I've been an EA for a while and over the years I mentored and connected to probably over a hundred people. 

I feel like in retrospect I mentored with hubris. I assumed that certain support is going to be there for those who deserve it and that certain things I was told about priorities could be trusted even if I didn't look into them myself as thoroughly as I'd have liked to. But this recent event makes me wonder if I should have been more careful in my advice.

I hesitate to keep mentoring before I pull back to reflect.  At the same time, I still have commitments and I don't want to let these people down. But I also feel uncomfortable saying anything with high confidence at the moment.

How can I keep engaging with mentees in ways that will be true to my feelings, but won't rob them of advice and guidance that could still be useful?

New Answer
Ask Related Question
New Comment

3 Answers sorted by

Be honest with your mentees. Share your feelings of concern and diminished confidence. Your value as a mentor isn't that you have nothing left to learn; it's that you're slightly further along the learning process and you're willing to share. 

So, here you are, learning your way through the current crisis (as we all are!). To my mind, the advice and guidance that you can offer now is even more important, because the lessons that you're learning (against hubris, towards greater humility and carefulness) are worth sharing. 

Model the behavior you want to see in your mentees. Don't quit now. Learn and try to to better.

Good issue to raise. Many of us have given advice to young people (undergrads, grad students, mentees) that EA had a lot of secure funding and EA-related careers would be great to pursue -- especially as an alternative to the usual academic tenure-track research route. That all seems open to question now.

Let me offer a perspective from academia; I don't know about mentorship in other industries.

To put this FTX funding crisis in context: many professors take on far more graduate students than can ever get a tenure-track job. That, to me, is far more immoral than encouraging young people to consider EA-related careers. Academia perpetrates the myth that a PhD is the royal road to a professorship -- when in fact, the odds of becoming a professor, even contingent on getting a PhD, are now very low.

More generally, academia is facing a serious long-term funding crisis, with declining student enrollments, a catastrophic drop in male students, and a crisis of public legitimacy (given the culture wars). I would not be surprised if many universities shut down within a decade or two. A few may rise to replace them. Academic jobs might become even scarcer.

I think it's important to express all appropriate epistemic uncertainty about the funding and opportunities available in different career tracks. Mentors should take their role very seriously. We have a moral duty to become well-informed about the likely outcomes of different career tracks and personal priorities -- not just over the next few years, but over the many coming decades when our mentees will be working.

I had a similar crisis, but not around FTX.

What I do:

  1. I'm transparent about my uncertainties (explaining why I believe what I believe and where I think I might be wrong. Not being vague and saying about everything that "I'm uncertain")
  2. I'm trying to fix the important things that I think are broken