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I believe that doing EA community building, especially at top universities, can be a great early career move for certain people. It’s possible that not enough students or recent graduates are aware of the reasons why this could be a good option for them, so I wanted to lay out my thoughts in this post. My central claim is that running an EA or cause area group at a top university can provide very useful career capital for individuals in the early stages of their careers.

The specific work I’m referring to is currently funded through Open Philanthropy’s University Group Organiser Fellowship. This usually involves running an Effective Altruism or cause area (e.g. AI Safety) group at a university. Open Philanthropy provides funding for organisers working at least 10 hours per week, though in this post I’m mostly thinking of people doing this work full-time (or something close to that)[1]. My understanding is that Open Philanthropy is willing to fund people at any university, though in this article I’m mainly referring to community builders based at top-ranked universities[2]. Doing other local community building work (perhaps funded through CEA’s CBG program or the EA Infrastructure Fund) could have many of the same benefits, but I know less about this.

If you want to do this work, you can apply to Open Philanthropy for funding. The Cambridge and Oxford EA groups are both interested in bringing on new community builders for the next academic year. I’m also happy to talk to anyone considering working on university community building in the near future.

This post is mostly based on my personal experience working as a community builder at EA Oxford for the last few months, as well as some conversations with community builders at other universities. In this post, I’ll mostly refer to EA community building, though I think most of what I say is equally applicable to running cause area groups (e.g. AI safety groups like HAIST or existential risk groups like CERI).

I have some concerns that my beliefs here are just a post-hoc justification for my own career decisions. Overall, I think that community building has been a good move for me, but I still recognise a lot of mistakes I’ve made in getting to the point I am at now. An important caveat I want to make clear is that for most people, this is not the right career choice. However, I believe it can be a great choice for some people. I have some worries that this post will result in the wrong people counterfactually pursuing this path. I encourage any readers to think very carefully about what work to pursue.

A group of hikers
Perhaps organising an EA group is like leading a hike. Perhaps your whole career is like a long hike. I like hikes and nice pictures.

What do you gain from doing community building professionally?

1. The opportunity to form deeper models on important problems

A significant part of your job as a community builder involves engaging deeply with EA content both at an introductory and in-depth level. You are likely to be regularly reading, discussing or presenting important ideas from across the EA space. Facilitating multiple introductory fellowships has deepened my understanding of fundamental concepts – every cohort has been an opportunity to learn something new or take a fresh angle on a seemingly uncontroversial idea.

To some extent, you can also follow your own interests. For example, if you want to learn more about wild animal welfare, you can use your work hours to organise a wild animal welfare reading group. The Protégé Effect suggests that one of the best ways to learn may be by teaching others. It can be surprising how often something useful for you as an individual is also valuable for the wider group. If you have something you want to learn or make progress on, somebody else in the community will likely also find that helpful. In particular, I’m excited about promising early career people using this as an opportunity to think very carefully about what problems they should work on in the future.

2. A variety of experience

In many ways, being a group organiser is like running a small organisation or business. Most of the time only one or two people will be responsible for managing all necessary workflows.

Here are some things you might do while on a community building grant:

  • Developing brand new programmes to support community members.
  • Running retreats, including all logistical planning and content design.
  • Running social media channels, writing social media and website content, and designing graphics.
  • Running 1-on-1 advising or coaching conversations.
  • Acting as a manager for teams of student volunteers.
  • Designing and delivering workshops or talks.
  • Doing research for reading groups or workshops.

This gives you the chance to develop skills that can be incredibly useful for a range of generalist roles. Some skill areas you might develop that I think are quite widely applicable include:

  • Operations management
  • People management
  • Marketing and outreach
  • Public speaking, presenting, and facilitation

The scope of other entry-level roles is often more limited since very specific deliverables are required from you. As with learning, you can use your work to make progress on things that are important to you. If you want to develop your writing abilities, spend time making your newsletter awesome. Likewise, if you want to get better at public speaking, run more workshops.

3. A wide network within EA

A byproduct of being a community builder is that you end up knowing a lot of people in the EA community. You’ll spend a significant amount of time talking to and being around people who care about important problems. Part of your job is to know who’s who in the community and be able to connect people who could benefit from knowing each other. You are likely to interact with professionals who are more senior to you, both within the EA community and perhaps adjacent fields as well. It’s also worth noting that your work can often be highly visible – if you organise a great event, people get to know about it.

Your network is an important part of your career capital, and building a strong network early in your career can set you up in a great position to accelerate progress on your next steps. You could find collaborators or mentors, future employers or funders, as well as supportive friends. Regularly interacting with people who are more experienced in specific domains can also help you build better models of the world.

4. Actual impact!

Community building, if done well, can have a lot of impact. Your work could counterfactually result in talented students pursuing high-impact work, which is a great outcome for the world. That said, I think people should be wary of optimising too much for impact early in their careers since most of your impact is likely to come later in your career. It often makes more sense to prioritise building career capital early on. However, community building can be an opportunity to do something impactful while also developing career capital.

Other benefits

  • Flexible and self-directed work.
    • Community building comes with many of the usual perks of self-employment. You have the autonomy to work on whatever you think is most valuable. You can also (to some degree) set your own work hours and days off, with the main limiting factor being university term/semester dates. However, depending on your personality, this flexibility could end up being a downside (more on that later).
  • It is (currently) well paid.
    • University Group Organiser fellowship grant amounts are between $60,000 – $95,000 (US), or £35,800 – £55,900 (UK), per year for non-undergraduates, which is on par with a lot of other competitive graduate jobs like consulting. Getting paid well can be good for building a financial runway which allows you time to explore your next steps or alternative paths.

What skill profile is good for community building?

As with any role, community building won’t be a good fit for many people. I’ll mention some characteristics which I think are valuable for community building work, but I don’t think all of these are necessary and lacking one or more shouldn’t dissuade you.

  • Being self-motivated – you are proactive and comfortable working without external accountability.
  • Strong interpersonal skills – you are comfortable spending lots of time talking to people and can create a positive social environment.
  • Conscientious and organised – you can manage multiple workflows and prioritise between tasks.
  • Good communicator, both written and verbal – you can explain complex ideas to both newer and more experienced audiences.

If you led an EA group as a student, or have facilitated fellowships and reading groups, this is a decent signal you might possess some of these skills. If you want to know more about how to find out what you’re good at, this 80,000 Hours article is quite helpful.

Why might community building not be the right career move for you?

  • A lack of external support.
    • By default, you don't have a manager. You have to set your own goals and metrics and keep track of projects yourself. There is usually no organisational structure to support you if you have any issues.
    • There are some ways to mitigate this – you should almost certainly assign yourself a manager or mentor, get support from peers, and potentially consider paying for a coach.
  • You struggle with having to be social or interfacing with people a lot.
    • Some community builders I know can find this work emotionally draining and the overlap of personal and professional life can sometimes be difficult to manage.
  • Reputational risks.
    • Especially for EA groups, your work is very tied to the reputation of the Effective Altruism brand. Despite some recent controversy, I believe the reputation of EA is still relatively good, though it’s possible that this could change quickly.
  • You need very specific career capital.
    • Community building can be great for building general career capital, but if you need to build evidence of very specific skills or expertise (e.g. for certain technical roles), it likely isn’t a good option.
  • Community building work appears to have a fairly high rate of attrition and burnout.
    • A few previous community builders I know have faced burnout or left their roles prematurely. There’s a host of reasons why this may happen. I think this is unlikely to be something inherent to the work itself, but rather that the current support systems for community builders have flaws. I’m also unsure how the prevalence of these problems compares to work in similar categories (eg. startups or PhDs).

What are some next steps after running a university group?

This is not a comprehensive list of all the things that university group organising might set you up for, but these are some things previous community builders have gone on to do:

  • Working at other community building organisations like CEA or 80,000 Hours.
  • Founding a new impactful organisation, doing either meta or direct work (e.g. BlueDot Impact, Future Impact Group).
  • Working in operations at an impactful organisation.
  • Policy careers.
  • Research (perhaps especially relevant for people running cause area groups).


Overall, I’m excited for people to consider running university groups as a viable early career option. If you’re keen to pursue this, you should apply to Open Philanthropy for funding. You’re also welcome to reach out if talking to me would be helpful.

  1. ^

     While part-time work can provide some of the benefits I discuss, I think that full-time work offers a disproportionately higher return on the time invested.

  2. ^

     I’d be pretty happy to see full-time organisers at universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, MIT and Harvard. This is not to say that groups at lower-ranked universities are not valuable, I’m just uncertain if full-time organising at these universities is as worth investing in.





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I don't disagree with any specific point in this but somewhat disagree with the overall thrust of the recommendation. I suspect most people could learn more (and more quickly) by trying out more specialised roles, especially in high-quality, established organisations with better mentorship and support networks.

(I've never been a uni group organiser so not sure what the mentorship and support networks are actually like; I'm mostly just guessing and extrapolating from my own experience having been a generalist researcher then running a talent search org covering multiple cause areas.)

I don't feel like I've learnt very much that's very useful over the past year or two. Probably similar amounts to when I was a teacher in a secondary school, and far less than when I was a researcher.

Great post! I think that there should be more content like this - concise, accessible material on career decision-related topics, from the people in a position to know. I do have a couple of comments that I want to make, albeit about the footnotes and somewhat off-topic:

  • R.e. footnote 1 - why do you think that full-time work offers a "disproprtionately high return" vs, say, half-time work? Sources or an explanation of your thoughts would be appreciated
  • R.e. footnote 2 - I do think that if the movement is going to grow and influence many sectors & seats of power, we need to progress beyond this "elite schools only" culture. It could be worth thinking more deeply about our assumptions relating to the "promising-ness" of students at a tiny proportion of institutions, which are often governed more by socioeconomic background and life circumstances than individuals' potential and/or competence.
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