by Silver Beach

Weekly guided tours through foundational and cutting-edge research

Every field of research today is the product of decades of ideas, theories, and empirical work that are catalogued, discussed, and debated via research papers. This published material is what allows today's researchers to stand on the shoulders of their predecessors from all over the world, but the sheer volume and complexity of it, the often opaque terminology and unstated assumptions, and the lack of a clear starting point for exploration can all make the process of reading and engaging with research (in order to do new research) daunting to the uninitiated, especially people outside traditional graduate academia who don't have access to people who spend time guiding them through the maze.

With Sessions, we want to change that. Each hour-long Session, with a maximum of 12 participants, is a guided exploration and group discussion of one particular influential, fundamental, or cutting-edge publication in a particular field. Every Session is led by a scholar with years of experience in that field who will teach you how to decipher the core ideas of that publication by illuminating background literature, setting the work in its historical and substantive context, and answering the many questions that will inevitably arise along the way.

Sessions come in Tracks, each of which is an ongoing, neverending series of weekly Sessions focusing on a particular field of research. We are starting with seven distinct tracks -- Programming Languages, mRNA Pharmaceuticals, Information Theory, Distributed Systems, Robot Navigation, Experimental Social Science, and Developmental Economics -- which will be hosted every week starting August 2021.

You can join just one Session or (depending on availability of slots) keep going along a given Track for months at a time -- it's totally up to you. Sessions are $30 each, but each Track has at least three fully-funded scholarship slots at any time, which are allocated on a monthly basis by application.

The Silver Beach Institute was founded to open up pathways for people outside traditional academia who want to do original research. We've organized research courses in astrophysics and genomics run and attended by scholars from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, and Ashoka University.


We'll let you know once we're accepting registrations for sessions.


What is a Session?

A Session is an hour-long online discussion, in which you, your guide, and up to 11 other participants dissect and debate a particular research paper, as well as explore potential new directions that stem from that work.

In the week prior to the Session, your guide will provide instructions for preparatory work that could include reading some related work, watching a pre-recorded lecture, and writing down your thoughts about specific parts of the research being discussed.

Every Session participant will then actually read the paper and make annotations. We have an online tool that lets the entire group annotate papers collaboratively. Your annotations should be questions, comments, or ideas you had while reading the paper -- anything that will enhance your and your peers’ understanding of the ideas behind it.

Next, your guide will schedule an optional group ‘pre-session’ to answer any questions or clear any doubts that have prevented you or your peers from getting through the whole paper.

Your guide then goes through all the annotations before the Session. During the actual Session, your guide will moderate and direct discussion between you and the rest of the group, guiding you towards a collaborative understanding of the paper, the underlying research, the ideas behind it, and its context in and impact on the field as a whole.

At the end of the week, you will be asked to send in a list of your own ideas for research that could expand on that week’s topic, generate more theories, and further develop the field.

The topics and papers to be covered each week will be posted online in advance, so you can drop in for a single Session that interests you, book seats in advance for the Sessions you like, attend Sessions in different fields, decide to attend every Session in a given track for a year to get a deep understanding of the ideas underpinning a single field of research, or anything in between.

Each Session booking includes an optional 10 minute individual office hours slot with your guide, which can be scheduled at your mutual convenience anytime during the week

What is a Track?

A Track is an ongoing, neverending series of Sessions focusing on a particular field of research. Tracks aren’t like university courses; they don’t have specific curricula or a set number of meetings. Instead, they continue indefinitely, exploring a new idea, theory, or paper each week. This means you can drop in for a single Session or a few Sessions that interest you, or attend a Track consistently for months or a year for a broad, deep, and detailed understanding of a particular field.

In August 2021, we will start Tracks in:

  1. Programming Languages
  2. mRNA Pharmaceuticals
  3. Information Theory
  4. Distributed Systems
  5. Robot Navigation
  6. Experimental Social Science
  7. Developmental Economics

More Tracks will be gradually added, based both on the relevance of the field and on student interest and feedback. Feel free to send us an email at if you’d like to see Sessions in a particular field of research!

How much time per week?

With the synchronous sessions and reading you have to do, we suggest you commit around 5 hours/week for Sessions.

How much will these cost?

Each Session costs $30 to participate in — this will include the session, the curated preparatory material, access to the shared annotations, and the pre-session, as well as an optional 10 minute personal office hours slot with your guide.

We don’t want affordability to be an obstacle for anyone who is genuinely curious and wants to attend Sessions. Scholarships are available, and each session will have at least three spots reserved for a scholar! Just one condition: as a scholar, you will have the responsibility to prepare notes from the Sessions you’re a part of. Eventually, we’ll make these notes freely available to the public, as a way of giving back to the scientific community!

Sign up, and we'll keep you updated