When MO was young, it quickly became the dominant forum for mathematical discussions. At the time, the scope was pretty much "anything that is on-topic at a department Tea". For example, we had questions about what to do when stranded in NYC because of an Icelandic volcano (answer: Princeton is much closer than Cornell). We also had, for example:

Where are mathematics jobs advertised if not on mathjobs (e.g. in Europe and elsewhere)?

As MO has aged, many other sites have offered related scopes, and ours has been able to narrow. But it is not obvious to me how much it should narrow. For example, is the following similar question no longer on topic?

Question about reference letters on mathjobs

A commenter has said no, and suggested another venue. If that accurately describes the current scope of MO, I have no objection, but I want to know so clearly.

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    $\begingroup$ The question you refer to is merely a question about the inner workings of the mathjobs website. I think questions like this are just too technical to be on-topic on MO. The given question would rather be a good fit for the mathjobs FAQ. $\endgroup$
    – Stefan Kohl Mod
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 17:26

3 Answers 3


One potential problem with the "each topic in the right forum" position is that different forums are frequented by different communities. I expect that many more research mathematicians are likely to see a question posted on MathOverflow than one posted on Academia.SE. So if you want them to be able to answer the question and to benefit from the answer, the former has a clear advantage. Moreover, posting on Academia.SE may attract well-meaning but unhelpful responses from non-mathematicians who are unaware of the unique conventions and expectations of the mathematics research community. It's a tricky issue because we don't want MO to be overwhelmed by questions of this sort (and in particular I agree that the specific question about mathjobs that prompted this question is off-topic for MO), but I believe/hope we still have a place for some such questions, even now that there is Academia.SE.

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    $\begingroup$ My impression is that mathematics questions on Academia.Se do usually get useful answers by professional mathematicians. Most of these mathematicians are also active on MO. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ My own experiences on Academia.SE have not been as uniformly positive as those on MO. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 7:38
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    $\begingroup$ +1: I agree with @MichaelGreinecker's comment, but as MO is more widely known in mathematics circles, I believe questions which fit into Academia.SE may get greater visibility here, and there is nothing wrong with questions being on topic on multiple sites. $\endgroup$
    – Kimball
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 0:16

It will appear soon that I was the commenter ;) My view is that by keeping topics separate on separate forums it is easier to find the answer, but that indeed presupposes the role of each site to be well defined. I believe it is, as per the guidelines in the FAQ, although they may (happily) be marginally read differently. So as to make myself clear: in my mind, and regarding this specific topic of job and career, I'd say MO concerns itself with «research-level mathematics» questions, while Academia.SE does for «research-level mathematicians» ones.

That being said, I do believe the question referred to by the OP is perfectly legitimate and helpful. I regret that the present version of «Closing a question as off-topic» does not offer Academia.SE as a site towards which questions could be proposed for migration, since this is not the first time the issue arises.


I believe the best that can be hoped for is a consensus among individuals. It is not clear by any means what the precise scope of this forum is, and even an imprecise scope will change in rough correspondence with community desires.

For this particular question, I suspect it deals with the mathjobs website and its workings, which may be good and useful information to many who read this forum, but in my opinion is more suited to people who visit that website and is not a question for MathOverflow. It is not far in propriety from a question like "in searching Google Scholar for things Erdos wrote, do I need to get the accent in his name right?". Both are good questions, and possibly useful to mathematicians at some point in time, but both deal with interfaces that are likely to change, and in the long term may be of limited usefulness both in temporal and community scope, and I see them as not likely to be of historical interest. Questions on MathOverflow should have some longevity, either because "everybody in the future should know what we know about (twin primes, Poincare conjecture, odd perfect number status, what have you) today", or because "somebody in the future will want to know in general terms what we know today about (doing mathematics, promoting mathematics, talking about mathematics, fill in the mathematical blank)".

If the question were instead " I have this mathjobs issue (ISSUE) and the current resources don't help: where are resources that do?", that would be more like a reference request and a general answer to it might have some longevity. I could see a question of that type on this forum now and for the foreseeable future. At present, I agree with the commenter that the mathjobs-and-reference-letters question is better for the academia forum than this one.

Gerhard "Forming Forums For Foreseeable Futures" Paseman, 2016.10.30.


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