Make your thesis meaningful
We will help you find a thesis topic with high potential to significantly improve the world.
We will help you find a thesis topic with high potential to significantly improve the world.
The advice about what to focus on with your thesis will differ based on your career plans. First, we discuss what might be a good strategy when you plan to take research-heavy careers and then we move to advice related to non-research careers paths.
If you’re considering pursuing a career in research, you should make building your research skills a priority. In order to have a substantial impact, your research will need to be excellent in quality. There are several ways you can improve your research skills. Independently of your final thesis, you can consider joining some already established research group or project at your department and attending summer research programmes. Some of our online resources might also be helpful. When making final thesis decision, you should consider using methods you haven’t used before and which are harder to carry out (or which will allow you to get better at technical skills like data analysis and methodology). You should also make sure to choose a skilled supervisor with a good reputation in the relevant research community who will give you a good deal of feedback and care. The goal of your thesis at this stage is not so much to come up with new findings, but rather to build research skills and test your fit with this type of work.
You can get a general sense of what the academic career is like and whether you'd be a good fit for it here.
Ideally, you can build skills in directions that seem highly valuable (see our priority areas) in order to learn more about them and make it easier to contribute later. However, if you can’t find a supervisor who will help you hone your research skills in one of these directions, you should choose an area that allows for greater skill-building, and come back to more valuable directions at a later stage. You will likely have a chance to switch topics and start focusing on something important and meaningful when you'll be choosing the area of focus for your PhD.
Please let us know if you plan to work on any of our priority areas or if you’d like help with figuring out what might be most valuable for you to focus on. We can support you in your research direction and connect you with others working in these areas.
Even if you don’t expect to pursue a research career, there are still opportunities for your thesis to help improve the world - you can focus on some of the problems that seem most important and use your thesis to learn more about them with the aim of working on them directly later in your career. If this is your goal, you should optimise not for generating new insights about the problem, but rather for gaining a more thorough understanding of it and how to tackle it. To learn more about which careers improve the world the most, see this guide.
If you are about to apply for your PhD (Europe) or are already enrolled and are about to choose your topic and supervisor (US), it’s probably good to consider how much your topic choice will lock you in a specific subfield. In our experience, for some disciplines, the lock-in effect is stronger (e.g. Economics, Psychology, Engineering) while for others, not so much (e.g. Life Sciences, Philosophy). To figure out how much lock-in appears in your discipline, ask more experienced researchers in the field and track this in your own environment. If you find that there is a good chance of becoming locked-in to a specific field, this makes it much more important to choose a topic that will be publishable in the best journals and will also be valuable and important to focus on from the perspective of improving the world. We can help you with finding such a topic.
If you want to build your research career in academia, in many disciplines you should focus more on theoretical contributions (e.g., what drives people in general, how a specific type of system works, some theoretical models we can use to understand the world better) rather than applied research (e.g., the effectiveness of specific interventions). Applied research experience might be an advantage if you want to do research outside of academia (e.g., in think tanks, nonprofits, or international organisations).
We are happy to help undergraduate, masters and especially prospective PhD students find topics that are interesting, meaningful and valuable - please check our suggestions and/or apply for our coaching!
directed towards the most pressing global problems
from which students applied and benefited from our coaching
in our network help students from all backgrounds finding the right topic
Philip is a graduate student in economics at the University of Oxford and a research affiliate at the Global Priorities Institute at Oxford University. He previously studied economics and mathematics at Brown University, and has served in economics research roles at the Cato Institute, NERA Economic Consulting, and the University of Chicago. Philip advises students on applications of economic theory to global priorities research.
Cassidy is a Research Scholar and Acting Co-Lead of the Biosecurity Research Group at the Future of Humanity Institute. She is also completing a DPhil at the University of Oxford. Previously, Cassidy completed her undergraduate studies in Neuroscience and Developmental Biology and her medical degree at the University of Queensland and holds a Masters of Public Health from the University of Melbourne. She advises students of medicine and public health on health security, biosecurity and pandemic prevention.
Maxime is a co-founder and chief executive officer of the Simon Institute for Longterm Governance. Max is also a research fellow at the Global Studies Institute at the University of Geneva and science-policy officer at the Geneva Science-Policy Interface. He previously co-founded the Social Complexity Lab and Effective Altruism Geneva, where he still serves on the board. In parallel to his work, Max is pursuing an M.Sc. in Computational Maths at Johns Hopkins University. Max advises students in political science, behavioural sciences, mathematics and physics interested in improving political decision making.
Vanessa is a research associate at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute. She previously worked for over a decade in algorithm engineering, both hands-on and management, and finished an undergraduate degree in mathematics at Tel Aviv University. She advises students in mathematics, computer science and other quantitative degrees interested in human aligned artificial intelligence research.
David is a PhD student at the Paris School of Economics. Previously, he studied a master's in Public Policy and Development at the Paris School of Economics and an undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Warwick. David advises students in applied economics, econometrics, development economics, forecasting, and global priorities research.
Parendi is the R&D Project Manager at Mission Barns. Previously, she was Cellular Agriculture Research Associate at JUST and has been actively engaged in advancing the field of cellular agriculture since 2013 through her work as both a scientist and impact investor. She has completed an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from the University of Kansas. Parendi advises students who are interested in both technical and non-technical areas of the field of cellular agriculture
David is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and co-founded and directs the Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED). David received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado Boulder and his master's in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University. He has 65 peer-reviewed publications and is the third most prolific author in the field of existential and global catastrophic risk.
Noga is a graduate student and a Sherman Interdisciplinary Fellow at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, where she studies evolution from a systems biology perspective. Previously, she studied neuroscience at McGill University and interned at the Center for Health Security. She advises students interested in reducing catastrophic risks from engineered pathogens.
David is the Principal Research Manager at Rethink Priorities and a research fellow at Canterbury Christ Church University. Previously, he studied an undergraduate degree in philosophy at the University of Cambridge. David advises students interested in moral psychology and empirical social science.
Aleš is a research assistant to Dr Eric Drexler at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford. Previously, he was the youngest research assistant hired by DeepMind and completed his undergraduate degree in economics at Harvard University.
SJ is an academic programme manager and senior researcher at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University. Previously, they were a postdoctoral research fellow with the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford and have a PhD in Philosophy from the London School of Economics.
There are many other coaches and collaborators who help us from time to time and for whose support we are very grateful.