The guidelines state:

As a general rule, if you're asking about a particular institution...it's likely your question is too limited in scope

Can this rule be made more precise? In particular, can questions be asked about some particularly large institutes? E.g., CNRS, which employs 11k researchers. (As a comparison, Harvard has ~5k academics.)

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    Like what? We allow questions about institutions like the NSF and NIH. I cannot imagine a question specific to a single university having broad appeal. – StrongBad Dec 7 '17 at 14:35
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    @StrongBad Specifically CNRS. Apparently it employees 11k researchers. – user2768 Dec 7 '17 at 14:36
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    See this FAQ as to why we do not like most questions about particular institutions. – Wrzlprmft Dec 7 '17 at 15:01
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    @user2768 Note that the 11k figure refers only to tenured researchers (equivalent to associate/full professor without teaching) and does not include engineers, postdocs etc. – fqq Dec 7 '17 at 18:02
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    On the other hand the source reported by Wikipedia for Harvard does not provide the ~5k count, but 2-3k depending whether you count unpaid staff. – fqq Dec 7 '17 at 18:22
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    @fqq Is an engineer a research position? The 11k researchers seems the right figure to compare to the 4671 academic staff. Both those figures exclude postdocs. Harvard has 14.5k postgraduates, but that includes more than just postdocs. – user2768 Dec 8 '17 at 9:40
  • @user2768 post docs will generally not be included in the 14.5k postgrad number. – StrongBad Dec 8 '17 at 18:28

I think a good line to draw would be:

Questions specific to individual institutions are only allowed if those institutions operate on the national or international level.

This would include institutions like CNRS, NSF, NIH, DFG, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, etc., but exclude individual universities and similar.


The basic idea is that if the answer to your question would only be of use to people at the institution in question, it’s not a good fit.

Questions related to funding and support clearly fall outside of that. Internal HR policies at the NSF or NIH or Max Planck-Gesellschaft, for instance, would not.

  • I like this answer, but I have a hard time reconciling it to your comment that suggests that the question about the internal hiring policies at CRNS are on topic. – StrongBad Dec 7 '17 at 16:16
  • @StrongBad: It's not clear that all the jobs are internal positions—some of the research groups are hosted at universities. (It's very NIH-like in terms of scope and operation.) – aeismail Dec 7 '17 at 16:21
  • I would argue that questions about NIH and UK MRC research positions are off topic. CNRS might be different since they might actually hire and employee people at multiple universities, but that is not clear to me. – StrongBad Dec 7 '17 at 16:28
  • But we would allow questions on NIH extramural fellowships that are hosted at universities, right? I think that the problem is in part that it's a single centralized process. – aeismail Dec 7 '17 at 16:30
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    CNRS employs people all over the country, if this is what is confusing anyone. Research units are "mixed" and part of both the university and the CNRS. Some members (researchers and administrative staff alike) are employed by the university, others by the CNRS. You can read the description on Wikipedia. A question about the CNRS might as well be a question about France... – user9646 Dec 7 '17 at 17:08
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    @NajibIdrissi thank you for that. Maybe what we need is a question about the CNRS. – StrongBad Dec 7 '17 at 18:12
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    @StrongBad someone has now asked about CNRS: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/100215/what-is-the-cnrs – user2768 Dec 11 '17 at 14:13

As I understand it, "Positions at CNRS" mean something different than it would in other countries, because, for a combination historical, social, and legal reasons, the French government largely funds research by hiring researchers directly rather than by giving grants through the universities at which they work.

I was discussing possibly making a 1-2 month visit to a French collaborator. (In the end, we couldn't get the timing and the funding to work out.) If I wanted a collaborator to visit me in the US, the funding mechanism would be that I would apply for a grant (eg from the NSF) or a supplement to an existing grant or a reallocation of funds in an existing grant to fund the visit. On the other hand, if a French person wanted me to visit him in France, the most common funding mechanism involves me applying (with his help and support) for a temporary one-month position from the CNRS.

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