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TLDR; EA organizations hiring graduating seniors or hosting undergraduates as 2023 summer interns should send program acceptances by January 2023 so that students don't have to accept a corporate offer before they apply to EA programs. 

The Problem

Multiple undergrads have complained that you can't apply to corporate internships and EA summer programs at the same time. Instead, non-EA orgs have very early deadlines (October to January), allowing them to get decisions back to students very early in the year. They typically want responses from students within a few weeks of sending out offers. Meanwhile, many EA orgs don't send out acceptances until much later, like April, well past the deadline for responding to the corporate internship offers.

This puts students in an awkward position: either accept the corporate offers while planning to renege if they get a better EA internship, or gamble on the EA jobs, and potentially not get any.  It's bad to miss out on anything for the summer, but lying violates most people's moral principles and going back on an offer that you previously accepted burns bridges at the organization you lied to. As a result of this application deadline system, many talented students are being funneled away from EA summer opportunities.

The Solution

Ideally, students could apply for corporate programs and EA fellowships at the same time, see where they are accepted, and take the best offer without having to lie or burn bridges.

Moving EA program deadlines up to compete with industry might be challenging for orgs that aren't 100% sure what kind of funding they'll have for summer programs. In this case, consider what kind of guidelines you can provide to prospective candidates to give them a better sense of how likely they will be accepted for a summer program at your org. Also, consider doing early acceptances if an extremely talented student contacts you with an exploding offer from another organization, and publicizing this policy if you decide to enact it.

The Competition

Here are some summer 2023 internship application deadlines for corporations competing with us for top talent (ie this is how early applications need to open in order to get offers back to students on a competitive timeframe): 

Technology 

Google: October 31st, 2022
Palantir: Sometime in October 2022

Consulting

Bain: November 29, 2022
McKinsey: January 19th, 2023

Finance

Goldman Sachs: November 20th, 2022
JP Morgan: November 27th, 2022

 

NB: Many of these organizations have multiple summer programs which all have different deadlines. I've tried to select programs with representative deadlines, but bizarrely, some companies even have different deadlines for students from different universities! If you actually want to apply to one of these places, please go to the org's website to double check the deadline for the program that best suits you.

Credit to electroswing, who made all of these same points back in March. But they're still true! 

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Buck
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Obviously it would be more convenient if EA orgs accepted interns earlier, and I totally agree that it destroys value when we don't :(

Moving EA program deadlines up to compete with industry might be challenging for orgs that aren't 100% sure what kind of funding they'll have for summer programs. In this case, consider what kind of guidelines you can provide to prospective candidates to give them a better sense of how likely they will be accepted for a summer program at your org. Also, consider doing early acceptances if an extremely talented student contacts you with an exploding offer from another organization, and publicizing this policy if you decide to enact it.

FWIW in Redwood Research's case, our main bottleneck isn't funding, it's that we aren't sure what our org is going to look like in eight months' time--we might be feeling like we're doing a great job and have lots of management capacity and space for interns, or we might be feeling like we're wandering in the desert and don't know what research we should be doing, in which case interns will be a dangerous distraction.

I think the right comparison to draw is between EA orgs and similarly small startups; my rough experience is that small startups are similarly uncomfortable making internship offers far in advance.

That's a very important insight! And it's too bad, because programs like Redwood's MLAB are excellent opportunities that I would prefer undergrads to apply to over corporate positions at Bain. 

I'm just hoping this post makes orgs update on the benefits of earlier application deadline/acceptances, with the understanding that these might still not outweigh the costs for each specific org. 

bizarrely, some companies even have different deadlines for students from different universities

I believe this happens because some universities are pushing back on the deadline arms race where things move earlier every year. Those universities say that any company that wants to recruit on campus can't have a deadline earlier than a specific date.

Interesting! I support this holding the line. 

Thank you for writing this -  as a current undergraduate myself, this has been a very uncomfortable dynamic that I've been struggling with as I debate whether or not I want to pursue a standard CS internship, or take a chance at getting into a program related to AI-Safety.  Personally, for us CS majors at my school, there is a lot of pressure to get a CS internship before winter break (these are usually higher quality); unfortunately, from what I've seen, most AI-Safety-related programs or internships don't open their applications until the spring.

I would love to do research or engineering for anything in the AI-Safety space,  but when I evaluate my chances of getting into said AI-Safety programs, I grow wary and debate just settling for a standard CS internship :/

I do understand why these kinds of programs might need to start applications later; but, as you said, it would be tremendously beneficial to have some programs run their application processes earlier, if possible. 

I sympathize with this. My AI safety career was started when I turned down a tech company return offer for the chance of maybe later getting an AI safety research internship. The tech company paid more than triple (seeing as AI safety internship was in academia). I ended up getting the AI safety internship, but I almost didn't!

Not everyone wants to take that risk. And not everyone can afford to, either.

Thanks for chiming in here! You're exactly the kind of person who is being put in a bad position :( I hope you can figure something out!  (And maybe consider applying for 80k coaching?)

It's not obvious to me that January is correct. For instance, at Yale, more than two thirds of CS majors received their full time job offers in December or earlier (most of these are likely in the tech industry). You often don't have very long to reply to these offers so I wouldn't be surprised if many had to accept prior to January.

I agree that April is later than nearly anywhere else; but I'm also not convinced that January would be better than November. I basically agree with this post but I think people should do their own research on what they're competing with  rather than just deciding on January on the basis of this post.

That's a great point! The exact deadlines differ for each sector. But orgs get a slight advantage for being the first to give out offers, and a massive disadvantage for being the last to give out offers, so it's better to skew earlier than later (if operationally possible). 

I've updated the post to say "EA orgs should accept Summer 2023 interns by January" in response to this comment. 

Somewhat embarrassing (for me) how you made the same arguments here, but with more clarity and detail than I have, months before my post 😅 

100% endorse everything you said! Would have linked to this earlier, just didn't see it when you originally posted, sorry!

Honestly both posts are very well written, short and have a lot of content.

This isn't exactly related to the post, but I am a little bit wary about the connotation of more students should have internships / work experience at EA Orgs rather than corporate roles.

I talked to some EAs that say that it's good for EA uni students to get a job outside of EA first. This makes me think that the issue of EA Orgs not having that many uni interns aren't actually a big problem.

Why it may be good to pursue a corporate role:

  • Mistakes made earlier in my career will be much more low stakes
  • Experiencing the world outside the EA bubble
  • Skills such as dealing with people in a workplace, learning how a company runs things are transferrable
  • Financial independence from EA
  • Other personal reasons (financial independence in general, funding for self-improvement stuff like coaching and good therapy)

On the other hand, there are good reasons for EA Interships

  • EA internships can be good for community building because it makes uni students more excited about EA!
  • students can test fit for wide variety of cause areas sooner rather than later.
  • Depending on what you are interested in doing, the skills might be less transferrable (From Charity Entrepreneurship: "Our data shows that a founder who starts now and runs a charity for three years will outperform (at running a charity) someone who does two years work experience in a consultancy and then starts running a charity for a year." -https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/xHC9AYLGjMoZbEWkX/ce-who-underrates-their-likelihood-of-success-why-applying)

I totally agree there is a lot of value in going corporate first. I recommend this route to many people! But it does seem unfortunate to not have the choice between EA/corporate, or have the choice set up pretty badly.