I recently posed this question asking whether or not it is advised to get a pet during the PhD process. The major premise was if the time/energy-cost of raising a puppy, let's say, is too detrimental to research or if it can in fact increase productivity by providing companionship during a trying process.
This topic provoked some pretty vehement arguments as to whether or not it was considered on-topic or well-posed, as evidenced by the commentary and oddly balanced number of up/down votes. Even though the help center explicitly names questions about "life as a PhD student" as within the scope of the Academia site, and the "work-life-balance" tag exists to cluster these types of questions, many close votes followed after a high-profile user warned that the question veered into "boat programming" territory. The consequence of that post was a lot close votes in what really seems like a follow-the-leader effect.
While I understand the boat programming concern, and on stack overflow boat-programming-type questions are obviously too broad and vague, for "work-life-balance" questions on Academia, they actually seem relevant, if not appropriate. Furthermore, there is a strong precedent for these kinds of questions in Academia, primarily the ones inquiring about marriage and kids during a PhD; that is, other questions pertaining to the graduate student lifestyle. In my question I linked to these.
The point of this meta post is twofold:
- For one, I would like to have my original pet post reopened. I have struggled with wasting time due to a sort of "isolation daze" during my PhD and I think having a canine companion could help me break out of that funk, but first I would like to hear from the community's experiences as to whether it may be ill-advised to do so.
- Secondly, I would like to start a conversation about the whimsicality of close votes. On many occasions duplicates, hyper-specific questions, and other violations of the help center's policies stay open and are answered, while other times questions that seem that they should be valid are closed quickly. It often seems that the idea of "relying on the community" devolves into follow-the-leader: a high-reputation user votes to close and others follow suit. While in theory that should be fine, I believe there is an inherent arbitrariness to that method. For one, this process assumes that these leaders see every post. But more importantly, it also assumes that these users abide by the defined guidelines of the site. I would argue that often long-time users have developed their own opinions as to a questions validity, and, to be honest, I think it's one that is often biased by viewing a lot of crappy posts. As a result, the bar for entry ends up being inappropriately raised and shifted away from what is stated by the terms of the site.
Is there any disagreement to these points? If to my first point, please articulate why my post was off-topic and justify it with a clear guideline. If to my second point, I am eager to understand how we can fix this, whether by appealing to change the stated site rules or by adjusting the voting system.