EA Forum Prize: Winners for April 2021

by Aaron Gertler10 min read29th Jul 2021No comments

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Forum Prize
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Sorry for the late announcement. The next prize post will cover posts from May - July (we're experimenting with a different structure), so I expect to be caught up soon.
 

CEA is pleased to announce the winners of the April 2021 EA Forum Prize! 

* Ben works for CEA, and Joe works for Open Philanthropy, a major funder of CEA. In keeping with our conflict-of-interest policy, they won’t receive monetary prizes, and we’ve divided that money between the other winners.
 

The following users were each awarded a Comment Prize ($75):

See here for a list of all prize announcements and winning posts.

What is the EA Forum Prize?

Certain posts and comments exemplify the kind of content we most want to see on the EA Forum. They are well-researched and well-organized; they care about informing readers, not just persuading them.

The Prize is an incentive to create content like this. But more importantly, we see it as an opportunity to showcase excellent work as an example and inspiration to the Forum's users.

About the winning posts and comments

Note: I write this section in first person based on my own thoughts, rather than by attempting to summarize the views of the other judges.

How I got an entry-level role in Congress

A few months ago, I was hired for an entry-level role in a Congressional office. In this post I will share my job search and application process. 

I hope this will be helpful to people who are considering Congressional work as a career option. Because I am early in my career, I imagine this will be most helpful/applicable for people who are in undergrad or earlier. 

The original “write about your job” post — and the author has a good job to write about! 

This is a well-written explanation that covers an important topic for what I hope will be a sizable future audience of would-be Congressional staffers in the EA community. Some features I liked:

  • Gets really specific about the author’s tactics, down to their specific LinkedIn searches and the text they used for networking emails. Many of the best Forum posts are more like recipes than essays; if I were a student trying to get started on networking, I think I’d find this post a godsend.
  • Doesn’t understate the author’s many advantages during the application process. It can be tempting to make your own success seem less likely than it was, to get credit for being an underdog or an exceptionally hard worker. In the face of that incentive, I really appreciate the realism about everything that was working in the author’s favor.
  • The explicit offer to answer questions via private message — I think this is generally implicit when people share Forum posts, as we’re a friendly community, but putting it in writing might help an extra person or two decide to reach out.

Thoughts on being overqualified for EA positions

Note: I recused myself from voting on this post, as Ben is my manager at CEA.

Very similar to the previous winning post — someone with hugely relevant experience shares their take on a common issue in the EA job market. 

Some features I liked:

  • Several actionable suggestions for the core audience of the post, as alternatives to the default action of “not applying to jobs”:
    • Trying a “tour of duty” format for a job
    • Asking employers about the issue directly
  • The focus on ways in which EA-aligned organizations are and aren’t similar to different types of for-profit entities. I especially liked this quote, which… happens to be about my job specifically, but should also put things in perspective for many other people working in the community:

It's true that this forum is read by many fewer people than, say, view the home and garden section on Amazon.com, but I suspect that global welfare is more easily increased by improving this site than Amazon.

EA Debate Championship & Lecture Series

The international debating community mostly consists of undergraduate students from around 50 countries (elite universities are represented across all continents). Debaters tend to be willing to sit and reflect upon themes for hours, both when preparing for a competition and when analyzing their performance after each  debate round. Long online discussions are the norm in the community, similar to EA's. As such, a theme-specific championship is a rare opportunity to engage a highly diverse audience in a meaningful way that can spark interest for a long time.

I suspect that much of this post’s karma was meant to represent “thanks for putting on a cool event!” But even given that boost, the post was still a solid example of what I think event posts should look like (for something this big and complicated):

  • Several links to the exact materials used for the event (recipes > essays!)
  • A list of lessons learned, and a general policy of noting where things could have gone better even outside of that list
  • A few suggestions for people who want to get involved in future events or broader engagement with the community in question

Also, as a bonus (not applicable to other event posts): 

  • Useful notes on how the event may have affected debating culture more broadly (e.g. other tournaments donating proceeds to effective charities). I found this interesting, and I’m glad the authors took the time to include it.

Draft report on existential risk from power-seeking AI

My current view is that there is a small but substantive chance that a scenario along these lines occurs, and that many people alive today -- including myself -- live to see humanity permanently disempowered by artificial systems. In the final section, I take an initial stab at quantifying this risk [...] My main hope, though, is not to push for a specific number, but rather to lay out the arguments in a way that can facilitate productive debate.

It was good of Joe to upload this report in the first place — there are a lot of long Google Docs from research orgs that never appear on the Forum, and a lot of good discussions that don’t happen (or happen later) as a result. 

(I don’t mean to criticize the authors of those docs — engaging with the “EA public” takes time and energy that could instead go toward more research, or just enjoying life — but this tendency makes me appreciate exceptions like Joe all the more.)

Given that Joe wrote this report for Open Philanthropy, I’m not surprised that it is clear and well-organized. I’m going to focus on the Forum-relevant element here — namely, Joe’s engagement in the comments. Things I liked about those contributions:

  • He tries to explain back his interlocutors’ points of view in his own words before responding (which makes it easier to identify where exactly a disagreement or different interpretation may be happening).
  • Rather than merely defending his own assumptions and conclusions, he clarifies how uncertain he is and how “lightly” he holds some of the numbers in the report.
  • He responds in great detail to original questions, rather than merely restating relevant arguments from the report (see this reply to Ben Pace).

Working in Congress (Part #1): Background and some EA cause area analysis

Working in Congress could be a highly impactful career choice for EAs who are US citizens and permanent residents, as 80,000 Hours has written about in their Congressional staffer career guide. This two-part overview complements that guide by explaining in more detail how Congress works. The goal is to allow EAs to make informed decisions about (a) whether Congress is a good place for them to work, (b) which Congressional jobs they could/should target and why, and (c) how to find and pursue opportunities.

For some reason, April was Congress month on the Forum. I don’t know whether that will be an annual tradition, but I loved having all three relevant posts this month — the first-place winner, plus this post and its companion post.

This post was excellent throughout — I read a draft before it was published, and every question I had kept being answered before I could ask it. Specific things I liked:

  • The constant emphasis on “whether”, not just “where”; it’s important for posts like this to help people figure out which jobs aren’t a good fit for them, rather than presenting every prominent position as equally desirable to everyone.
  • The section beginning with “as an institution…”, which highlights the difference between popular portrayals of Congress and what actually happens behind the scenes. This seems especially valuable for an audience of people whom I’d expect to be skeptical about political work in general.
  • ...Okay, this one is cheating a little, but I’ll say “the enormous amount of technical detail”. I’ve probably read several hundred articles about how Congress handled different bills and funding decisions, and collectively, they taught me perhaps half of what this single post did. I can see it being very useful even for people who don’t plan to work in Congress, if they plan to interact with it in any way (lobbying, writing letters, etc.).

The winning comments

I won’t write up an analysis of each comment. Instead, here are my thoughts on selecting comments for the prize.

The voting process

The current prize judges are:

All posts published in the titular month qualified for voting, save for those in the following categories: 

  • Procedural posts from CEA and EA Funds (for example, posts announcing a new application round for one of the Funds)
  • Posts linking to others’ content with little or no additional commentary
  • Posts which got fewer than five additional votes after being posted (not counting the author’s automatic vote)

Voters recused themselves from voting on posts written by themselves or their colleagues. Otherwise, they used their own individual criteria for choosing posts, though they broadly agree with the goals outlined above.

Judges each had ten votes to distribute between the month’s posts. They also had a number of “extra” votes equal to [10 - the number of votes made last month]. For example, a judge who cast 7 votes last month would have 13 this month. No judge could cast more than three votes for any single post.

The winning comments were chosen by me, though other judges had the chance to nominate and veto comments before this post was published.

I also want to mention this comment from Larks, which I thought was very strong. However, I considered a dozen other comments this month, and with so many good options to choose from, decided that it was better not to nominate a fellow judge. (I discussed this with Larks, and we decided to post this notice.) 

Feedback

If the Prize has changed the way you read or write on the Forum, or you have an idea for how we could improve it, please leave a comment or contact me.

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