Edit: While we think the case for movement building at top universities is still very strong, CEA has discontinued the Campus Specialist Program. Individuals interested in this opportunity are now encouraged to apply to Open Philanthropy's University Group Organizer Fellowship.


If you have a deep understanding of EA, an entrepreneurial aptitude, and the ability to inspire others, CEA’s Campus Specialist programme could be among the most impactful options of your twenties.

To summarize this post:

  • If you’re able to help students at top universities to devote their career to the world’s most pressing problems, this is one of the most impactful things you could do.
  • We (CEA) are launching the Campus Specialist programme to help scale up this work. This replaces the Community Building Grants programme for university groups.
  • If you’re a good fit, you will spend two years or more founding and growing a Campus Centre at one of our focus universities. Each year, you could help dozens of people to learn about EA and focus their lives on critical problems.
  • What we offer you:
    • A minimum of two years’ employment at CEA with generous benefits
    • Support and funding for your personal development
    • An opportunity to contribute to our university groups strategy
    • Autonomy, funding, and close mentorship to rapidly grow a Campus Centre
    • Networking opportunities with professionals across a range of EA areas
    • 30% of your time to work on other projects (eg. other entrepreneurial projects, research, or personal development)
  • For those who haven’t graduated, we also offer Campus Specialist internships throughout the school year, and a summer position for people who want to assist their school’s full-time specialist(s).
  • We’re looking for entrepreneurial EAs with a strong understanding of EA ideas. You don’t need to be a graduate of one of our focus universities.
  • If you’re interested, you can apply here.

If you’d prefer to watch something, try this talk from Joan Gass.

The recruitment opportunity

To solve pressing global problems — like existential risk, global poverty, and factory farming - we need more talented, ambitious, altruistic people to focus full-time on these issues.

Hundreds of thousands of these people are clustered at the world's top universities.

University is often a time when people are thinking deeply about their priorities: what they care about most, and how they want the world to be. It’s also the last time most people will seriously consider so many possible career paths. This makes university a uniquely important time to help them learn about effective altruism and get their careers off to an impactful start.

Open Philanthropy’s data supports this: when they surveyed 217 people who they believed were likely to have careers with particularly high expected altruistic value from a longtermist perspective, their respondents on average first heard of EA/EA-adjacent ideas when they were college-aged. They also asked their respondents what had been most important for them to have a positive impact. Answers were split broadly across different areas, but local groups were most frequently on respondents’ list of the biggest contributors, and within local groups, most of the impact came from university groups. (Additionally, within university groups, Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, and Harvard’s groups alone were responsible for between 40-55% of all impact from groups of any kind, according to the impact points metric used in the survey analysis.)

One rough estimate from 80,000 Hours is that someone working in one of the most impactful roles creates millions of dollars of value per year. We think that the best Campus Specialists will contribute to creating around ten of these people each year (albeit with some delay before they start doing their most impactful work, and an adjustment for counterfactuals which would reduce the impact several-fold)[1]. That would mean a Campus Specialist could create tens of millions of dollars of net present value per year[2].

Claire Zabel, who’s made tens of millions of dollars of grants in the EA meta space, told us that, speaking from a longtermist perspective:

I generally recommend strong community-builders pursue movement-building activities rather than earn-to-give, even when they would be giving >$500k/year

[...]

I think top universities may be the single best overall situation for EA outreach/recruitment that exists in the world. As far as I know, nowhere/no-when else is there such a density of extremely gifted people (and people who will become very influential), for an extended period of time, during what seems to me to be the critical age for taking on new values and career plans.

There are massive opportunities for impact here, and CEA wants to help people to take them.

A unique opportunity for students and recent graduates

Being a Campus Specialist may be an excellent option for experienced people, but we think the opportunity is particularly good for students and recent graduates. If you work as a Campus Specialist at the university you attended, you can be an expert in your early twenties, because you know the culture of the university. That means:

  • You have an intuitive sense of how to build rapport with students, and explain ideas in an appealing and understandable way
  • You know which framings of EA, longtermism, or animal welfare might draw the most people to an introductory talk or other events, and how to best advertise programs
  • You know which professors are friendly to EA, which other groups you can partner with, and which communities within your university might be especially promising to reach out to

This means that in your early twenties you can immediately help several other people transition to higher-impact career paths — creating several lifetimes of counterfactual impact, even given that some of those people might have discovered EA at some point anyway.

We aren’t the only ones who believe that this is among the top options for students and recent graduates. From a memo by Buck Shlegeris, a manager of the EA Infrastructure Fund and CTO of Redwood Research:

My current guess is that if you are able to do student group organizing [...] don’t hate that kind of work, and are at a suitable school [...] whose student group has less than two full-time equivalents (FTEs) working on it, there’s an 80% chance that an optimal allocation of your time over the course of your undergraduate degree would involve spending at least one FTE year on student group organizing. [...] It is quite rare for someone to make a contribution to EA that impresses me as much as people who run good student groups.

Our vision for the next three years

By 2024, at least a dozen of the world’s top universities will have a flourishing EA hub we are calling a Campus Centre - a mature university group that includes dozens of engaged students and support for people with different high-priority skills and cause area interests. Each centre will have office space and a team of full-time staff.

These centres will draw in talented students and help them understand EA ideas, tools, and conclusions, and then prepare them to pursue relevant careers and projects. We hope that each of them will help at least eight people per year to begin a career focused on the world’s most important problems.

These centres will run introductions to EA, run cause specific-programs, and provide thoughtful career advice. They will also help students connect with the wider EA movement — bringing professionals in for talks and conferences, and sharing news about movement-wide events (like a multi-day conference with free tickets and travel).

These are just the basics — taking things we’ve already done and growing them at the same pace they’ve been growing. Ambitious Campus Specialists might also:

  • Create a pre-orientation programme which gets adopted by the university as an official option for new students.
  • Help professors incorporate EA-aligned content into popular courses.
  • Help us discover more effective ways of creating highly-engaged EAs than our current methods. If you’re successful, your innovations will be shared with other university groups.

A few university groups are already on track to get here, so we think it’s very plausible to get to a dozen schools over the next three years.

A step change in movement building

Despite its massive impact, we think that movement-building has generally been underappreciated within EA — and hard to explain outside of it.

Our Community Building Grants were a step up from an all-volunteer force of organizers, but we think they had some problems:

  • We didn't have a clear strategy about what university groups were trying to achieve.
  • We didn’t encourage group leaders to innovate, and didn’t have a systematic way to share innovations between groups.
  • Grants were made for only a year at a time, making it hard for people to create long-term plans for their group.
  • This instability also had a strong negative emotional effect on some grantees, who felt that they could lose both financial stability and a meaningful career if they didn’t live up to certain opaque standards.
  • Organizers weren’t official CEA staff, and it wasn’t clear what they should do after their grant periods.
  • We lacked the capacity to provide as much support to organizers as we should have - we had some conversations with grantees, but didn’t give ongoing support.
  • We also didn’t spend enough time listening to and learning from organizers.
  • Some organizers only had part-time funding, and had to work other jobs alongside their community building work.
  • The role didn’t have external prestige in line with its impact and skill requirement, and was hard to explain to people outside of the EA community.

We are sorry for these mistakes, and think that the Campus Specialist programme is a big step forward. We think that helping to found a Campus Centre is an extremely impactful and high-priority option, so we want to invest in it heavily, and for it to feel commensurately rewarding.

Programme Overview

Here’s what you’ll get as a Campus Specialist:

Two-year employment at CEA: In your initial two years as a CEA employee, you’ll get guaranteed job security[3], a competitive salary[4], health insurance, a top-quality laptop, and more.

An intense focus on personal development: You’ll have a dedicated advisor who will provide regular feedback on your ideas and progress. Our Campus Specialist managers are experienced community builders who have founded ambitious projects in the meta space. You’ll also get a £2,000 personal development stipend to pay for productivity coaching, external management training, and guaranteed access to 80,000 Hours advising in 2022.

A critical role in CEA’s university groups strategy: To give you full context and a chance to share input on CEA’s university groups strategy, you’ll attend specialized Q&A sessions with CEA leadership (Max Dalton and Joan Gass), and have the option to attend a CEA team retreat.

A systematic way for your innovations to be scaled: You’ll share data from your Campus Centre to help us identify successes. You’ll participate in conversations about our key uncertainties, and set up experiments with other Campus Centre leaders to test ideas. If your innovations are successful, they will be scaled to other Campus Centres, and potentially across hundreds of university groups.

Integration into professional networks: We’ll host a variety of specialized retreats with staff from other EA orgs. We’ll cover your flights to EA Global and EAGx conferences, and give you coworking space in the offices shared by CEA, the Future of Humanity Institute, and the Global Priorities Institute for when you’re in Oxford. We’ll also cover flights to the UK so you can use this space, and hold an in-person summer programme for Campus Specialists.

30% time to work on other projects: We want to set you up for success after your initial two years, so we’ll let you set aside 30% of your work hours for other work. Examples might include doing research, applying to grad school, trialling at another organization, or launching a startup outside your Campus Centre.

A job where you talk to lots of interesting people: People currently working as Campus Specialists say that on of the best things about their job is that it’s fun — you spend your days working with a community of interesting people about ideas that motivate you.

After the initial two years, you’d have many options for your next step (more than we can list). You might continue growing your Campus Centre, manage other Campus Centres, move to a new role at CEA, start other entrepreneurial projects, or begin graduate study.

For more details, see the job description.

Part-time options

We offer a Campus Specialist Internship programme for people who want to work:

  • Part-time as they work toward a degree
  • Part- or full-time during a school break or gap semester

The internship programme is paid, and includes many of the same benefits as the full-time position.

Career capital

In the past, we’ve heard concerns that community building wasn’t great for building skills or developing career capital.

We disagree. Former student group organizers are scattered all over the EA movement — people like Aaron, Ben, Caroline, Dewi, and Eli. (Having made our point, we’ll stop the alphabet there.)

And this was before the Campus Specialist program. As the founder of a Campus Centre, you could be leading a large team and managing a multi-million dollar budget within three years of starting. You’ll gain experience with management (of people and projects), recruitment, strategy, and communication, all while regularly meeting with professionals from across the movement at conferences and retreats. EA is going to keep growing: it will need larger organizations, and more managers. The Campus Specialist programme is great training for founding and growing a critical EA organization. Outside of EA, you’ll be able to demonstrate a range of in-demand skills.

A few personal notes from Joan on this front:

  • People recruiting from EA orgs in every area - not just meta work - constantly ask me to recommend group leaders — they understand that running a group well is evidence of many critical skills
  • There are many projects where having been a group organizer is a huge advantage — for a lot of meta work, we need people who have deep internal models of our target audience and community building strategy, and it’s hard to beat group organizing as a way to develop those models
  • I started my career in management consulting. There were valuable skills I learned, but my expectations didn’t always match reality. For example, I spent a lot of time formatting PowerPoint slides, and not as much time as you’d expect having deep conversations about business development. I really wish the Campus Centre opportunity had been around when I started my career - I think it would have been a phenomenal opportunity from a learning perspective.

Where can I found a Campus Centre?

As a Campus Specialist, you and your team would be responsible for building a Campus Centre at one of our focus universities — which you don't need to have attended yourself.

If your work goes well and it’s a good fit, you could go on to manage people at other universities, and may end up owning responsibility for a number of groups (though we think many successful Campus Specialists will prefer to focus on growing their own Campus Centre and running local projects).

What kind of Campus Centre can I found?

We don’t believe that every Campus Centre should be the same. With input from your manager, you’ll find a mixture of different outreach methods, programmes, and events which match your strengths and the university you’re working at.

For some, this could involve running a fellowship for upcoming development economists. For others, this might be an AI safety and machine learning bootcamp. Others might create a selective space for co-working, discussion, and early-stage projects.

Wherever you found a Campus Centre, you’ll have lots of independence, and freedom to pursue your own ideas.

Is this for me?

The ideal candidate for this kind of work:

  • Is deeply interested in EA ideas - you’ll need to be impact-driven and truth-seeking, and care about impartial welfare. There may be areas of EA you’re particularly interested in, where you’ve formed detailed inside views.
  • Has a track record of getting people excited about ideas- It’s great if you’ve done this in the specific context of EA, but we’d also be happy to see this experience in other contexts.
  • Wants to start ambitious projects- we want to grow Campus Centres quickly, at a high level of quality, and we will need entrepreneurially-minded people to make that happen.

While each of these characteristics is somewhat common, it’s hard to find people who combine all three. If you think you might be one of these people, you may be uniquely positioned to found a Campus Centre.

You might also be a good fit if:

  • You’re an EA researcher who likes talking to people - If you deeply understand EA ideas and have developed your own views on key questions, that will be valuable for both talking about EA and setting the high-level strategy of your Campus Centre.
  • You’ve run a university group before- you’ll have the context you need to hit the ground running.
  • You’re an entrepreneur looking to pivot into a priority path - many of the skills required to be a successful for-profit entrepreneur are invaluable for founding a Campus Centre.
  • You have strong interpersonal skills- you’ll need to work well with a diverse range of people, build rapport with students, and create high-quality events.
  • You have great organisational skills, or the capacity to develop them- you execute on your plans consistently, and focus on the details that matter.
  • You’re a quick learner and respond well to feedback- you’ll need to grow in this role, and learn from your team, your advisor, and personal experience.

If you want to get a better sense of your fit, you can take a look at the job description (which we will publish later this week), or you can reach out to Alex Holness-Tofts, our Campus Specialist hiring manager — he’d be happy to talk through your experience and share his impressions.

Final thoughts

The Stanford group in 2015 included:

Today, Stanford is home to a thriving group and an Existential Risk Initiative.

But the Stanford group went dark in 2016. People graduated and moved away, and there was only one active member for a few years. They ran some events, but nobody was prioritising the group, so it didn’t cause anyone new to become deeply engaged.

As a result, we probably lost a few Bucks, Claires, Carolines, Kelseys, and Nates[5]. That’s a lot of missing impact.

We want to make sure that future Campus Centres are consistently thriving and growing, and never go dark. We want the world’s top young talent to be going into highly impactful roles like technical AI safety, alternative meat research, and biosecurity policy.

To reach these people, we need your help.

Notes


Currently, we think that top campuses create around 8-10, not counterfactually adjusted, but we’re still learning how to run these Campus Centres well, and we think we can do better in the future. ↩︎

Assuming a 20% discount rate, a 40 year career, and $2 million of additional value created per year per highly engaged Campus Centre alumnus, ten highly engaged Campus Centre alumni would produce around $80 million of net present value. The actual number is lower, because of counterfactuals. ↩︎

In the unlikely event that a Campus Specialist is underperforming, and we need to end their employment early, we’ll offer an exit grant of six months’ salary. ↩︎

Starting salary depends on a number of factors, including location and experience. For a Campus Specialist with no work experience the starting range in the US is $66,900 - $80,000, depending on location. The equivalent range for the UK is £42,200 - £46,300. ↩︎

Given their inherent qualities, these ‘lost’ people are probably doing exciting, impactful things with their lives. But on average, we think they could be doing much better things if they were integrated into communities of people who are dedicated to fixing pressing problems. ↩︎

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50 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:29 PM
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Thanks for this post - the Campus Specialist program sounds really valuable, well-designed, and exciting!

I want to push back on one passage in the post. This isn't because I think the passage is wrong in a way that affects any bottom-line conclusions here, but because I think it's basically implying correlation = causation while "selling" something (convincing people to apply to your program), and one thing I love about EA is that that sort of thing is rare and gets pushback when it happens. The passage is:

In the past, we’ve heard concerns that community building wasn’t great for building skills or developing career capital.

We disagree. Former student group organizers are scattered all over the EA movement — people like Aaron, Ben, Caroline, Dewi, and Eli. (Having made our point, we’ll stop the alphabet there.)

I think it is in fact true that community building can be great for building skills or developing career capital. I'd also guess that at least Dewi would say it was great for them in that way, and that some/all of the others might as well. But that passage doesn't demonstrate that, nor acknowledges that it hasn't demonstrated that - instead, it implies that the fact some people did X and now are doing Y implies that doing X will help you do Y, and also sounds very confident about this (implying you could go on and on with more evidence like this, but you'll stop because you've already provided sufficient evidence).

This felt especially jarring here because:

  1. A substantial portion of all quite engaged EAs did group organizing, so "ignoring the denominator" here (so to speak) is odd
  2. We already know that things like enthusiasm about EA and being hard-working and such are likely to both contribute to someone choosing to do group organizing and contribute to them having impressive EA-aligned careers, so we can point to specific likely confounding variables, not just vaguely imagine possible confounding variables
  3. I know of specific EAs, myself included, who did group organizing and now have impressive EA-aligned careers but for whom the former hardly contributed to the latter and instead both were caused by confounding variables
    1. (I don't think this is evidence that group organizing is unable to provide useful career capital benefits, but rather that in some cases it doesn't help, perhaps sometimes because the impressive career trajectory was "overdetermined" or because the person wasn't trying to reap career capital benefits from group organizing.)

Again, I in fact agree with the key point that group organizing can be great for career capital. I also expect to strongly encourage someone to apply to this program later today. I just wanted to push back on the reasoning/argumentation style in those sentences :) 

(Maybe this is a weird amount of words to spend on just a short passage when you very likely would've immediately changed the passage anyway if someone had pointed this out to you at draft stage - i.e., it was presumably just a minor, honest mistake. I just feel like there's an important norm here.)

Thanks Michael, these are good points. We should have been more careful here, and plan to edit the post to be more nuanced.  

Hi team - this sounds exciting!

I have some questions about how you will align with other university-focussed organisations (with a healthy dose of self-interest, obviously!).

If you are plausibly providing $17m-$54m in annual budget for university organising at just 17 schools, you're likely going to dwarf every other organisation on campus (and definitely every other EA org). How will you avoid completely eclipsing other organisations with a different focus/approach/merits? A particular concern here would be if this capital overwhelmingly favoured longtermism, for example, which already benefits from an enormous imbalance in allocated EA funding.

I'm also interested in where the funding for this is coming from - this represents a dramatic increase on CEA's budget and spend on university organising, which you seem confident that you can source.

I'm especially interested in this because this is a huge amount of money on a new initiative, I think without a track record or tested methodology. So in essence it's a new idea, seeking to develop and test new approaches, but one being supported with a huge influx of capital (relative to other EA resources directed at these campuses). There are obviously risks here, the most obvious being that the programme might be ineffective/much less effective than alternatives, or make mistakes that have quite wide-ranging consequences, but become the dominant player anyway because of a huge asymmetry of resources.

All of this being said, I want to be clear that I'm actually super excited about this ambition and focus and One for the World will of course support as much as we can :-)

I'm glad to see community building becoming more professionalized and CEA thinking more about how to support community builders. 

I would like to hear your thoughts on what the potential downsides, risks or caveats could be for someone considering this path, or the work itself so that people seriously considering this opportunity can take those things into consideration

Thanks Vaidehi!

One set of caveats is that you might not be a good fit for this type of work (see what might make you a good fit above). For instance: 

  • This is a role with a lot of autonomy, so if you prefer more externally set structure, this role probably isn’t a good fit for you
  • If you find talking to people about EA ideas difficult or uncomfortable, this may be a bad fit
  • You might be  a good fit for doing field building, but prefer doing so with another age range (e.g. mid career, high school)

Some other things people considering this path might want to take into consideration:

  • If you would like to enter a non-EA career that is looking for traditional markers of prestige, is extremely competitive, and you have a current opportunity that won’t come around later, then being a campus specialist might be less good than directly entering that career or doing more signalling (although we think that the career capital from this route is better than most people think). This might be true for some specific post-undergrad awards in policy or unusual entrepreneurial opportunities - like having a co-founder with seed funding.
  • If you think it’s likely we’re in a particularly pivotal moment in the next 5-10 years – for example if you have extremely short AI timelines (with a median distribution of <5-10 years), then you might think that the benefits of doing outreach to talented individuals might not come to fruition. (But we think that this option can be good even for people with relatively short timelines - i.e. - 15-20 years.)
  • You might not feel compelled by the data in multiplier arguments, or you might think you’ll crowd out someone who would be better at generating multipliers compared to you.


 

Interesting to hear these new plans. I have some questions: 
 

  • Are there any concerns that targeting a small group of people, and actively employing those people under CEA, you are essentially locking CEA into path whereby it is unrepresentative of a wider global movement? 

     I am already concerned about how representative CEA is of a wider movement, in particular I have concerns that much of CEA's hiring consists of using direct and personal networks within universities close to your headquarters. At the same time, I believe EA could rapidly grow in the world and be an effective force for change. If EA sees significant growth, I could forsee that the "baking in" of current founder effects to CEA (i.e. small group of "elite") could be pretty disastrously sub-optimal (in the context of a larger global movement). 

    On a similar note: 
     
  • Do you plan on head hunting for these roles? 

    Off the top of my head there's a few incredibly successful university groups that have successfully flourished under their own volition (e.g. NTNU, PISE). There's likely people in these groups who would be exceptionally good at community growth if given the resources you've described above, but I suspect that they may not think to apply for these roles. 
     
  • Do you plan on comparing the success of the project, against similar organisations?

    There are many organisations that aim to facilitate and build communities on University campuses. There are even EA adjacent organisations, i.e. GFI. It makes sense to me to measure the success of your project against these (especially GFI), as they essentially provide a free counterfactual regarding a change of tactics. 

    I ask this because I strongly suspect GFI will show stronger community building growth metrics than CEA. They provide comprehensive and beautifully designed resources for students. They public and personable (i.e. they have dedicated speakers who speak for any audience size (at least that's what it appears to me)). And they seem to have a broader global perspective (so perhaps I am a bit bias). But in general they seem to have "the full package" which CEA is currently missing.
     
  • Is this indicative of your wider plans?/ Is CEA planning on keeping a narrow focus re: universities? 

    I understood that CEA community building plans were temporarily narrow, due to executive and staffing bottlenecks, but this post appears to point in the direction of CEA continuing to move in this narrow direction. Basically, I see two options 1) A tiered approach whereby "Focus" universities get the majority of attention 2) "Focus" universities get all of CEA's  attention at the exclusion of all of universities. 
     
  • Can you expand on how much money you plan on spending on each campus? 

    I noticed you say "managing a multi-million dollar budget within three years of starting" can you explain what exactly this money is going to be spent on? Currently this appears to me (perhaps naively) to be an order of magnitude larger than the budget for the largest national organisations. How confident are you that  you will follow through on this? And how confident are you that spending millions of dollars on one campus is more efficient than community building across 10 countries? 

Are there any concerns that targeting a small group of people, and actively employing those people under CEA, you are essentially locking CEA into path whereby it is unrepresentative of a wider global movement?

I am already concerned about how representative CEA is of a wider movement, in particular I have concerns that much of CEA's hiring consists of using direct and personal networks within universities close to your headquarters. At the same time, I believe EA could rapidly grow in the world and be an effective force for change. If EA sees significant growth, I could forsee that the "baking in" of current founder effects to CEA (i.e. small group of "elite") could be pretty disastrously sub-optimal (in the context of a larger global movement). 

 

This sounds good because no one likes nepotism or groupthink.

 

But at the object level, if you are saying that good candidates are turned away because they don't literally have degrees from or close connections to Oxford or Cambridge, that doesn't literally seem to be true, yet you've been pretty specific about this. 

 

I don't think this is what you intend. I think I can guess what you're saying. I think the below is a response to this:

  • I don't know of any founders or executives that don't take advantage of networks when hiring people, and this is especially so for leadership roles.
  • From the outside view, candidates from HYPS schools or who have markers for high status have large advantages in being hired in every industry and job.
  • From the inside view, while these people often have high ability, they also share common culture and communication norms and other traits that enable trust. I think these are just as important as "ability" in leadership or foundational roles.
  • I can think of many situations where founders or movements would prefer having aligned, internally homogenous cultures among leadership. I guess that virtually all successful movements or organizations have this feature.

 

But the above isn't the heart of the matter. Typically, people who argue along these lines believe there is structural, systematic selection or steering of the movement away from some broader vision into narrow focuses. Usually, insularity (HYPS or elite focus is one color of this) plays a role, and there are variations of motivated reasoning, rent-seeking, etc involved too in these criticisms. 

I am skeptical of these criticisms, because when examined, they lack models of the theories of change of EA, resources EA is trying to obtain, and the considerations that go into this. 

Hi Elliot, thanks for your questions.

Is this indicative of your wider plans?/ Is CEA planning on keeping a narrow focus re: universities?

I’m on the Campus Specialist Manager team at CEA, which is a sub-team of the CEA Groups team, so this post does give a good overview of my plans, but it’s not necessarily indicative of CEA’s wider plans. 

As well as the Campus Specialist programme, the Groups team runs a Broad University Group programme staffed by Jessica McCurdy with support from Jesse Rothman. This team provides support for all university groups regardless of ranking through general group funding and the EA Groups Resource Centre. The team is also launching UGAP (University Groups Accelerator Program) where they will be offering extra support to ~20 universities this semester. They plan to continue scaling the programme each semester.

Outside of university groups, Rob Gledhill joined the Groups team last year to work specifically on the city and national Community Building Grants programme, which was funding 10 total full-time equivalent staff (FTE) as of September (I think the number now is slightly higher). 

Additionally, both university groups and city/national groups can apply to the EA Infrastructure Fund

Besides the Groups team, CEA also has:

  • The Events team, which runs EAG(x)
  • The Online team, which runs this forum, EA.org, and EA virtual programmes
  • The Operations team, which enables the whole of CEA (and other organisations under the legal entity) to run smoothly
  • The Community Health team, which aims to reduce risks that could cause the EA community to lose out on a lot of value, and to preserve the community’s ability to grow and produce value in the future

Basically, I see two options 1) A tiered approach whereby "Focus" universities get the majority of attention 2) "Focus" universities get all of CEA's attention at the exclusion of all of universities. 

Across the Groups team, Focus universities currently get around half of the team's attention, and less than half of funding from grants. We’re planning to scale up most areas of the Groups team, so it’s hard to say exactly how the balance will change. Our guiding star is figuring out how to create the most “highly-engaged EAs” per FTE of staff capacity. However, we don’t anticipate Focus universities getting all of the Groups team’s attention at the exclusion of all other universities, and it’s not the status quo trajectory. 

Do you plan on head hunting for these roles? 

Off the top of my head there's a few incredibly successful university groups that have successfully flourished under their own volition (e.g. NTNU, PISE). There's likely people in these groups who would be exceptionally good at community growth if given the resources you've described above, but I suspect that they may not think to apply for these roles. 

Some quick notes here:

  • We are planning to do active outreach for these roles.
  • I agree that someone who has independently done excellent university group organising could be a great fit for this role.
  • CEA supports EA NTNU via a Community Building Grant (CBG) to EA Norway.
  • Also, quite a few group organisers have reached out to me since posting this, which makes me think people in this category might be quite likely to apply anyway.
  • But I think it’s still worth encouraging people to apply, and clarifying that you don’t need to have attended a focus university to be a Campus Specialist

Do you plan on comparing the success of the project, against similar organisations?

There are many organisations that aim to facilitate and build communities on University campuses. There are even EA adjacent organisations, i.e. GFI. It makes sense to me to measure the success of your project against these (especially GFI), as they essentially provide a free counterfactual regarding a change of tactics. 

I ask this because I strongly suspect GFI will show stronger community building growth metrics than CEA. They provide comprehensive and beautifully designed resources for students. They public and personable (i.e. they have dedicated speakers who speak for any audience size (at least that's what it appears to me)). And they seem to have a broader global perspective (so perhaps I am a bit bias). But in general they seem to have "the full package" which CEA is currently missing.

I agree having clear benchmarks to compare our work to is important. I’m not familiar with GFI’s community building activities. It seems fairly likely to me that the Campus Specialist team at CEA has moderately different goals to GFI, such that our community growth metrics might be hard to compare directly. 

To track the impact of our programmes, the Campus Specialist team looks at how many people at our Focus universities are becoming “highly-engaged EAs” - individuals that have a good understanding of EA principles, show high quality reasoning, and are taking significant actions, like career plans, based on these principles. As mentioned in the post, our current benchmark is that Campus Specialists can help at least eight people per year to become highly engaged. 

One interesting component to point out is that while I think our end goal is clear - creating highly-engaged EAs - we believe we’re still pretty strongly in the ‘exploration mode’ of finding the most effective tactics to achieve this. As a result, we want to spend less of our time in the Campus Specialist Programme standardising resources, and more time encouraging innovation and comparing these innovations against the core model. 

By contrast, our University Group Accelerator Programme is a bit more like GFI’s programme as it has more structured tactics and resources for group leaders to implement. Jessica, who is running the programme, has been in touch with GFI to exchange lessons learned and additional resources.

Can you expand on how much money you plan on spending on each campus? 

I noticed you say "managing a multi-million dollar budget within three years of starting" can you explain what exactly this money is going to be spent on? Currently this appears to me (perhaps naively) to be an order of magnitude larger than the budget for the largest national organisations. How confident are you that  you will follow through on this? And how confident are you that spending millions of dollars on one campus is more efficient than community building across 10 countries? 

How confident are you that  you will follow through on this?

  • This depends on what Campus Specialists do. It’s an entrepreneurial role and we’re looking for people to initiate ambitious projects. CEA would enthusiastically support a Campus Specialist in this scaling if it seemed like a good use of resources.
  • I’m pretty confident that if a Campus Specialist had a good use of $3mil/year in 2025 CEA would fund it.
  • Will a Campus Specialist have a good use of $3mil/year in 2025? Probably. One group is looking to spend about $1m/year already (with programmes that benefit both their campus and the global community, via online options).
     

Can you explain what exactly this money is going to be spent on? 

I can’t tell you exactly what this money will be spent on, as this depends on what projects Campus Specialists identify as high priority. Some possible examples:

  • Prestigious fellowships or scholarships
  • Lots of large, high-quality retreats e.g. using an external events company to save organiser time
  • Renting a space for students to co-work
  • Running a mini-conference every week (one group has done this already - they have coworking, seminar programmes, a talk, and a social every week of term, and it seems to have been very good for engagement, with attendance regularly around 70 people). I could imagine this being even bigger if there were even more concurrent ‘tracks’
  • Seed funding for students to start projects
  • Salaries for a team of ten
  • Travel expenses for speakers
  • Bootcamps for in-demand skills
  • Running an EAGx at the university
  • Research fellowships over the summer for students (like SERI or CERI, though they need not be in the -ERI format)

The ultimate goal across all of these programs is to find effective ways to create “highly-engaged EAs.” 

And how confident are you that spending millions of dollars on one campus is more efficient than community building across 10 countries? 

I’m not sure this is the right hypothetical to be comparing - CEA is supporting community building across 10 countries*. We are also looking to support 200+ universities. I think both of those things are great. 

I think the relevant comparison is something like ‘how confident are you that spending millions of dollars on one campus is more efficient than the EA community’s last (interest-weighted) dollar?’

My answer depends exactly on what the millions of dollars would be spent on, but I feel pretty confident that some Campus Specialists will find ways of spending millions of dollars on one campus per year which are more efficient (in expectation) than the EA community’s last (interest-weighted) dollar. 
 

*I listed out the first ten countries that came to mind where I know CEA supports groups: USA, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, UK, Malaysia, Hong Kong (via partnership), Netherlands, Israel, Czech Republic. (This is not an exhaustive list.)


 

"Running a mini-conference every week (one group has done this already - they have coworking, seminar programmes, a talk, and a social every week of term, and it seems to have been very good for engagement, with attendance regularly around 70 people). I could imagine this being even bigger if there were even more concurrent ‘tracks’"

Which group was this?

Interesting! I actually think the most interesting question was the one that was skipped: 

Are there any concerns that targeting a small group of people, and actively employing those people under CEA, you are essentially locking CEA into [a] path whereby it is unrepresentative of a wider global movement? 

Regarding general strategy, which I may understand you don't want to answer (but I hope someone will) - there really has to be some thought put into whether you are sending an inviting message to national group organisers. At the time we applied for national funding, both EA-infrastructure funds and CBG grants claimed not to be available to us (EA-funds website contained out of date advice). Luckily, we applied anyway and were successful (with EA-Infrastructure funds) - although I am not sure how "close" the decision was on EA-infrastructure funds side. At the time I predicted our chance of success as being <50%, and we could have very easily not applied for that reason. 

A few months later I can see how national groups, including our-own, are a vital piece of infrastructure for not only community building, but also donation collecting and the distribution of salaries. It's very interesting to me that CEA has no plans to accelerate this. 

Re hiring: Most of our hiring is done via open rounds on our website. Very roughly (quickly tabulating this so it could be a bit off), I think that of about 18 new full time hires in the last year,  about 14 applied through an open round. We obviously do extra outreach to encourage promising people we know to apply, and we sometimes shape roles around exceptional candidates.

My reply above might address some of your points. We'll give a more detailed reply in the next week or so.

Wow, I’m thrilled about this! I’ve been wondering recently why EA “Campus Centres” aren’t more of a thing, and am delighted to see a big push in that direction. Thank you for an excellent plan and write-up!

I think movement building is great and support this article entirely. However, I'm not sure about this focus on TOP universities. Maybe this is a German thing where the difference between universities isn't as large as in other countries but even then I find it hard to believe that an EA chapter at a top uni is clearly more impactful than one at a mediocre university. 

If you have limited resources I find it fair to prioritize universities in some way but I'm not sure our ability to predict this very well.  Is there any data on this or has somebody thought about this longer? 

A point against the strong prioritization of top universities would be that there is often high variance between departments. A university might, for example, be top tier in computer science but mediocre in everything else. Aggregate statistics might not capture this but it might be relevant from an EA perspective. 

For what it's worth, the US higher education system is pretty stratified in terms of intelligence. The best universities are maybe a standard deviation above the 50th best university in SAT scores, and would probably be even higher if the SAT max wasn't 1600; plus, a lot of the most ambitious and potentially successful students go to them. Moreover, top universities generally attract those students from every field; while, for example, UIUC is probably better than most Ivies at CS, the Ivies will still poach a lot of those students largely because of prestige/reputational effects. Those factors combine to make it pretty likely that the kind of people that can have the most impact in these fields are disproportionately concentrated at top universities.

I am skeptical and would like to see the math on standard deviations. For the US, according to this, about one third of Nobel prizes were awarded to people who did their undergraduate at a non top 100 global university (and I'm pretty sure it would be the majority outside the global top 20 that are in the US). And you don't have to win a Nobel Prize in order to become an EA! So I think there is lots of potential talent for EA outside the global top 100, at least at the undergraduate level. A key factor here is size - many of the most elite schools are not very big. For instance, the honors college at Penn State has similar SAT scores to Princeton, and it has about half as many undergrads as Princeton. At the graduate level, I think the talent tends to concentrate more, but I still think there is significant talent outside the global top 100. 

(Edit: Penn State honors college is larger than Swarthmore.)

I mean sure, but what's important here isn't really the absolute number of intelligent/ambitious people, but the relative concentration of them. One third of Nobel prizes going to people who didn't complete their undergrad at a top 100 global university means that 2/3 of the Nobel prizes did. Out of ~30K global universities, 2/3 of Nobels are concentrated in the top 100. The talent exists outside top universities, but focusing on them with limited resources seems more tractable than spreading thin with lower average intelligence/ambition.

Of course we need to prioritize. The Nobel example we have data for, but I think that is too high a bar. My point is that there are probably a similar number of potential EAs at the big relatively high ranking state schools like University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign or University of Texas at Austin as there are at Princeton. The state school students may have lower wealth and political connections, but I think the capability is there (and perhaps less entitlement). (Disclosure: I went to Penn State, Princeton, and University of Colorado at Boulder.)

I agree that size is a really important consideration that could substantially upend the math here. As long as a Campus Centre at a big-and-good-but-not-stellar school could find decent methods to filter for potential EAs (I think they could, but think this is the weakest point in the argument) they could easily achieve comparable impact to a small top-flight school.

I'd be excited to see someone have a crack at generating an alternative priority list for Campus Centres taking this into account, to see if it actually differs from CEA's list. (I think taking into account "the track record of its group, and the quality of the group’s current plans", which seem like good factors for prioritising the initial round, will probably make the two lists more similar, though.)

I agree that filtering is important - the easy thing to do is target the honors colleges (or whatever they call them) within the universities.

Agree that honors college students are an attractive organizing opportunity. One could look at U.S. public flagships that reel in a disproportionate share of National Merit Scholars (UF, University of Minnesota, etc.) for their honors programs as starting points. These, and other talent-dense schools like Penn State, are very promising. To your point here:

I think the capability is there (and perhaps less entitlement).

EA might gain more mindshare at public honors colleges. Students at those schools strike me as a bit scrappier/more focused than students at stereotypical private universities where I and many EAs studied. Private university students may have more sirens of influence calling their names, in terms of:

The current Campus Specialist plan (including the set of first-wave campuses!) makes total sense to me. At the same time I'm rooting for target-rich public honors colleges and universities topping this list to comprise a good share of Wave 2!

Goldman's own data-driven recruiters have taken this approach. From a 2017 article

Goldman Sachs is embracing top students from outside the hallowed halls of the Ivy League... Lloyd Blankfein hosted a fireside chat in September for 250 students from Macaulay Honors College, a New York-based public school, during which he outlined the firm's new outlook on recruiting talent. He told students the firm is no longer "trapping" itself by "recruiting from the same 30 or 40 schools."

The firm has been deepening its relationship with the college, which is considered a high-caliber public school. On November 3, Goldman hosted a resume and interview workshop for 75 Macaulay students....

[Blankfein]: "It wasn't an act of kindness on my part, or generosity, or trying to create diversity; it was pure selfish, naked self-interest. We wanted to really extend our net further because everybody’s involved pretty much in a war for talent..."

I'm not sure you'd need to filter significantly more than at other universities. That implies you think students at non top universities would as a proportion be less interested in EA, which seems far from obvious. Could just have a really big group.

I think the math is going to be roughly that if 1/3 of the prizes go to schools 1-10, 1/3 to schools 11-100, and 1/3 to schools 101-onwards, then the hit rate (in terms of prizewinners) goes up by an order of magnitude each time you narrow your target audience. So if you're going to target non-elite schools, and you can't fully support hundreds of schools, you'd want to do that outreach at least somewhat more cheaply - making books available or something.

Please see my reply to devanshpandey. Also, I edited that I was interested in seeing the math on standard deviations between universities.

I don't think this is a good answer, especially for the large amount of karma it has.

I don't think intelligence is a complete, "gearsy" explanation for the higher value of these campuses. 

I think this issue will come up again. I think the canonization of this answer will give the wrong impression to onlookers, creating the very issues the answer tries to respond to.

Thanks for the explanation. I didn't know it was this stratified.

I do worry that the focus on "top" universities is creating a stronger national bias among engaged EAs than we would like.

In particular, because the bar to going to university internationally is higher than attending a domestic university, it means there's a stringency bias in our filters for top talent – it's much more difficult for a German or French person to attend one of these top universities than for a Brit or an American, and so CEA has de facto higher requirements for spending money on community building for people with those nationalities.

I'm not sure what metrics CEA is using to select their top universities – but commonly cited world rankings have a pretty well-known Anglosphere bias, meaning that excellent universities in other countries are underrated relative to their US/UK counterparts. (To be clear, I think that the very top US/UK universities are in fact the best in the world, but I don't think that a larger "objective" list of top universities would be as Anglosphere-dominated as current world rankings are in practice.)

Even among the Anglosphere, the lack of any universities in Australia, Singapore, Canada, or New Zealand worries me. And the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland (to name a few) all have world-class universities with very high levels of English fluency among their student base. I'd be super happy to see Campus Centres at any of these!

That said, I don't have a really great in-depth sense of how CEA's list of top schools were chosen. I hope it was done very carefully and that there were good reasons for picking those particular schools. And this is only the first step – hopefully, if the Campus Specialist program goes well, it will expand! It's reasonable to test out an ambitious (and expensive!) program like this at the very most promising schools.

Why do you think there is a pro-UK/US bias? In data-driven rankings in AI (Shanghairankings, CSrankings, some academic studies), I haven't noticed any. Rather, UK, US, & Can rank higher than ANZ+elsewhere, as they should. Maybe you are just talking about poor rating systems like Times/QS?

I have the Shanghai ranking cached as less biased than the rankings that are standardly used in the UK. That said, looking at its rankings now, it is (a) more US/UK dominated than I remembered and (b) not obviously any less so than other world rankings, so I mostly retract that particular statement until/unless I get the chance to dig into it more later.

I still think there are a number of non-US/UK universities that regularly rank very highly, and given the aforementioned bias imposed by domestic vs international university attendance I'd be particularly excited about hitting at least some of those (e.g. ETH, Toronto, NUS, Copenhagen, Melbourne, Karolinska, UBC).

Yeah. Can and Aus are pretty similar to UK/USA, culturally, ethnically, linguistically, geopolitically, I think. But ETH, NUS and similar would make sense to me.

Australia doesn't really have elite universities (at least in terms of undergraduate admissions) in the same sense as the US. There's no university in Australia where you can tell people that you went to it and they will be impressed. There's no university that is hard to get into if, for example, you just want to do a basic arts degree.

That said, I suspect Sydney University would be a pretty good university to target at some point because it's one of the best universities, if not the best, in terms of (English-language) debating in the world.

Interesting. Good to know. Germany has a similarly weak university hierarchy, with the exception of certain subjects (e.g. Bonn for maths).

Whether or not this is a good thing in other respects (I can see arguments both ways), it seems like it should make EA recruiting harder, in that (a) the most promising students are spread out across a larger number of universities (b) you have less of the "world class university attracting top talent from across the world" effect you do at e.g. Oxford or Harvard.

Which might be an argument for deprioritising university outreach in those countries relative to others. On the other hand both Germany and (especially) Australia seem to be doing very well in terms of EAs-per-capita, so maybe this isn't that strong an effect.

This isn't a full response to this  comment and its threads, but just so people are aware, we also 

  • Provide enhanced support to a broader set of universities,
  • Make grants to many city and national groups
  • Provide basic funding, advice, and resources to all EA groups.

Additionally, if this program is successful, we will likely expand it to more universities over time.

This post was on one part of our groups work, not all of our groups work. You can see a more complete overview here.

Thanks for this comment and the discussion it’s generated! I’m afraid I don’t have time to give as detailed response as I would like, but here are some key considerations:

  • In terms of selecting focus universities, we mentioned our methodology here (which includes more than just university rankings, such as looking at alumni outcomes like number of politicians, high net worth individuals, and prize winners).
  • We are supporting other university groups - see my response to Elliot below for more detail on CEA’s work outside Focus universities.
  • You can view our two programmes as a ‘high touch’ programme and a ‘medium touch’ programme. We’re currently analysing which programme creates the most highly-engaged EAs per full-time equivalent staff member (FTE) (our org-wide metric).
  • In the medium term, this is the main model that will likely inform strategic decisions, such as whether to expand the focus university list.


However, we don’t think this is particularly decision-relevant for us in the short term. This is because:  

  • At the moment, most of our Focus universities don’t have Campus Specialists.
  • You don’t need to have gone to a Focus university to be a Campus Specialist.
  • So we think qualified Campus Specialists won’t be limited by the number of opportunities available.

Really pleased that CEA is offering longer term positions with more emphasis on professional development now!

Just wanted to chime in and say I think this is a really great idea!  Looking forward to seeing the program grow in the years to come!

The job application for the Campus Specialist programme has been published. Apologies for the delay

I think it's a cool idea. 

One thing that comes to mind that I have noticed is many academics aren't aware of EA but I think they would be on board. Many of these academics have time (often tenured), resources (to help EA students), and networks. I wonder if there's a way of targeting/appealing to this demographic.

As a university student, I have no idea whether this would work, but maybe a faculty member could advertise and run an introductory EA fellowship for academics, maybe modified to be more research-focused and offering a competitive stipend for participating.

Yes. I think we can essentially nerd-snipe academics. Maybe get a bunch of social scientists and have a mini-conference about what other EA researchers are doing: say AI governance, forecasting, etc.

It gives them a network, an idea of what others are doing, and accelerated intro into EA.

Does seem like the ROI could be large.

Our Community Building Grants were a step up from an all-volunteer force of organizers, but we think they had some problems:

  • We also didn’t spend enough time listening to and learning from organizers.

I would be really curious to hear more about this. For example:

  • What factors led to this happening?
  • How did you realize you were making this mistake?
  • What were the consequences of this mistake?
  • How do you plan to rectify this in the future?

Later this week, we will release a full job description and application.

Has this been posted yet?

This is SUPER EXCITING!! Amazing opportunity. Go you. :-)

I think this proposal fixes a lot of the problems I'd seen in the earlier CBG program, and I'm incredibly excited to see where it goes. Nice work! EA Stanford and EA Cambridge seem like some of the current groups we have that are closest to Campus Centres, and I've been REALLY impressed with both of their work and all the exciting projects that are coming out of them. I'm very keen to see this scaled to more places!