Ashley Lin

Wiki Contributions

Comments

We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

Thanks for sharing this, Chana! In the initial draft post, I had included some smaller changes to the Intro Fellowship, one of which was to host all sessions as dinner parties in an effort to draw out these late-night convos -- so I’m really excited this is something you’re thinking about. +1 on both of your interventions above. 

I’d also add that I think there are two types of 1-on-1s I do with fellows: the first is the classic career 1-on-1 where I try to connect people with useful resources / opportunities to speed them along in their EA journey. The second is just to get to know them as a human being, knowing that if I build personal rapport, they will likely stick around the EA community and be exposed to even more things. I think more organizers should generally try the second type of 1-on-1 more! (sometimes I tell the fellow we have two options and ask them what they would find most useful use of their time)

We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

Thanks Anjay! I think this idea seems promising and definitely worth trying. Some potential pitfalls I’d probably want to design around:

  • Students find it difficult to commit to a thing for three consecutive weekends. (not sure how to fix this)
  • Students are super hyped during the 3-week period, and quickly lose interest after workshops end. Helping students set post-workshop goals / commitments, connecting them to peers and mentors for follow-up 1-on-1s, plugging them into projects, etc. could address this.
  • Students forget what happens in between the weeks. I think your idea of mid-week discussions and socials could be helpful here, as was Chana's suggestion for a “crash course” review.
We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

Thanks Joris! It sounds like your 4-week fellowship sprint went well. Would be excited to see a longer forum post on this and look at pre/post fellowship survey results (if they are available!)

I’d agree with this maybe extending to “a general call for group organizers to be more innovative in their approaches to group organizing.”  I think a lot of effort has been put into making plug-and-play resources to run uni groups (which can be useful in certain situations!), but generally think established groups / experienced organizers have on-the-ground knowledge about stakeholders that the people creating plug-and-play resources often don’t. Group organizers should trust themselves more to notice problems and take actions to address them!

We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

Thanks Ben! Agreed that readings / connections are some of the most important things needed to capture the most talented and proactive people. That said, it seems like even the most “self-motivated” people get distracted in the college environment, where there are so many competing things to learn and student groups to be part of. As a result, I think slightly more structure is needed to get these people:

  • For #2, instead of just getting folks subscribed to a newsletter, I like the idea of informal group chats and Discords that hold self-motivated people in asynchronous discussion spaces as they explore on their own. 
  • For #4, I think these could be bucketed into “opportunities” and expanded a lot more (1-on-1s with EA leaders/professionals, invitations to retreats/EAG, invite-only socials, internship/fellowship opportunities, etc).

Would love to see what a top of funnel program actually designed for the most talented and proactive students looks like though.

We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

Thanks Mauricio! I agree that some of the pitfalls for the alternatives, specifically challenges with accountability (more things being self-directed) and content (shorter timescales affording less time to consume content), seem significant. That said, I’m optimistic that there are ways to mitigate those challenges through program design.

I think we agree that increasing accountability and quality content in Intro Fellowship-like things seems like a good idea. To me, the “current baselines of accountability and content” in the Intro Fellowship are not what we should be striving for and adding more of what already exists might not be the best strategy? (note: I think the worry about students getting busy and prioritizing classes is already an existing problem in Intro Fellowships). The Intro Fellowship misses out on other ways accountability can be increased, some of which I’ve listed below (I liked your ideas around maybe making fellowships prestigious and offering stipends and included them). I also think there are ways to structure content where fellows spend less time reading, but still cover all the core material. 

Accountability can come from:

  • Weekly meetings with facilitator and cohort of peers
  • Being in-person (at a retreat)
  • Project deliverables
  • 1-on-1s 
  • Stipends 
  • Making program more prestigious
  • Mentors / EA professionals

Content: I think more is not always better, and agree with Akash that the Intro Fellowship isn’t sufficiently selective with content / selects for the wrong content. To me, most Intro syllabuses seem unwieldy -- ex, there are so many “recommended readings” and exercises which I’ve noticed fellows rarely do. Your concern that fellows might not do enough reading to gain a basic understanding of EA principles / cause areas is very valid. The general idea behind the strategies I share below that might mitigate this is that a more effective way of learning might be for someone to summarize things / identify key ideas for you:

  • Facilitator synthesizing the readings (maybe through a 15 min presentation) 
  • Facilitator reviewing / approving fellows’ projects to ensure they are sufficiently relevant, there could even be a pre-created list of projects fellows might choose from
  • A distilled memo session for the week (I honestly think someone could create a 1-3 page memo for each of the weeks in the Intro Fellowship that communicates the important info people should remember)
  • Identifying key concepts in a given week, and giving each fellow the responsibility to dive deeply into one of the concepts and share learning with their peers 
  • Cutting out misc readings and exercises that most people already ignore, so folks can focus on what’s important

Re: my own experience, the limitations that felt most salient as a fellow was getting stuck in a Fellowship cohort I wasn’t very impressed by, and as a facilitator is committing to a recurring thing for 8 weeks. While circulating drafts of this post, various people felt very strongly about different downsides though, so I’m not sure if there’s one downside that emerges as the biggest limitation. 

Penn EA Residency Takeaways

I’ve spent a couple hours reflecting on this and think the Penn residency was quite successful. As an organizer, I am incredibly grateful to have been able to shadow Sydney and Thomas for a couple weeks and help out / learn how to do things like 1-on-1s, run weekly dinners, set up club logistics, etc, (I was probably spending 20+ hours/week supporting the residency). 

That said, I’m wary of people updating too much in favor of residencies based on this post. 

Stanford EA ran a couple of residencies at other top universities on the East Coast during this time frame. Most of these other experiments didn’t seem to produce as great of results. Perhaps this was because other schools received a lot less organizer time (for example, Princeton received one FTE organizer for a couple of days, whereas Penn had two FTE organizers for three weeks). However, I also think an important consideration is that Sydney knew me (Ashley Lin) prior to coming to Penn. As Thomas mentioned, I am on a gap year and had ~20 hours/week to jump in and help out however necessary. 

The residency seems a lot harder if you don’t already know a potential organizer at the school and if that person doesn’t have much time (is too busy at the start of the school year). To me, the process for making a uni group self-sustaining looks something like:

  1. Identify potential organizers, probably through 1-on-1s if you don’t know people already
  2. Screen them for alignment and general competence, probably through working with them for a couple weeks during the residency period
  3. Get a commitment from that person to take responsibility for making sure the group doesn’t die, before handing over the reins 

It seems like if you didn’t already know someone, Phase 1 would take up a significant amount of energy (and you might not even find a suitable candidate). This might not leave enough time for Phase 2 to happen during the residency period, making Phase 3 an automatic failure point. My crux for whether a residency should happen: one should already have identified a promising organizer who would want to shadow the experienced organizers during the residency period.

Instead of seeing the value of residencies as something that speeds up a group by ~4 months, I think one should see it as a training phase for promising organizers. I’d even be excited by experiments where experienced group organizers choose a school to do a residency at, and we brought promising organizers from other schools to observe and help out. As someone who did this “training phase” and now feels comfortable helping start EA groups at any uni, I think mentorship during residencies could be one of the most effective ways to help students upskill in group organizing / meta-EA work.

Penn EA Residency Takeaways

Why do you think Penn EA was sped up by ~4 months?

There are a bunch of caveats; see [3]. Sydney thinks it might be more than this, especially if we permanently added value to the club rather than just providing a speedup. Ashley should probably answer this more.

 

I’m also quite uncertain about the ~4 month speedup, but my instinct is that if Sydney and Thomas didn’t do the residency, Penn EA would look like what it does now a semester later. 

I think the primary value that the residencies provided are points 4 and 5, “being motivational/inspiring, which transmits enthusiasm to organizers” and “connecting organizers to  each other and other EAs in the region.” Lowering the activation energy is great, but if you get competent organizers excited enough, it actually isn’t too much of a unique value. Tabling is great, but I think there were diminishing returns and the 80/20 would have been just tabling at all of the club fairs and maybe a couple days on Locust -- which seems pretty do-able if organizers are excited enough. Essentially, I think “doing things” is generally replaceable and the unique value of residencies is probably getting organizers excited and connected.

Without Sydney and Thomas, I think it would’ve taken me about a semester to get sufficiently “excited and connected” to become a good organizer. I think this would’ve come from a combination of attending many of the uni group organizer retreats in September/October (although it’s unclear how many of these I would’ve attended if I didn’t know Sydney/Kuhan that well -- don’t think I would’ve been invited otherwise) and being at EAG. I now feel like I have a sufficient number of high quality connections in EA (people I feel comfortable reaching out to for a favor) and have the resources I need to make Penn EA really great if I put my mind to it. I’ve noticed that many of the other organizers at Penn EA seem to be orders of magnitude more excited about organizing after attending retreats or EAG (ex, one current Penn organizer applied for a CBG after attending the third retreat), which makes me place more weight on this.