So the title says all. What is the meaning of a student of Physics as per this community? I ask this because there are students at many levels: 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th graders, undergraduates, graduates etc.


I am a 10th grader. I posted a question (Tension in a pulley system) and it was put on hold, despite receiving an upvote. I understand, that for 99% people here, the question would take less than 10 seconds to solve. I also understand, that there are many answered questions, similar to my question, and their answers fully apply to my question. However, the answers begin with the very part that I have a doubt in.

I realize it's because of lack of concept clarity (about tension) that I am not able to understand. Realizing that the community rules wanted me to include my efforts at solving the question and a specific thing which I wanted to ask, I edited the question, and in the comments, wrote to two people who chose to vote for putting the question on hold to review and open the question.

However, after a few days, the question was closed, without a comment from any one explaining what was it lacking.

So, if these questions are too trivial for people here, should I leave this website?

UPDATE: OK, I will open a new question on the main site. Discussion over from my side.

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    $\begingroup$ kid. you have communication skills. The title alone was ingenious regarding the situation. $\endgroup$
    – J.Todd
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 8:48
  • $\begingroup$ btw, taking just a look at the accepted answer here; I think that guy is working around the issue that you pointed out (lots of his statements are his preference, not the official guidelines word for word), but your point is valid. That's my opinion, but hey, I'm no "Serious 10th grade physicist" - they might not want me here XD. $\endgroup$
    – J.Todd
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 8:50

4 Answers 4


Introductory remarks

First some remarks to address specific points or misconceptions in your post, then I'll try to pick apart this case.

  1. I don't think there is an agreed definition of "student". I take the word to mean any one who is seriously studying the subject. Being in secondary school certainly is no barrier to be a full participant on Physics SE.

    The key word (in my personal (not moderator powered) opinion) is "seriously". It doesn't mean you have to be an expert, but it does mean you have to be acting as physicist: taking basic concepts and applying them to build a understanding. You should also use the discipline specific vocabulary and the usual techniques in terms of drawing and labeling figures to help you along.

    I'll discuss my understanding of your question a little more in a further down.

  2. As I've remarked before there isn't an actual difference between "on hold" and "closed". They represent the same condition in the database that backs the site and the different words are only there to indicate to new users that this condition is not irrevocable. The code that writes the messages uses a threshold time in that state to decide which phrase to use.

  3. When you edit a held question it gets put into the review queue for higher rep users to look at (I think this only happens the first time you edit after the question is held). People did see your question and both votes cast were to leave it closed.

  4. Just showing what you have tried is not enough to rescue a homework-like question. You have to render the question into a form where it has general applicability rather than being useful only for solving the question in front of you. You accomplish this by making the question about the physics concept where you are stuck (I almost wrote "concepts", but that would have been a mistake because each question should address one concept).

    I know this can be difficult and that you may not have a clear idea of what that request even means. I teach a lot of introductory physics courses and many students don't "get it" even after I bang away at the problem for a whole semester. But I'd like to offer a piece of advice: if the words "formula" or "equation" enters into your question then you haven't yet got it down to physics concepts but are still treating the mathematical representation which is case specific.

About your post

First of all the question seems to have changed steadily as you repeatedly edited it. You need to be careful to understand the action of higher rep users in terms of the version(s) they knew about when they took those action.

The most recent version is much closer to a good (for the site) question than the early versions which were both unclear and addressed only the specific example in front of you. Alas the pure number of edits you made works against you: people develop a fatigue about these things; when you post came back to the top of the active queue for the fifth time they sighed and thought "Not that again!" and moved on without even looking at it.

It would also be very helpful to know what you do get. I mean, I'd be temped to offer two different very short answers:

  • "Well, draw a free-body diagram for each block already!"
  • "Each block is in equilibrium, right? So what does that imply about the forces acting on them?"

But I don't even know if these response would help you because your question is so basic (and the exercise you are working on so oddly stated) that I'm not sure what tools you have at your disposal.

In the most recent addition your post is (imho) either re-openable or close to it because the focus has come be on a procedure for working out the tension which is actually a fairly general thing. I'm not going to vote on it because as a moderator my single vote is binding and it is desirable to have the community weight in.

  • $\begingroup$ About the numerous edits, I am sorry. Now in regards to being on hold or closed, I get that, fine. But now, what do I do? Just remember that the formula for tension in an atwood machine is this, solve my question and be done, without understanding a thing about tension. Maybe this is the best option I have. Why I ask this basic question on this website is because people here are more focused on understanding concepts, more focused on "why is this true? (excluding basic laws)" rather than "This is the formula to find this and this". $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2014 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ This post may direct renewed attention to your question, and the high rep users may (or may not) like the current version enough to re-open it. Of course you are better off understanding what is going on with tension than trying to recall a catalog of formulas. But until a fairly late edit it was totally unclear what your question really was. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2014 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ As to tension: it is a constraint force; it is an expression of the resistance of a solid materials to stretching in response to a applied force; it is the pulling counterpart to the normal force (solids resisting interpenetration due to pushes); it always points along the line of the string or rope and has the same magnitude on the whole length of any segment not subject to longitudinal forces. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 19, 2014 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ So couldn't I be warned once in the comments first to edit my question? Anyway, thanks for trying to explain me tension. Though I still don't completely understand. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 10:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Swap: Yes, you could be warned, but lots of us don't want to bother with a series of comment/re-edit cycles. We are all volunteers here. This isn't a game to see what you can get away with. I'm here to talk about physics, not to teach people to write proper questions. This is the real world. Get used to it. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ I think this answer over-does it when it comes to explaining the issues with the question, until the part that he should have explained his level of knowledge. That's what the issue was, and not much else. Questions don't need to be as generalized and universally applicable as this question seems to state though. $\endgroup$
    – J.Todd
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 8:58

The problem is not that you are a 10th grade student. Unfortunately, there are too many physics experts on this site that have forgotten that they weren't born knowing all that stuff either. Too often I see simple questions get closed because they are simple. There is also a somewhat religious aversion to homework problems here. I see the point, and I too vote to close those question that simply dump a homework problem on us here. But, helping someone work thru a contrived problem, as long as they are trying within the apparent limits of their knowledge, should be part of the function of this site. However, all that is somewhat of a digression.

The problem in this particular case is that your question was crap. This is not about the content, but the way the question was written and the problem explained. Unfortunately, all too often teachers will give you leeway in formatting, presentation quality, clarity, and overall neatness. This is doing you a disservice, since the real world gives no such leeway.

You may think, what does it matter how it looks as long it says what it needs to say? It may be smudged pencil scrawls, but you can still see what it says. Wrong. Such things are annoying to read, and in some cases take extra time to decipher. You saved yourself a little trouble in writing, but that is at the expense of the reader. Think about what that says, which is "I'm more important than you are.". That's not a smart thing to say to someone you want to get a good grade from, a admissions dean you are trying to impress, someone you hope will hire you, or volunteers you are asking a favor from to help you with your problem on a web site.

Attitude and respect matter. A lot. Nobody wants to help some ingrate who can't even be bothered to write a comprehensible question. Screw that. There is absolutely no excuse for not getting the little things right, like capitalizing the first word of each sentence, capitalizing the word "I", one thought per sentence, and presenting information with the context of the reader in mind.

I just looked at your original question, and your problem was mostly a confused and very poorly thought out presentation of the question. Here is your question interspresed with my thoughts as I'm reading it:

In the question,

Huh? What question. No question has been previously introduced.

a block having mass M is suspended from a fixed support using a wire of length L.

OK, I think I can form a mental picture of this.

Due to the mass M, the an elongation of l is produced in the wire.

"The an"? Really? You think so little of us that you can't even be bothered to proofread what you wrote once?

"Elongation is produced" is awkward and leaves confusion. Is l the additional length the wire is stretched after M is supsended from it compared to its unstretched length? But if so, how does that reconcile with you stating earlier that the length was L. Is L before or after M is suspended?

Now, this mass M is removed,

Now I'm picturing a wire dangling from something.

and a pulley is suspended using the same wire. Assume the mass of the pulley to be negligible. Now two blocks of mass M (M is the same mass as in the first case) are suspended on opposite ends of the pulley. What will be the elongation of the wire in this case?

I think I sortof see this.

Options: A. 4l B. 2l C. l D. l/2

Huh? Oh, these are apparently choices of a multiple choice answer labeled A-D. That was confusing. That would have been much clearer in tabular form.

I have no idea about mechanical advantage and its usage to solve such problems,

What does mechanical advantage have to do with anything? That was never mentioned in the problem and appears to be irrelevant.

nor have I done anything related to pulleys.

So let me get this straight. This question clearly contains a pulley, but yet this guy has done nothing with pulleys!? He hasn't even bothered to look up the basics or read the chapter in his book before asking the question? Does he need us to change his diaper and burp him too? If he'd said the book says xxx, but I don't see how to apply that here because yyy, I'd be all over this trying to help him.

I don't know how to calculate the total mass of the pulley and masses system.

OK, but what has this guy done to try to figure it out? I can't tell what specifically he is stuck on to try to help him past the mental block or misconception. I'm happy to help someone trying to learn, but this ingrate just wants the answer and hasn't even tried to figure anything out himself.

This question is from a competitive test

How on earth is that relevant? Why am I supposed to give a crap where this question came from? Is this supposed to give his question higher priority? Oh, it's from a competitive test (as apposed to what, a uncompetetive test?), so we'll hop to it and get right on that. Yeah, right.

So let's see, confusing writing, no diagram when it is obvious that would be useful, hasn't shown any work, and arrogant attitude. Screw this. Voting to close on account of just being homework dumped on us, and downvoting for good measure as a kick in the butt on the way out the door.

You had one chance to make your first impression, and you blew it by being lazy, sloppy, and therefore arrogant. The question as it stands now (I don't remember seeing the original) is actually somewhat reasonable. If I came across that on its own, I'd probably try to answer. However, now that the history has been pointed out, I don't feel motivated to spend my free time on this particular question. I know the SE system was recently changed so that questions are now "on hold" instead of "closed" initially. But, that's a bunch of PC crap I don't agree with. It makes it seem OK to make a mess first and then be allowed to fix it later. Not on my free time.

Yes, I could vote to reopen it, and it probably deserves it according to the SE rules, but it's my vote and I'm not going to. You need to be taught a lesson that respect, carefully thinking out what you want to say, presentation quality, and attention to detail matter. You seem to think proper writing is something that only applies in English class. Wrong. Not on my free time.

  • $\begingroup$ "If you don't have time to say something politely, just leave it for someone who does." - Stack Exchange Help Center > Our Model > Be nice. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Swap: Hey, I did you a favor by showing you my thought process in reading your original question. Others obviously had similar thoughts, seeing as they closed it. The only difference is that I took the time to tell you, since you asked. If you want people to continue to silently close and downvote your questions, don't ask them why they closed and downvoted your questions. Grow up. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ Wow. That's some tough love. But, @Swapnil, Olin is doing you a favor by telling you how he judges things: it's giving you a honest taste of the way things are evaluated when you get out of school. Out in the "real" world your material lands in a big stack with everyone else's and the person who has to do the first sift through that pile is just itching to throw things away quickly. Little things matter. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 3:51
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee I agree. However, as soon as my question was closed, I edited it to comply with Stack Exchange guidelines. The subsequent edits I made after that, were only to add some information at my attempts, and did not alter the question I had made just after the question was closed. Moderators are too busy (and rightly so), so instead of "If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit your question or leave a comment." just write "Create a new question". $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 6:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Swapnil Writing a new question with essentially the same content will merely get you a question closed as a duplicate and an annoyed comment. You seem to be asking for hand-holding every time a new user shows up. That's not going to happen. Some thought has gone in to the closure messages (thought I am sure they could still be improved) so that we don't have to re-explain everything to every user. But that does rely on new users reading. Read the tour and read the closure messages. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ @dmckee OK, I won't argue. I may need to find another Physics forum. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ I want to upvote this for showing the thought process in some detail. I want to downvote this because I find the tone very abrasive. I'm going with upvote because I recognize you are being constructive in your own, very unique, way... $\endgroup$
    – Floris
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 0:22

To address your actual question:

What is the meaning of a student of Physics as per this community?

Why does it matter? As far as I know, nowhere in the rules and policies and guidelines of this site, nor anywhere in the discussions here on meta, does it say anything specific to students.

I don't think we've ever bothered to come up with a precise definition of "student" for this community, simply because - as I explained in the previous paragraph - we've never really needed one.

If you really want one, I think the definition dmckee gave in his answer is reasonable:

I take the word to mean any one who is seriously studying the subject.... The key word (in my personal (not moderator powered) opinion) is "seriously". It doesn't mean you have to be an expert, but it does mean you have to be acting as physicist: taking basic concepts and applying them to build a understanding. You should also use the discipline specific vocabulary and the usual techniques in terms of drawing and labeling figures to help you along.

But really, how the community here responds to you depends on the quality of the content you post, not on who you are or what your relationship to physics is (student, teacher, researcher, etc.).

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    $\begingroup$ At various places across the Stack Exchange network, and in particular in the text that appears when posts are migrated form here to other sites, we are referred to as "our site for students and professionals in physics". (Or something like that, I might have got the exact wording wrong, but it definitely says students.) I think the OP might be referring to that. $\endgroup$
    – N. Virgo
    Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 5:30
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    $\begingroup$ Right, but it's always "students and professionals" and in our case specifically, "active researchers, academics and students." My point is that there's no need to identify whether you're a researcher, an academic, or a student; it's not like we treat the three groups differently. And besides, that's meant to show who the site is targeted at, not to say that you must be a researcher, academic, or student to participate. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 5:55
  • $\begingroup$ I know there is no need to identify whether a user of this community is a student, an academic or a researcher. The reason why I ask is a student can be anybody. When a student who is currently learning basic physics (forces, uniform acceleration kinematics, etc.) might ask a question relating to some simple concept being used in a question, the community may feel like the person has not done research. My textbook had no mention of what is tension, even though we are to solve these type of calculate the tension problems. Wikipedia does not have a good explanation. Yet its a simple concept. So? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 10:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Swapnil So what? I still don't see why you might think it's important to know what we mean by "student". $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Nathaniel Yes, I was referring to the students in the site description of Physics Stack Exchange: "For active researchers, academics and students of physics". David Z, the point of my post was to ask if very basic concept questions (which appear to moderators like a do my homework question, but maybe the OP never interpreted the concept in a particular way required to solve and searching gave no help about the concept) are acceptable? dmckee understood that well. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 10:27

Leaving aside the merits of the original offending question, I do think it is difficult sometimes to gauge the level of explanation someone is looking for.

Many folks on the forum launch into the full gruesome mathematics of a solution, and whilst that may suit a certain fraction of the readership and possibly impress their peers, I can't help thinking that it is often of little use to the OP.

It would be better if those working at undergraduate level and below would identify themselves as such, or indicate in some other way the complexity and depth of the answers being sought. Sometimes it's obvious from the questions being asked, but often it isn't.

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    $\begingroup$ While what you said is okay, we aren't really here just to serve OP. Ideally, questions would get multiple answers of varying levels of complexity to benefit everybody who comes to the site. OP can choose the one that best answers it for them, but the community can vote up correct ones of any level and downvote incorrect ones of any level. I think a lot of questions would be better served by having multiple answers, all correct, which approach things in a different fashion. $\endgroup$
    – tpg2114
    Commented Oct 26, 2014 at 23:02

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