- Do you have an undergraduate with honours (or equivalent) in psychology, health, policy, or education? Are you finishing one this year?
- Are you thinking about doing a PhD to research some of the world’s most pressing problems?
I’m recruiting PhD students for a scholarship round with applications due mid-October. Scholarships cover all fees and include a stipend worth ~$30,000 AUD/year for three years. They are open to Australian students or international students who can move to Australia in 2022. I’m looking for prospective PhD students who would want to work on the following questions from the 80,000 hours potential high-priority problems:
- How do we expand people’s circle of concern? How do we help them care about the common good and long term future?
- How do we teach young people and adults to make better decisions, and do it at scale?
- How do we help policy-makers make better decisions (e.g., by better using research or better leveraging expertise)? This could also include forecasting, longtermism in government, or expanding the moral circle in institutions (e.g., in policymaking).
- How do we design scientific infrastructure that delivers the strongest benefits to society?
Why do this?
You’d get good research supervision
I started as a performance psychologist, am an awarded teacher, and trained at one of the best psychology research institutes in Australia. With some good mentoring, some hard work, and a little luck, I’ve done well as an early-career researcher: 23 peer reviewed papers since my PhD in 2019; ~$2 mil in competitive grants, and a Scopus m-index is 2.3 where >2 “characterizes outstanding scientists.”
Much of this work has applied research methods that are important for EA causes: figuring out what works (i.e., conducting best-practice reviews) then translating what works into interventions that change behaviour at scale. Since 2019, in collaboration with READI, I have applied these methods to philanthropic fundraising, reducing animal-product consumption, and behavioural responses to COVID-19.
You’d have a strong extended network of support
Successful candidates would also receive co-supervision from our world leading professors (Professor Richard Ryan, motivation expert; Professor Philip Parker , statistics, methods, and educational psychology; Professor Chris Lonsdale, motivation, knowledge translation, and scientific infrastructure). You’d also have connections into the EA community. The team at READI (Dr Peter Slattery, Dr Zan Saeri, Emily Grundy and I) coordinate and conduct behaviour science research to improve decision-making and behaviour for the world's most pressing problems. So far, we have helped charities learn how to effectively fundraise, animal welfare and environmental groups learn how to reduce animal consumption, and helped governments identify how to respond to the challenges of COVID-19. We’ve worked closely with many experts within the EA community (e.g., Luke Freeman, Exec. Director, Giving What We Can).
You’d learn gold-standard research and project management processes
We want to do research that improves the world. For this reason, we usually engage with people at the coalface when designing research (e.g., all of my competitive grants involve government departments as partners). We’d encourage students to work with EA organisations to ensure your research helps to solve important problems they face.
Some supervisors leave students floundering under the weight of a PhD. We don’t. Generally, my teams try to embody the CEA values: Commitment to Others; Scientific Mindset; Openness; Integrity; and Collaborative Spirit. My research teams use Agile methods to ensure you’re consistently well supported with rapid feedback. We abhor the hyperactive hive-mind meaning you’re free to focus without being pressured to work 60-hour weeks. We provide a productive and supportive team environment.
Best reasons to not take this opportunity
- You don’t want to move to Australia. If you’re an aussie, you already know why it’s great here, but if you’re living overseas, it’s a long way for some people. 80% of my current PhD students are international students, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re already in Australia, we have big campuses in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. Being in Brisbane, I have a weak preference for students to move up here, but all my current PhD students are in Sydney (remote works fine, but funding rules say students must be in Australia).
- You want a top-100 university. Australian Catholic University (ACU) is a top 2% university on global rankings, and in Australia, we are equal first for psychology and cognitive sciences. Having said that, we don’t have many ‘card-carrying EAs’ on staff and we aren’t yet in the Top 100.
- You want to work in global priorities, biology, or AI. One consequence of #2 is that ACU isn’t strong in hard sciences like computer science, biology, or economics. We have a strong philosophy department but I don’t know how EA-aligned they are (I assume it’s pretty mixed). If those areas are your competitive advantage, this isn’t for you.
What to do next
If any of that is interesting to you, put in an expression of interest. These are designed to be fairly light-weight, so you don’t invest hours and hours on a proposal that doesn’t eventuate. So:
- Check your eligibility against these criteria
- Honours class 2A or equivalent (~GPA > 75% in fourth year research program) or
- a Master degree with appropriate research training (or equivalent) or
- demonstrated research experience, with evidence of capacity to undertake independent research work (e.g. an authored publication)
- Submit your transcript and a 1-page cover-letter here (resume optional). Describe what research you're excited about, why it’s important, and what you see as the key assumptions/risks. I’ll be looking at your value-alignment for EA/longtermism oriented work and your academic track-record. Your resume isn’t weighted but feel free to submit if it adds context to your cover letter.
- If shortlisted, I’ll run through an assessment, including a work-sample, abilities test, and personal-style measure. You don’t want to start something you won’t finish or won’t thrive in. I want to help you figure out if this is right for you.
- If you meet criteria on those assessments, I’ll help you prepare a proposal, due in October. You’ll need to draft a proposal that’s sufficiently challenging, high-quality, and feasible. I’ll help do this for short-listed candidates navigate the relevant guidelines (Australian student guidelines; International student guidelines). As part of this process, you’ll also need to get some academic referee reports, but this can wait until you’re shortlisted
If you have any questions, hit me up in the comments. If you know anyone who might be interested, please forward this along.