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In the tour of this stack exchange, it is suggested that questions covering these topics should be posted:

  1. academic careers,
  2. requirements and expectations of students, postdocs, or professors,
  3. inner workings of research departments,
  4. academic writing and publishing,
  5. studying and teaching at institutions of higher education (universities, colleges, …),

Given that the Stack Exchange is called "Academia", would it not also be sensible to allow questions directly related to the practical undertaking of research, given it is so fundamental to academia?

As an example (and at the risk of having it closed), a question on the practical undertaking of research could be something like this:

What Query String Parameters can be used with Google Scholar?

A further example of one which has been closed, but which I believe could also fall under the practical undertaking of research:

How can I search for Academic Grants in the UK (Physics, Materials, Tech)?

I understand the latter question is intentionally specific, but to me, that feels like a very broad question that could help a broad range of community members. I am not sure rules which necessitate the closing of such questions are ideal for the community.

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    Can you give some example of a question that was rejected but might be acceptable? Or even a hypothetical question that might be treated differently?
    – Buffy
    Jan 28, 2022 at 19:29
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    What would the "practical undertaking of research" include? Questions about research design, methods, statistical tests, fieldwork, hermeneutics, experimental setups? We need to be careful not to open a can of worms.
    – henning
    Jan 29, 2022 at 12:38
  • this got closed for being off-topic, which seems broken: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/164140/…
    – wezmah
    Jan 30, 2022 at 20:47

2 Answers 2

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My understanding is that we already take questions about the "practical undertaking of research" so long as it can be addressed by academics generally rather than requiring knowledge of a particular subfield. This question comes to mind as a well-received, on-topic question about research: How to by-pass bioethics for a trivial bio-experiment?

I agree that the list you linked doesn't indicate that these questions are allowed. Perhaps we should add:

  1. the academic research process

we could add add a qualifier "(but not domain-specific questions about research)", but the more concise sentence seems to better fit with the existing list.

Update: I added bullet #6 as written to the linked page; this seemed to be the common denominator that (most) everyone liked. Some alternative phrasings and other potentially good ideas were raised in the comments -- if anyone would like to pursue any of these further, please make a new meta post with a specific proposal so that the community can consider.

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    "6. Domain-agnostic academic research process"? Jan 28, 2022 at 15:44
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    @AntonMenshov Given our audience isn't all native English speakers, plainer language would be better. Jan 28, 2022 at 17:48
  • Given, that, I'm not sure how to phrase what level of "subfield" is appropriate. Clearly, the linked question could not be answered by a history researcher, but it was broad enough to be acceptable. Jan 28, 2022 at 17:49
  • "Questions about the research process that could be answered by anyone in your field, broadly construed, such as a biologist or historian (i.e. not a molecular geneticist or [sorry I don't know history subfields]" Jan 28, 2022 at 17:52
  • I think we need to avoid serving as quasi-advisors on specific research (as we do now). For many closed questions the usual comment is "talk to your advisor".
    – Buffy
    Jan 28, 2022 at 19:32
  • @AzorAhai-him- you are probably right here. Jan 28, 2022 at 19:59
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    On reviewing the list in context (in the linked page), I'm inclined to say that no qualifier is necessary. All the necessary qualifiers already exist in the following paragraph ("What topics should I avoid?").
    – cag51 Mod
    Jan 28, 2022 at 20:14
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    @AzorAhai: I think that thinking in fields or subfields is the wrong approach here as few things pertain to an entire field and even those may not be well suited for this site. The formulation that I find concise and fitting (and have used when writing other parts of the help page) is “the content of research”. The procedure of getting biosafety approval is not about that (and extends beyond the field of biology), so it’s good for this site. […]
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Jan 28, 2022 at 20:31
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    […] On the other hand, the content of research has its flaws as it does not really capture questions about things like pipetting techniques, for which I think it’s safe to say that the community wouldn’t welcome them. But then the field-based approach doesn’t work either for those, as they are relevant to large areas of biology, chemistry, and medicine.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Jan 28, 2022 at 20:31
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    In the "don't ask" list, would something like "specific research questions that (are best/can only be) answered by your advisor" work?
    – Buffy
    Jan 28, 2022 at 22:44
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    @Buffy: It would be interesting to find out why people are asking “advisor questions” in the first place. I see three possibilities: 1) They are unable to distinguish when a question is best asked to the advisor. 2) The relationship to their advisor is fundamentally broken (and they don’t know that it shouldn’t be like that). 3) They haven’t even thought about whom to best ask the question. — My impression (and I fully admit that it is nothing but an impression) is that Case 1 applies to most of these questions. In that case, we need more than a short text.
    – Wrzlprmft Mod
    Jan 29, 2022 at 9:39
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    @Wrzlprmft, I think both 1) and 3) are pretty common and account for a lot of the issue. And 2) is quite different, usually based on interpersonal issues and bad advising rather than research. We normally handle those OK unless they are too personal. But something like the following might be useful: "For specific guidance on your research methodology and process, the advisor is a better source than this forum."
    – Buffy
    Jan 29, 2022 at 15:30
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    @Wrzlprmft And 4) They've grown up in a world where they can readily find every answer they need (so far) on the internet without asking a real life person, and it's scary and intimidating to admit to their advisor that they don't already know everything, even though their advisor would be completely redundant and unnecessary if they did.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jan 29, 2022 at 17:45
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    @Wrzlprmft Why would "advisor" questions be forbidden though? Fundamentally you could say that almost anything is an advisor question, the only thing which wouldn't fall under that category would be a dispute you're having with your own advisor surely?
    – Connor
    Jan 31, 2022 at 0:58
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    Our sister site Mi Yodeya has an interesting policy stated on their main page that the site "... does not offer personalized, professional advice, and does not take the place of seeking such advice from your rabbi." I've often thought we should have a similar policy where when people are asking for personalized professional advice we tell them to "consult your local Ph.D. advisor" much as Mi Yodeya says CYLOR ("consult your local orthodox rabbi"). Jan 31, 2022 at 1:41
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I was prompted to ask nearly the same by the discussion under the academic grants question as well and believe that if not for the scope, the community would benefit from a clearer guidance.

That is, it is obvious that if shopping questions (and overly specific questions in general) are allowed, they would overtake the site and would be of not much use to most people reading, which is not the SE way. However, I find it a bit baffling to not be provided with any directions whatsoever.

To be clear, I do not mean that academia.SE should massively expand its operations all of a sudden - rather, the scenario of someone asking a question and being bounced back to their academic network is way too common. They obviously do not have a strong network in place, maybe their advisor is utterly unhelpful or even useless, maybe their university does not provide the required infrastructure and yet the advice they get is akin to "just stop being poor". Personally, that leaves a bad taste - it does not seem to be at all impossible to help those in need of the actual networking they have probably hoped to find here in some shape or form, although it is also obvious this could not possibly fit the SE format.

To that end, I would suggest adding a collection of links to external resources in a form of community question. Maybe a "guide to finding academic connections online if your on-site facilities are lacking". Anything better than "you get to a good place or die trying, this is the way of academia and has been by generations, follow the same path" would be an improvement, IMHO.

Wrapping it up: expanding the scope of the community - no, looking for ways to provide help when we could not answer these questions - yes.

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  • Agree completely with your third paragraph. I'm often annoyed by the "ask your advisor" response -- PhD students have usually considered asking their advisor and often have good reason for asking us instead. I'm less certain about the fourth paragraph: if a question is truly unsalvageable (i.e., about the content of research), I'm not sure we would know where to send them. Making a massive anthology of "places to ask for technical help on subject X" seems a bit out of character for us (though I wouldn't necessarily oppose it either).
    – cag51 Mod
    Feb 3, 2022 at 4:19
  • @cag51 Oh, sorry, I didn't really mean the contents of research or similar, still talking about networking there. As in, "how to rapidly grow your academic network in a (relatively major field)" if conferences are for some reason not doing it for you. So, as per usual, "where do I find other researchers trying to use lasers to shoot space hamsters" would be a bit too narrow, but helping to find communities to talk, say, climate science, molecular biology or number theory might be a good fit. It is a fine line to walk between endorsing Facebook and asking "well, did you try it?" though...
    – Lodinn
    Feb 3, 2022 at 10:09

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