Applications are open for EA Global San Francisco 2020, and we sent out responses to the first batch of applicants on Friday.
We have a standard set of FAQs on the website, but here are some things we (Ben West, Sky Mayhew, and Julia Wise, who work on admissions) expect could use extra clarification:
Changing application pool
- In past years, particularly in 2016, most people who applied to EA Global were accepted if they were reasonably involved in EA.
- Over the last two years, the level of involvement with EA of typical applicants has risen a lot. At one point the typical person who didn’t get accepted was barely involved with EA, and now the typical person we regretfully don’t accept is probably pretty knowledgeable about EA and has been involved for at least a few years.
- We also suspect a lot of involved EAs are not applying because they know they might not be accepted.
Why you might not have gotten in
If you applied to the conference and didn’t get accepted, you are probably a dedicated EA doing valuable things. In fact, this is the typical person we turn down.
Reasons you might not have gotten in:
- A lot of people from your local group applied, and we took some but not everyone
- You’re an undergraduate or fairly new in your EA involvement
- You’re in a field with lots of other EAs (e.g. you’re in the early stages of getting into cultured meat or machine learning)
- You’ve been several times before and we want to give a spot to a first-timer
- You’re working in a field where we don’t expect to have people at the conference who can be very helpful to you
If you’re new, don’t assume you won’t get in
We want EA Global to be an event where new people can find a place, not just an old-timers’ club. In particular, we want the conference to be a place where students, young professionals, and people changing fields can get mentorship to help launch them in their fields or careers.
Some points to consider:
- We do take some undergraduates and early-stage professionals, so please do still apply.
- We want to include people from geographic areas without a lot of EAs, so you can bring back ideas to your local group.
- We want to include people who yet aren't as involved in EA but have expertise that EA needs, particularly if you can mentor others on areas like policy work or nonprofit operations.
- We’re trying out things like a “guides program” to pair up newcomers with more experienced attendees who can orient them.
Why do we use an application at all?
Other typical methods that events use are
- Raising prices so that tickets go to people who are willing and able to pay a lot.
- First-come, first-served (in the most extreme cases leading to the fastest clickers getting tickets)
We don’t think any of these are a good fit for EA Global. We think an application process is the best way to allocate the limited spaces to the people who can best use them. We recognize that it’s imperfect, and if you have feedback either about the application process in general or about a specific decision, please do let us know at email@example.com.
(As an example of the imperfection of the process, EA Global once rejected an application from someone who then went on to work at Open Philanthropy Project less than 2 years later.)
Why not make it larger?
The largest EA Global was about 1000 people in 2016, and we got feedback that it was too big and that it was easy to get lost in the shuffle. Our recent events have been between 500 - 650 people including speakers, volunteers, and staff.
Venues above that size tend to be significantly more expensive, or less suited to the event. We already subsidize tickets and provide financial aid to keep prices reasonable, so more attendees cost CEA more. (We know there are a variety of opinions about the tradeoffs between cost and the quality of the venue/logistics/catering, and we’ll continue to look at those tradeoffs carefully.)
We’ll continue exploring the question of how big the event should be, including ways to help people connect better even within a large event.
What should you do if you don’t get in?
- Try again for another event.
- Get or stay involved in a local group.
- Stay tuned for local EAGx conferences happening over the next year.
- Keep exploring, studying, working, and donating.
We know there are far more people making important contributions to the world and to EA than we can fit in one building. Thank you for what you're doing.
My current sense (as someone who organized EAG in the past and has thought about the effects of EAG a lot) is that it would be better to increase the size of the event, and if that's not financially viable, reduce the size of the subsidies for attendees to make that possible.
I don't think the effect size of "some people felt like the event was too big" is comparable to the effect size of allowing up to 50% more people to participate in the event, and so I think 1000+ person EAG events are probably worth it.
My experience from finding venues is that it is quite doable to find 1000+ person sized venues for reasonable prices, and I didn't share the impression that venue-price seems to increase drastically for more than 500-600 people. I do think the price-per-head might increase a bit, but I would be surprised if it increased by more than 15%.
Thanks for the feedback, Oliver. Do you have opinions on our hypothesis that we should focus on EAGx over more/bigger EA Globals?
So, I have a few considerations that tend to argue against that. Here are some of them:
1. Common knowledge is built better by having everyone actually in the same space
I think having common knowledge of norms, ideas and future plans is often very important, and is better achieved by having everyone in the same place. If you split up the event into multiple events, even if all the same people attend, the participants of those events can now no longer verify who else is at the event, and as such can no longer build common knowledge with those other people about the things that have been discussed.
2. EAGx events have historically been of lower quality
I have been to 3 EAGx events, all three of which seemed to me to be just generally much worse run than EAG, both in terms of content and operations. And to be clear, I don't think this reflects particularly badly on the organizers, running a conference is just hard and requires a lot of time, which most EAGx organizers don't tend to have. In general I am in favor of specialization here. Obviously you helping the organizers might be able to address this consideration, so this might be moot.
3. EAGx events should go deep, whereas EAG events should go wide
When I designed the original goal-document for EAGx together with the EAO team, the goal of EAGx was in large parts to allow the creation of more specialist conferences, in which participants could go significantly more in-depth into a topic, and overall feel more like researcher conferences. I think for a variety of reasons that never ended up happening, but one of the reasons is I think that we did try to compensate for the lack of space in the EAG events by encouraging people to go to EAGx events instead.
My current sense is that we do actually also want distributed intro events, and we might want a separate brand from EAGx for that. But for now, I think encouraging usual EAG attendees to go to EAGx events as a replacement will prevent more specialist EAGx-type events from happening, which seems sad to me.
4. The value of a conference does scale to a meaningful degree with n^2
Metcalfe's Law states that
I don't think this fully applies to conferences, but I do think it applies to a large degree. The value of an event to me is somewhat proportional to the number of people at that event, so I think there are strong increasing returns to conference size, at least from that perspective.
5. Group membership is in significant parts determined by who attends EAG, and not by who attends EAGx, and I feel somewhat uncomfortable with the degree of control CEA has over that
I think there is a meaningful sense in which people's intuitive sense of "who is an active member of the EA community" is closely related to who attended past EAG events, and so I think preventing people from attending EAG is actually something that has a pretty significant effect on people's social standing. I think having smaller events introduces a lot of noise into that system, and I also don't currently trust CEA to make a lot of the relevant decisions here, and would prefer CEA to on the margin have less control over EA group membership.
I have some more concerns, but these are the ones that I felt like I could write up easily.
I don't feel like I get more value out of large conferences and I'd be curious about seeing more data on this question. For me, having more people at a conference makes it harder to physically find the people I actually want to talk to. They make up a smaller fraction of attendees and are more spread out. I have also had the impression that conversations at large conferences are shorter. In combination, I get much less value out of very large events compared to small or medium sized ones.
The event size was one of the main reasons I decided not to attend EAG London this year for the first time. It is too big for me to get sufficient value out of it.
Thank you for this fantastic comment.
Strongly agree. EAG attendance is a Schelling point for who is "an EA" and who isn't, even if EAG organizers don't endorse this, and even if "being an EA" isn't an endorsed and/or fully coherent concept.
Agree wholeheartedly! Especially for those who fall under "You’ve been several times before and we want to give a spot to a first-timer". I imagine if you go to EAG every year and were suddenly rejected you'd feel like you were kicked out of the club. A huge part of community building in professional associations is going to an annual conference and getting to catch up with your peers, EAG is that way for those of us who don't live in largely populated EA cities.
+1 to the analogy of EA Global as a professional association's annual conference.
I also think this is a valuable analogy.
Thanks for the detailed thoughts Oli.
Interesting, this doesn’t fit with my experience for two reasons: a) attendance is so far past Dunbar’s number that I have a hard time knowing who attended any individual EA Global and b) even if I know that someone attended a given EA Global, I’m not sure whether they attended any individual talk/workshop/etc. (since many people don’t attend the same talks, or even any talks at all).
I’m curious if you have examples of “norms, ideas, or future plans” which were successfully shared in 2016 (when we had just the one large EA Global) that you think would not have successfully been shared if we had multiple events?
We have heard concerns similar to yours about logistics and content in the past, and we are providing more support for EAGx organizers this year, including creating a “playbook” to document best practices, having monthly check-in calls between the organizers and CEA’s events team, and hosting a training for the organizers (which is happening this week).
At least in recent years, the comparison of the Net Promoter Score of EAG and EAGx events indicate that the attendees themselves are positive about EAGx, though there are obviously lots of confounding factors:
(More information about EAGx can be found here.)
Echoing Denise, I would be curious for evidence here. My intuition is that marginal returns are diminishing, not increasing, and I think this is a common view (e.g. ticket prices for conferences don’t seem to scale with the square of the number of attendees).
Do you have examples of groups (events, programs, etc.) which use EA Global attendance as a “significant” membership criterion?
My impression is that many people who are highly involved in EA do not attend EA Global (some EA organization staff do not attend, for example), so I would be pretty skeptical of using it.
To clarify my above responses: I (and the Events team, who are currently running a retreat with the EAGx organizers) believe that more people being able to attend EA Global is good, all other things being equal. Even though I’m less positive about the specific things you are pointing to here than you are, I generally agree that you are pointing to legitimate sources of value.
I think EAG 2016 was the last time that I felt like there was a strong shared EA culture. These days I feel quite isolated from the european EA culture, and feel like there is a significant amount of tension between the different cultural clusters (though this is probably worsened by me no longer visiting the UK very much, which I tended to do more during my time at CEA). I think that tension has always been there, but I feel like I am now much more disconnected from how EA is going in other places around the world (and more broadly, don't see a path forward for cultural recombination and reconciliation) because the two clusters just have their own events. I also feel somewhat similar about east-coast and west-coast cultural differences.
More concrete examples would be propagating ongoing shifts in cause-priorities. Many surveys suggest there has been an ongoing shift to more long-term causes, and my sense is that there is a buildup of social tension associated with that, that I think is hard to resolve without building common knowledge.
I think EAG 2016 very concretely actually did a lot by creating common-knowledge of that shift in cause-priorities, as well as a broader shift towards more macro-scale modeling, instead of more narrow RCT-based thinking that I think many assumed to be "what EA is about". I.e. I think EAG 2016 did a lot to establish that EA wasn't just primarily GiveWell and GiveWell style approaches.
A lot of the information I expect to be exchanged here is not going to be straightforward facts, but much more related to attitudes and social expectations, so it's hard to be very concrete about these things, which I regret.
Importantly, I think a lot of this information spreads even when not everyone is attending the same talk. At all EAGs I went to, basically everyone knew by the end what the main points of the opening talks were, because people talked to each other about the content of the opening talks (if they were well-delivered), even if they didn't attend, so there is a lot of diffusion of information that makes literally everyone being in the same talk not fully necessary (and where probabilistic common-knowledge can still be built). The information flow of people who attended separate EA Globals is still present, just many orders of magnitude weaker.
These graphs are great and surprising to me. I don't yet have great models of how I expect the Net Promoter Score to vary for different types of events like this, so I am not sure yet how to update.
At this year's EAG there were many core people in EA that I had hoped I could talk to, but that weren't attending, and when I inquired about their presence, they said they were just planning to attend EAG London, since that was more convenient for them. I also heard other people say that they weren't attending because they didn't really expect a lot of the "best people" to be around, which is a negative feedback loop that I think is at least partially caused by having many events, without one clear Schelling event that everyone is expected to show up to.
This assumes a model of perfect monopoly for conferences. In a perfectly competitive conference landscape, you expect ticket prices to be equal to marginal costs, which would be decreasing with size. I expect the actual conference landscape to be somewhere in-between, with a curve that does increase in prize proportional to size for a bit, but definitely not completely. Because of that, I don't think price is much evidence either way on this issue.
I think I do to some significant extend. I definitely have a significantly different relationship to how I treat people who I met at EA Global. I also think that if someone tells me that they tried to get into EA Global but didn't get in, then I do make a pretty significant update on the degree to which they are core to EA, though the post above has definitely changed that some for me (since it made it more clear that CEA was handling acceptances quite differently than I thought they were). But I don't expect everyone to have read the post in as much detail as I have, and I expect people will continue to think that EAG attendance is in significant parts screening for involvement and knowledge about EA.
I have a variety of other thoughts, but probably won't have time to engage much more. So this will most likely be my last comment on the thread (unless someone asks a question or makes a comment that ends up feeling particularly easy or fun to reply to).
On the "group membership" dimension, attending EAG is less important for EA org staff as they have other signifiers of membership in the group.
I agree with Denise that I prefer smaller conferences, but what I really want to attend is a small specialist conference (for example, an EAGx for the top 150 policy experts in EA). Your suggestion here that a large EAG could lead to smaller EAGx conferences has gotten my attention.
Is travel price ever taken into consideration? Non-US and/or east cost attendees can easily spend $1k+ just for flights/lodging which probably causes them to take a large discount on the ticket price.
Yes, we do take attendees' travel costs into consideration. This is part of why we went back to having multiple EA Global conferences after trying out having only one in 2016, and why we have continued to have EAGx events, so that more people have something near them. We recognize that reduced travel costs would be one benefit to having more events.
This might be a slightly silly suggestion and I'm not sure how best to implement it, but I think it might be useful to remind potential attendees that attending EAG is not obligatory just because you are part of the EA Community and/or care a lot about doing good well. I heard from a few people who weren't particularly excited about attending EAG, but still did it because that's 'what you do as an EA'. It seems sad that these people take up spots from people who are actually keen on EAG itself.
It only occurred to me fairly late last year that attending EAG is actually entirely optional. On a side note, rising ticket prices did help me come to the realisation that I did not actually want to go (and therefore didn't take up a spot from someone who was more keen on going).
This was a super helpful write-up! My only point of feedback would be to write a short version of this into the waitlist/rejection emails for future EAGs (or even the next wave for this EAG). It was really confusing to get waitlisted after being accepted for the last 4 years with a form rejection email without any explanation. Maybe add it in for people who answer that they've attended EAG before? I imagine that would help from turning people off to EA/EAG. I definitely had an immediate reaction of not feeling valued by the community after being involved for ~5 years (and was sad I won't see my EA friends/acquaintances this year), hopefully other people didn't feel that way.
It's good to hear more resources are being put into EAGx events, but if they are "oriented to students and other earlier-stage EAs who are less likely to be able to get into EA Global", will there be some in-between events for people who are older and more experienced but didn't get into EAG this year?
Apologies if any of this came off as mean/bitter, EAG is one of my favorite times of the year (I'm one of the people that loves going to talks)! :)
This seems to be a good problem to have, as it seems we're growing to the point where we can't accommodate everyone in one place. I'd be interested to hear about future plans to accommodate the growth of having more "advanced" EAs across the US/world since right now it seems like if we don't live in a major EA city, EAG is our only chance to see other EAs and learn new things.
Thanks for taking the time to share this. I didn't read it as bitter. I read it as you sharing your experience with a disappointment (understandable) and then going on to share helpful suggestions for us and others who care about the event. We sincerely appreciate that.
This is a good suggestion - we will add more information to those emails.
Thanks for raising this – we really do want to reiterate that we were not able to accept many dedicated EAs doing valuable things, and hope that you can help us share this message.
We are not currently planning anything “in-between” the two EA Globals and the 3-4 EAGx’s in 2020.
We plan to publish more information about our events strategy in early 2020. Until then you can check out my response to Denkenberger above for one example of a way we are trying to accommodate growth.
Thanks to everyone who helps make these events possible. I assume UC Berkeley in the summer that accommodated ~1000 people in 2016 was not more expensive, so you would describe it as less suited to the event? Why is that? It had the large advantage of very inexpensive housing in the dorms. That is understandable if CEA only wants to subsidize a certain number of tickets, but I would think there are significant number of additional people who would pay the full cost. I'm interested in the estimate of the percent reduction in value to the first ~600 participants associated with a larger conference and how that was weighed against the value that additional participants could get. With fewer EAGx events, I expect the value of the latter would be larger this year than other years.
Hi David, one thing to note is that, since EA Global SF 2020 is in March, the dorms are unlikely to be available. Apart from that: you are correct that there are several ways in which the venue is less suited, e.g. because it is spread across three separate buildings, it’s worse for sparking “serendipitous” interactions between attendees, and the distribution of room sizes is a worse fit. (The venue we selected for EA Global SF 2020 [Bespoke] is very configurable, so it’s easier for us to have one big room for the opening talk, then split it into a bunch of small rooms for meet ups, etc.)
Regarding scaling the event: it’s hard for us to precisely estimate the cost of more attendees. One hypothesis we have is that improved matchmaking (either through formal matchmaking programs or through event apps which let attendees connect with each other) will let us increase the number of attendees at EA Global while preventing the “lost in the shuffle” feeling mentioned above. We have piloted several programs like this last year and will continue iterating and scaling them this year to see if that hypothesis is correct.
Are there any plans to split EAG into "conference" vs "meetup"? I know a lot of people don't go to the programming at all and just go to have meetings and meet people. Which is totally fine but if CEA is going to the trouble of planning a conference, it would be interesting to see how many people actually go to the conference programming (aside from opening and closing talks). Reduced priced tickets could be for meetups only and higher prices for those going to the talks in a separate area of the venue.
I've seen professional conferences publish the agenda once tickets are available and attendees indicate which sessions they'll go to. This helps with space/room configurations, not sure if it would be helpful for EAG or not since agendas seem to be released closer to the event date. I've also seen conferences that have "room counters" who take note of how many people were in each session to gauge attendee behavior for future events. Again, not sure if that's helpful or something you already do.
We don’t have any current plans to split EA Global into multiple sub-conferences. We have used the fact that not everyone attends talks to increase attendance (for example, at EA Global London 2019, we accepted more attendees than could fit in the venue for the opening talk on the assumption that not all of them would attend the opening).
We will keep the sub-conference idea in mind for the future.
What about making more EAG propers (not EAGx's)?
Hey Peter, We considered having a third EAG in 2020 but decided to focus our efforts on EAGx instead (in addition to the two EA Globals and Leaders Forum). After getting feedback that the volunteer organizers of EAGx could use more support, we’re trying to spend more of our time and budget on those events to better prevent burnout among EAGx organizers. EAGx is also more oriented to students and other earlier-stage EAs who are less likely to be able to get into EA Global. We hope to get more information about both types of events this year and use that to help decide whether to have more of either type in the future.
Thanks for writing this. I don't have a solution but I'm just registering that I would expect plenty of rejected applicants to feel alienated from the EA community despite this post.
I wanted to share an update: for the past month, our events team (Amy, Barry, and Kate) have been brainstorming ways to allow more people to attend EA Global SF 2020. Our previous bottleneck was the number of seats available for lunch: even with us buying out the restaurant next to the dome (M.Y. China), we only had space for 550 people. (Tap 415, another nearby restaurant which we had used in prior years, has gone out of business.)
We have now updated our agreements with the venue and contractors and brainstormed some additional changes that will allow more attendees in sessions and at lunch. This has increased our capacity by 70 (from 550 to 620).
(As a reference point: EA Global SF had 499 attendees in 2019.)
Have two lunch times with half the attendees at each? (Instead of one time with all the attendees)
Why wouldn't randomisation be a good fit for EAG? I suspect that the ability of the organisers to finely distinguish between similarly-promising applicants is minimal anyway*, so a strategy of, say, roughly scoring applicants into buckets and then randomising among those who fall between "obvious shoo-in" and "clearly unsuitable" could work quite well, as well as being much quicker and easier for the organisers.
(This is roughly how the proposal to randomise scientific grantmaking would work: apply a basic check for suitability/competence and then randomise among those who make that cut. I think this would be a big improvement over the current system and would apply the same reasoning in many other domains with similar features, such as university admissions.)
* Not because I have a low opinion of the organisers, just because I think this is generally true.
If time is an issue, organisers can make quick snap judgements. It's not clear to me that randomisation would be much faster, particularly since you anyway have to make a first rough scoring on your approach. And it seems reasonable, in my view, that organisers are better than chance at picking the better applicants, even when using snap judgements, and even among applicants in the same bucket.
I'm confused why you don't think randomisation would be faster than producing a complete ranking of candidates, but I also don't currently have reason to think the ranking is a limiting factor, so unless we get information to the contrary this isn't the main point of contention.
More importantly, I think we disagree on the last sentence. I think snap judgements between candidates that don't clearly differ dramatically in suitability are likely to be not significantly better than, and possibly worse than, chance.
You don't have to provide a complete ranking of candidates. You only have to decide which candidates to accept and which not to in the bucket that you would prefer to randomise. And it seems to me that such decisions could in principle be made extremely quickly, particularly since you must already have assimilated some information about the candidates in order to put them in the right bucket (though speed probably affects quality adversely; but I still think some signal will remain).
Thanks, this is worth thinking about. Among similar applicants (e.g. students from the same university group) we’re choosing fairly arbitrarily but we’ve never tried true randomization.
Also how did you do that co-author thing?
Currently: message Aaron Gertler and ask.
I appreciate how thoughtful the admissions team seems to be about creating a useful experience for attendees!
With this explanation (maybe moreso than in previous years when the average applicant was less involved in EA), it sounds like there are some large categories of people where your message is "We'd like you to apply, but you probably won't get in, and we know that's discouraging you from applying." That seems like a tough spot to put applicants in, particularly given that individual EAs can be very self-critical and might be inclined to forgo applying if they imagine you might mistakenly decide they're a better applicant than someone else in the same loose category.
One question I have related to this is about what steps you've considered or taken (other than this post!) towards encouraging applications from people who might be discouraged about their likelihood of getting in. For example, have you adjusted the way you promote the conference in general? Do you suggest that colleges, organizations, or local groups try to encourage every member who would like to attend EAG to apply, or conversely that they try to coordinate so that not too many people from their group apply? Have you made changes to the application itself to make it easier to fill out or more clear about the range of people you want to see apply? Other things?
I'm also curious whether you have considered more strongly theming some EAG or EAGx events in order to provide a clearer signal about who would get the most benefit out of a particular conference and perhaps provide more focused environments for attendees. (Any type of theme, whether focusing on some range of cause areas, some stage of attendee careers, some common concern like research implementation...) Or if you have tried themes in the past, have they had any of that type of effect, or were people still looking for an experience that felt like it covered a broad spectrum of EA topics and concerns?
Thanks for the questions. We have adjusted our promotion – for example: the application page and form lists who we believe EA Global to be a good fit for, and we send group leaders an email with this set of criteria and some FAQs about why group members may not be admitted. Conversely, we send emails to people we expect to accept (e.g. Community Building Grant recipients), to encourage them to apply. We try to make community members aware when applications open and convey who the event is aimed at, but we don’t try to promote it as strongly as we did in some past years.
Despite this, we know that there are still many people who would be a good fit for EA Global who do not apply, and others who apply and feel disappointed when they are not accepted. We want to express our appreciation to everyone who applies.
Regarding themes: in 2017 EA Global Boston had a theme of “expanding the frontiers of EA”, EA Global London had an academic theme, and EA Global SF had a community theme and had looser admission standards than the other two. We found that people primarily applied to the conference they were geographically closest to and did not seem to have strong preferences about themes. We’ve also run smaller targeted retreats on specific topics like organizing EA groups or working in operations.
This seems like it involved some difficult decisions. Thanks for selecting what sounds like it was most reasonable and explaining here.
I guess my main take-away is not anything about the details of this event, but rather the point that it seems like it's become more urgent/important for more work to be done in this area.
It seems to me like the previous few EAGs were done with relatively few people, and now there's an opportunity for a bunch more work.
I'm a bit curious; how big of a challenge does this feel for CEA, and are there ways you think community members could help out? (For instance, applying to CEA to help run similar events, or holding more local meetups, etc.)
Thanks for asking Ozzie! The current bottlenecks limiting our ability to make a larger EA Global are not things that community members can easily help with.
That being said, we recently published a post on other types of events. I would encourage community members to read that and consider doing one-on-one’s, group socials, or other events listed there. Even though EA Global in particular is not something that can be easily scaled by the community, many other types of events can be.
More involved community members may also consider doing a residency. I believe you and I first met when I stayed in the Bay for a few weeks many years ago, and to this day I’m still more closely connected with people I met on that trip than many I met at EA Global.
Thanks for the suggestions. There are some community-organized events like meetups or parties in the days around the conference. Due to some past issues (e.g. someone sending every attendee a promotional message about their organization on the event app, or confusion about who is actually present at the event to meet with), we’re wary of expanding app access beyond the actual conference attendees. (See also Ellen’s comment here, which is a somewhat similar idea.)