Cross-posted from LessWrong.

Has anyone had experience with this? Is anyone working on this?

Reading this and this give me reason to think that it could be more impactful for some x-risk researchers to have research positions at universities.

However:

  • Universities are financially constrained with regard to the number of researchers they can hire
  • When they can hire, they rarely select candidates based on their expected contribution to safeguarding future lives
  • Successful candidates are immediately tasked with non-research obligations which take up a substantial proportion of their time

Can we remove these hurdles? Here is my proposal. A new or existing EA org establishes agreements with university departments/schools whereby:

  1. The org decides on which researcher to hire (with the department having the ability to veto)
  2. The org funds the researcher
  3. The department treats the researcher as one of its own, except without the non-research obligations

I do recognise that currently, university researchers can and do get EA funding which enables them to focus on their high-EV research. An example that comes to mind is Arif Ahmed at the University of Cambridge who, in 2019, received funding from CLR. Additionally, there are research institutes which are well-integrated at universities (e.g. GPI at the University of Oxford). Are these models better? Could my proposal still be impactful and worth pursuing?

If anyone has any experience with or thoughts on this, please comment below or reach out. You'll find my details on my profile page.

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RyanCarey

Sep 06, 2022

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I think big outside contributions to hiring decisions are often viewed as violating academic good practice. See, for instance, controversies surrounding Koch Foundation-driven hiring to various schools. Such schemes are also liable to getting co-opted by the research interests of the school. So alternatives, like having impact-focused professors leading hiring from the inside, or spinning up brand new schools may be more promising.

Thanks, Ryan. You make a good point! The idea of external interest groups hijacking academic departments doesn't sound like a good precendent to set. At the least, I would weaken my proposal's Point 3, ruling out these EA hires taking part in their department's future hiring decisions. They shouldn't have the same privileges as other department faculty members, though they should be able to advise PhD students and set up research groups.