What can I do if I have a massive personal problem with a future student? is currently on hold as off-topic. The OP is a teaching assistant who has a problem with a student. Because it involves a student, some people suggested moving it to Academia.

A question shouldn't be on- or off-topic just because of the type of workplace. We aren't The Software Workplace or The White-Collar Professional Workplace; questions from retail workers, plumbers, elementary-school teachers, dog groomers, or anybody else should be welcome here so long as they're about the workplace aspect and not the specific discipline.

If stores, cube farms, dentists' offices, and salons are valid workplaces for our site, then so is a college campus.

The present question is about a conflict between someone in a position of authority and a subordinate he didn't choose. That's solidly within our scope. The test for migration isn't "is the other site better"; it's "is it off-topic here". It's not off-topic here.

Lilienthal disagreed, arguing that academia is special. To which I respond: we can answer the workplace question here, where the OP asked a question that fits our scope. If it turns out that the OP really needs academia-flavored customization, he can ask a new question there (drawing on what he's learned here). He shouldn't expect, and we shouldn't try to provide, academia-specific answers because that's not our scope, but interactions with other people in one's workplace are in our scope.

Does on-topic-ness depend on the type of workplace?

  • 9
    I think in this case it is 100% on topic for academia whereas it is borderline on topic here at best.
    – enderland
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 17:48
  • Sometimes it seems that as long as the word "work" or "colleague" is included, it's considered on-topic. For example, the case of this lunchtime near-fight seems to have nothing at all to do with The Workplace: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/93266/… Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 19:24
  • 3
    This is not interpersonal relationships SE. We are not here to help you act like an adult, we are here to help people navigate their workplace more effectively. Just because it happens at work does not make it on topic here. Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 20:03
  • @IDrinkandIKnowThings yes, and the question that Joe linked to is rightly on hold. Workplace issues often involve interpersonal aspects, but merely involving interpersonal aspects doesn't make it on-topic. (On the other hand, having interpersonal aspects doesn't automatically make it off-topic, either.) Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 20:31
  • I have never claimed that it did. Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 20:45
  • 4
    "The premise of shrouding academia-related "work" questions under the guise of being a sort-of "workplace" seems iffy at best. They are different audiences with different goals, different process, different etiquette, and ultimately different solutions..." (Should we allow school/college-related questions?)
    – gnat
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 6:32
  • 4
    @gnat As is every single workplace, when you look at it that way.
    – BlindSp0t
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 10:10
  • 9
    We aren't The Software Workplace or The White-Collar Professional Workplace Yes a million times over. I've taken a few week long breaks from this site over frustration around this exact issue.
    – Myles
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 16:31
  • 1
    @IDrinkandIKnowThings Dealing with conflict of interest is a significant workplace topic for professions relying on public trust. If this were a judge, an engineer, or a doctor who is unable to guaranty that their personal feelings wouldn't impact their judgment that wouldn't be an "interpersonal relationships.SE" topic, it would be a workplace one. It is no different for educators.
    – Myles
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 16:47
  • 2
    @Myles - I agree completely assuming the actors have some sort of peer relationship. Student/Instructor is not a peer relationship. It is also not a client relationship. See my answer for dealing with that part. Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 16:59
  • 1
    @IDrinkandIKnowThings I think that it's a mistake viewing this as a personal interaction problem rather than a tainted impartiality problem. The question would be equally on topic if object of the conflict of interest was with an organization rather than an individual (eg "I don't trust myself to be impartial when auditing Haliburton"). In my view the root issue here is "how do I proceed when I cannot guaranty impartiality?" and that shouldn't be dependent on the cause of the impartiality.
    – Myles
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 17:25
  • 2
    @Myles - The linked question is off topic for 2 other reasons besides the academia aspect, I suspect the Halliburton question would be as well. The Niche aspect of Acedemia allows them to deal with a broader range of topics than we can with a more broad scope. Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 17:43
  • The problem is that a student is not an employee and can't be fired. They may have chosen the school, but perhaps not the teacher or even course (if its required) to take. A student-teacher relationship is fundamentally different from employer/employee/coworkers.
    – Andy
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 23:19

6 Answers 6


This answer deals with the specific question linked not the general topic

My problem is not that it is happening at a school but that the problem is an interaction with a student rather than a coworker. Because the rules for schools are actually different from those in the rest the world where if it was a customer that could just go to another store if they were refused, or a coworker could be dealt with through HR.

I think if the question asked how he should communicate this to his superiors that is a question that is on topic. But since that is not what is being asked but rather for a list of potential solutions he can choose from... this is off topic because:

  1. It is not about navigating the work place but rather navigating the academic setting, which is why academia seems right.
  2. it is asking for a list of potential solutions, which is off topic (what to do, and asking for shopping list)
  3. seriousness of the accusation - Is irrelevant to the question. But again this belongs in academia because they have special rules for handling this sort of thing that do not exist in the rest of the general workplace. But it inclusion in the question makes this feel more like a rant than a request for help.
  • 11
    +1 The teacher-student relationship is something unique to academia and is different from a coworker, client, or manager. There are plenty of questions in an academic setting which would be appropriate for the Workplace, even some that involve students, but this one has so many academia-specific factors that it would be better over there.
    – David K
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 18:18
  • 2
    +1 While is is a pain and hassle to leave a job, it is nowhere near the level of pain and hassle to leave a school. I pay to attend the school (=lost tuition) and may have to repeat or take alternate classes if I go elsewhere. In addition, the power relationship between faculty-student is much different than those of manager-worker. A professor can sabotage years of my work, rendering them near-useless.
    – BryanH
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 19:31
  • Answers are, by definition, a list of potential solutions and individual answers often compare different solutions, so I think the "is asking for a list" part is fine (and yes, I know perfectly well that asking for lists is off topic, but here that's arguably not at the core of the question - it can be edited out and the question would still make perfect sense), but I otherwise agree with this answer. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 15:28
  • 2
    @Dukeling Why are “shopping list” questions bad? Though I agree that part could be edited out. The other issues not so much. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 20:29
  • 2
    And Q&A is Hard, Let’s Go Shopping! blog post by Jeff Atwood Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 20:42
  • @IDrinkandIKnowThings Your second linked article is about literal "should I buy X or Y" shopping lists, very few of the arguments seem all that applicable in this situation... If questions that involve the premise "What can I do in this situation" are off topic as shopping lists then there is a lot of open questions that need close votes.
    – Myles
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 18:09
  • 1
    @Myles - Its still a shopping list, its just of things you can do instead of buy. And yes myles there are a great deal of questions that should not be open here. What should I do to get from X to Y is on topic. What Y options do I have is not. Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 18:36

I'll answer the question with one of my own:

Would we be having this conversation if it were a nurse dealing with a patient, a daycare worker dealing with a child, or a prison guard dealing with the prison population?

If we say "yes", then we should stop kicking things to academia simply because they are working in a school environment.

  • 5
    It all depends. daycare child => Parenting; because children are not the same as dealing with adults. Prisoners are similarly a special case and would be off topic here. Nurse - patient interaction that does not involve the practice of medicine, would be on topic. Any sort of medical specific questions stops it being about navigating the workplace, and becomes about the practice of medicine, which is off topic. Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 18:47
  • There are some things that a Nurse would have to deal with, such as HIPPA & that whole life-and-death thing, that don't have an equivalent in the sundry office.
    – BryanH
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 19:32
  • @BryanH - Some of that could be on topic here i think. the giving care part would be off topic, but This happened at work and now I need to deal with the fall out questions could be on topic. Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 20:50
  • 6
    We should maybe kick things to academia because academia.SE is a large community that handles exactly these sorts of questions with generally more expertise than we on average have here.
    – user42272
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 0:06

It's just very obvious to me that the OP will get far better quality answers from academia.SE, which obsessively specializes in sticky situations with student interactions, among other power dynamics that take place against students. In fact I don't think applying usual workplace skills to a situation with a student is going to be nearly sentient enough to cross the threshold into "good advice," nor would I trust the voters here to be a good determiner of a way to handle a student.

The question will attract bad answers at best, compared to where else it can be asked in SE. You can keep it open if that's somehow acceptable.

  • 2
    "is going to be nearly sentient enough" Could you clarify/rephrase? Not sure what you mean.
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 10:54

We have questions about a customer harassing a retail employee, asking a client for a favor, volunteer team projects, and an instructor dealing with students. All of those questions are well-received, yet deal with other people in one's workplace who aren't coworkers.

The current question is from a teaching assistant; in my experience that's a paid position. So the TA's students seem analogous to the customer in the first linked question and the students in the last. TAs don't get to pick their students any more than retail employees get to pick their customers. The TA's question is about dealing with a conflict of interest that affects his job performance. This all feels like the same category of problem to me.

Some aspects of the OP's problem might be specific to academia, like that quitting isn't really an option. (Though it's also not much of an option for foreign workers on company-sponsored visas, in some places.) If the problem is fundamentally academic, then it belongs on Academia. But the fact that it's an academic workplace or that there are students involved doesn't automatically make it off-topic.

  • 1
    academic workplace or that there are students involved doesn't automatically make it off-topic. It has never been claimed that it did. "what can i do to help a student" would be more on-topic until it brings in an aspect where academia diverges from normal workplace standards. The workplace answer to "Can I just give a copy of the exam they will be forced to take" is very likely a different answer in the workplace than it is in academia. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 20:37

Because my earlier answer already has quite a few upvotes I decided to add this as a seperate answer rather than just expanding it. This answer explores the broader question of Are some types of workplaces off-topic? rather than the specifics of the question linked.

Yes some workplaces are off topic at least as far as dealing with certian issues.

  • Legal Professionals - With regards to questions of ethics, or other activities that are regulated for this specific profession. Any topic that requires the legal professional context to ask is going to be off topic here.
  • Medical Professionals - Similar to Legal Professionals
  • Certified Engineering Professionals - less strictly regulated than legal or medical fields but questions about ethics, and regulated activities of Certified engineering professionals.
  • Extra legal professions - Any activity that is illegal that people do for a living is going to be off topic. Examples Prostitution, Drug Dealing, Fencing, car theft, extortion, etc.
  • Violent Professions - Yes there are professions that are violent. Police, Military, Security, Firemen, etc. These professions have their own codes of conduct and requirements for how they should act. Many of those requirements are contentious with those outside of that industry and sometimes even inside.

Our experts are not the right audience to ask these types of questions. Some questions are certainly on topic but most of those could be asked of a general office environment. This is not the place for them to be discussed, and our experts are not going to be able to give quality answers reliably.

Academia is not quite on this list but some academic topics do not belong here. If the answer is very different for Academia than it would be in a general workplace then it should not be here.

  • 3
    If you can't give a reliable answer, then don't answer. Our community is diverse. Suggesting that just because very few of us are of any of these categories that the community as a whole is unqualified to answer takes a very narrow view.
    – Myles
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 17:30
  • 1
    @Myles - I am saying they dont belong here. However if our community was self disciplined enough not to answer just because they do not know what the answer to the question is, then I would totally agree... There are a number of people that feel the need to answer every question even if their answer is basically worthless... But even still that a good answer can exist does not make the question appropriate for this SE. Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 17:34
  • 1
    There are probably people on SO answering C++ questions even though they only kinda know Visual Basic. The remedy for wrong answers is downvotes. Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 18:38
  • 1
    @MonicaCellio - Wrong answers are not really the problem... its the here is my opinion, now show me the rep, answers that bother me. because its just opinion and its often popular even though its not a good answer it gets upvotes. So the remedy is failing here. Especially since it takes 5 down votes to offset a single up vote. And again the questions do not belong here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Read the link Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 19:21
  • 1
    So, just to play devil's advocate, would that mean that questions about software houses should be diverted to Stack Overflow? Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 12:27
  • @RichardU StackOverflow is for programming-related questions, not workplace-programming-related questions, right?
    – BryanH
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 13:55
  • @BryanH exactly. We wouldn't kick things over to SO because the querent happens to be a programmer. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 13:56
  • 7
    What about professions that are illegal only in some countries / jurisdictions?
    – PM 77-1
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 16:41
  • 1
    questions about actual code are already off topic. Questions about the process of writing code (software engineering) belong on Programmers. Questions about the interpersonal relationships of a software house are really standard office questions. They would be on topic unless they could be further generalized into a problem that exists that just happened to intersect with the workplace then it is off topic. Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 1:11
  • You realize that sex work is not illegal everywhere just because it's illegal where you live, right? If such questions are phrased correctly and are actually about the workplace, they most certainly are on-topic. The same is true with the other professions you mention. Just because someone is a nurse does not mean any question they write is off-topic.
    – forest
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 6:33

I've always thought of it this way:

Employee/ Office Environment/ Management questions = Workplace.SE

Specific Work related/technical questions = particular.SE site

  • The question posted by Miss @Monica Cellio : Dealing with students has always been a technical part of teaching, hence academia
  • The questions posted by Sir @Richard_U: All are specific technical questions in their respective careers, and should be asked in the proper SE (1)

(1) Yes, I feel that these are also technical questions even if this is about dealing with other people. Unlike coworkers/managers, these people are the direct subject of your work and these should have been discussed in the appropriate Ethics subject of that particular field of work.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .