My question comes from a general an recurrent observation on MO (and more generally in the real academic life):

  • doing research (in mathematics) is a whole ecosystem, full of different tasks and periods
  • interest to personal development and time management is growing everywhere

and, in the academic world or on MO... no one seems to talk about it! When I browse through MathOverflow, I sometimes found (few) questions about relations between mathematics and society or methods of writing, yet most of the time they are closed and not so well received.

This is the reason why I am posting on metaMO: is there any taboo or undesirability of talking about what research is and flows, how we deal with it and how we can improve our research? For neither one really believe we are pure spirits spontaneously organized and efficient; nor conceive research as a straightforward routine where we would "learn, prove and write", that's it.

Some easy questions come to my mind as immediate daily concerns, which seems to me worth of discussing:

  • how do I chose the articles I read?
  • could we really handle multitasking or would we rather focus?
  • how do I organize my articles and drafts?
  • what tools for managing research and schedules?
  • attend (to a conference) or not attend?
  • how to continue learning?
  • why going to seminars where you do not understand anything?
  • could we really handle both research and teaching well?
  • how to work with other people?
  • etc.

Those problems may sound familiar, you may think about lots of others instances of this kind of discussions, and others will follow during the day. So: those questions are integrating part of our work, for they need answers and imply decisions impacting our whole research

So at last, here is my point: are those questions allowed and welcome to MO or metaMO? (and if they are, which one is most suited to them?) If MO is a purely abstract community of minds sharing ideas, where one cannot speak about real concerns about research, it seems not to be suited to those questions. If metaMO is intended, as the "meta" suggests, to deal with technical, organizational and political issues relative to MO, it also seems unfit to them.

I believe those questions are of real interest and importance, but for now I wrote this post to gather some comments, ideas and impressions.

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    $\begingroup$ Some of the topics you describe remind me the question which typically appear under the tag (advice). So you can browse that tag to see whether similar questions have been asked in the past. (Of course, if some type of question was accepted in the past, it is not generally an evidence that it is still on-topic now. MathOverflow (similarly as other SE sites) evolve over time.) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 1:27
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    $\begingroup$ Note that some of the questions you mention are, unless narrowed considerably, not quite answerable questions - those are likely to be off topic on Academia, even though academic life and research practices are generally on topic there. (We're still a Q&A site, not a discussion site.) Feel free to drop in to the Academia chat room if you're not sure if a question is on topic and want some feedback before posting it. $\endgroup$
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 2:30
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    $\begingroup$ BTW there are also some chat rooms associated with MO. The one name MathOverflow has the following description: "General discussion for mathoverflow.net". So I guess asking about something off-topic on the main site but still relevant for site users would also be possible there. (However, at the moment this chat room is almost unused.) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 7:00

1 Answer 1


The subjects you raise are not so much taboo as off topic. There may be some specific questions from the above that (because they concern a specific conference or address a specific sub subtopic) might be allowed, but much of what you suggest above is more appropriate to Academia.stackexchange. Indeed, I suspect there are about 150 questions in that forum which collectively consider the issues you raise. Even though there may be mathematics-specific twists, each issue above occurs in many fields.

In short, MathOverflow is the wrong forum, and meta is not much better. If you can make a specific question from one of the issues, try it on the Academia forum (but read their How To first).

Gerhard "More A Filter Than Taboo" Paseman, 2016.12.15.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for this answer, it is then Academia which is appropriate and was out of my knowledge. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ What about for questions about these issues, but for where you would like specifically to ask professional mathematicians for advice on doing mathematics? As a young mathematician, I have wanted to ask some older mathematicians on how they structure their research. Closely related to the above "how do I chose the articles I read?" question. I don't feel academia.stackexchange is quite right here, which seems more about beurocratic things, but is it appropriate to ask on MO? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ You can do what many have done: ask on MathOverflow and see what reaction you get. Unless done carefully or with luck, it will likely get closed and not reopened. You can do what I did: my first and most successful question on MathOverflow was previewed and critiqued on meta.mathoverflow. I took the feedback and improved the question, and then summarized many of the answers I got for people in a hurry. 31337, if you want to check it out. Gerhard "Recommends Doing What He Did" Paseman, 2018.04.06. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 22:17

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