The posting How to find a gap in knowledge, for my PhD? asks "How to find the gap of knowledge" (denoted by Q in the following). The posting (denoted by R in the following) says, essentially, "don't do it, at least not now". R is not an answer to A, at least logically or linguistically speaking. However, R has apparently been so helpful to the author of Q (denoted by A in the following) such that A marked R as an accepted solution. I guess, this is because R is an answer to a different question, namely, how to start the PhD studies properly, and this different question is, probably, much more important to A. As an answer to "how to start the PhD studies properly", I like R, and do like it a lot. But as an answer to Q, the posting R illogical.

The particular case is exacerbated by the fact that A has shown no wish to reformulate the question such that it actually fits his or her real question (here: how to start working towards a PhD) rather than the issue formally written in Q.

There is an inadequacy of the pair "question - answer" here. I am sure that such inadequacies pop up every once in a while. Not sure how the community should address these pairs exactly, but being aware of these issues or addressing them would probably raise the quality of the site.

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    For that question, each field has a different answer, and that is an answer, at least for some fields. For instance, if a student asked me how to find a gap of knowledge in my field (metrology), I'd tell them that, as "newbie", they wouldn't be able to find a workable gap within 4-5 years, well beyond any reasonable time allotted for the PhD (because after you find the gap, you would need other 3-4 years to fill it). So, the answer for my field would be: "It's the advisor that tells you which gap you'll work on". – Massimo Ortolano Nov 7 '17 at 19:44
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    I guess (accepted-answer) would be a suitable tag for this question. (Not enough rep to edit, so I am suggesting this in a comment instead.) – Martin Nov 9 '17 at 15:22
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    R is not an answer to A, at least logically or linguistically speaking — Yes, it is! "How do you learn to juggle three balls?" "First, put down two of the balls and learn to throw one of them." "But I want to juggle three balls!" "Yes, and the right way to do that is to put two of them down." – JeffE Nov 9 '17 at 21:29

Only the original poster can accept an answer, and that’s not something the community can change. It may be a flaw, but that’s the way the system is set up.


There has to be some room for analyzing why the questioner asked the question they did, and maybe indicate some less-than-ideal steps along the way that lead to the question. Sometimes our preconceptions/naivety/received wisdom lead us to ask the wrong question. (See also the XY Problem - the questioner's real question here is clearly how to pick a research subject.) In that case, being told about the misconceptions behind the question is often more important than getting your question answered: the fact that the original poster marked this as the accepted answer is a strong indication that it was actually the most useful to them.

Taking some kind of action against this type of answer would reduce the overall value of the site, IMO.

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    Why should we care...? I don't know about you, but I'm here because I want to help people. Sometimes, taking the question at face value is not the most helpful thing. Imagine someone asks "Why does santa give nicer gifts to children of rich parents than to children of poor parents?", are we not allowed to raise the point that santa does not exist because it questions the assumptions of the explicitly stated question? – nengel Nov 13 '17 at 3:51
  • And not reformulating the question is not bad either: there will surely be future students making the same confusion, who will look for this formulation, and be able to follow the arguments questioning the question. Erasing all trace of the process will make it opaque to future readers. – nengel Nov 13 '17 at 3:55

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