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We will be answering questions about a new fellowship program run by Open Philanthropy, the Technology Policy Fellowship. We will begin answering questions in the comments section here on August 6th, and will continue monitoring the post for a few days after that.

What is the OP Technology Policy Fellowship?

This is a US policy fellowship program focused on high-priority emerging technologies, especially AI and biotechnology. Selected applicants will receive policy-focused training and mentorship and be supported in matching with a host organization for a full-time, fully-funded fellowship based in the Washington, DC area. Potential host organizations include executive branch offices, Congressional offices, and think tank programs.

Applications for the program are due by September 15th. Fellowship placements are expected to begin in early or mid-2022 and to last 6 or 12 months (depending on the fellowship category), with potential renewal for a second term. Fellowship opportunities are available for both entry-level and mid-career applicants, and for people both with and without prior policy experience.

More details can be found on the application page and in an earlier EA Forum post.

What types of questions can we answer, and who will answer the questions?

We are happy to field a range of questions, including questions about the content of the program (e.g. types of training fellows will receive), who we think is a good fit for the program, what we will be looking for when assessing applications, and what thinking was behind Open Philanthropy’s decision to launch the program.

Questions about Open Philanthropy’s vision and decision-making will be answered by Luke Muehlhauser, who is the Program Officer for this fellowship. Some of the other questions may be answered by the project team that is helping OP run the fellowship (they will be responding through a fellowship account).

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In Think Tank Junior Fellow, OP writes

Recently obtained a bachelor’s or master’s degree (including Spring 2022 graduates)

How are you thinking about this requirement? Is there something flex about it (like when a startup says they want a college graduate) or are there bureaucratic forces at partner organizations locking it in stone (like when a hospital IT department says they want a college graduate)? Perhaps describe properties of a hypothetical candidate that would inspire you to flex this requirement? 

This requirement mainly exists because our host organizations tend to value traditional credentials. However, as we note on the application page, “The eligibility guidelines below are loose and somewhat flexible. If you’re not sure whether you are eligible, we still encourage you to apply.” To the extent possible, we will work to accommodate applicants that we are excited about even if they don’t have traditional credentials. 

We expect most think tanks to fall somewhere between a startup and a hospital IT department, in terms of flexibility. Different think tanks will also have different cultures and policies with respect to credentials. If we receive promising applications from people without a college degree, we may reach out to some potential host organizations on that candidate’s behalf to assess whether host organizations would consider the lack of a traditional credential to be a dealbreaker. Our (and potentially the candidate’s) decision about advancement would depend in large part on the responses we receive to those inquiries.      

The listed application documents include a "Short essay (≤500 words)" without further details. Can you say more about what this entails and what you are looking for?

The specific prompts were included in the application form. Apologies that this was not clear. We’ve now added a note along those lines to the fellowship page. 

The prompts are: 

  • Personal statement: “What do you want to get out of this fellowship? Why do you think you are a good fit? Please describe your interest in (and any experience with) policy as well as your area of focus (e.g. AI or biosecurity).”
  • Short essay: “What is one specific policy idea related to AI, biosecurity, or related emerging technology areas that you think the US government should pursue today? Why do you think this idea would be beneficial?”
  • Statement of motivation: “How do your interests and plans align with Open Philanthropy's goals related to societal impacts of technology?”

Is this something OP is likely to be facilitating in future years to come too?

I expect Open Philanthropy will want to fund more fellowships like this in the future, but we have some uncertainty about (1) the supply of applicants who are a good fit for the program, and especially (2) the availability of staff and contractors who can run time-intensive programs like this. If we don't run a similar program in the future, I think the most likely reason will be a lack of (2).

Is the staff availability problem more about certain skillsets being in short supply (e.g. ability to evaluate, connect and mentor candidates) or just raw operational power (and if so, is the problem here that it's hard to recruit enough people because of the overhead in recruitment, or you don't want to for another reason), or something else?

It's mostly about skillsets, context/experience with both the DC policy world, and familiarity with Open Philanthropy's programmatic priorities.

Relatedly, what is the likelihood that future iterations of the fellowship might be less US-centric, or include Visa sponsorship?

A large portion of the value from programs like this comes from boosting fellows into career paths where they spend at least some time working in the US government, and many of the most impactful government roles require US citizenship. We are therefore mainly focused on people who have (a plausible pathway to) citizenship and are interested in US government work. Legal and organizational constraints means it is unlikely that we will be able to sponsor visas even if we run future rounds.

This program is US-based because the US government is especially important to our programmatic priorities. That said, it's possible we'll run (or fund someone else to run) a similar program in one or more non-US countries in the future, perhaps most likely in the UK.

Are non-US citizens who hold a US work authorization disadvantaged in the application process even if they seek to enter a US policy career (and perhaps aim to become naturalized eventually)?

Non-citizens are eligible to apply for the program if they do not require visa sponsorship in order to receive a placement. For example, someone with a green card should be eligible to work at any think tank. As long as applicants are eligible to work in the roles that they are applying for, non-citizens who aspire to US policy careers will not be disadvantaged.

It’s our understanding that it is difficult for non-citizens to get a security clearance, which is required for many federal government roles, and executive branch offices are generally hesitant about bringing on non-citizens. Congressional offices are legally allowed to take on permanent residents (and even some temporary visa holders), but individual offices may adopt policies favoring US citizens. Out of the three categories, we therefore expect non-citizens to have the easiest time matching with a think tank. However, a lot depends on individual circumstances, so it is difficult to generalize. We encourage non-citizens with work authorization to apply, and would work through these sorts of questions with them individually if they reach the later stages of the application process.

Could you comment more on how your goals differ from TechCongress or AAAS's? Do you think these differences would mostly affect how you select participants? Or, how might these differences manifest themselves in the experience of a participant? Thank you - this looks very exciting!

In terms of the experience of a participant, we expect our program to closely resemble existing programs like TechCongress and AAAS. Like those programs, we will provide individualized training and matching assistance to help fellows find placements. We will also provide social and professional programming to the fellow cohort in order to build community. Our target placement offices in Congress and the executive branch are also very similar (we also have a think tank category, whereas TechCongress and AAAS focus exclusively on government placements).

In terms of participant selection, one difference is that we are particularly excited to support fellows who share OP’s focus on the long-term implications of a relatively small set of emerging technologies, especially AI and biosecurity (here). However, like TechCongress and AAAS, we will also be paying close attention to “policy fit.” You can read more about what we mean by that in our earlier EA Forum post (here).

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