Due to the success of our first cohort of the Open Philanthropy Technology Policy Fellowship (OPTPF), we are excited to announce that applications are open for the second cohort of OPTPF. You can apply here until September 15th.
Open Philanthropy is seeking applicants for a US policy fellowship program focused on high-priority emerging technologies, especially AI and biotechnology. Selected applicants will receive policy-focused training and mentorship and be supported in matching with a host organization for a full-time, fully-funded fellowship based in the Washington, DC area. Potential host organizations include executive branch offices, Congressional offices, and think tank programs.
Fellowship placements are expected to begin in early or mid-2023 and to last 6 or 12 months (depending on the fellowship category), with potential renewal for a second term (for a total fellowship duration of up to 24 months). Fellowship opportunities are available for both entry-level and mid-career applicants, and for people both with and without prior policy experience.
You can read more about the fellowship here. The first cohort consisted of 15 fellows, whose backgrounds you can see here. Their placements include positions at the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Center for Health Security, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Brookings Institution, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Center for Democracy and Technology.
(If you’d like more information about careers in US policy, we also recommend this summer speaker series run by the Stanford Existential Risks Initiative. This series has dedicated sessions on each of the three institutional tracks of the fellowship — think tanks, congress, and the executive branch.)
Who should apply?
OPTPF was designed to accommodate a broad talent pool. Opportunities are available for both entry-level and mid-career applicants, for technical and non-technical people, and for people both with and without prior policy experience. [added 8/9/2022] Due to restrictions on behalf of our partner agencies, only individuals that are US Citizens, US Green Card holders, or on OPT are eligible to apply.
- Entry-level applicants can apply to be “junior fellows” at think tanks. This role will combine research assistance with operational support, for example organizing and taking notes at expert workshops. Junior fellows may also get opportunities for short-form independent writing (e.g. articles for popular outlets). The position will initially be for 6 months, with potential renewal for another 6 months. Current students who will complete their bachelor’s or master’s degree in Spring 2022 are eligible to apply, as are other recent graduates (see here for more on eligibility).
- Early/mid-career applicants can apply to be fellows in the executive branch, Congress, or at think tanks. Applicants must have a minimum of several years of relevant experience, but it is not uncommon for policy fellowship programs to take in people at a more advanced career stage (e.g. someone in their 30s or 40s with 10+ years of experience). We are open to applicants of all levels of seniority above our minimum requirements; we will work hard to support all fellows in matching with a host office and role where their background and expertise will be put to good use. (See here for more on eligibility.)
Besides the appropriate level of seniority, we will largely be looking for (a) sufficient alignment with Open Phil's priorities in AI, biosecurity, and other global risks (b) evidence of “fit” for applied policy work, and (c) some expertise or experience relevant to emerging technology (broadly defined). What does this mean in practice?
- Policy work often involves a great deal of communication and networking, generally with lots of different groups. Cross-cultural communication (both oral and writing) skills are an important criterion.
- Policy work is also generally collaborative and team-based, so you have to be able to collaborate well, including with people who you might disagree with. Comfort and experience working in such environments is a strong plus.
- People with prior policy experience are welcome to apply, but experience is not required. To the extent that we take such experience into account in the screening process, it will mostly be as evidence that policy work is a good “fit” for them, and people without experience can show their “fit” in other ways.
- As discussed in more detail below, we are excited to support people who plan to spend a significant part of their career working in or around the US government, but we also expect to accept applicants who are not sure that applied policy work is right for them and would like to use the fellowship program to assess that.
- More generally, we expect to weigh “fit” and “soft skills” more heavily in the application process than knowledge. This is because, in our experience, knowledge (e.g. about the committee structure of Congress or the division of responsibility across federal agencies) can be taught fairly easily — and the program includes a significant training dimension on exactly those sorts of questions — whereas personality and communication abilities are harder to change.
- This is a “technology policy” fellowship (focused especially on AI and biosecurity), so host organizations will expect some relevant experience or expertise — but don’t disqualify yourself too quickly! “Technology expertise” is a looser concept in DC than it is in, say, San Francisco. Someone with professional experience in health tech can usually profile themselves as having experience “relevant” to AI or biosecurity, even if their work did not directly involve building machine learning systems or pandemic preparedness. To the extent possible, we won’t disqualify applicants who we’re otherwise excited about on the basis of formal credentials.
- Junior fellows especially will not be expected to have extensive expertise; some relevant classes or a relevant term paper may be sufficient, as long as you are a quick study and can learn on the job.
- There are also some differences (e.g. in how broad your policy portfolio is) between our three organizational categories (executive branch, Congress, and think tanks). You may be a good fit for one type of organization but a poor fit for the others. More about these differences on the application page.
When in doubt about your eligibility or fit, we encourage you to apply! We welcome explicit mention of particular concerns/questions in your application materials. You can also ask us questions about eligibility and fit at any time during the application process.
We aim to build a diverse cohort, and strongly encourage individuals with backgrounds and experiences underrepresented in science and technology policy to apply, especially women and people of color.
What does success look like?
We hope some of the fellows will continue doing policy work in some capacity, whether directly in government or at other organizations in Washington, DC. Fellows will be provided with mentorship and professional development opportunities explicitly aimed at helping them secure policy jobs, including introductions to helpful contacts and tailored workshops on job application cycles and norms across various institutions.
Some fellows will learn that working in government is not the right “fit” for them. For this group, we nonetheless think that the fellowship will serve as a useful learning experience. For example, some fellows may decide to pursue AI governance work at tech firms or EA organizations after their fellowship instead of continuing direct government work. We expect this type of work to benefit significantly from fellows having developed better models of the US policymaking process and the influence of various policy stakeholders. Continuing social ties will also play an important role here.
More generally, we believe AI and biosecurity strategy and policy would benefit from having more “translators” who can bridge different communities (EA and non-EA, research and policy, technical and non-technical, etc.). Moving between different types of employers and cultures every few years is an excellent way to develop translation skills and cross-pollinate ideas. Even if you’re not sure you want to spend your entire career in the US government — or even if you’re pretty sure that you don’t — we still very much encourage you to apply to the fellowship.
See e.g. the lists of alumni of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program (which places people in executive branch offices) and the RWJ Health Policy Fellowship (Congress or executive branch), which include many people with 10-20 years of professional experience
I'm pleased to hear that you're running this fellowship again and extremely excited about applying!
A question about the application process: For the think tank tracks, you require a writing sample. "Applicant should be the sole or main author, ≤5 pages, can be an excerpt. Required for think tank track, optional for congressional and federal track. Please do not create new material." Can you give more feedback on what you're looking for, especially as far as content and style go? Would a well-researched EA Forum post qualify, or more of an academic paper? Should it relate to tech policy explicitly?
In case helpful, this is from the FAQ document (linked on the OP page):
"We are not able to sponsor US employment visas for participants" from https://www.openphilanthropy.org/open-philanthropy-technology-policy-fellowship/
Given this, I assume for people with no connection to the US (not citizens, no green card etc) there is no point in applying?
This seems like an important point to make in the main post as it rules out probably the majority of people opening this post.