it essentially boils down to "Ask, and go from there", which while perfectly correct is both very broad and not particularly actionable.

To address a comment you made in one of the other answers, since this one largely mirrors it:

With the same rationale I'd say half of the questions here on Academia.SE would fall into the same category as the answers essentially boil down to "talk to your supervisor"

Somewhat (but only somewhat) flippantly, if I had infinite power over Stack Exchange, "Have You Asked Your Supervisor?" would be a mandatory popup before submitting a question on Academia.

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