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The title pretty much explains the question but here it is

Is it off-topic to ask for advice on what courses/subject areas to study in preparation for PhD study in a certain area of mathematics?

The question is really about the closure reason

Questions seeking personal advice for choosing a course, academic program, career path, etc. Such questions should be directed to those employed by the institution in question, or other qualified individuals who know your specific circumstances.

Is it "seeking personal advice" to ask what topics are worth studying when preparing to undertake PhD study in a specific area, or is it beneficial to others who may be seeking similar advice?

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    $\begingroup$ Some previous discussion about this close reason: Intended use of “seeking personal advice” close reason $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Sep 7 '16 at 0:41
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak The problem is that I'm not sure whether or not it falls under "too opinion based" or "doesn't really have an answer". Clearly if there are experts working in a specific area, they know what areas of mathematics are useful in their subject area. The question isn't "what should I study so I will be accepted by institution $x$" or "what is a good place to study". $\endgroup$ – ÍgjøgnumMeg Sep 7 '16 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ Let's hope other users will give you a better advice about this. The only thing I can think of are these two possibilities. A) Simply try to ask the question and you will see whether it will get closed. (Judging by your rep, you do not have to worry about post ban if a few of your questions get closed.) B) Have a look at similar questions from the past to see how they were received. (But it might be not very easy to find such posts. If I am able to find something, I will post it here in chat.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Sep 7 '16 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ This depends a lot on your location, the available courses, and the topic. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Sep 7 '16 at 5:56
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by area? If it is something like differential geometry, then it is simply unanswerable. $\endgroup$ – user99914 Sep 7 '16 at 7:14
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    $\begingroup$ One reason that such questions are not welcome is that an answer such as "You should really take Jane Does' course on catgorization of dingbats next semester before she retires, " might be the most fitting answer, but is entirely useless for anyone in a different place at a different time. On the other hand, there might exists sensible questions about the background one should require in order to study a certain topic in ones PhD, but even this might get closed. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Sep 7 '16 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelGreinecker The last sentence is really the question I'm asking. Maybe background is a better word, thanks for your help. $\endgroup$ – ÍgjøgnumMeg Sep 7 '16 at 10:06
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if it's on topic for academia.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$ – Myridium Sep 17 '16 at 2:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Myridium It is certainly not. It would be closed with the reason "Shopping" questions, which seek recommendations or lists of individual universities, academic programs, publishers, journals, research topics or similar as an answer or seek an assessment or comparison of such, are off-topic here. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Sep 17 '16 at 7:58
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Is it "seeking personal advice" to ask what topics are worth studying when preparing to undertake PhD study in a specific area, or is it beneficial to others who may be seeking similar advice?

Yes, it is seeking personal advice and therefore IMO falls under the exact close reason you cite.

The answer linked to by Martin Sleziak in the comments does a pretty good job of arguing why.

Most importantly, "others who may be seeking similar advice" might have the same question, but not the same answer(!). After all, if one's university is strong in part of the prerequisites of a particular PhD programme, but weak in others, this will invariably change the suggestions (to the extreme, it might be that given the courses taken, pursuing a PhD in a given direction would necessitate the equivalent of (re)doing an entire graduate programme).

It is my conviction that the direction that can be given while agnostic to someone's personal circumstances is not adding much to what can be found by independently reading up on subjects.

If there is a strong desire/need for opinions, one can always ask in the Mathematics chatroom.

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  • $\begingroup$ Maybe I should rephrase the question. I'm definitely interested in what areas I should learn based on what I want to do research in, perhaps it's worth asking something more like "What techniques/areas of mathematics are often used in [insert topic]?" as a guide to what courses I may want to take for a Masters degree in Pure Mathematics $\endgroup$ – ÍgjøgnumMeg Sep 7 '16 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Ed_4434 Even then, I would say that Google can bring you a lot, and likewise discussions with the professors at your current institution. In the inadvertent case that both paths provide unsatisfactory answers, a soft-question might be a viable option. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Sep 7 '16 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your advice. The pure mathematics group at my current university is made up of only 3 researchers whose interests differ from my own. I tried googling for some information but didn't come up with much, although admittedly I didn't try my very hardest to find the information at first. $\endgroup$ – ÍgjøgnumMeg Sep 7 '16 at 16:11
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Below I have added a few examples of similar question from the past. (The post is CW, feel free to add further suitable examples.) Perhaps this does not answer the OP's question directly, but: A) The OP might see how similar questions have been received. B) It might even help to clarify this meta question, since the OP can say which of these examples is closest to what they have in mind.

Admittedly, any selection of example might be a bit biased, because most of the past question we are going to be able to find are those which were not immediately closed and deleted. (So we are very likely to miss the bad ones.) And it also has to be said that this site evolves, so the fact that some question has been well-received 5 years ago, does not mean that the same question would be well-received today. (It is also quite possible that mentioning these question here on meta might bring renewed attention to them and they might get closed now even if they were not closed at the time.)

Examples of similar questions

(ordered by id, i.e., from the oldest ones)

Searches

Perhaps you can find a few more similar questions if you try to search for the following queries or slightly modify them.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was not entirely sure whether to post this or not. (As I said, this does not really answer the question; which is why I posted here previously a shortened version in a comment.) But since the question was bumped today, I decided to go ahead and post a CW-answer. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Sep 17 '16 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot for this. The question I'm asking about is intended to be more like your third example (Class Field Theory one). $\endgroup$ – ÍgjøgnumMeg Sep 17 '16 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Ed_4434 If you think that it will help clarify your question, you can edit it and add this as an example of a question similar to the one you want to ask. (Perhaps explaining what the main differences between your question and this question would be.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Sep 17 '16 at 14:32
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You asked:

Is it off-topic to ask for advice on what courses/subject areas to study in preparation for PhD study in a certain area of mathematics?

As you quoted,

Questions about choosing a course, academic program, career path, etc. are off-topic. Such questions should be directed to those employed by the institution in question, or other qualified individuals who know your specific circumstances.

I think you have answered your own question. Yes, it is off-topic.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well not quite, I added an explanation as to why I thought it might be okay to ask because it's not quite as subjective as what is suggested in the closing reason. I've commented explaining that it might be better for me to ask a question more like "what areas of mathematics are used often in [specific field]". Thanks for your answer though. $\endgroup$ – ÍgjøgnumMeg Sep 16 '16 at 20:29

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