People frequently ask us what high-impact research in different disciplines might look like. This might be because they’re already working in a field and want to shift their research in a more impactful direction. Or maybe they’re thinking of pursuing an academic research career and they aren’t sure which discipline is right for them.
Below you will find a list of disciplines and a handful of research questions and project ideas for each one.
They are meant to be illustrative, in order to help people who are working or considering working in these disciplines get a sense of what some attempts to approach them from a longtermist perspective might look like. They also represent projects that we think would be useful to pursue from a longtermist perspective.
These lists are not meant to be exhaustive; nor are they meant to express a considered view on what we think the most valuable questions and projects in each area are.
We’ve categorised the entries by discipline, though even if you’re already a researcher in one discipline we’d encourage you to consider questions and projects from others as well. Working at the intersection of two fields, and using the tools from one to tackle questions from another, can be good ways to increase your impact, as these interfaces are often more neglected.
There is some overlap between the disciplines listed below, and some repetition of questions that seemed like particularly good examples of research in more than one field.
This article is a work in progress — we hope to add and refine entries to these lists over time.
Note February 2022: A new list of research questions that seem particularly high impact to us has just come out: Important, actionable research questions for the most important century. They don’t all fit neatly into the categories below, as many are interdisciplinary and somewhat different from the kind of work done in most academic departments, so we haven’t integrated them below. But check them out, and if you think you might be a good fit for working on one of them we encourage you to explore it!
What are these lists based on?
Our primary strategy in compiling these lists was to look through formal and informal collections of high-impact research questions put together by others in the effective altruism community or by people working on our priority problems. We’ve linked to these sources throughout, as well as at the end of this article. One reason we’ve used informal sources is that we’re interested in questions and projects that seem high-impact in part because they’re less well-researched by established academics.
When choosing between a question or project that seemed higher impact from a longtermist perspective and one that struck us as more illustrative, we often chose the latter.
We’ve lightly edited or changed many of the questions and project descriptions we got from other sources, which we note in parentheses. If there is no adaptation or change indicated, the entry is an exact quote. Often you can find more context for these questions and projects — including existing literature and additional questions — in the linked sources. If there is no source indicated, we wrote the entry ourselves.