There are some users who, in the past, have questioned a moderators ability to moderate due to their lack of PhD.

I feel that this is quite irrelevant. During my time as moderator, there never came a time when my PhD helped me moderate. Any questions of scientific validity or off-topicness are dealt with by the natural peer-review of the site, with the answers and comments of expert users.

I think this is how it should be. Questions of science should be discussed out in the open where the maximum number of expert voices can weigh in. After all, the expertise of one or two moderators would not cover a whole field, especially a highly interdisciplinary one like quantum computing. Then this leaves the administrative matters for the moderators, as well as the personal and sensitive matters ones that need to be kept confidential.

For a guide on what skills you should expect mods to have, see the election page and the Election questions, as well as "A theory of moderation" and "Moderator pro-tempore"

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    $\begingroup$ Great post! Maybe it would also be worth linking to "A theory of moderation" and "Moderator pro-tempore" (both blog articles about Moderation [skills]) $\endgroup$
    – luap42
    Nov 1, 2018 at 17:45
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ In the early days of the beta, I tossed out the idea for a sort of verified tag for users to add some more 'cred' to the SE. But I see now, it's not necessary. Good answers sort themselves out on their own. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew O
    Nov 5, 2018 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewO yep, that is exactly the great thing about StackExchange: It is voted for the content and not the user. $\endgroup$
    – luap42
    Nov 5, 2018 at 18:37

3 Answers 3


I'm a highschool student. I make this very clear on my profile page.

I find it ironic that if I had stated "I'm a PhD student" or "I'm a researcher" there that I would immediately gain much more respect from some of the users on this site, even though it is a sentence that isn't actually true.

My point is, PhDs and similar titles don't matter on stack exchange because first of all, you'd never know whether or not it was true, and second of all, because the real test of a person is their actions on site. I've met people without PhDs (or similar) who are brilliant, and people with PhDs who are brilliant - a degree is not a reliable indicator of intelligence.

I'd also point out that moderation is something that by its very nature doesn't always require expert knowledge in the topic. It doesn't take a PhD to tell whether or not something follows the Code of Conduct.

While there are some things that do benefit from knowledge in the field, just because someone doesn't have a PhD doesn't mean they're not knowledgeable. I may not be a PhD student (and I certainly do not claim to be near as knowledgeable as one) but there's certainly a reason I'm on this site - I research it on my own time, and have learned about it.

If someone has a complaint about my moderation, please tell me! I'm always open to advice, feedback, and friendly discussion. But please do not dismiss me because I am younger than you think I should be. Please do not judge me by whether or not I am qualified to put three letters after my name.

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    $\begingroup$ Likewise, I did my first mod position back in undergrad. Though I'm now a PhD, I don't see what difference it would've made. Moderation requires more emotional maturity and social skill than it does technical expertise. $\endgroup$
    – Nat
    Nov 4, 2018 at 10:48

First of all, I would say that a "PhD", or any other kind of academic qualification for that matter, is a totally irrelevant label on stackexchange.

For starters, stackexchange is inherently built on anonymous contributions, and even though the identity of users is sometimes obvious or easily deducible, this should not change the fact that real-life qualifications are worthless here (and not really verifiable anyway). What matters is the quality of the contributions. And yes, of course these two aspects correlate, but this does not change the fact that it is only the quality of the contribution that is of direct relevance.

This is all the more true when considering the role of moderating the site, as in this case a consistent part of the job does not require topical knowledge at all. Indeed, it could even be better to have someone without specific high-level academic qualifications, as that arguably correlates with a higher amount of free time that can be spent on the site to readily deal with possible issues and such.

This said, if two candidates are comparable for what regards other factors, I would find the one with more experience and knowledge preferable. But if the choice is between someone very knowledgeable but with poor moderation skills, and someone else with only a very generic and superficial topical knowledge but which knows how to fill the role of stackexchange moderator, I would rather go with the latter.


There was also a post saying that a site should have:

  • 1 moderator who is an expert in the field
  • 1 moderator who is an expert in the Stack Exchange network
  • 1 moderator who is relatively new and can bring new ideas

Why did you intentionally mention all links you could think of which support the message you want to deliver, about not needing a PhD, but not the one which says that we should have an expert in the field as a moderator?

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    $\begingroup$ I would be interested to see that post. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ I tried looking for it, I remember it from when looking through the nominations for pro tempore mods, someone mentioned it, I think Heather actually. All that stuff happened a couple months before I found out about QCSE though. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 6:42
  • $\begingroup$ You might remember that it was said at one point, "we already have at least one expert (James) so now it's more important for us to get someone familiar with the rules of SE Network" ... I think this was because someone complained that they didn't get voted in. This is only an extra reference though, the actual post that talks about this is in addition to why I'm mentioning in this comment. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 7:05
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    $\begingroup$ I'll try to look for it. In any case, 'having a PhD' should not be equated to 'being an expert'. PhD students are just as good, I'd say. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 7:24
  • $\begingroup$ @JamesWootton: I agree with the sentence "having a PhD should not be equated to being an expert". I completely agree with that sentence. I agree with "PhD students are just as good" in spirit, if the word "sometimes" is added in there, but there's a huge difference between a student and a non-student. Crossing that barrier was probably the BIGGEST life-changing event in my life. Crossing from "student" to "worker". It changed the way I do my taxes, it changed my Visa status, it changed what discounts I got at restaurants and for housing. But most importantly, it changed other things which $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 7:28
  • $\begingroup$ the comment box didn't have enough space to explain. This is perhaps the first SE ever to be about an "expert topic", meaning that it's a subject that isn't studied until at least the graduate level. Physics is taught in high school, Programming is taught in high school, Theoretical Computer Science is taught in undergrad. Quantum Computing is usually not taught until the graduate school level. When you put it that way, it sounds absurd that high school students or undergrad students would be running the SE and acting as the police against experts in the topic! $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ Considering that QCSE is very different from perhaps ALL other SEs in the above regard, I think we should have TWO experts not just one. But there's another thing: PhD is not about expert vs. non-expert. It's about life experience and maturity. It just doesn't work when there's an undergrad or high school student telling me how to behave. This might be ok on other SE's (although on most there's so many more qualified users that it probably doesn't happen) but as I said, this is a unique SE in that it's probably the only one that's about a post-university graduate level topic! $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 7:35
  • $\begingroup$ The other thing is that for moderation to work, subordinates need to have some level of respect for their moderators. I'm not saying that people shouldn't have respect for someone just because they're in high school/undergad/PhD, but it can be very hard to build a high rep on QCSE without a huge amount of knowledge that is picked up from grad school and onward! There's inflated reputation from the 1st month of QCSE which can account for up to 2000 of people's reputation without even trying, but after that it's been difficult to climb up in the reputation leagues. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 7:43
  • $\begingroup$ The problem then, is that people that don't even have enough reputation to vote for closing a question, or for seeing the google analytics, are deleting my questions unilaterally without even waiting for a vote, or seeing information about me that I don't think is fair for them to see. People much less reputation than me are doing things to my posts that I have enough reputation to do but they don't even have it! For example 1 mod doesn't even have enough rep to get "access to moderator tools". Do you not see it as a problem if someone lacks the expertise to build their reputation to something $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 7:47
  • $\begingroup$ high enough that people will respect them and listen to them? $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 7:47
  • $\begingroup$ Just look at the way I respond to you vs the way I did to Mithrandir and Heather in the past, for example :) $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 8:20
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    $\begingroup$ Unwanted edits are not restricted to mods, and will be a problem whoever the mods are. They should be dealt with by flags, or perhaps by trying to have a conversation here in meta on what our edit policy should be. Note that any attempt at such a discussion should always avoid invoking any specific examples, since these can easily be interpreted as personal attacks that derail the conversation. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 9:01
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding respect, I think that the other mods have consistently acted in a way that deserves respect. Unfortunately, there will always be some users that will find some excuse to question the mods authority. That's one reason I'm standing down. Otherwise there would certainly be times that people use my potential conflict of interest to claim some hidden motivations behind moderator decisions. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think there is a problem if the moderators are "non-experts". Their job is not to judge the scientific validity of posts -- this is not a curated site (which has good and bad aspects for science sites, but that's the way SE works). On the other hand, I what I would consider important is that the moderators (well, ideally all users) have a good judgement of what they know and what the limits of their knowledge are, and do not over-estimate their knowledge/abilities. $\endgroup$ Nov 2, 2018 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ @user1271772 This doesn't mean that they assess their skills more realistically. $\endgroup$ Nov 3, 2018 at 13:57

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