How we write our profiles and advice
How we ensure the quality of our advice
You’ll find two main types of content on our site that are aimed at supporting aspiring researchers to have a greater positive impact on the world with their research. The first is our general advice, which covers topics such as how to find an academic supervisor or apply for a PhD. The second is our research direction profiles. These are introductions to directions for further research that we expect to be particularly impactful from the perspective of improving the world.
Below is an explanation of how we write our advice and research direction profiles, to help you decide how to factor our recommendations into your decision-making. While we work to make our advice as accurate as possible, we also recommend doing your own research and talking directly with people who have followed a path you might be interested in. Our coaches can also give you 1:1 advice and potentially connect you to researchers with relevant experience.
How we write our general research advice
We choose topics to write advice on by asking students in our online student community what would benefit them, drawing from our coaching experience, and receiving input from our network of collaborators. We then research the topic and incorporate the feedback of multiple team members who have experience in research and academia. We aim to receive feedback from several external reviewers with relevant experience, including both students across multiple disciplines and more experienced researchers, although some of our older advice pieces may not yet have been reviewed by external reviewers. We thank reviewers in our acknowledgements, so you can see who’s contributed.
How we write our research direction profiles
Our profiles explore research directions where we think further research could have a particularly big impact. We think that the question you write your thesis on can significantly influence the rest of your career if you stay in research, so writing your thesis can be a particularly good point at which to start working on one of these research directions.
Where do we find ideas?
We first draw on the research agendas and priorities of research organisations that we believe to have a ‘prioritisation mindset.’ These are organisations that seek to identify the global problems that it seems most important to do research on from a welfare perspective. This means these organisations are generally not just identifying the most severe problems, but are also taking into account neglectedness (i.e. relative to its importance, how many people are working on solving the problem?) and the potential for progress to be made.
Side note: Because we try to feature problems that are particularly important, tractable, and neglected, you might see some problems listed on our site that it’s uncommon to see described as global problems, while others are not featured. As an example, in our ‘human health and wellbeing’ category we list ‘anti-aging research’ but not ‘cancer research.’ We think research on widely recognised problems such as cancer is highly important. However because so many more researchers are already working on these problems, we think that – all else equal – you will probably have a bigger impact working on problems that are relatively neglected.
Which organisations inform the research directions we recommend?
Some of the organisations whose work has informed our choices of which research directions to recommend are listed below.
- The Global Priorities Institute focuses on identifying and prioritizing global problems.
- Open Philanthropy: uses research and evidence to identify effective philanthropic interventions.
- Rethink Priorities: conducts and promotes research on interventions that can most improve lives and reduce suffering.
- The Happier Lives Institute: studies interventions that can increase happiness, well-being, and quality of life.
- 80,000 Hours: provides career advice and resources to help people find and pursue careers that will have a positive impact on the world.
- The Sentience Institute: studies the ethical and policy implications of emerging technologies, with a focus on reducing suffering and improving the welfare of sentient beings.
- The Future of Humanity Institute: conducts interdisciplinary research on the long-term future of humanity.
- The Global Catastrophic Risk Institute: studies and works to mitigate global catastrophic risks.
How do we find research questions and resources?
Once we’ve identified a research direction that looks particularly promising, we search for open research questions and resources to include in a profile. To do so we may draw on the research agendas of the organisations above, as well as other research organisations that work specifically on the research direction we’ve identified. We might also draw on reports and agendas created by individual researchers in the Effective Altruism ecosystem, as this community is particularly focused on identifying neglected and important gaps in efforts to address global problems. We also invite our reviewers to propose research questions and suggest additional resources.
How are our research direction profiles reviewed?
To ensure the quality of our profiles, each profile is reviewed by researchers with relevant expertise. When choosing reviewers, we consider criteria including their area of expertise, years of academic and non-academic experience, number of peer-reviewed publications, positions they have held and whether we can see evidence they have a ‘prioritisation mindset’ (e.g., they may have been involved in writing a report on the most important research gaps in their field).
All of our profiles are either written or reviewed by a relevant expert. We aim to get at least one highly qualified expert review per profile before it’s published, although most profiles have multiple reviewers.
You can see names of the researchers who have offered feedback at the end of each profile, as well as how recently it was updated. Not all reviewers will necessarily have seen the profile in its latest form, as we update profiles incrementally as new, relevant research is published or new resources are developed that we think might be useful for readers. However, if we make substantial changes to a profile we get additional reviews.
How do we think you should take our research direction profiles into account in your own decision-making?
The research questions included in our profiles are intended as helpful starting points when you’re seeking a research question.
Two things to bear in mind when reading our profiles are that most questions featured would need to be made more narrow in scope to be suitable to address in a thesis, and that some questions may have become less under-researched since a profile was last updated.
We always think you should do your own research and talk with others who have experience in working on any research direction you’re interested in, to check you’re on the right track and refine a question. If you apply for coaching, we may be able to connect you with a researcher who can offer up-to-date advice. You could also read our advice on choosing a research question to suit you.
We want to improve our content on an ongoing basis
We believe that by following these processes, we can create high-quality content that is useful and informative for our audience. However, we recognize that there is always room for improvement and we welcome feedback and suggestions on how we can provide more informative, accurate and useful content. If you want to suggest changes, please let us know here.