We have had multiple meta discussions recently (this by Monica, a reopen request) which are effectively asking:

  • Should questions exclusively about the academic workplace be on topic here?

This has also been ongoing for a while now as I understand - confusion and lack of clarity regarding what to do with these types of questions.

As a moderator, I'm a bit hesitant to immediately migrate questions which are nearly exclusively about the academic workplace, mainly because as a site I do not think we've established this to be the case. We also fairly frequently get custom flags on questions from a variety of users recommending migration to Academia. This question just picked up 3 "migrate to academia" flags, for example.

I'm opening this discussion to get a better feel for what as a community we want to do with these questions.

For reference, I am talking about questions which:

  • Relate to academic hierarchical structures (whether interpersonal questions, career types of questions, etc)
  • Involve student workers reporting to academic supervisors (RA/TA, thesis student/advisor issues, hourly employees, etc)
  • Have questions over working hours within an academic environment
  • Are primarily about navigating the academic setting (questions about job titles, promotions in academic environments, etc)

There are probably more specific types, but these are the ones I can think of offhand.


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    the First bullet point is already off topic in 98% of the cases anyway. Maybe you should be more direct with that and say specifically about career advancement and conflict in the academic setting Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 12:44
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    anything wrong with guidance provided by Robert Cartaino here?
    – gnat
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 14:51
  • @gnat yes, there is. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 15:27
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    @MonicaCellio I don't see anything compelling enough to "deprecate" the old guidance. To avoid misunderstanding I am not particularly stuck on following it, it's just that a brief comment that is difficult to read and understand hardly qualifies to counter an answer from SE official representative
    – gnat
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 16:42
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    @gnat Robert has an opinion, same as everybody else. When SE means to issue a ruling they make it pretty clear. I don't think his answer represents official policy, especially in light of other answers. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 18:07
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    @MonicaCellio - I do not think that Roberts answer conflicts with the one you linked. Seeing as he modified the question today, with out changing signifigant content makes it pretty clear to me that the SE guidance is keep it separate. I am not saying it is a directive, but more of a dont make a mess of our network... you wont like them when they get angry! Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 19:38
  • @MonicaCellio it is not so much about Robert's title as about his experience of managing communities at different SE sites, and his answer shows that. Try to make more compelling answer and I'll change my mind. Though it won't be easy because no matter how you twist it, business and education are very different contexts, culture and which is most important, different expertise of the answerers. Academic stuff can be declared on-topic here but if I ever have a question related to educational setting I'll ask it at Academia.SE - simply because in these matters I trust folks over there more
    – gnat
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 22:38
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    @gnat so are factories. So's retail. So are license-driven fields like civil engineering and medicine. And yet we are not an IT-only site. If schools are out of scope, then why are plumbers in scope? Some questions are better asked there and anything that depends on it being in academia belongs there, but that still leaves a lot of room for on-topic questions here, and we do not currently have a policy to close them just for being academia-flavored. But I'm repeating myself and other answers; you should read the answers here and the one I linked there. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 22:49
  • @MonicaCellio factories and retail and civil engineering are all broadly business. Medicine to some extent also is but less so, and per my recollection, medicine related questions don't go well here. Education is not even close at all. I've read answers here already thank you. And I regularly read main site questions and answers here and at Academia.SE. And I repeat, you can declare academia on-topic here as much as you want but if I ever have a question related to educational setting I'll ask it at Academia.SE - not here. Because answerers with relevant expertise are there, not here
    – gnat
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 22:55
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    @gnat you should of course ask your questions on whichever site you prefer. Sets of sites with overlapping scope are nothing new. A question can be on-topic on more than one site. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 0:30
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    I would argue that Civil Engineering questions about the ethics of approving potentially unsafe structure, or form over function etc are completely off topic here anyway just as questions about practicing law, medicine and any other licenced field. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 2:08
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    Then all our IT-flavored ethics questions should be closed too. Try to distinguish between domain-independent and domain-dependent aspects of questions. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 18:25
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    I would ask that we don't flag all academia questions as off-topic. I happen to work in a university marketing department, which is just like any other office setting I've worked in.
    – user27483
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 13:54
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    To be honest, I would be content if the things we migrated were always on topic for Academia. I have read their guidelines a few times now and some of the question we try to move aren't on topic there. Just because the question is off topic here (and smells of Academia) does not mean we should instantly pawn it off on them. If it doesn't fit here or on Academia, it should be closed Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 14:28
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    @Lilienthal I was a research programmer in a university lab. It was comparable to the start-ups I worked for before and after. Not everybody in a university lab is an academic. (In my case, they told me what they wanted me to test/model/analyze, and I gave it to them.) Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 22:02

4 Answers 4


I think that if a problem is exclusive to academia, then yes it should be migrated, but just because the work environment is academia doesn't make it off topic any more than a question about a coworker who uses bad coding technique is making the maintenance coder's job more difficult should be kicked to code review or stack overflow.

A difficult student as a problem could go either way in the same way a legal problem could go either way if it's an HR matter. If it's a minor legal matter that could be answered by someone in HR, we keep it, if not, we kick it to legal.

A lesson plan shouldn't kick something out any more than a project plan. I think we've been a bit gun-shy about academia because some of the questions could be borderline, but the gut instinct of many seems to be if it has anything to do with a school or university, then... Academia.

For reference, I am talking about questions which: •Relate to academic hierarchical structures (whether interpersonal questions, career types of questions, etc) •Involve student workers reporting to academic supervisors (RA/TA, thesis student/advisor issues, hourly employees, etc) •Have questions over working hours within an academic environment •Are primarily about navigating the academic setting (questions about job titles, promotions in academic environments, etc)

Most of these are comparable to an office environment. Student workers vs interns, hierarchical structures are in both, advisors to HR, working hours, titles et cetera are all comparable.

These, IMO should all fall under TWP. Most of us at TWP are white collar with many of us also being IT so we as a group may lack specific knowledge in Academia, but we would also be just as unfamiliar with shift work at a factory or a loading dock, or anything else out of our depth. This hasn't been an issue IMO because we don't have truckers, for example, asking questions about their swindle sheets and weigh stations.

I suspect if we suddenly got an influx of questions from paralegals, we'd have a rush to move things to law.

I think we need to take on these questions and not be afraid of them because we may be unfamiliar.

That said, perhaps there is a way to get more people from Academia over here to answer some questions? Just throwing that out there.

  • I dont think there is a strong move from any side that anything slightly acedemic get moved. The line to me is pretty easy. If the office environment of Acedemia is different than the normal workplace office then yes it belongs there not here (assuming the question is about the acedemia office environment). Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 19:42
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    I'd guess that many members of Academia would be quite surprised to find there are questions here they could answer. If you want to get people from that site to post on such questions, I think increasing awareness is a likely first step.
    – David Z
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 21:47
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    I think sites should be jealous of their questions - and not too eager to migrate. I think the rule should be to only migrate when you would otherwise close/delete the question and it would get a good response on the target site. That said, we also shouldn't be too precious about migrations. We only have so much time in the day.
    – Aaron Hall
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 18:54
  • +1 especially for the last sentence. I've seen a few questions here so far that simply would have gotten much better answers on Acedemia because they described problems very common at universities but rather outrageous/weird in a "normal" office environment. But they may possibly take an Academian to recognise as common academic ailments as opposed to just "normal" workplace issues. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 9:00
  • @AaronHall - I do not disagree. But when a question is likely to get very bad answers that get upvoted because in a normal work environment they would be right, and very good answers that apply to acedemia are likely to get downvoted because academia has its own way of handling employment, then it is an issue. I am jealous of our site because we have great content... Putting bad content in just for the sake of having more content is not a good thing. Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 18:09

IMO, the standard should always be:

Is it Off-Topic for The Workplace?

And then ask, is it On-Topic on Academia?

And only then should we migrate.

  • I agree with this... the problem is that gray area of dispute that some members of the community want to be on topic and others do not... Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 19:39
  • @IDrinkandIKnowThings Aren't the community guidelines relatively clear about what is on topic for The Workplace? Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 21:09
  • @SaggingRufus - I think so... but there are members and at least one mod that think that the written guidelines are just a suggestion... Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 21:10
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    @IDrinkandIKnowThings they are what I like to call... wrong. I can see how some users may think that, but I would think an elected mod should know better Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 21:11
  • @IDrinkandIKnowThings show me. Show me something in the Help Center or our close reasons or a meta FAQ that says anything having to do with academia is off-topic. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 22:50
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    Its not Academia that is out of scope. It is that special relationship that exists completely in academia that is completely different than exists anywhere else. I would honestly say the same thing about cooking in a restaraunt when you get to where you have to be a chef to understand the scope it is out of our scope. We have alot of programming questions that are really way out of our scope that were allowed because 96% of us that were here in the early beta days came from programmers. I think they would be rejected today. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 2:33
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    Then you should highlight some specific examples in an answer. "I only mean some questions" isn't very useful guidance. You complain that moderators don't enforce site policy but you have neither cited the policy we supposedly violate nor articulated a proposed policy for the community to evaluate. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 18:27
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    Dang it @Kaz, you always manage to say as much in 1/10th the space ;D Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 19:53
  • @MonicaCellio - I am a small government guy. There is no law needed so we should not pass a law anyway. I think it was a good question to ask. But I think the answer is stay the course and take it on an as needed basis. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 0:57
  • I think part of the problem is that high votes on Stack overflow probably correlates to how widely applicable the question is. Here high votes count for how interesting the question is even though there may be no correlation at all to how actually applicable it is or is likely to be in anyone's life. We have made a game out of asking interesting questions. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 1:02
  • SO counter-example. I don't think that many people have that problem. Entertaining posts gain votes all over the network, as do posts that people can relate to somehow. Anyway, you say you don't want lots of rules and want to take things on a case-by-case basis (so do I), but you've complained that mods don't follow "the rules" and that we judge cases individually. So call me confused. But it's ok; I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing, which includes raising specific cases on meta for community examination. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 1:36
  • @MonicaCellio - I never said I do not want lots of rules... I said this is not the right rule to make. If you can make a rule that is easy to understand and follow and makes sense then it may be a good rule to make. If you have to evaluate lots of conditions and especially when the evaluation is subjective then that is probably not a good rule. Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 20:21

For me there are two similar criteria which are required for questions in an academic setting to be on-topic here at the Workplace.

  • The question should be able to transfer to another work environment and still make sense
  • The question must not contain relationships or critical aspects that are treated differently in academia.

To give some examples, questions that I think would be on-topic:

  • Interactions between a teaching assistant and the professor (or any two paid individuals)
  • Interactions within a research group, as this is essentially a work setting
  • Questions about working hours, policy, salary, applications, interviews

Some questions I think are off-topic:

  • Interactions between students and professors/TAs in a teaching or advising environment (not working together on a research project)
  • Questions related to writing or publishing papers
  • Questions about applications, interviews, or policy which focus on academic-specific aspects (Should I list all the classes I've taught on my CV? Should I report a colleague who is marking up one student's grades?)

A grey area for me is interactions between students, for example in a group project. I think these could possibly be answered here, but will likely depend on how the question is framed.

To look at the two questions you linked in particular:

What can I do if I have a massive personal problem with a future student?

This one for me is clearly for Academia, because it is about the interactions between a teacher and a student. This relationship is not one that you find in any other profession, and is not the same as a client or a subordinate.

Is it unethical for me to not tell my employer I finish my job in 10hrs per week?

I don't think this one is off-topic here. The question is clearly about how to deal with reporting hours worked each week, depending on how it's defined in the contract. This is something that could easily be transferred to another work environment (and in my opinion is actually a duplicate of the other existing question).

  • +1 for almost everything in this but I disagree about interactions between TAs and professors. I'm not aware of anything like a TA position outside academia and the relationship between a TA and the professor isn't really the usual subordinate-manager relationship. TAs are typically grad students, and being a TA isn't their main job. Also, Workplace solutions to student group project issues are unlikely to be appropriate: the typical answer here is "It's your manager's job to manage" but there isn't really anybody with that authority in this situation. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 12:35
  • On the other hand, student group project dynamics really only concern undergrads, so are off-topic at Academia. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 12:40
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    @DavidRicherby there's some variation in TA positions. I was a TA while an undergraduate and there were a lot of "just plain job" aspects to it that I could have asked about here (had this site existed then). Some aspects of the job are specific to academia and should be off-topic here, but "TA -> out" is too coarse a filter. Also, mentoring is an aspect of some jobs (and we have questions about it) where nobody's a student. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 18:35

I do not think that the moderators should override the community judgement in this matter. Unless the question is creating problems that require it to be locked/closed/etc then the Moderators should allow the community to decide if it belongs here or not.

If the question gets closed off topic but is an otherwise good question then yes they should shop the question to Academia.

If the community decides they want it here then they question should be allowed to stay with out moderator action, again barring extraordinary circumstances that require intervention.

There is no impetus right now to declare the entire scope off topic or on, and I do not think either direction would be the right choice.

TO BE CLEAR this is not saying that mods should not take action when it is clearly required. Or that they should always keep their hands out of this topic. Just that they should not feel compelled to take any action because the Workplace location is Academia unless it is clearly off topic or a bad question for here.

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    One thing I didn't note in my post here (which I will edit after this comment) is we often get flags on questions which fit the "could be on topic on Academia" to migrate there. But flags are both not public as well as non-actionable with respect to migration (as in you could have 10 of them on the same post and it wouldn't actually migrate it) which complicates things a bit.
    – enderland
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 12:23
  • @Enderland - I assume when you come to a flag in the queue you can pass on the flag and return to it later or are you forced to deal with it before moving on? I would think that unless the question is on hold you would not be able to do anything with migrate flags anyway... Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 15:17
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    Hmm, I thought the main goal of this question was to try and establish some community consensus so people know better where to draw the line and avoid close/re-open wars? I don't think @enderland was talking about mods overruling the community but rather to get a sense of which criteria to apply when migration flags come in so we can hit the migrate button on stuff that's clearly out of scope here.
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 8:45
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    @Lilienthal - And I do not think we should in this case. This is not the proper way to draw this line. I am not saying there is not a line to be drawn this is just not the right line. Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 14:21
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    @Lilienthal - I would also like to add that from a business perspective I would expect SE To want high quality questions moved to the most appropriate site where the most knowledgeable experts in the scope are going to be able to address it. In other words I would expect from an SE standpoint they are going to want high quality Academia related questions moved from her to academia and for high quality workplace questions moved from there to here even though both areas have experts that can probably provide an acceptable answer. Maybe should get the mods official SE guidance Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 14:38

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