Selected past courses

Introduction to Social Science Genetics

with Robbee Wedow (MIT & Harvard) and Andrew Grotzinger (Harvard Medical School & UT Austin)

Over the past several years, scientists have capitalized on newly-available molecular genetic data to explore connections between human genetics and many social and demographic phenomena. A notable example of this kind of work was the groundbreaking 2018 paper in the journal Nature Genetics authored by James J. Lee, Robbee Wedow (one of the course instructors), and others, that used a sample of over 1.1 million individuals to identify over a thousand places in the human genome that were highly associated with educational attainment. Other scientists have used the results of similar studies to demonstrate how genetic signatures for educational attainment predict social mobility into midlife. In this course, participants spanning the spectrum from high school students to PhDs collaboratively explored the frontier of work in this exciting area, then proposed novel research projects of their own.

Facts-based Fictional Worldbuilding

with Moiya McTier of Columbia University

From Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass to Star Trek to Legend of Zelda, fictional worlds have entertained, educated, and comforted us for centuries. A fictional world might be a universe that obviously differs from our reality because it has magic or advanced technology. It might also be a world where the differences are more subtle. One way or the other, they all take time and effort to build. Participants in this course used scientific reserarch to inform the creation of novel, logically coherent, and believeable imaginary worlds.

Our educational philosophy

Our research-course based approach comes from the fact that most of our team's best learning experiences have come from being immediately immersed in detailed discussions of work in a field we're interested in, then starting small research projects as a way of engaging more deeply with the field's methods, conventions, and literature.

Somewhat counterintuitively, we've found that this can work well even for students who come in without a lot of background in the field — once intense interest in a particular topic is sparked, or a research project is begun, it is usually possible to work backwards to the necessary fundamentals using online resources such as free textbooks and course videos, as well as by asking questions to slightly more advanced peers.

We think that this kind of learning experience is among the most effective ways to put people on the path to doing substantive new work of their own that advances the frontier of human knowledge, which we see as the ultimate goal of all education.

Unfortunately, these sorts of research courses are not widely available to students outside of research universities, and in many cases are not open to even undergraduate students at such universities. That’s where we come in: the Silver Beach Institute exists to democratize access to learning experiences of this kind. Our courses are centered around semi-structured instructor-led discussions, ambitious student projects, and the forging of intellectual & social bonds across backgrounds and disciplines. We hope that these courses, which are each taught by a researcher or practitioner who is actively doing important and exciting work on the topic they teach, will seed a distributed research community where our heterogenous group of students can learn from each other and collaborate on substantive projects that make significant positive contributions to human society.