We are excited to announce the new Open Philanthropy Technology Policy Fellowship. You can apply here until September 15th. This post will provide some background on the fellowship program and details on who we’d be excited to receive applications from.
Other resources for prospective applicants:
- You can register for information sessions about the fellowship here.
- We will be running an AMA on the EA Forum soon (here).
What is the fellowship?
The fellowship aims to help grow the community of people working at the intersection of US policy and Open Philanthropy’s longtermism-motivated work, especially in AI and biosecurity. It provides selected applicants with policy-focused training and mentorship, and supports them 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.
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 (for a maximum duration of 12 or 24 months).
More details about the program can be found on the application page.
Such fellowship programs are fairly common in Washington, DC. To learn more about the model and partly analogous programs, you can check out AAAS’s Science and Technology Policy Fellowship (for executive branch and congressional fellowships), the RWJ Foundation’s Health Policy Fellowship (for executive branch and congressional fellowships), TechCongress (for congressional fellowships), CFR’s International Affairs Fellowship (for executive branch and think tank fellowships), and Scoville (for think tank junior fellowships).
Who should apply?
The fellowship program was designed to accommodate a broad talent pool. Opportunities are available for both entry-level and mid-career applicants, for technical and non-technical people, and for people both with and without prior policy experience.
Entry-level applicants can apply to be “junior fellows” at think tanks. This role will combine research assistance with operational support, for example organizing and taking notes at expert workshops. Junior fellows may also get opportunities for short-form independent writing (e.g. articles for popular outlets). The position will initially be for 6 months, with potential renewal for another 6 months. Current students who will complete their bachelor’s or master’s degree in Spring 2022 are eligible to apply, as are other recent graduates (see here for more on eligibility).
Early/mid-career applicants can apply to be fellows in the executive branch, Congress, or at think tanks. Applicants must have a minimum of several years of relevant experience, but it is not uncommon for policy fellowship programs to take in people at a more advanced career stage (e.g. someone in their 30s or 40s with 10+ years of experience). We are open to applicants of all levels of seniority above our minimum requirements; we will work hard to support all fellows in matching with a host office and role where their background and expertise will be put to good use. (See here for more on eligibility.)
Besides the appropriate level of seniority, we will largely be looking for (a) sufficient alignment with Open Phil's longtermist interests and priorities, (b) evidence of “fit” for applied policy work, and (c) some expertise or experience relevant to emerging technology (broadly defined). What does this mean in practice?
- Policy work often involves a great deal of communication and networking, generally with lots of different groups. Cross-cultural communication (both oral and writing) skills are an important criterion.
- Policy work is also generally collaborative and team-based, so you have to be able to collaborate well, including with people who you might disagree with. Comfort and experience working in such environments is a strong plus.
- People with prior policy experience are welcome to apply, but experience is not required. To the extent that we take such experience into account in the screening process, it will mostly be as evidence that policy work is a good “fit” for them, and people without experience can show their “fit” in other ways.
- As discussed in more detail below, we are excited to support people who plan to spend a significant part of their career working in or around the US government, but we also expect to accept applicants who are not sure that applied policy work is right for them and would like to use the fellowship program to assess that.
- More generally, we expect to weigh “fit” and “soft skills” more heavily in the application process than knowledge. This is because, in our experience, knowledge (e.g. about the committee structure of Congress or the division of responsibility across federal agencies) can be taught fairly easily — and the program includes a significant training dimension on exactly those sorts of questions — whereas personality and communication abilities are harder to change.
- This is a “technology policy” fellowship (focused especially on AI and bio), so host organizations will expect some relevant experience or expertise — but don’t disqualify yourself too quickly! “Technology expertise” is a looser concept in DC than it is in, say, San Francisco. Someone with professional experience in health tech can usually profile themselves as having experience “relevant” to AI or biosecurity, even if their work did not directly involve building machine learning systems or pandemic preparedness. To the extent possible, we won’t disqualify applicants who we’re otherwise excited about on the basis of formal credentials.
- Junior fellows especially will not be expected to have extensive expertise; some relevant classes or a relevant term paper may be sufficient, as long as you are a quick study and can learn on the job.
- There are also some differences (e.g. in how broad your policy portfolio is) between our three organizational categories (executive branch, Congress, and think tanks). You may be a good fit for one type of organization but a poor fit for the others. More about these differences on the application page.
When in doubt about your eligibility or fit, we encourage you to apply! We welcome explicit mention of particular concerns/questions in your application materials. You can also ask us questions about eligibility and fit at any time during the application process, and during our information sessions and the EA Forum AMA (see top of this post).
We aim to build a diverse cohort, and strongly encourage individuals with backgrounds and experiences underrepresented in science and technology policy to apply, especially women and people of color.
What does success look like?
We hope some of the fellows will continue doing policy work in some capacity, whether directly in government or at other organizations in Washington, DC. Fellows will be provided with mentorship and professional development opportunities explicitly aimed at helping them secure policy jobs, including introductions to helpful contacts and tailored workshops on job application cycles and norms across various institutions.
Some fellows will learn that working in government is not the right “fit” for them. For this group, we nonetheless think that the fellowship will serve as a useful learning experience. For example, some fellows may decide to pursue AI governance work at tech firms or EA organizations after their fellowship instead of continuing direct government work. We expect this type of work to benefit significantly from fellows having developed better models of the US policymaking process and the influence of various policy stakeholders. Continuing social ties will also play an important role here.
More generally, we believe longtermist strategy and policy would benefit from having more “translators” who can bridge different communities (EA and non-EA, research and policy, technical and non-technical, etc.). Moving between different types of employers and cultures every few years is an excellent way to develop translation skills and cross-pollinate ideas. Even if you’re not sure you want to spend your entire career in the US government — or even if you’re pretty sure that you don’t — we still very much encourage you to apply to the fellowship.
We expect readers on the EA Forum to be familiar with these concepts and won’t elaborate on them here, but see e.g. here and here for more details. Note that we welcome applicants who previously have not worked directly within longtermist cause areas, as long as they are interested in working on longtermist-related issues in the future. ↩︎
See e.g. the lists of alumni of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program (which places people in executive branch offices) and the RWJ Health Policy Fellowship (Congress or executive branch), which include many people with 10-20 years of professional experience. ↩︎