Protocol Labs

Protocol Labs makes internet protocols: IPFS, Filecoin, and more.

Independent Researcher at Protocol Labs

Remote - PL Research / Remote
Job Type
Apply to Protocol Labs and hundreds of other fast-growing YC startups with a single profile.
Apply to role ›

About the role

Independent research at Protocol Labs is an opportunity to pursue risky, ambitious projects that further our mission and align with our values and passions. Each effort seeks to solve a problem with huge potential impact that is too ambitious to garner wide initial support. These projects include or have included modeling the economics of open source, designing new protocols to facilitate the decentralization of energy grids, and building tools for the distributed generation and mapping of public knowledge. Independent research projects are an important part of our central mission to improve computation and communication to move humanity forward. 

An independent research problem and its intended solution should meet the following criteria:

  • The solution promises to impact society in significant, positive ways that are broadly accessible (not limited to those privileged by money, education, or social status).
  • Though the problem can be ambitious, it must be tractable, where clear progress toward a solution can be measured.
  • It should be aligned with the overall mission of Protocol Labs, contributing to a vision of the future made better through technological improvements rooted in computing and communication. 

We invest significant time and resources supporting our independent researchers and their projects and, therefore, do not bring them on lightly.

As an Independent Researcher at Protocol Labs you will:

  • Define and map out an ambitious research project and be able to clearly articulate its potential impact on the world, as well as its relationship to the mission and goals of Protocol Labs Research.
  • Lead the identification and pursuit of specific goals and milestones pertaining to your project.  
  • Initiate and build collaborations with external partners and advisors as needed. Create prototypes, drafts, or proofs of concept to test and demonstrate research outcomes.
  • Communicate your work to the research community and build collaborations inside and outside PL. 
  • Participate in collaborative conversations with other independent researchers and help define the future of research at PL.
  • Participate in regular remote lab meetings, attend quarterly co-located retreats with other independent researchers and management, and have regular one-on-one calls with a research lead.
  • Work in an asynchronous and fully remote team.

Basic qualifications:

  • Ability to work independently and reach key milestones with minimal supervision.
  • A mission-driven focus on having a significant impact on the world through technological advancement, complemented by a stubborn optimism for the future.
  • An ability to pursue unconventional lines of questioning when identifying problems and exploring solutions.

Bonus qualifications:

  • Master’s or PhD in a scientific or technical field (or equivalent experience).
  • A history of independent research achievement, including but not limited to developing solutions that garnered adoption or recognition among interested experts (this could be patents, awards, or honors, or having been a founding CTO or significant driver for a well-known product).
  • One or more notable accomplishments or discoveries that have dramatically altered the direction of a research lab, organization, or field.

How to apply for this position:

Submit a CV of no more than 2 pages, a project summary statement of no more than one hundred words, and answers to the following prompts. 

  1. Describe the current state of the problem. Use quantitative metrics to demonstrate the importance of solving it. 

  2. Discuss the existing research, listing the most relevant related work and key background readings. Be quantitative, and explain why the current or proposed solutions do not adequately address the problem. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your capacity as a researcher in this field. 

  3. Define your approach to addressing or solving the problem:

a. Describe the steps you would take to reach a solution. Do not simply describe the end goal. Be technical. 

b. How would you de-risk this research problem? What is the biggest obstacle to ensuring a successful project? For example, if your solution involves combining two technologies, explain how they would work together and what problems would likely need to be solved.

c. In relation to the problem you are describing, what would define a “successful” research project?  

  1. What limits your ability to solve this problem without Protocol Labs? How do you see Protocol Labs supporting you in pursuit of this project? 

Get us excited about the work you want to pursue, convince us of its importance, and then convince us that you are the right person for the job. Don’t speak in generalities or broad concepts; be technical, specific, and thorough! Assume we will consult experts in relevant fields to evaluate the novelty and potential risks for your proposal.

Note: Under the right circumstances, we would consider taking on a small team of 2-3 researchers working on a significant and exciting project. If you are applying as a team, only one proposal needs to be submitted. Please attach the CVs of all team members, and list all names at the bottom of your application.

What’s it like to work at Protocol Labs?

Protocol Labs mission is to improve humanity’s most important technology, the Internet. We build protocols, systems, and tools to improve how it works. Today, we are focused on how we store, locate, and move information. Our projects include IPFS, Filecoin, libp2p, and more.

As a distributed team, we hire anywhere in the world, and at various levels of experience (entry, senior, staff). We look for people with unique perspectives and diverse backgrounds.

We have a great benefits package, including parental leave, contributions to your retirement, competitive pay, and unlimited time off. For U.S.-based employees, we also provide platinum-level health, dental, and vision coverage for you and your family.

Why you should join Protocol Labs

Protocol Labs is an open-source R&D lab. We build protocols, tools, and services to radically improve the internet. Our products serve thousands of organizations and millions of people.

Our projects include IPFS, Filecoin, libp2p, Sourcecred, and many more. Today, we are focused on the Web3 space. Our projects center on distributed systems, cryptocurrencies, cryptography, and game theory. Long term, we hope to establish a lab capable of repeatable innovation, and we aspire to R&D breakthroughs that make human existence orders of magnitude better.

We are a fully distributed company. We have over 100 team members, we work with thousands more in open source, and we collaborate with 100+ organizations.

See our projects: and our labs: