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We've seen a number of questions asking for academic guidance; so far, they have not been well-received.

Since this question was originally asked and discussed, all the below examples have been deleted; they are now visible only to users with the Access to Moderation Tools privilege.

Examples

Goal

In this discussion, let's develop a policy for academic guidance questions. Any good policy must at a minimum answer the following questions:

  • What is an academic guidance question?
  • Are academic guidance questions on topic?

Since we do have an tag with several well-received questions, we can also use this discussion as an opportunity to develop some helpful guidelines for users when asking or reviewing questions related to academic guidance.

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Are academic guidance questions on topic?

No.

Before delving into the first part of the question and explaining what these questions are and why we shouldn't accept them, I want to make sure that we use our on-topic page as a basis for these. Thus, questions that are purely academic can be considered off-topic before this discussion even begins. This handles questions such as the "I failed my test." question above, which although deleted, can be imagined reasonably well from the title.

For other examples, those that do ask questions more directly related to engineering, I think there are a couple of major issues that prevent us from being able to properly answer them, or prevent them from being useful to the site. First, we define an academic guidance question; then, we discuss the issues with them.

An academic guidance question can be considered a question that inquires about the study of the various engineering fields as it relates to a specific person's academic and professional career. Prime examples are those that ask about a choice of institutions, degrees, courses, or topics of study.

1. Nearly all these questions could be better answered by an advisor, counselor, professor, or other academic professional whose job it is to field issues like these.

This is particularly true for questions on which courses will better prepare someone for a career in field X, which research topic has the most potential, what kind of project would be feasible and appropriate. There is undoubtedly someone at your school or the school you are looking at who has the answer to this question, and they will be more familiar with the available options and the degree/course requirements that should be major factors in the decision. Someone here may be able to give you an answer based on their experience, but unless they took the same course with the same professor, there will be considerable amount of unnecessary guesswork involved.

2. Many of these questions will ultimately come down to a personal choice.

In the example of choosing a major, there are some factors that are relatively explicit. Someone who wants to make bridges can safely be directed straight to civil engineering as their best option. However, other fields are much less confined to a certain major. A course I took during college on robotics was cross listed between four departments: Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Computer Science. Someone looking to get involved in robotics could reasonably be directed to any one of these majors. Which one they pick will come down to the specific aspect they want to be involved with, and some degree of personal choice. This means there isn't necessarily a clear correct answer, and it lowers the utility of the question for future users. While there are certainly users here who could advise on this, at this point, we can direct back to the first point; someone else can answer those questions better.

3. Having these questions answered in our format could very easily be counter-productive.

While this issue does not necessarily make these questions off-topic, it is a reinforcing reason for not answering them. Because of issues 1 and 2, these questions are not something someone should have answered for them. These are questions everyone faces on the way to becoming an engineer, and everyone must answer them for themselves.

In my tradition of using anecdotes to explain positions on meta questions, I relate the long struggle my alma mater's subreddit has with similar questions. Yes, people on the forum can answer those questions. However, in addition to points 1 and 2, many of the questions are asked there because it is the quickest and easiest way to go about it. However, not every issue in life can be solved by asking the internet. The best way to go about this is to ask an advisor; this may push someone out of their comfort zone or require more work, but that is the cost of getting the best answer. This is not my driving rationale, but I think it is certainly some good icing on the cake.

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    $\begingroup$ To add to your list: The world is big. Schools and career prospects for various engineering disciplines vary wildly with regard to country. Engineering code and practices vary by country as well, but the fundamentals of how the physical world works does not vary. That is how this site can still properly function with a global audience. $\endgroup$ – hazzey Mar 25 '15 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ You could profitably put a snappy summary of this (and link to here) in the education tag wiki $\endgroup$ – dcorking Apr 2 '15 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @dcorking Good idea; feel free to suggest improvements to the new wiki entry. $\endgroup$ – Air May 29 '15 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ What are the career implications of choosing a non-accredited graduate degree has brought up the unusual link between academia and professional licence. We don't have a policy covering licensing questions - would this cover those as well...? $\endgroup$ – Mark Jun 30 '15 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ I think licensing questions, under a certain context, are more likely to be on-topic. If the question is "should I get this license?" that's another form of an academic guidance, it's just removed from the academic setting. If the question is more along the lines of "What does it take to earn this license?" or "Do I need a license to legally perform this job?", these are fact-based questions that have definitive, correct answers, and they should be just fine. $\endgroup$ – Trevor Archibald Jun 30 '15 at 16:38

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