The Future of Humanity Institute’s Research Scholars Programme is a selective, two-year research programme, with lots of latitude for exploration as well as significant training and support elements. This year we will offer roughly eight salaried positions to early-career researchers who aim to address the big-picture questions critical to humanity’s long-term flourishing.
Applications for the spring 2021 cohort are now closed. Please sign up to the FHI mailing list to be notified about future hiring rounds.
Humanity today may be in a position to affect the long-term future: whether and how intelligence spreads through the universe, and to what ends. Working out which actions in the world are particularly valuable for the long-term — and working out how we should think about this — are hard but crucial topics. They are studied within the Future of Humanity Institute under the name macrostrategy. We think a robust understanding of macrostrategic considerations helps people undertake better (for the long-term) projects and make better (for the long-term) decisions at many different scales.
The Research Scholars Programme aims to foster this skill of choosing actions for their all-things-considered effects, and give people space to exercise it. We embed scholars in a rich intellectual environment at FHI and a wider network of long-termist researchers, enabling them to engage with new ideas and people and receive feedback on their work. We provide scholars with an opportunity to learn new skills and deepen their knowledge of important areas, both via direct study and through actually undertaking important new projects and getting feedback on them. We aim to create a compassionate environment and support scholars to think big, challenge themselves, reflect on what they’re doing, and be kind to themselves when things are difficult.
The work that scholars do on the programme need not be macrostrategy research, or even research; the idea rather is that choices and projects are macrostrategy-driven, i.e. informed by thinking about long-term consequences first. We think research in any of the areas studied at FHI can fall within this category, as well as work on some other topics. Moreover we think that there are many important activities besides direct research, and are strongly supportive of scholars experimenting here – for instance via: advising individuals, organisations, or governments; developing curricula, websites, or software; running workshops or programmes; setting up new institutions.
We foresee participants coming out of the programme with views on topics such as: what the future might look like at timescales of tens, thousands, or billions of years; what the largest determinants of different possible futures are; which technologies are most likely to be transformative at a timescale of decades; what the largest levers in the world are for affecting these. We hope that many scholars will go on to careers working in or adjacent to FHI’s research areas. Direct research roles are a natural next step, but we believe that many important roles (such as working in community-building or grant-making) are helped by a good understanding of important research directions.
Ultimately, our hope is that scholars will leave the programme in a better position to work out valuable actions for the long-term future, than they otherwise would have been.
Who is this programme for?
At a high level, the programme is for early-career thinkers and researchers who would benefit from deeper engagement with macrostrategic thinking and the freedom to explore. We’re looking for scholars who have high potential to do great work on figuring out which actions are valuable for the long-term – and then getting them to happen.
In particular, we expect that you will get a lot out of the programme if you:
- Have lots of ideas, but are unsure which ones to pursue and could benefit from people to talk this through with;
- Are interested in multiple different research areas, or in macrostrategy work itself;
- Would benefit from the freedom to explore your options (for instance before committing to a topic for a PhD or postdoctoral project, or working out whether you can contribute best through direct research or an adjacent activity); and/or
- Are excited by the idea of being part of a cohort of talented individuals with shared curiosities and a desire to identify and pursue the highest-value opportunities.
The programme is somewhere between a research degree, a residency, and a research fellowship. The programme pays participants salaries according to experience. We also expect to be able to provide visas for successful applicants.
For scholars’ own words on what the Research Scholars Programme is like, see this post.
The Research Scholars Programme accepts exceptional people who are interested in research questions from the perspective of securing a flourishing future for humanity. Participants do not need to have significant research experience, but they must be able to demonstrate aptitude.
Scholars spend most of their time on a combination of research, learning, applied work and meta, with priorities between these activities largely determined by the scholars themselves.
- Research: spending at least some time figuring out macrostrategy-driven research questions is a core part of the Research Scholars Programme. ‘Research’ can span a whole range of activities, including publishing papers and technical reports, puzzling through some confusions and getting more clarity, and creating good summary resources in important areas where these were lacking.
- Learning: acquiring new skills and knowledge is often an important part of improving one’s judgement on which actions are more valuable for the long-term future. Much of the learning scholars do takes place ‘on the job’ while scholars conduct research or applied projects, but scholars also spend time reading, working through textbooks, and taking online or in person courses.
- Applied work: many important activities for the long-term don’t involve desk research. Individual scholars undertake a whole range of activities, including networking and giving talks, mentoring and teaching, advising other organisations and governments, organising events and workshops, community building and project management.
- Meta: we think that an important part of improving one’s judgement is planning and reflection, and encourage scholars to spend time on this at many different levels, including unblocking immediate problems, project planning and evaluation, quarterly reviews of their progress overall, career planning and longer-term goals, and investing in building good long-term habits around research, productivity and wellbeing.
The application process
Step 1: Choose which role to apply to
Although in practice the functions of research scholars and senior research scholars are much alike, we have two different applications for different experience levels. Please read the descriptions below to choose which position to apply to.
Research Scholar position: For applicants who do not have significant previous research experience. Centrally, research scholars will have completed or be in the process of completing a first (i.e. undergraduate) degree in a relevant technical subject (for example mathematics, statistics, computer science, physics, chemistry, biology, economics, analytic philosophy). This position is also appropriate for applicants who hold a relevant Masters degree or are working toward a doctorate in a specialist discipline.
Senior Research Scholar position: For applicants with significant previous research experience. Senior research scholars may hold a PhD, or a Masters degree in a relevant technical subject in combination with further research experience.
If you are in doubt about which role to apply to, you are welcome to submit an application to both roles.
Step 2: Written application
If you are interested in participating in the programme, please submit an application by 12:00BST on 14th September. Applications to the research scholar position should be submitted here, and applications to the senior research scholar position should be submitted here.
Both applications require that you submit the following materials to the respective application link above:
- A full curriculum vitae (including a list of publications where relevant);
- A covering letter which should address the selection criteria;
- A research statement of 1000 to 1500 words containing:
(A) A list of concrete questions you are curious about. Ideally these would be things with definite answers that you don’t yet know, but can imagine coming to know over months or years, and feel some pull to do so (approx 250 words);
(B) A list of ideas for concrete projects (research or otherwise) you think might be valuable for the world (approx 250 words);
(C) A short description of two potentially valuable projects that you think you could pursue (approx 2 x 350 words) For each of these ideas, please explain why the project would be valuable, how, concretely, you would go about pursuing it, and what your biggest concerns about the idea are. There is no need for the ideas to be complementary (indeed it would be better to present ideas that are somewhat different from each other). The ideas also don’t have to be polished, and there is no commitment to actually working on these things if you join the programme.
- The names and email addresses of two referees.
- Use your covering letter to straightforwardly lay out why you’re interested in applying, and mention anything else you think we should know
- Try to have at least one of the references be an academic reference
- Keep the research statement grounded in questions that feel real to you
Here is a list of some of the work research scholars have done while on the programme that we are proud of. This list is incomplete-by-design, and chosen partially to be illustrative of different types of success.
Note that research scholars work on a very wide range of things, including a significant amount of non-public work, and this list is biased towards things which are publicly accessible. You might also be interested in this post on research scholars’ experiences of the programme, and this post on where scholars are going next after leaving the Research Scholars Programme.
Research scholars were co-authors on the following pieces:
- Assessing the Risks Posed by the Convergence of Artificial Intelligence and Biotechnology (O’Brien & Nelson, Health Security, 2020)
- Defence in Depth Against Human Extinction: Prevention, Response, Resilience, and Why They All Matter (Cotton-Barratt, Daniel, Sandberg, Global Policy, 2020)
- Who Should We Fear More: Biohackers, Disgruntled Postdocs, or Bad Governments? A Simple Risk Chain Model of Biorisk (Sandberg & Nelson, Health Security, 2020)
- The effectiveness and perceived burden of nonpharmaceutical interventions against COVID-19 transmission: a modelling study with 41 countries (Brauner, Mindermann, Sharma, Stephenson, Gavenčiak, Johnston, Leech, Salvatier, Altman, Norman, Monrad, Besiroglu, Ge, Mikulik, Hartwick, Teh, Chindelevitch, Gal, & Kulveit, preprint, 2020)
- Beyond near and far: A new taxonomy for the AI Policy space (Prunkl & Whittlestone, preprint, 2020)
- Risks from Learned Optimization in Advanced Machine Learning Systems (Hubinger, van Merwijk, Mikulik, Skalse, & Garrabrant, preprint, 2019)
- A Guide to Writing the NeurIPS Impact Statement (Ashurst, Anderljung, Prunkl, Leike, Gal, Shevlane, & Dafoe, technical blog post, 2020)
- Engineered pathogens: the opportunities, risks and challenges (Nelson, The Biochemist (magazine), 2019)
- Shared Safety Module (Bajgar, working paper, 2019)
- UK Government’s approach to emerging infectious diseases and bioweapons ( Nelson, Bonsall, Thompson, Millett, Collyer, Lewis, Millett, Rutten, O’Brien, Rhodes, Eccleston-Turner, Bezuidenhout, Hilton, Sándor, Du Plessisa; submission to a UK Parliamentary Inquiry, 2019)