(On Aaron Gertler's suggestion, I am sharing something that I originally wrote on my Facebook page. Perhaps it might inspire some people to pick up one or two of their crazier ideas and actually do something about them - perhaps, like I did, by applying to some grant or position that they think they for sure won't get.)
I recently received a substantial grant from the Centre for Effective Altruism's Long Term Future Fund. One thing I learned from that process was: sometimes wacky crazy ideas, where I think, "that'll never really work!" - actually do work.
Three months ago I wasn't even *thinking* about the possibility of doing a PhD - I simply didn't have any time to do the PhD outside of work, and I couldn't afford to significantly lower my income so I could take off time from work to go back to school. Then one day - I don't remember what triggered this - I had a crazy thought. I knew that some effective altruist organizations had occasionally funded people to do PhDs related to AI safety. So I thought, "look, I do AI safety research, what if I asked them if instead of funding my PhD directly, they could instead replace half my current income, thereby allowing me to drop down to 20 hrs/wk at work and spend the other 20 hours working on a PhD?"
I didn't really think there was any serious chance this would work. It's an unusual grant request, it would cost them a lot of money, and I mean, seriously, who am I to think I'm worth all that money from their perspective? But on a whim I sent off an email to the Long Term Future Fund explaining my idea.
Two months and several conversations later, they told me they decided to approve the grant.
I'm still surprised, honestly. Extremely grateful, but still surprised.
Anyway, yeah, sometimes crazy ideas are worth at least shooting off an email - you never know, maybe a few months later you'll be doing something you only dreamed of doing before.