For a site about academia and helping users out with academic related questions, I have tried posting 6-7 times on that forum and each time have had my questions flagged as off topic or too specific. Despite me specifically stating I was looking for general direction and not specifics. I have had one user on that site, solar mike or something, following me around and flagging everything as off topic. I have also asked several times that if it's formatted poorly or too general, that I would appreciate being pointed to a more appropriate forum. Instead of helping out with that, just get a yellow "put on hold" notification from Stackexchange.

Before I came to stack exchange, I had heard a lot of negativity about it from Reddit users. How the site was over the top with toxicity, removes everything for being a duplicate, locking threads, etc. I wanted to see for myself, and at least in my experience, it seems to be true. Example: https://www.reddit.com/r/cscareerquestions/comments/8ewwjc/is_it_just_me_or_is_stack_overflow_an_incredibly/

TL;DR: Why do Stackexchange Academia users act with such hostility?

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    It might be worth reading the comments on the thread you linked from Reddit; of course there is some complaining (consider selection bias, however), but many of them are explaining and defending the SO/SE model and explaining a bit about what makes a good question here. For people that want SE to be Reddit, well, that already exists and is a different site. It's also worth noticing that the Academia.SE community and the StackOverflow community are not the same. There are some shared concepts but they are different sites.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Sep 12, 2019 at 16:08
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    It is disappointing that Nathan's question did not seem to recognize the comments and the advice given on his question. I think this reflects the high level of distress and avoidance to approach overseas institutions while demanding a Japanese perspective. Seeking the "best" answer for a specific issue is far from appropriate as well.
    – Poidah
    Sep 15, 2019 at 8:18
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    One analogy that might be helpful is having a very sick patient demanding answers from a discussion forum. The answer to the question is to see a doctor or a clinician for help. That no matter how expert the discussion forum is, no answer will ever be adequate enough nor appropriate for the specific complex illness that a specific person has. The same way as if a person has a specific career or academic counselling issue, no answer or discussion forum will ever be satisfactory imo. Referring people to other forums will not be satisfactory either.
    – Poidah
    Sep 15, 2019 at 8:23
  • A friend once told me a ( good, in my opinion) analogy for Stack Exchange: Imagine you are going to a foreign country (=StackExchange) where they speak a complicated language they are very proud of which has complicated (and partly, historical, seemingly arbitraty) rules for the outsider. If you only speak English to them, they ignore (and downvote you). If you try to speak the language, but don't know all the rules, you get no help, but meta comments and snarky comments until you finally give up. But if you spend a lot of time learning all the rules, they will help. I think it fits perfectly!
    – user114084
    Sep 16, 2019 at 14:11
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    While I agree with the answers that people have given here, and while those questions of Nathan's that I can see (i.e. not deleted ones) wouldn't be a great fit, I do think that people in academia.SE are over-eager to close questions - sometimes reaching rather far for a slightly-relevant close reason, when what they should be doing is downvoting a question, or simply ignoring it. Eh. Probably not much use saying that here, TBH ;-)
    – Flyto
    Sep 18, 2019 at 20:51

5 Answers 5


Having read through your questions, it appears that you are misunderstanding the purpose of this website. Academia.SE is a place for academics to discuss academia, in general. There are many concepts that are common to all academics—dealing with grants, working with administrators, getting stuck in research, teaching, etc.—that newcomers (or even veterans) have difficulty dealing with. This site acts as a forum for discussion on those types of topics.

However, no one on this site really knows each other. As such, any time people are asking questions very specific to them—what types of courses should I take based on my specific goals, how can I improve on my specific resume, how can I personally be more competitive for X—we can never help them sufficiently. As such, those questions are routinely closed as "too specific".

I fully appreciate that there is nuance here, as the distinction between "how do I get a good letter" and "how can I improve my application" are sometimes subtle. This is often frustrating for newcomers... you're not the first to have a closed question of this type. That said, since we really can't answer these questions, for the health of the overall community we close them.

I'm sorry your experience has been so negative, but hopefully this will help you understand how this site can be useful in your academic life.

  • The phrase "too specific" can easily be misunderstood. How about changing it to "too individual"? Sep 24, 2019 at 4:09
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    @aparente001: The motivation and rules for that close reason are actually mostly about specificity, not about individuality. There are some great individual questions on this site. The problem with some specific questions is that this is not a good place to answer them.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Sep 24, 2019 at 5:12
  • @Wrzlprmft - Thanks. Can you share a couple of examples of questions that were closed for specificity, where a "too individual" euphemism would be a gross mismatch? Sep 24, 2019 at 6:17
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    @aparente001: That was not the direction I was arguing. Almost all questions closed with depending on individual factors (i.e., specificity) are too individual. But not all individual questions should be closed for that reason. For example, “Is this very weird way my paper was handled ethical?” is very individual but usually fine. (Finally, I don’t get why you denote too individual as an euphemism
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Sep 24, 2019 at 7:13
  • @Wrzlprmft - I just thought that OP and others might feel less indignant with the proposed euphemism. OP explained that he feels "damned if he does and damned if he doesn't." Sep 25, 2019 at 4:46

The other answers try to explain why your posts were closed as "off topic", but I want to address other parts of your question:

I have had one user on that site, solar mike or something, following me around and flagging everything as off topic.

I understand that it can feel like you're being targeted when the same name appears over and over on the list of those who voted to close your post. But if there's a user who votes on many posts, you'll see their name a lot - not because you're being followed, just because they're a frequent voter

I have also asked several times that if it's formatted poorly or too general, that I would appreciate being pointed to a more appropriate forum.

Users of this site may not know a more appropriate forum to direct you to. They're frequent users of Academia Stack Exchange, they don't necessarily know what's in scope and out of scope on sites that are not Academia Stack Exchange. It's kind of like if the item you wanted was out of stock at a store, and you asked a store employee, "Excuse me, but if you can't sell me this item, can you at least tell me what other store nearby has it in stock?"

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    I don't think the last sentence is a good analogy. At least where I life, employees of a shop would indeed try to help and point out a neighboring shop (even a concurent one!) or a date when it is possible to buy the item. At the least, they would apologize. They would not be silent or scold/downvote the questioner.
    – user114084
    Sep 15, 2019 at 18:28

It is not really the people but rather the tools we have and the expectations of new users. The Stack Exchange system is unabashedly a question and answer site and not a discussion forum. The system works great when a user asks a question that fits the format well. When a question is a poor fit, it gets put on hold. The hope is that while it is on hold the person who asked and other community members will work together to make the question a better fit. The problem is that we don't have particularly effective tools to help a new user understand what makes a good question different from a bad question.

From the new users perspective, you have a question and the experienced users are shutting you down. That is obviously going to feel hostile. From the experienced users perspective, if the question is not a good fit, it needs to be shut down to keep the signal-to-noise ratio high. Sometimes they just shut it down, but often, they will try and point you in the correct direction. That direction is often read the help and a bunch of questions to try and learn what makes a good question. As hard as it might be to see, we are not trying to be hostile. We have a good idea about what works and what does not work.

In regards to your questions, I see three problems. The first is that the answers need to apply to lots of people and not just you, second we like questions to have "right answers", and third the right answer for your questions depends entirely on you.

For example, what classes should you take to prepare for a PhD in Political Science depends on obviously what classes a particular department requires, but more importantly on what classes you have taken, what you enjoy and what your specific goals are. In order to give you a good answer, we really need to know you. That of course means the answer is not useful to anyone else. If instead we give you a generic answer, then we are not really accomplishing our goal of providing high quality answers. The odds are the answer would just be excepts about admission requirements and required courses pulled from a few Political Science departments websites. Again, this does not help you or anyone. So instead of wasting our time and your time, we put the question on hold.

We are a site about academia in general but not the specifics of individual fields. There are specialist sites on the SE network where you can sometimes get helpful information (e.g., Biology and Physics), but there isn't one for Political Science. This means that the SE system doesn't really have a place for questions about Political Science. If you can frame your questions to be more field agnostic, while still asking what you want, it might help.


In my experience, the issue is that new users have not read, understood, and followed the information on this page:


Flagging your question is not actually hostile. It's just following the local customs.

As for Solar Mike following you around, I'm sure he reads every question posted here and flags all the ones that should be flagged.

Finally, if you don't enjoy the content of this site, go elsewhere. This thing is basically a computer game, it's not really important. Personally, I do not even bother playing to win.

  • I don't know where else to go to have my question answered. Gradcafe is a graveyard.
    – Marinate
    Sep 13, 2019 at 17:06
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    @NathanSmithJr. Faculty at your university that you know in real life. Sep 13, 2019 at 20:12
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    @NathanSmithJr: But why should the people here know? This is not a forum for helping people, this place is about writing interesting questions and answers. New users are assumed to have a very thick skin.
    – user114084
    Sep 15, 2019 at 18:23
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    @user114084 "New users are assumed to have a very thick skin." I would disagree with that. Instead, I would say they are expected to follow the site rules the same as everyone else. Sep 15, 2019 at 22:08
  • Already tried that @anonymousphysicist.
    – Marinate
    Sep 16, 2019 at 9:40
  • The forum definitely exists to help people.
    – Marinate
    Sep 16, 2019 at 9:40
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    @NathanSmithJr: where is your proof for that?
    – user114084
    Sep 16, 2019 at 10:10
  • No, @NathanSmithJr., it exists to make a profit for the owners. Sep 17, 2019 at 8:06
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    @NathanSmithJr. "The forum definitely exists to help people." Not fully: this forum exists to help people in rather specific ways. And this is true of all the stackexchange sites. Not every good question related to academia is appropriate here, any more than every good question related to math is appropriate at math.stackexchange. (A common objection is that there is a dearth of "successful" sites with a broader focus, and so the SE sites should fill that role, but that's a nonsequitur even when it's true: the lack of one type of site doesn't mean that another type of site is inappropriate.) Sep 17, 2019 at 16:51
  • @noah, correct, it exists to help people. In specific ways, but it’s not fair to say “it’s not here to help people”.
    – Marinate
    Sep 19, 2019 at 21:07

First, I am aware that I am the fourth moderator to answer your question. This probably happens because only we can easily see all your deleted posts. It is not our intention to pile up on you or similar. I am also aware that some of my points may be a bit redundant to the existing answers, but I want to keep the whole story in one place.

We close questions for the following reasons (amongst others that are not relevant to your case):

  • You ask multiple, distinct questions at once. This can usually be solved by reducing your post to one question. While other platforms tend to accept or even encourage questions being asked this way, I fail to see how this is an advantage.

  • It is unclear what you are asking. In this case you can solve this by clarifying your question. There is no point in pointing you to other sites here, because we would first have to understand your issue and if we don’t, there is no reason to expect that others will.

  • You ask for the recommendation, comparison, or evaluation of individual courses. We call this a shopping question, and the linked FAQ explains why we do not like them. You may find other platforms that accept these questions, but beware that the answers may be wrong since they are usually only based on the experience of a single person choosing a single path in life (which is one of the reasons why we disallow such questions).

  • Questions that depend on your indvidual history and preferences. Similar to shopping questions, you may find somebody who will give you an answer, but beware that giving you a useful answer requires somebody to familiarise themselves intensively with your specifics – which takes more time than most people are willing to spend for a stranger on the Internet. At the very least, this requires an intensive back and forth with you, which a question-and-answer platform is not suited for. For the career questions you have, the best person to ask is probably a professor at your alma mater, because they are somewhat familiar with your target field, already know your undergraduate programme, and know at least know you a bit.

  • Duplicates of canonical questions. We use canonical questions to cover up some general information about basic topics that come up a lot and where we got tired of providing the same answer again and again with little variation. Sometimes it can happen that we close as a duplicate of a canonical question, because we cannot figure out from your question whether you know the basics. If you completely understood the canonical question, use it as a starting point for your question, in particular by showing us that it did not solve your problem.

One of the points I am trying to make here is that while we may be able to point you to another platform which accepts your question indiscriminately, what you want may not be what you need. From another point of view, if we thought that asking these questions anywhere on the Internet would be a good idea, we would probably not have closed them in the first place.

Another problem is that you appear to be treating question closure like whack-a-mole (with you being the mole): Once your question is closed or somebody comments that it should be closed in its current form, you delete it – instead of trying to edit the question to address the problems mentioned in the problems. You then post a question that often has the same problems, but is different in other respects, introducing new problems.

For example, your very first question (“How can I get some idea of how qualified I am to do a PhD in International Relations”) can be turned into a good one if you remove the surplus questions and streamline the convoluted details a bit. However, it never came to this since you deleted the question after a comment that guided you to get to know the site and improve your question and that your question might be closed (it never received a single close vote).

Finally, our users have been giving you a lot of helpful advice on how to improve your question and links to FAQs what question we close and why – which you mostly ignored. For example, we were advising you several times that your posts are difficult to understand due to being convoluted; yet you self-assess your most recent question to be rambling.

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