This is the introductory post for the Insights of an ERA: Impactful Existential Risk Research & Talent Development Forum sequence, written by the team who run the ERA Cambridge Summer Research Fellowship Programme.
The Existential Risk Alliance (ERA), previously known as CERI, was established in 2021 with a mission to grow the field of existential risk (x-risk) research. We achieve this through providing training, mentorship, and funding to junior researchers who are passionate about mitigating existential risks.
By the end of this summer, our Summer Research Fellowship programme will have supported over 60 research fellows to conduct research in our focus areas, including AI Safety, Biosecurity, Climate, Nuclear, and Misc & Meta. The ultimate goal of the programme is not merely to disseminate knowledge but to cultivate critical thinkers and problem solvers dedicated to addressing the most pressing risks facing humanity this century.
Over the next few months, we plan to share insights and best practices learnt specifically from running the ERA Cambridge Fellowship in 2023. However, we acknowledge that our journey has been uniquely shaped by a multitude of variables - our organisational structure, the specific set of resources available to us, and the individual backgrounds of our staff and fellows. While we hope that our experiences offer valuable takeaways, they may not be universally applicable or replicate the same results in different contexts.
Mapping Out the Sequence
Through the "Insights of an ERA" sequence, we aim to explore the following topics:
- ERA's Theory of Change
- Lessons from Selecting ERA’s 2023 Cohort: What we learned from reviewing 600+ applications
- Best practices for training and mentorship of early-career existential risk researchers
- ERA Cambridge Fellowship Impact Evaluation
- ERA Alumni Stories: Inspiring journeys from our fellowship programme
Each of these themes provides an in-depth exploration of our operations, with a spirit of learning and transparency. The sequence aims to present our journey with candour, laying bare both our successes and challenges, in hopes of sparking meaningful dialogue within the community. We intend to publish all the posts by the end of September at the latest, but cannot publicly commit to a specific publishing schedule as our capacity is currently focused on running the programme.
About the ERA Fellowship
ERA runs a Summer Research Fellowship for ~30 junior researchers interested in kickstarting or advancing their career in x-risk research. The programme lasts for 8 weeks and ERA fellows get hands-on experience of working on a x-risk research project under the guidance of an experienced mentor. Throughout the summer, we run various programmed events (20+ events so far this year) across our focus areas, including skills-based workshops, speaker events and more interactive Q&As. The structure of the fellowship, with key project milestones, is:
- End of Week 1: Research Abstract Deadline (inc theory of change for fellows' projects)
- Week 5: Midpoint Presentations
- Week 8: Research Symposium
- Week 8: Final Deliverable Deadline
ERA's Research Managers meet weekly with all our fellows to provide further 1-1 support, both specific to the project but also helping them realise their career goals and resolving any key uncertainties.
To help ERA fellows maximise their potential, we offer a comprehensive support package:
- A salary equivalent to £31,200 per year, prorated to the duration of the summer programme;
- Mentorship from a researcher with relevant expertise;
- Free accommodation, office food, and travel to Cambridge (for in-person fellows);
- Dedicated desk space at our office in central Cambridge (for in-person fellows);
- Opportunity to work either on a group research project with other fellows or individually;
- Networking and learning opportunities through various workshops and seminars.
We support a wide spectrum of research, provided it aims to mitigate existential risk. This extends from technical to philosophical research, including social science or policy projects on implementing x-risk mitigation strategies.
The Fellowship targets two key objectives: first, to contribute to reducing existential risks such as civilisation collapse, human extinction, or the truncation of future potential. Second, to enable our fellows to deepen their understanding of x-risk mitigation, develop relevant skills, and assess their fit for further research in the field. We will elaborate more on this in our Theory of Change post.
Anyone can apply to the fellowship, though we expect it to be most useful to students (from undergraduates to postgraduates) and early-career individuals looking to test their fit for existential risk research.
Meet the ERA Team
ERA is brought to life by a dedicated team committed to supporting the fellows and driving our mission. Our Executive Director, Nandini Shiralkar, is supported by our Associate Director, Moritz von Knebel, in the day-to-day running of the organisation.
Each cause area is also led by a Research Manager:
- Moritz von Knebel for AI Governance
- Tilman Räuker for technical AI safety
- Oscar Delaney for Biosecurity
- Irina Gueorguiev for Nuclear Security
- Gideon Futerman for Climate Change
- Joel Christoph for Miscellaneous & Meta
Our Community Manager, Hanna Pálya, ensures seamless operations within the fellowship, provides overarching community support, and also serves as a biosecurity research manager for the in-person biosecurity fellows.
The Research Managers play a pivotal role in hiring and managing ERA’s fellows, shaping the application process for their respective cause area with support from the rest of the ERA team. The mentors of the fellows are experienced researchers and policymakers from various x-risk organisations, complementing the core ERA team, and providing more project-specific support to each fellow.
ERA is funded by Open Philanthropy and operates as a fiscally sponsored project of Rethink Priorities (RP). RP’s Special Projects Team provides us with significant operational support. We particularly extend our gratitude to Lara, Carolyn, Robert and Aaron for their unwavering support of ERA operations.
This post is from the Existential Risk Alliance, which is a fiscally sponsored project of Rethink Priorities. If you have any questions, you can either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us via our anonymous feedback form.