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    • CommentAuthorvoloch
    • CommentTimeSep 16th 2011 edited
    We've recently had three questions (REU, postdocs, collaboration) from anxious graduate students about to enter the job market who want to understand how various choices affect their prospects. We've had other such questions in the past. I understand that this is a stressful time and that, possibly, some decision may have lifelong repercussions, although things are far more complicated than that.

    I don't think that MO is the correct venue for that. These questions don't have a "right" answer and are not mathematics. I wish there was some outlet where this could be discussed (maybe here: ?) but to try to shoehorn it into MO is wrong.

    I agree with Felipe. Although some career-advice questions do sometimes seem appropriate (refereeing behavior, etc.), the more personal questions about how best to prepare for various jobs seem inappropriate to me for MO. Perhaps the only fair solution is to discourage all career-advice questions, even those that do feel appropriate. But it seems difficult to discourage these questions because in fact they are popular and people enjoy giving advice. And each such "successful" question seems to spawn two more of the same ilk. A quandry!

    The bad career advice questions are usually bad for the same reason that many other MO questions are bad: too vague.

    We've seen some pretty good career advice questions that were very clearly focused and were offered precise responses (even some that were asked by anonymous parties -- you can keep a certain degree of confidentiality and still explain your problem clearly), and I don't want to discourage those.

    E.g., this question: was (after editing clarified the geography) very clear and to the point, and it looks like the poster benefited from the experience and diversity of situations of the MO users who answered.

    There's an area 51 proposal for an "academia" stack exchange (, which might provide a better home for these kinds of questions in the long run. People who enjoy thinking about advice questions might consider following that proposal.

    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeSep 20th 2011

    Yet another such question .

    The specific reason I post is to ask whether or not it would be considered acceptable to 'advertise' the area 51 proposal in a comment to such questions (at least for a while or occassionally).

    Regarding the subject itself: I think once/if it exists the 'academia' site will be a good place; from the list of committers it seems maths could well reach a critical mass there and with tagging for subject I imagine this could work really well.

    Until then I intend to treat such question on a case-by-case basis as Thierry Zell suggests.

    If they are too general, too specific, too dependent on individual circumstances, or too dependent on pure opinion I think they are unsuitable.

    If I feel the intent is mainly for data and/or facts (and opinion is just a minor component) and it is specific to mathematics I think they are alright, and in no way worse than some other of the soft-questions we have (rather better as they seem more useful).

    • CommentAuthorHailong Dao
    • CommentTimeSep 20th 2011 edited

    In my opinion, the best way to deal with such emotionally appealing questions is to let them stay open for a couple of days with a few answers, and then close. It looks to me questions that are closed in such manner generate a lot less heat.

    Usually there are not many possible answers to career questions anyway, so everyone wins: the OP got some answers, and the question will be closed eventually without being bumped up too frequently.

    (I have to say I am sympathetic to the anxious graduate students and postdocs, perhaps because I was in their shoes not long ago)