[ Question ]

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

by agent18 1 min read26th May 202019 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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4 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.

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.

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).

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.