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Examples of people who didn't get into EA in the past but made it after a few years

by agent181 min read26th May 202021 comments

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Hi,

What are the examples of people who tried to get into EA in Research (e.g., @ GiveWell, RP, CE, ACE etc...) or as a Program officer, didn't get in when they tried but got in after a few years?

What did they do in between to get a EA research position a few years later?

Can you state which position you didn't get and which position you got a few years later, and what you did to improve?

Thanks.

P.S Only actual examples please.

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5 Answers

I never had to ask anyone's permission to do EA-related research.

I just worked hard in my free-time for over five years and then finally was able to have enough reputation to co-found my own research non-profit (Rethink Priorities). I totally understand this path isn't accessible to everyone (or even most people) but it is probably more within the grasp of people than they might think and I think it's worth some consideration.

I think a great place to start is just making thoughtful EA Forum posts (perhaps aiming to emulate good reasoning transparency and the style of highly upvoted posts) and trying to talk with other thoughtful EAs.

Even if you don't go on to co-found your own research non-profit, this portfolio you build will almost certainly either get you noticed by a recruiter or boost your application when you do apply.

Well said Peter. I needed this. thanks!

I was hoping to get a position at ACE after my research internship (which lasted maybe 7 months) and I was told it was a possibility but they hired other people instead. However, after the internship I knew better what kind of articles would be useful and had some relevant connections. In the following year I wrote two articles (this and this) which were reviewed by my connections at ACE before publishing which was very useful . I also did some unrelated stuff like an EA community building internship. I applied for various EA jobs, mostly research, and didn't get some of them. Someone who was hiring at Rethink Priorities reached out to me and asked me to apply because they liked those two articles I wrote. I applied and got the job, about one year after my ACE internship ended.

Thanks a ton Sauliu. May I ask you a few more questions:

  1. Are there other internships/jobs you got rejected to? (and where in your timeline were those rejects)

  2. Can you please tell me more about what all you did in that gap year other than write those two articles to "boost your chances"? Did you take a break from normal FT work during that gap year?

  3. So the articles drew the attention to a hirer at RP? Not your connections.

  4. How did you get the EA community building internship? Why was it "unrelated"

  1. Before the ACE's internship I applied to MIRI for a programming internship but didn't receive an answer. After ACE, I applied for various roles in Centre For Effective Altruism and wasn't selected. I also was rejected for researcher roles by OpenPhil (after some number of rounds) and Charity Entrepreneurship, shortly before I got the job at RP. It's possible that I got rejected by CE because I said that I was uncertain if I will be willing to move to Vancouver which is something that they wanted at that time, but I think it was more because I totally failed at a task they gave me during the hiring process. I guess I should note that OpenPhil had very many good applicants and CE was reluctant to hire at that time and I think they didn't hire anyone during that hiring round. Oh, I was also asked to apply for a researcher role at Effective Giving but in the end I was told that there was one candidate who was better fit than me and they hired them. I also applied as a researcher for Veddis Foundation and was not selected, no interview. There may have been more rejections that I don't remember. I think I applied for all or most of these researcher roles after writing those two articles
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8agent182yThank You for the detailed answer. Then, I do not know what else to base my actions on. I also don't understand what you mean by "too much". Do you have an example in mind? I am trying to look for "similar" (big quotes) people and see how they did it. And copying actions and testing it out seems to be the "better" options I have. It might work, it might not work out in the end to a variety of reasons. But atleast there is one example instead of empty claims about how to get an EA job. Your example, Peters example and MSJs example tell me one thing, it requires persistence and a lot of time (2-5 years), hardwork, long time EA engagement, writing/researching, applying, criticizing, learning about EA etc... I now have an understanding that it would take 2-5 years (and that I need to be ready to accept this). This never hit home to me before today. So BIG THANK YOU for that. And one more question: Why were you so bent on getting an EA job? Why not ETG. You are a software engineer I see from your Linkedin. P.S I am asking you these as I am struggling myself with such questions.

Why were you so bent on getting an EA job?

I was never bent on getting an EA job. I wanted to test out many different jobs and see what fits me. I also wanted to have some impact. I didn’t write those two articles or criticize ACE and other organizations in order to increase my chances of getting a job at an EA org. I’m not sure that thought even crossed my mind. I did it because I wanted to have an impact.

When I was doing EA community building internship, my manager would ask me every week: “what have you learnt about your personal fit as an EA community builder?” Because that was the main goal. After he read my articles, he was like “I think you have a better fit for this kind of stuff”. And some other people said similar things. And I did feel that the research that I did had more potential to make an impact than other things I’ve tried. So I decided to try to do more research. I started applying for researcher jobs partly because I was running out of savings. But when I got the offer for the RP job, I still wasn’t sure if I should take it. What if they tell me to research something that I don’t feel is impactful or exciting? That happened during my ACE internship. I was consi

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2agent182yThanks for the detailed response and taking the time once again. You keep suggesting that "you had a feeling" about the impact. What does this mean? I guess it's more than just a feeling like seeing how much money or lives or DALY's what your doing counterfactualy adds.

I didn't do cost-effectiveness estimates for each of the activity I tried but I had a feeling of how such estimates would have turned out if I tried to do them. There is nothing special about this, everyone has such intuitions. E.g., organizing EA events in Lithuania was stressful and required a lot of work. Despite that, I felt that few if any people will change anything based on what I said to them. I felt that the main accomplishment was possibly convincing one person to donate something like $2,000 a year to AMF rather than to some other charity. In contrast, after writing one article, I felt that there was a decent chance that animal advocates might help millions or billions of animals that otherwise would not have been helped. Writing that article took less time and was less stressful than organizing EA events in Lithuania. Based on stuff like this, I decided that I should write articles. Note that someone who had a better personal fit for being a community builder and worse fit for being a researcher might have had an opposite experience. But this kind of stuff is also based on luck so the evidence that experimenting provides is not conclusive.

2agent182yI would appreciate an explanation, when you downvote something. Thanks. :)

I applied for a research role at GWWC a few years ago (?2015 or so), and wasn't selected. I now do research at FHI.

In the interim I worked as a public health doctor. Although I think this helped me 'improve' in a variety of respects, 'levelling up for an EA research role' wasn't the purpose in mind: I was expecting to continue as a PH doctor rather than 'switching across' to EA research in the future; if I was offered the role at GWWC, I'm not sure whether I would have taken it.

There's a couple of points I'd want to emphasise.

1. Per Khorton, I think most of the most valuable roles (certainly in my 'field' but I suspect in many others, especially the more applied/concrete) will not be at 'avowedly EA organisations'. Thus, depending on what contributions you want to make, 'EA employment' may not be the best thing to aim for.

2. Pragmatically, 'avowedly EA organisation roles' (especially in research) tend oversubscribed and highly competitive. Thus (notwithstanding the above) this is ones primary target, it seems wise to have a career plan which does not rely on securing such a role (or at least have a backup).

3. Although there's a sense of ways one can build 'EA street cred' (or whatever), it's not clear these forms of 'EA career capital' are best even for employment at avowedly EA organisations. I'd guess my current role owes more to (e.g.) my medical and public health background than it does to my forum oeuvre (such as it is).

Thanks for the suggestions.

most of the most valuable roles (certainly in my 'field' but I suspect in many others, especially the more applied/concrete) will not be at 'avowedly EA organisations'

do you have an example?

it seems wise to have a career plan which does not rely on securing such a role (or at least have a backup).

Agreed that I should have a backup. But why does it seem unwise? Based on what? Have you looked at the possible impact based on replaceability and displacement chains?

What else is there to do I don't know, other than working in s

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Do research internships count? I just started one at Charity Entrepreneurship.

I think I might have described my history in one of your other posts/questions.

I first applied to ACE and GiveWell research internships in 2016, back when I was still new to EA, but didn't get either. The extent of my EA involvement at the time was over Facebook.

Then I studied for a master's with the intention to earn to give, got involved with my local EA group and started running it last summer, started commenting and writing on the EA Forum, and earned to give, although I hadn't made any significant donations yet. Then I applied to Charity Entrepreneurship and ACE internships in August and November/December, respectively, and didn't get either. Then I donated about 45% of my 2019 income in December, wrote an EA Forum post that won an EA Forum prize, and attended my first EA Global (the virtual one in March). I talked with someone from CE at a local EA group meetup, and my current supervisor at CE at EA Global, and I think I made decent impressions on them. Then I applied to CE's research internship last month and was accepted this time.

I imagine that if I get a full-time position in EA research, this internship will be an important contributing factor. I don't expect it to guarantee me a full-time position, though, since they're very competitive and pretty rare.

Is your internship paid?

3MichaelStJules2yNo

Thank You StJules. Appreciate it. This is actually great. Thanks for the details. Ultimately it is about getting a job in EA. But Interships also sounds good.

And congratulations on the Internship.

6MichaelStJules2yThanks! Oh, I should also add that I read and commented on several of CE's reports (commenting on the EA Forum posts, and I also read other effective animal advocacy research). I did this leading up to my first application that was rejected, but I think my recent feedback was much more useful, and I was encouraged to apply following a conservation about my feedback.

My case didn't involve a gap of a few years between initial applications and eventually getting a role, but I did apply for (and get rejected from) a lot of roles before I was accepted to one, so it might still fit the spirit of your question.

I learned about EA in 2018, and started applying for EA-aligned roles in 2019. I applied for ~30 roles that year, ~25 of which were at EA orgs, most but not all of which were research or research-ish roles. Some were things like internships, but most were jobs. 

I ended up with 2 offers, both jobs at EA orgs. One was an operations role and one was a research role. I took the research role. 

In contrast, in 2020, with some EA research experience under my belt, I applied for ~11 roles at EA orgs (mostly research roles), and ultimately received 4 offers (all research roles). 

So I got ~28 rejections before my first EA-related job offer, but then I got one, and since then I've been very happy with how things have gone.

I say a bit more about this process here, and about how I "got up to speed" on EA ideas here (which was probably part but not all of how I ultimately got these job offers). I also collect some readings and notes related to doing high-impact research here. Hope some of that's helpful!

And I also endorse Khorton's comment that the EA community probably overemphasises working at EA orgs. I'd add that it probably overemphasises research roles too. (I of course do think that research roles and roles at EA orgs can be highly impactful, and that some people should be doing them! I just think many other things can be highly impactful too, and will fit some people better.) So I think EAs who haven't yet tested their fit for many things should probably consider and apply to a lot of non-research roles and roles outside of explicitly EA orgs.

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I don't know if you need someone to say this, but:

You can often do more good outside of an EA organisation than inside one. For most people, the EA community is not the only good place to look for grantmaking or research jobs.

If I could be a grantmaker anywhere, I'd probably pick the Gates Foundation or the UK Government's Department for International Development. If I could be a researcher anywhere, I might choose Harvard's Kennedy School of Public Policy or the Institute for Government. None of these are "EA organisations" but they would all most likely allow me to do more good than working at GiveWell. (Although I do love GiveWell and encourage interested applicants to apply!)

Some people already know this and have particular reasons they want to work in an EA organisation, but some don't, so I thought it was worth saying.

Personally, I would be surprised if for working as a program officer at the Gates Foundation is more impactful than as a global health and dev program officer at Open Phil, especially at the same level of seniority. 

Thanks Khorton. I agree that we should not just look at orgs identifying as EA.