Brett Mensh, of Optimize Science taught me essentially all the good parts of what follows, so all praise is appropriately directed at him. However, this note fails to do him or his teaching justice. Rather, it is me jotting down my notes on the topic for my students, to be iterated and further improved upon in public.
In many areas of life we often have to choose a “project”. This comes up in academia all the time in grant writing. A natural question therefore is how choose, that is, by what metric shall one choose a project. Here, I argue that the only two dimensions worth considering are: feasibility and significance.
Feasibility: Feasibility characterizes the probability that you can complete the project given your current resources and/or constraints. Your resources includes your background knowledge, the wealth of all previous knowledge that you have access to, resources that other individuals, collaborators, etc. are willing to invest on your behalf, and possibly facilities (such as computing facilities for our work). Constraints include your time, and the energy you are willing to invest in the project, given other life interests.
Significance: Significance characterizes how important, for the world, successful completion of the project will be. The equation for this is “# of people impacted x impact per person”. There is a wonderful little summary of this concept available here, which includes the following graphic: