I have seen a definition of research in the Cambridge Dictionary. It says:

a detailed study of a subject, especially in order to discover (new) information or reach a (new) understanding:

Here we see that two news things are created 1) Information 2) Understanding

So I am bit confused. Can we also consider this Stack Exchange process of posting question and answers as research, especially in domains like scientific and technical domains like Stack Overflow and electrical engineering domains, etc.?

I am not talking about the very basic level questions that are being asked here because there solutions/answer are already obvious to many. Instead I am talking about the case of a bit advanced level questions.

Actually, I am very much interested in learning new knowledge, but I don't have any publications. But I have posted many many questions on Stack Exchange.

I want to apply for MS (Masters) admission and funding in European and US universities. Can I refer my potential supervisor to my questions of Stack Exchange, in order to improve chances of my application confirmation/approval?

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    "So i am bit confused" You confusion stems from the assumption that the Cambridge Dictionary reflects what academicians mean by "research". It doesn't, at least if you interpret "new" as "new to you" rather than "new relative to the sum total of human knowledge". (I assume that your questions at Stack Exchange didn't advance the frontier of human knowledge.) For example, plenty of parents research vaccines in the sense outlined by the Cambridge Dictionary, but that doesn't mean that this counts as research experience in the sense that admission committees understand it. Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 13:58
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    @AdamPřenosil The first example under that dictionary's definition is "scientific/medical research," and most of the other examples are about academic research too. So "new" is not meant in the way you suggest. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/research
    – Oliver882
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 16:46
  • Here is a related question I asked academia.stackexchange.com/questions/182664/… . Elements of the answer to your question can be found there :)
    – Baloo
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 9:28
  • 1
    I agree with most everything in here, but just want to mention that problems/questions posted on the SE network have led to original research and papers, so it is not 100% binary, but it's pretty close. The mere act of engaging in the SE network does not count as research though. Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 18:37

3 Answers 3


No. In academia, research refers to a process whose goal is the creation of new knowledge - new for everyone, not just for you. The Stack Exchange questions that you are posting seem (by my cursory examination) aimed at improving your own knowledge and understanding of various subjects. While it is nice that you like learning and are using Stack Exchange for that purpose, this is not research. It also does not show anything about you that isn’t also true (in a readily apparent way) of 99% of grad school applicants. So mentioning this in your CV adds nothing in my opinion.

To be clear, some Stack Exchange posts contain genuinely new knowledge that would qualify as research. I have seen many such posts on MathOverflow for example, but they were all authored by professional mathematicians. Still, if you ever create that kind of knowledge, it would be worth mentioning.

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    And furthermore, if you ever create that kind of knowledge on Stack Exchange, then publish it in a peer-reviewed journal and get real credit for research.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 22:32
  • @GEdgar I dimly remember reading a MathOverflow post that later got turned into published research by the author(s) - although how that works with copyright and so on given that it was already published I have no idea.
    – Voo
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 12:46
  • 1
    @Voo I can't speak to anything about academic publishing, but every SO/MO post is licensed by it's author under some form of CC BY-SA. So the author still retains the copyright to the post and can do whatever they want with the content, but anyone else can also build on it if credit is given. Assuming that their journal paper is more than just a copy/paste of the SO post, it'd be its own copyrightable work.
    – Bobson
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 14:43
  • @Bobson In general most scientific journals want some rather exclusive license agreements in my experience, which I'd think clash with creative commons.
    – Voo
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 15:05
  • 1
    See meta.mathoverflow.net/q/617/454 for a listing of such published papers that started in MathOverflow.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 16:20

Contribution to SE is professional service, not research

Posting questions and answers on SE ---whilst a valuable professional service--- is not considered to be academic research. Questions and answers on SE are not peer-reviewed and do not usually involve the level of detailed study of a subject or novel contribution to a subject that would be accepted as academic research. Occasionally one will encounter answers on technical forums in SE that have some useful novel insight that might serve as the basis for an academic paper, but that would usually require much more development and a peer-review process before being counted towards research in an academic CV.

While the contribution of questions and answers on SE is not academic research, most universities will count substantial contributions on SE as professional service. Usually this would require posting high-quality answers rather than just posting questions, and a sustained contribution with relevant indicators of esteem (e.g., a high "reputation" metric, "people reached", etc.) would show that the contribution is substantial. For this reason, if you have made a substantial contribution to a relevant forum, and can show evidence of that through relevant metrics, it is acceptable to refer to such contributions on your CV or mention them in applications for admission or a funding application where relevant. This would be listed as a form of professional service rather than research. As to how this is perceived, that will differ according to who is reading your application --- some will consider this irrelevant and some will consider it something of value. As with anything you list on your CV, the main thing is to make a judgment about whether the item you are listing is of sufficient value to warrant inclusion.

For your particular case your own contribution to SE is relatively small (based on your present metrics) but you are only applying to a Masters program, so expectations for professional service would not be large. Your contribution of questions might act as an indicator of a modest amount of professional service and it could potentially illustrate your curiosity and interest in the discipline. High-quality answers are generally better than questions at illustrating existing knowledge, but high-quality questions can also be a valuable professional service. Speaking only for myself, I would not be put off by an applicant with your contribution listing this on their CV or resume, though it would be unlikely to move the needle. If you decide to list your contributions, do not list them as academic research, since that would be perceived negatively; instead list them as professional service and keep your contribution in perspective.

  • 2
    Thanks alot for your detailed and courteous advise. If comfortable, Can you please elaborate/explain"Speaking only for myself, I would not be put off by an applicant with your contribution listing this on their CV or resume, though it would be unlikely to move the needle much"
    – DSP_CS
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 11:37
  • 2
    I see questions in the OP's profile significantly predominating over answers. Zero answers in top three sites. Not sure how questions amount to service worth mentioning. Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 19:21
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    @engr: Well, as George points out, you have a lot of questions but no answers on your top three sites. You have one "famous question" with 10k+ views on the signal processing site. That question is useful, and a very modest professional service (so I disagree with George slightly here), but it is not all that much in the scheme of things. At best your questions probably demonstrate curiosity in this field rather than a substantial amount of existing knowledge. Also, some might potentially read your questions as indicating even more of a lack of knowledge than if you had no postings.
    – Ben
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 20:58
  • 2
    Well, that depends on whether having this knowledge is being expected. Curiosity is good, bugging people online as a predominant way of "problem solving" is not. Quite a bit of nuance here. I would likely treat SE postings as a hobby in the context of a CV, unless the contributions are substantial enough for it to be called "public service". It also fits the narrative naturally if the committee happens to ask about the applicant's activities beyond the presented work.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 7:59
  • 1
    + 1 I was recently involved in a hiring decision for a research/software engineer position in academia. The applicant listed their SO profile (in a section for links, along with their personal webpage and GitHub - which I think is better place then "service") and and the fact they gathered non-trivial reputation by answering questions here was certainly a plus, though not a huge deal. Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 9:38

Put it under Hobbies

Having an active SE account indicates you have a genuine interest on the topic. This is good to hear for admissions and should be included on your CV.

On its own however, SE is not research. It can of course be used for research purposes, to contact people in your field, and ask questions related to a research project. But in that case you should put the project itself on the CV and not just your SE account.

I will add that an applicant with many good answers on their account looks better than an applicant with many questions. This suggests they are not only interested, but are also able to communicate well with others.

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