Is this statement on doing a PhD in Germany as a foreigner accurate for mathematics? was closed for being primarily opinion-based. It actually failed to be closed in the close queue, receiving three leave open votes, and was only closed from votes cast outside the queue.

While this question is on a series of claims, which would make an opinionated answer, it asks for their correctness, which is mostly objective. Most answers to this question (including one by me) do focus on this factual correctness and why such anecdotal claims are problematic. While there is still some subjectivity left, I would consider this a case of good subjective and it the question and most of its answers are arguably less subjective than many on this site.

I therefore propose to reopen it. (I cannot push this question to the reopen queue, because my vote would immediately reopen it.)

  • My view is that the OP ostensibly asked "Is this really the case for the mathematics PhD programs in Germany as a foreign national?" when the quora rant/venting makes sweeping general statements some of which are clearly not applicable to mathematics program(me)s. I am not sure what the valuable question would be, that the reopened question should be edited to become – Yemon Choi Apr 29 '20 at 0:05

I would suggest that we edit and reopen.

I suspect some of the close votes may have been induced by the vague title and long quote. It seems almost like a "writing prompt," which may have rubbed people the wrong way. Editing may address this concern.

But it is clearly an interesting question. While there are subjective elements (and German academia is a big place), I think academics familiar with the German system could provide "expert analysis" of the claims. So, it seems at least as answerable as many of our questions.

Edit: I have taken a stab at editing the question.

  • I'm mostly ambivalent about it, but yes, the long quote is a bit of an issue...I really don't want this site or any other SE site to start to become a "let's fact-check Quora and Reddit" venue. Though I'm a bit torn because at least it's sourced rather than "I've heard this rumor, is it true?" – Bryan Krause Apr 28 '20 at 15:43
  • @BryanKrause I personally feel like +100 upvotes in the original post also speaks some volume. Unlike a rumor, it is on a public forum and is recieved mostly positively. – Boaty Mcboatface Apr 28 '20 at 23:52
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    @Boaty That probably reflects the HNQ so it's the reception of the broader SE community not the local Academia one (and the broader one can only upvote not downvote or close). The local one chose to close. – Bryan Krause Apr 29 '20 at 0:01
  • @BoatyMcboatface Did you not see that many of those points are probably not applicable to mathematics which is what you seemed to be asking about? – Yemon Choi Apr 29 '20 at 0:04
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    @BryanKrause Isn't Boaty referring to the Quora post? Personally I have no knowledge of and no interest in Quora so I cannot speak to the voting dynamics or how seriously one should judge the rating of questions – Yemon Choi Apr 29 '20 at 0:04
  • @YemonChoi Oh oops, you're probably right – Bryan Krause Apr 29 '20 at 0:09
  • And I think students who experienced the German system can also provide useful information – nara Apr 29 '20 at 13:36
  • @BoatyMcboatface Is my point making sense? I apologize if I am repeating myself but I brought this up several times in comments to your original question or on the answers to it, and you still seem much more preoccupied with the high score this Quora post received than with the maths-specific issues I was pointing out – Yemon Choi Apr 29 '20 at 22:06
  • @YemonChoi your tone felt condesending and I didn't want to engage. Here is what I think. Your comments in OP seem to imply I believe the statement. I don't. Yet I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt and ask other people for perspective. I am not going to brush off someone's comment especially when it is well recieved in its own bubble. Afterall, every place does things differently. Some places do very stupid things. I can very easily be unaware of certain aspects of academia in Germany. And although some aspects might not apply to mathematics in literal sense it can apply in spirit. – Boaty Mcboatface Apr 29 '20 at 22:40
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    @BoatyMcboatface In that case I wish you well and I will not attempt to persuade you to approach that Quora post more critically. I will only point out that it was you yourself who asked how much of it applied to mathematics, and the point about professors acting as exploitative lab managers was clearly not applicable to mathematics, not because mathematicians are somehow more virtuous, but because they don't act as lab managers – Yemon Choi Apr 30 '20 at 3:25

I lean towards thinking that the question should remain closed, though I could see it going either way.

The question has some positives and some negatives. On the positive side, it inspired answers with excellent information. On the negative side, it is fairly broad, argumentative, and calls for opinions.

In an ideal world, I would suggest that it remain closed (as too broad), and replaced by multiple separate questions, where each question asks about the accuracy of one factual claim.

Currently, the question comes off to me as "here's a long rant I read, is it really true?". The text we're asked to respond to contains both factual claims and judgements/conclusions/opinions, without separating the two out. Because of the mix of the two, I don't know how to answer the question ("is this really the case?") objectively. One can respond to the factual claims objectively, but responding to the opinions and conclusions seems like it calls for opinions.

Ideally, I think it would be more constructive to separate out the specific factual claims made in that argument, and then ask specifically about each of those in a separate question, and leave judgements and advice and opinions out of it, and then ask people who answered with concrete evidence to answer those individual questions. That's in an ideal world where doing all of that work is feasible and successfully leads to all the information being preserved in separate questions. I don't know whether that will actually happen.

I should also share a personal bias: I tend to be wary of posts with a strongly-expressed argumentative position, that ask us to respond to that position; I'm not sure they make a great prompt for a great question. So, it's possible I might be reacting to that aspect of the question as much as anything. It probably shouldn't affect the decision of whether to close or not, but it probably does affect me.

That's just my view. I don't see this as clear-cut. I can understand how people would come to different views. For instance, given the outstanding information contained in the answers, I could appreciate a view that the positives outweigh the negatives. I could also appreciate a view that says that Academia.SE regularly deals with calls for opinions and advice, and as long as they are supported by evidence, that is acceptable.

  • +1: I agree with most of this, especially because I don't think we should encourage any trend of "here's a long rant I read, is it really true?". – Yemon Choi Apr 29 '20 at 0:06

The question is about someone's opinion, but the answer (which is no, the opinion overgeneralizes) is not opinion. So technically it is not off-topic.

I suggest down-voting the question for trolling. It is implausible that someone experienced with PhD programs in Germany would make the claims stated in the question, that overgeneralizes that severely, unless they were trolling, immature, or excessively angry.

  • No, it actually isn't implausible. If a person has had those experiences, as the last answer to the post suggests at least two have, then they actually are even more likely to overgeneralize. After all, one person often has only one PhD experience from one prospective, and if they've seen a few others with similar experiences, they may very well overgeneralize. An I guess "excessive" anger is completely understandable. Imagine one has turned down other opportunities to start a fruitless PhD that puts them through the hardships described in the post. They deserve every bit of that anger! – nara Apr 29 '20 at 13:43
  • I don't agree. Someone experienced with PhD programs would have critical thinking skills, and therefore be aware that their experience is not the same as everyone's experience in all of Germany. It's a troll or immature. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 30 '20 at 0:40

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