Independent research

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Ideally someone will in future edit this entry so that it says more about advantages and disadvantages of independent research, and maybe also about tips.

One way to do that would be to summarise and reference the following passage, written by Daniel Eth, for an LTFF payout report:

The largest pitfall in my mind for long-term independent researchers is one’s research becoming detached from the actual concerns of a field and thereby producing negligible value. Tegan seems to have avoided this pitfall so far, thanks to her research judgment and understanding of the relevant areas, and I see no evidence that she’s headed towards it in the future.

Another potential pitfall of independent research is a general lack of feedback loops, both for specific research projects and for the individual’s research skills. One way that independent researchers may be able to produce stronger feedback loops for their work is by sharing more intermediate work. While Tegan has shared (and received feedback from) some senior longtermist researchers on some of her intermediate work, I think she would probably benefit from sharing intermediate work more broadly, such as on the EA forum.

Finally, independent research can struggle to get as much traction as other work (keeping quality constant), as it’s less likely to be connected to organizations or networks where it will naturally be passed around. My sense is that Tegan’s research hasn’t gotten as much attention as it “deserves” given its level of quality, and that many who would find value in the research aren’t aware of it. Fixing such a dynamic generally requires a more active promotion strategy from the researcher. Again, I think posting more intermediate work could help here, as it would create more instances where others see the work, learn about what the researcher is working on, and perhaps even offer feedback.

Uncertainties about the  current text (which I wrote):

  • Should collaborative research definitely (rather than arguably) count as independent research? Should it definitely not count?
  • Should research conducted by people who are employed, but with the research being separate from their employment, count?
    • I think clearly yes if they're e.g. employed as a bank clerk but doing AI safety research in their free time.
    • Not sure for e.g. the research I do that's not exactly Rethink Priorities or FHI research, but that one or both orgs are still happy exists.