Last wekeend, I attended my first ever EA conference, EAGx in Oxford. I wanted to share my thoughts on what was good, what was not so good, and what I'd do differently next time.

For context, I haven't been involved in EA for long (around 7 months) and this was my first time doing anything EA related in person. I work in communications for a housing association (aka not an EA org) and went in with the mindset of just wanting to see what it was like, I didn't really have many expectations, which as I'll get to, was probably to my detriment. 

The good

I think most people like reading concise writing, so I'll bullet point:

  • I learnt a lot and some of the talks I went to were really high quality, the speakers gave a lot of great info in a short time frame. My favourites were 'What we're learning about spreading EA ideas' by Grace Adams of Giving What We Can and 'Introduction to sustainable proteins' by Seren Kell of The Good Food Insitute.
  • Being surrounded, and getting to talk to, people who share the same passion as you (making the world a better place). You don't often come across people in daily life who care so much about this.
  • The swapcard app was really great, it was super easy to use and find people on.
  • The venue was in a good central location and was just a lovely place to spend the weekend.
  • I really appreciated that the food was vegan, as to me it shows that EA is serious about doing the most good and thinks about this even in regards to small details like catering.
  • The chill out and nap room was really great to have to go to when you had a free half an hour just for a bit of time out. As an introvert, this really helped me recharge throughout the weekend.
  • It left me feeling good and with a new sense of confidence, excited to see where I could head in the EA world.

The not so good

  • I wish there had been a bit more about 'how to do EA conferences' beforehand as I feel like it was only the day before the conference that I found out that the aim is mostly to do lots of 1-1's. I filled up my schedule with talks and workshops which I don't necessarily regret as they were informative, but I think there's a possibility I would have got more out of chucking in a few more 1-1's in here and there. This is maybe on me for not doing enough research beforehand, but I almost wish there had been a how-to guide. The 1-1's I did do were really valuable.
  • It would have been great if there were some more networking opportunites for those who are new to EA and haven't met anyone in person and aren't quite sure exactly which direction they're headed in yet. I attended the conference alone, and as I alluded to earlier, I just sort of wanted to get an idea of what it was like being in that environment.  I know there were a few meet ups for other groups such as religious EA's, it would be great if there had been something like 'lonely and new meetup'?
  • I felt like the talks/workshops were a bit variable in their quality, with some being really great and others feeling less well-prepared and informative.
  • There was milk in one of the snacks so not technically vegan :(

What I'd do differently

  • Prepare a lot more.
    • I did somewhat prep. I wrote what would be a good outcome, what would be a great outcome and what would be a mindblowing outcome. I felt as though I came out with a 'great outcome'. I defined this as coming out of the weekend inspired, with more direction in my career, and one connection which would sustain beyond the conference (probably a low bar for those of you who were doing twenty 1-1's each day).
    • But after meeting people at the conference and reading about their experiences, such as this one, I realise I could have prepped a lot better. I would definitely carve out more time for 1-1's and think a bit more about who it would be valuable for me to meet.
  • Be a bit more brave about approaching people. It can be really hard to just strike up a conversation sometimes, but when I did it almost always went great.

 

So that's my thoughts on my first ever EAGx conference. Overall a great experience and I'm looking forward to the next one I can go too.

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16 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:24 AM

Well done on getting a post out on the forum about your experience Olivia!

Glad to hear you're now more excited. :)

Regarding:

I know there were a few meet-ups for other groups such as religious EA's, it would be great if there had been something like 'lonely and new meetup'?

I remember that at EAG London 2021 there was an event for newcomers and you were even matched with a mentor. Maybe we should copy this or make it a group effort for all the conferences.

That sounds like a great idea! I'd of loved something like that.

Hi Olivia, really good of you to share these experiences. A few points I think might be helpful for your next conference:

-The social norms in EA are probably the most open and accepting of any group I've seen in my life. Provided two people aren't engaged in a focused one-on-one, walking up to a group and saying "Hi, can I join this conversation?" seems universally allowed with no sense of alienation or awkwardness at all. People would always catch me up on the conversation topic and include me fully. 
- It was my first conference too and I also hadn't registered that one-on-ones seem to be at least as much the point of the event as the talks - you're not alone in that. Fortunately, my career planning is fairly late-stage and there were only 2 or 3 talks I found relevant enough to attend so I had a lot of time to plan last-minute meetings with people.  I can't make judgements on how to prioritise your time on your behalf, but it might be worth applying a stricter filter on which talks get added to your schedule to leave a bit more breathing space to meet lovely EA people. 
-If you go to another conference with very few or no other people that you know there, I'd strongly recommend joining the volunteer team. In return for moving some chairs around or helping people register at the help desk, you've got, like, 10 instant friends. 

 

Hope this seems useful!

Hi Tom, thanks for this comment, really useful suggestions! I hadn't considered volunteering but that does sound like it would be a great way to make some quick friends.

Thank you Olivia for your post! I’m now at my first EA conference, and it’s a good reminder that I can use the quiet room to recharge.

Definitely! It's amazing how just half an hour of quiet time can help you feel so refreshed.

Hi Olivia,

Ollie, one of the organisers here. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this - it's great to hear you had a valuable experience and this is such useful feedback for us :)

I've heard from others that they wished they prepared more. I plan to put out more comms about what to expect and how to get the most out of conferences in the future :)

Hi Ollie, it was a great event so your team should be really proud of what you achieved! And that sounds like a great idea.

Glad you had a great experience though wish it could have been even better! I think it's pretty counterintuitive that most of the value from many conferences comes from 1:1s so it totally makes sense that it took you by surprise.

I wouldn't expect people to have found these in advance but, for next time, there's a bunch of good "how to do EAG(X)" and "how to do 1:1s" posts on the forum. Some non comprehensive examples:

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/sxKJckCiZQyux4kCx/ea-global-tips-networking-with-others-in-mind

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/pKbTjdopzSEApSQfc/doing-1-on-1s-better-eag-tips-part-ii

Generally the EAG and EA conferences tags seem good for finding this stuff.

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/tag/effective-altruism-conferences

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/tag/effective-altruism-global


I know the conference organizers have a ton of considerations when deciding how much content to blast at attendees (and it's easy for things to sink to the bottom of everybody's inbox) but some of these might be cool for them to send to future attendees.


I think going to conferences where you don't know a bunch of people already is pretty scary so I'm impressed that you went for it anyway!

Hi Howie, thanks so much for sending those resources over! I'll definitely be reading those before my next conference. 

It was an absolute pleasure getting to meet you Olivia! And had I not been speaking and had people reaching out to me for 1:1s, I would have really appreciated a 'lonely and new' meetup too, as I can get quite nervous about meeting people for the first time!

Also so happy you liked my talk :)

Thank you! It's definitely scary isn't it, but always worth it :)

Very nice and thoughtful post, I'm glad you had a good time. I had a very similar experience at my first EAGx (Boston) many years ago, though I had an advantage as I knew some other attendees. Hopefully this post will serve as a 'how to do a conference' for future attendees.

Thanks so much Michael!