There are *a bajillion* jobs working on plant-based foods right now

by scottweathers1 min read12th Jul 20198 comments

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Animal product alternativesForum PrizeMotivationalCareer choiceFarmed animal welfare
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A hugely popular EA Forum post this past winter illustrated the tremendous difficulty in getting hired by effective altruist organizations.

This week at Berkeley REACH, Kelsey Piper highlighted a few shifts in the EA community that seem relevant. As EA has become more focused on big-picture ideas, we've become less excited by the prospect of giving ~10% of your income every year, for example by saving lives in developing countries. Still, it's pretty incredible that that's something most people can do!

In the vein of high-impact, accessible opportunities, Kelsey also noted that Impossible Foods has ~30 openings at the moment, many of them doable by EAs without even requiring any specialized skills. Do you live in the San Francisco bay area? Can you do manufacturing work? Then there's a job there for you.

To widen this a bit, there are frankly *a bajllion* jobs right now working on plant-based and cell-based meat. So I've highlighted a few below, focusing on breadth of companies and less technical positions. Happy applying!


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I'd be interested in hearing from EAs who've worked at any of these places.

I was asked to comment here. As you know, I did a data science internship at Impossible Foods in late 2016. I'm mostly jotting down my own experiences, along with some anonymized information from talking to others.

NB: "Tech" below refers to jobs that are considered mainstream tech in Silicon Valley (software, data science, analytics, etc), while "science" refers to the food science/biochemistry/chemistry work that is Impossible's core product.

Pros:

  • Highly mission-driven. Many people were vegetarian or vegan (all the food the company served was vegan by default), and people there seemed fairly dedicated to the cause of replacing farmed animals with plants (less than I would expect from a EA or AR nonprofit)
  • Diversity. The gender ratio in the main office was slightly more women than men, and there was a lot of representation from different countries that I usually don't see in Silicon Valley (though this could just be because biology/biochemistry draws from a different population than CS).
  • Niceness. People seemed really nice to each other a lot, and there wasn't a lot of the assholish personalities I sometimes associate with startups.
  • Interesting problems. My subjective sense is that tech there is usually used to support scientific pursuits rather than eg, tech as a product or business development, and is more interesting in a broader sense than most big company or startup work.
  • Lots of opportunities to grow. People who're up for the challenge often take on quite impressive challenges at low levels of seniority.
  • Benefits. I didn't use them much, but my impression is that the company seemed quite progressive about things like vacation days and paternity leave(?).
  • Reasonable work-life balance. This seemed true of the tech people I knew, however the scientists seemed a little overworked and the business development people seemed a lot overworked. I don't know how this compares to other startups.
  • The CEO (Pat Brown) appeared highly competent and clearly thoughtful. From my relatively brief interactions with him, there's a reasonable chance he would have been at home in Stanford EA if he was much younger. Eg, he talks about quantitative cause prioritization and had a short rant at one point about selection bias in business advice.

Cons:

  • Low pay. I feel like there's a large mission/salary tradeoff that the company makes because it knows it could hire enough True Believers. My intern pay was substantially below market, and this seemed true of the other interns I talked to, as well as full-timers I talked to in broadly "tech" roles. I don't know if this has changed by 2019. Another caveat is that I didn't ask about equity, and Impossible's valuation ~quadrupled in the last 3 years, so it's quite possible full-timers were actually well-compensated even if they didn't perceive it that way at the time. A final caveat is that I'm comparing with other for-profit companies, and maybe a better point of comparison is (EA) nonprofits or academia, and my guess is that Impossible pays better.
  • Subpar conflict resolution. I was pretty shielded from the politics as an intern, but I hear more bad stories from others than I would expect from a company of its size (caveat: I have a very poor understanding of the actual base rate of bad conflicts at successful companies). Possibly because of the niceness? I feel like people leave on bad terms more than I would guess.
  • Technical mentorship. Because tech is not the main product, you'll get less senior mentorship or guidance than a primarily tech company. (Obviously, the opposite is true if you're a food scientist or biochemist).
  • Incrementalist work. Impossible always had a vision of being the eventual replacement of all animal-based products, however when I joined in 2016, it was very much at the tail end of experimentation and the beginning of being laser-focused on beef, which seems less intellectually and altruistically interesting. My impression is that this was much more true as of 2018, however they seemed to have developed pork and fish replacements recently? [1]

Neutrals:

  • The company seems fairly high-prestige in the public eye. It's extremely well-known for its size, and people are often excited to talk to me about the work there (in a way that I've never experienced before or since). This seems good for career capital, and well-being, however I want to caution against seeing this as a clear positive. It's easy to fall into prestige traps, and people should introspect about this before they apply. (Also local prestige matters more than global prestige for most job pivots, so public opinion is a poor proxy for how much future employers care).
  • Environmentalism. People at Impossible are much more likely to be environmentalists than animal welfare people. Personally I find Deep Ecology views to be philosophically untenable, but obviously other EAs have different philosophical views. I write this so people can make an informed decision self-selecting in.

On balance, I don't think I'm informed enough to judge whether working at Impossible is better than a typical reader's alternatives. My gut instinct is that if you have other altruistic options that can make full use of your skillsets (clean meat seems especially exciting), then it's more impactful to do more early-stage work than being at Impossible, but I'm very uncertain about this opinion and it's confounded by a lot of details on the ground.

Additional Note 2019/7/20: Rereading this, I think people are usually biased against applying, and I think it's still worthwhile for people who consider farmed animal welfare their top (or close to top) cause area to apply to Impossible.

[1] https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/impossible-sausage-little-caesars/




This post got me wondering whether there should be Glassdoor for EA.

Why not just use Glassdoor?

This post was awarded an EA Forum Prize; see the prize announcement for more details.

My notes on what I liked about the post, from the announcement:

It’s no secret that there are many open jobs working in plant-based foods. Many details about these jobs are available on the public websites of fast-growing companies; 80,000 Hours aggregates many of them on its job board.

But something being “no secret” or “available” does not make it salient. There’s real value in writing Forum posts about ideas or information that’s available elsewhere, but that is still underappreciated and worth noticing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Scott’s post prompted at least a couple of applications to EA-aligned positions that otherwise never would have happened.

(I especially appreciate that the post included positions with a wide range of skill requirements.)

Great to see so many jobs opening up! I imagine we have a limited pool of strong Effective Altruist candidates for all these opportunities, and also that some opportunities would require people with EA expertise much more than others. Similarly, I imagine some are better for career capital than others.

Do you have a sense of if any clusters of jobs within this are particularly high-impact or good for EAs?

Great question!

Among the companies I've spoken with, technical positions seem to be a huge bottleneck, so I'd imagine those being the highest impact. In this industry, I'm considering technical positions to generally have titles like food scientist, research/process associate, bioprocess engineer, food technologist/developer, etc. This bottleneck seems especially intense among clean meat companies, so if you have a relevant background, I'd strongly encourage you to apply.

Beyond that, it's hard for me to guess exactly which positions are highest impact.

I really like the broad range of skills presumably required for this list of jobs -- seems worth looking into further.