Measure is unceasing

Frank Feedback Given To Very Junior Researchers

Over the last year, I have found myself giving feedback on various drafts, something that I’m generally quite happy to do. Recently, I got to give two variations of this same feedback in quick succession, so I noticed the commonalities, and then realized that these commonalities were also present on past pieces of feedback. I thought I’d write the general template up, in case others might find it valuable.

High level comments

Judgment calls

Suggestions if you want to produce something which is directly useful

But note that maybe producing something directly useful isn’t what you what to be doing, and gaining expertise about some topic of interest might be a fine thing to do. In that case, maybe just gain expertise about X directly and then write some thoughts on it, rather than attempting to produce an exhaustive report on X from the get go.

Object level comments

In this section, I usually go section by section pointing out impressions, things one could add, objections, etc.

Models about the value of your project

Ultimately, I expect that the chance that your report influences e.g., funding decisions this time is pretty low, and that most of its value would come from the things you’ve learnt allowing you to choose a more constrained project next time, or improving your models of the world more generally.

Edited to add: I think that this is essentially a common state of affairs, and that affecting the world through research requires hitting a fairly narrow target. Ideally you could rely on mentors and on feedback from the EA community to aim you in the right direction. But in practice you do end up needing to figure out yourself a lot of the specifics. I hope that the above points were helpful for that, and good luck.

Notes on that feedback

So, I realize that the above feedback might come across as discouraging, but at the point where someone has e.g., written quite a lengthy piece which probably won’t affect any decisions, I do feel bound to give them an honest assessment of why I think that is when they ask me for feedback. That said, I am aware that I could probably word things more tactfully.

However, I’m not too worried because feedback recipients generally signaled that they found the feedback as valuable, or even “among the most useful [they] gathered.” And in general, the EA community does go to great lengths to be welcoming to new members, so some contrast occasionally doesn’t feel like a terrible idea.

I’d be curious to get push-back on any of the points, or to get other people’s version of this post.