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. 

Overview

Macrostrategy-driven research

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.

On the other hand, we don’t expect this to be right for everyone who is interested in working out which actions are valuable for the long-term. In particular this might not be the right fit for you if:

  • You have a clear idea of what you want to work on long-term (especially if it isn’t one of FHI’s research areas). In this case you might well be better working on it immediately, and doing so with domain experts (for instance by doing a PhD).
  • You prefer to receive detailed management and guidance, and don’t thrive when you’re self-directing. RSP provides structure and support for scholars, but we think it works best for people who are excited to choose their own path.
  • You have other opportunities which seem higher value than RSP. These might be opportunities which seem likely to be higher learning value for you in working out how to choose good directions, or opportunities which seem likely to be directly highly impactful.

Details

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.

Programme Content

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.

For scholars’ own descriptions of what they spend their time on, see here.

Programme Structure

We want to provide the structure and support which will ultimately be most useful for participants. We continue to adapt and iterate in consultation with programme participants. The current structure of the programme includes:

  • A majority of time kept clear for scholars to pursue their own projects.
  • Four optional ‘project cycles’ per year. Scholars choose a discrete research project and work on it for 6 weeks under a project supervisor.
  • A ‘major project’ in the second year of the programme. Scholars choose a substantial project they would like to work on for 3-6 months, with an emphasis on producing some tangibly useful output.
  • A ‘personal advisor’ who meets fortnightly with the scholar to discuss their plans, give feedback and offer support.
  • A structure for quarterly reviews of scholars’ work, with an advisory board which the scholar selects themselves.
  • Funding for research visits and trips.
  • Occasional group retreats, on a particular area or on more general meta topics.
  • The opportunity to mentor fellows on FHI’s Summer Research Fellowship.
  • Fortnightly work in progress seminars with other scholars.
  • Weekly programme check-ins to catch up and share updates.
  • [Once the office is open] Daily lunches in our office, which is shared with the Centre for Effective Altruism, the Global Priorities Institute, and the Forethought Foundation.

In addition to centrally provided structure, many activities on the Research Scholars Programme are scholar led. This includes reading groups, discussions, salons, collaborations, workshops and other activities. In general, we expect scholars to be active stakeholders in the Research Scholars Programme, and encourage them both to set up their own structures and activities, and to adjust existing structures to suit them, in conversation with the programme managers. 

We think people typically need less structure as the programme goes on. We will typically be very happy for people to make extended visits away from Oxford to work with collaborators, or to leave for another opportunity part-way through the programme.

While we think that providing structure and support is an important aspect of the programme, we expect that more of the value the programme is offering comes from the environment it provides than from formal aspects of programme structure. We therefore also put a lot of attention on environmental features of RSP, including:

  • Building a culture which encourages open and curious intellectual disagreement, which strives for excellence while being kind to those experiencing difficulties, and which has enough self-awareness and shared ownership that it can be corrected when it drifts off-course.
  • Providing physical office space and equipment, facilitating an easy work environment, via things like office lunches. Also providing access to various online resources and discussion spaces. FHI’s physical office is shared with the Centre for Effective Altruism, the Global Priorities Institute, and the Forethought Foundation.
  • Facilitating interactions within RSP, and with the rest of FHI and the broader intellectual ecosystem. This includes work in progress sessions, discussions, and retreats, as well as making introductions and helping set up supervisory or collaborative relationships.

 

Applying

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:

  1. A full curriculum vitae (including a list of publications where relevant);
  2. A covering letter which should address the selection criteria;
  3. 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.

  1. The names and email addresses of two referees.

For a detailed description of the application requirements, go to the “How to apply” section of the Research Scholar or Senior Research Scholar further particulars.

Some advice about this application:
  • 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
Step 3: Trial task

It is anticipated that longlisted applicants will be notified in the week commencing 14th September. They will be asked to complete a trial task and we will also take up references. It is anticipated that applicants will have a short-turn around for submitting their task response by 28th September, with shortlisted candidates being notified shortly after.

Step 4: Interviews

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to interview, either remotely or in person. We anticipate that interviews will be held between 6th and 8th October.

It is possible that some of the dates in steps 3 and 4 will change. Please check this website for updates.

Selection criteria

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.

Ideal candidates will:

  • Be sharp and curious. The best researchers are often primarily motivated by captivation. This likely describes you if you read papers in a range of disciplines for fun, or are inclined to dive into fields even (and especially) if they’re confusing or seem wrong.
  • Pay attention to scope and long-term impact. Habitual quantitative thinking is a powerful tool for informing decisions. A focus on long-term outcomes is central to macrostrategy, so intuitive access to this will be useful throughout the programme and helpful to others in the cohort.
  • Be engaged and proactive. Crucial research questions are often in uncharted territory. It’s therefore critical that candidates are not paralysed by too much choice, but happy to strike out and try things. Similarly, since the programme is relatively new, we’re seeking candidates who see a flexible structure as an opportunity, and instinctively do something to fix problems they notice.

Note that we do not list a specific degree requirement for ideal candidates. We expect to be able to accept students both in the middle of and after having obtained degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

For a detailed description of the candidate requirements, go to the “Selection criteria” section of the Research Scholar or Senior Research Scholar further particulars.

FAQ

If you have questions which are not covered here, feel free to email fhiresearchscholars@philosophy.ox.ac.uk.

Can I do RSP part-time?

Yes, depending on the circumstance it may be possible to do RSP part-time.

Can I do RSP alongside my degree?

In unusual circumstances, possibly. It depends both on how closely related your studies are to the work you would undertake on RSP and on the rules of your institution or department.

Can I do RSP remotely?

Legally, all research scholars must be resident in the UK during their contract. In normal times, we expect scholars to attend the office for an average of three days a week, so in some cases it may be possible to live outside of Oxford itself. Doing RSP entirely remotely is not possible.

Does each of my proposals have to fit into a different FHI research area?

No, you do not need to write your proposals in separate research areas. Showing breadth of ideas and approaches will be an advantage, but this doesn’t have to mean choosing different research areas.

If I get accepted, will I have to follow through on my research proposals?

No. Some successful applicants may choose to research the proposals they submitted, but others will strike out into different areas.

Do research scholars have to specialise in a single research area?

No, there is no expectation that research scholars specialise. Some scholars do so, and dive deeply into a set of related questions. Others find it more useful to try many different approaches and fields.

I already know I don’t want to be a researcher. Can I still apply?

Yes. We think RSP is a good opportunity for some people who intend to go into non-research roles, where macrostrategic considerations are still of importance to this work. For instance, people who plan to go into policy, grant-making or community-building may be a good fit for RSP. All scholars will be expected to spend some time doing research, so if you have no interest in conducting research the programme won’t be a good fit for you.

My degree isn’t in a technical subject. Can I still apply?

The requirement for a degree in a technical subject is a soft one. While we expect most of the research scholars we accept will have a technical background, and think that there are important skills that come with such experience, it is also possible that candidates with other backgrounds will be a good fit. Social scientists, historians and philosophers might all be a good fit, along with students from some other disciplines.

I didn’t get a first. Can I still apply?

There is no requirement for applicants to receive a first class degree. We expect competition will be high, so the chances for people without a first may be a bit lower, but such candidates are still eligible.

Can I apply to RSP if I am not a British citizen?

Yes. We have capacity to submit visa applications, and international candidates are eligible for the position.

Are research scholars paid?

Yes, all research scholars are fully remunerated for the duration of their two-year contract.

Current Scholars

Dr. Carina Prunkl

Carina Prunkl
Senior Research Scholar

Cassidy Nelson
Research Scholar

Carla Zoe Cremer
Research Scholar

Ben Snodin
Senior Research Scholar

Jennifer Lin
Senior Research Scholar

Ondrej Bajgar
Senior Research Scholar

Ozzie Gooen
Research Scholar

Xavier Tierney
Research Scholar

Toby Newberry
Research Scholar

Max Daniel
Senior Research Scholar

Eliana Lorch
Research Scholar

Hamish Hobbs
Research Scholar

Daniel Eth
Senior Research Scholar

Jan Kulveit
Senior Research Scholar

Ashwin Acharya
Research Scholar

Carolyn Ashurst
Senior Research Scholar

Jacob Lagerros
Research Scholar

Highlights

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 pieces

Research scholars were co-authors on the following pieces:

Mentoring and teaching

Research scholars ran or co-ran several programmes, some of which attracted independent funding:

Scholars also mentored junior researchers on a number of programmes, and taught classes, gave talks, or ran workshops at several further events. 

Invited talks, visits to organisations, and events attended

As well as giving regular internal talks to FHI, research scholars have been invited to speak to a variety of audiences, including DeepMind, the 80,000 Hours podcast, the ChinaTalk podcast, a workshop run by the Global Priorities Institute, and the Mexican Senate.

Scholars have made visits to a variety of organisations, including: the Center for Health Security, the Centre for Human-Compatible AI, the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, the Harvard Black Hole Initiative, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.

Conferences, workshops, and other events attended by research scholars include the Rethinking Arms Control conference, the 2019 Foundations of deep learning program at the Simon’s institute, Center for Applied Rationality instructorship training, multiple Effective Altruism Global conferences, the 2019 Network Science conference, and many, many more.

Other highlights

Other highlights include:

  • EpidemicForecasting.org, a project aiming at improving COVID-19 decision making using tools from both epidemic modelling and human forecasting. EpiFor advised governments and NGOs during the pandemic.
  • Foretold.io, a free and open source forecasting platform that supports full probability distributions.
  • Several research scholars were involved in advising individuals about research directions or career decisions, including in at least one case in-depth advice about the founding of a new institute.
  • Several research scholars were involved in advising governments (including the Czech and UK governments on their COVID-19 response, the Mexican government on its national AI strategy).

One research scholar was appointed Global Technical Advisor to the Center for Global Health Security and Diplomacy. Another joined the British Standards Institute.