Summary/Context:

EAs tend to be pretty good at thinking about people other than themselves. One situation in which I don’t see this as much is when networking, where I've seen people largely focus on their careers/questions+uncertainties/projects/funding opportunities/etc. 

EA Global London 2021 is a day away, and many attendees are searching for attendees to schedule meetings with (which I, and many others, usually strongly recommend over attending recorded sessions, and most other sessions too). I thought now (or more accurately a few days ago, oops) might be a good time to write down some thoughts on:

  • the importance and benefits of coordination in communities with shared goals like the EA community.
  • the implications of this for networking in EA and specifically at EA Global (the default time for many members of the community to set aside a weekend to meet with other members of the community).
  • how I’ve approached networking at EA Global. 

Some concrete tips I’d encourage for EAs when networking (especially for EA Global):

  • Think about who you can help and how you can help them, along with who can help you when deciding who to reach out to. 
  • Default to thinking about your network (EA group, friends, etc) along with yourself when deciding who to network with. In the spirit of the above point, consider how your network can help others along with how others can help your network.
  • When having conversations, get into the habit of regularly thinking about how you can provide value to your conversation partner, and actually following up.

I’ve listed some concrete ways I’ve applied these principles at previous EA conferences in the post, and how doing so has helped generate impact (and more specifically, Stanford EA and SERI succeed). 

The Importance of Coordination:

My favourite article on the importance of coordination in EA is “Doing good together—how to coordinate effectively, and avoid single-player thinking” by Ben Todd. 

In it, he writes: 

 The historian, Yuval Harari, claims in his book Sapiens that better coordination has been the key driver of human progress. He highlights innovations like language, religion, human rights, nation states and money as valuable because they improve cooperation among strangers.

If we work together, we can do far more good. This is part of why we started the effective altruism community in the first place: we realised that by working with others who want to do good in a similar way — based on evidence and careful reasoning — we could achieve much more.

But unfortunately we, like other communities, often don’t coordinate as well as we could.

Instead, especially in effective altruism, people engage in “single-player” thinking. They work out what would be the best course of action if others weren’t responding to what they do. But once you’re part of a community that does respond to your actions, this assumption breaks down. We need to develop new rules of thumb for doing good — the strategies and approaches that work well in a single-player situation often don’t work once you’re collaborating with a community.

Tips for Networking with Others in Mind 

Given the above, here are a few recommendations for networking in EA (which apply in general, but especially for EA Global given its status as the schelling/default networking event for the community):

  • When considering whom to reach out to, think not only about who might be able to provide value, advice, connections, job/internship/research/funding opportunities to yourself, but how you might offer these things to others.
  • If you’re a group organizer, or if you know other EAs/people interested in EA (so probably most people reading this post), consider doing the above for all your group members, or all the people in your EA network. Think about how others might help not just yourself, but your group members and/or network as well. And vice versa, don’t just think about how you can support others, but how others in your group/network can do the same (although obviously don’t volunteer your friends/group members for things without their permission). 
    • This might make it easier/more justified to reach out to more experienced/established members of the community, which can be especially valuable when running a group with many promising members. 
  • In conversations, get into the habit of regularly thinking about how you can provide value to your conversation partner, and actually providing it (e.g. making sure you’re good at suggesting concrete action items/ideas to help, and following up on action items).

Applications for EA Global Networking (especially for group organizers)

Here are a few concrete things I did to network at my first EA Global while running Stanford EA:

  • Went to the career fair, and tried talking to as many booths as possible to see what their desired qualities/qualifications of the ideal candidates were
  • Coordinated with other group organizers to cover all the booths, and share notes with each other
  • Reached out to staff at organizations where I thought many Stanford EA members (and other students) would be interested in interning/working/visiting/helping out. 
  • Scheduled a meeting with 80,000 Hours staff to share my understanding of Stanford students’ responses to reading 80,000 Hours content (primarily through our fellowship). 
  • Reached out to students who seemed like good fits for organizing their EA group to discuss the case for doing so and how to get started/looped into the community
  • Reached out to other (including newer) uni group organizers to share strategy, resources, connections, and potential collaboration opportunities
  • Talked to people I thought would be good to chat with about my career plans - to be clear, I still think this is great to do, just not the only thing you should be thinking about when networking in EA world. 

Suggestions for Experienced Community Members

As a more experienced organizer and well-connected member of the community now, things I want to do more of (which I’d also encourage other experienced community members to do) include: 

  • Talking to newer members of the community, and looking for fruitful opportunities for mentorship (e.g. newer group organizers, or organizers interested in engaging with academia/universities given my background in these areas)
  • Connecting less-connected/in-the-know community members with the right opportunities, organizations, people, and funding sources 
  • Thinking about specific projects and things I want to see happen, and looking for people who might be good fits for them
  • Connecting with and updating my list of group organizers, to have a strong, up-to-date network for sharing exciting opportunities, events, resources, and more

Results/Impact of this Approach to Networking

I think this approach to networking (both by myself and other group members) has led to a substantial portion of the success of Stanford EA and SERI, including:

  • Connections to EA professionals who have had a significant impact on the trajectory of many core group members
  • Connections leading to the creation of successful sub-groups (Alt Protein Project, One for the World)
  • The ability to reach students, academics, and professionals from around the world when running our global summer research internship and existential risk conference for SERI
  • Having the capacity/connections to run three global EA fellowships (Intro, In-Depth, Precipice Reading Group), now run as a part of EA Virtual Programs 
  • Connections to many opportunities and events to fast-track members’ involvement with EA/career plans, like CFAR/AIRCS workshops and EA internships/summer opportunities (like the Group Organizers Oxford summer program, SERI internships, etc) 

Conclusion

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I always find it helpful to remind myself that my goal as an EA is for the most good to get done, not to necessarily be the one “doing” the most good directly. Networking in the EA community offers a clear way to put this goal into practice. I’d love for more of this spirit at EA Global, and in the community in general - not that there’s necessarily a significant shortage at the moment, but there’s always room for more. 

I’d love to hear others’ networking suggestions in the comments, and for those of you attending (both in-person and virtually), I hope you have a grEAt EA Global!

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3 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:16 AM

Thank you! This is really useful and actionable advice.

Hypothetical Example
Let's say you are at EAG to build EA Supply Chain and Logistics and you run into a software engineer who is eager to skill up . You could:

In that 5-minute conversation, by listening to their needs and interests, you can deliver immediate actionable advice that could have a high long-term impact. Or you could focus on yourself: is self-focus more effective? More altruistic?

Another fantastic post, Kuhan! I like this agentic vision of networking, where the goal is "improve EA networks by building useful connections between people, groups, and projects" rather than "improve my own network by connecting to EAs". It's a more exciting (and ambitious!) goal to have :)

One tiny way to implement this is by asking, towards the end of an EA networking conversation

Is there anything else you can think of that I might do for you?

In my experience, if you or your interlocutor come up with a real request here, you get a nice burst of camaraderie, an emergent sense that you're on the same team.

Thanks so much for this Kuhan!
I notice that I tend to become much more self-centered around conferences and hyper-networking social interactions. This is a great +1 for calibrating one's priorities more towards focusing on being of service rather than being served.