107Joined Jul 2020


I live in DC and attended an econ Master's program that places some of its graduates in the International Monetary Fund. I don't think your decision matters too much, and I think you should use teaching quality, and your own interest as a tie-breaker. With the exception of Numerical Analysis, none of these classes sound particularly international-focused or standardized so I would guess they all look about the same to an employer. 

I'd lean towards dropping Economics of Inequality. It sounds way too general and I'm not even sure what someone would learn from that class just by by seeing the title on a resume. That said,  I do want to emphasize that if you should still take it if the curriculum or professor appeals to you.

The skill set of Numerical Analysis may be slightly useful in getting you a job that's working on macro modeling (since macro models rely on numerical approximation to help simulate multiple sectors). But I think these are mostly for technical roles at macro institutions. I suspect it's much less useful at think tanks. Even within macro institutions,  it's not most teams working on it and even then, most early-career people can get offers for these roles with just econometrics and econ theory classes (me being one example).

Social Development and Statistical Methods signal interest in international institutions and Excel data analysis respectively. They both seem good, but you'd have to help your resume readers out by specifying Social Development (thru multilaterals) or something like you did in the post above.

In terms of classes you should look out for:

For statistics, I'd rate econometric classes quite highly. Take the highest-level undergrad econometrics class you feel you can do well in. If your school has macro-themed electives like time-series econometrics, it may help to take one. These skills also generalize really well even if you leave research entirely. 

For econ theory, I would see if your school has a class that uses the Krugaman, Obstfeld, & Melitz textbook on international economics. Class titles may go by International Finance (for the first half of the textbook), International Trade (for the second half), or International Economics (for a less detailed look at the whole). Personally, I found this textbook dense (especially the finance part) and I'm not sure if it's something I could pick up on my own. So a class here is definitely useful.

For institutional knowledge, I would highly rate classes if you have professors who worked at think tanks or multilaterals in the past AND they are teaching on a related topic. 

Has there been a past success story where a drug was developed to mimic the effects of a gene and successfully improved a complicated phenomena (in this case, sleep)?

I'm unfamiliar with drug development, but my limited knowledge of genetics and sleep suggests this would be complicated. A past success story would sway my mind a little bit.

The candidate pool was much stronger than expected

This one can be sent to every applicant and still provides very useful information. It tells me that my expectations of the hiring bar might have been correct in the past. However, the market has changed and I should adjust my expectations. 

For this one, concreteness is essential. One hiring manager phrased it like, "We had to reject many exceptional candidates that would have been instant hires a few years ago.  Everyone did well on our take-home test that we thought impossible to complete within the 3 hours."

Literally any feedback about final stage interviews.

I worry a ton about my final-stage interview performance. Partly this is a me-issue but I think there are structural reasons why final-stage interviews are so nerve-wracking. 

  • They're the most important to do well in. I can be a marginal candidate in every stage before that. The 20th best resume can still get a HR phone screen. The 10th best HR phone screen can still get a work trial. The 5th best work trial can still get a final interview. But only the top 1-3 candidates in a final interview can realistically expect an offer.
  • They're the type of interview I have the least experience with. By definition, final stage interviews are at the end of the funnel so I'm going to have a lot less of them.
  • They're oftentimes my first chance to interact with my potential coworkers and managers. And unless I already have contacts in that organization, I won't know the professional norms or idiosyncratic expectations. This criteria is usually implicit and hard to figure out on my own.

One piece of feedback I really liked went like, "Your interview was very good and I have no doubt you could learn the skills very quickly. We just had someone else who had already done the work."

This post resonated a lot with me. I was actually thinking of the term 'disillusionment' to describe my own life a few days before reading this.

One cautionary tale I'd offer to readers is don't automatically assume your disillusionment is because of EA and consider the possibility that your disillusionment is a personal problem. Helen suggested leaning into feelings of doubt or assuming the movement is making mistakes. That is good if EA is the main cause, but potentially harmful if the person gets disillusioned in general. 

I'm a case study for this. For the past decade, I've been attracted to demanding circles. First it was social justice groups and their infinitely long list of injustices. Then it was EA and its ongoing moral catastrophes. More recently, it's been academic econ debates and their ever growing standards for what counts as truth.

In each instance, I found ways to become disillusioned and to blame my disillusionment on an external cause. Sometimes it was virtue signaling. Sometimes it was elitism. Sometimes it was the people. Sometimes it was whether truth was knowable. Sometimes it was another thing entirely. All my reasons felt incredibly compelling at the time, and perhaps they all had significant degrees of truth.

But at the end of day,  the common denominator in my disillusionment was me. I felt all the problems in these circles very intensely, but didn't have much appreciation for the benefits. The problems loomed 10x larger in my head than the benefits did. Instead of appreciating all the important things I got to think about, talk about, or work on, I thought about the demands and all the stress it brought. In my case, leaning into the disillusionment would only perpetuate the negative pattern of thinking I have in my head.

Granted, my case is an extreme one. I have a decade of experiences to look back on and numerous groups I felt affinities with. And I've had intense experiences with imposter syndrome and performance anxiety. I can confidently attribute most of these feelings to myself,  reverse some of the advice Helen offered,[1] and lean away  from disillusionment. 

But I suspect I'm not the only one with this problem. EA seems to selects for easily disillusioned personality traits (as evidenced by our love of criticism). And I also suspect that these feelings are common for young idealistic people to go through while navigating what it means to improve the world. Not everyone should be leaning into that.

  1. ^

    I'm practicing "maintain and/or build ties outside EA". It requires intentional effort on my part since making + maintaining adult friends is always hard. However, it has helped me realize my disillusionment still exists outside EA. I'm partly reversing "anticipate and lean into feelings of doubt..." since I like the anticipating part, but not the leaning part. I'm reversing "assume EA is making mistakes and help find them" since I need to see more of the positive and less of the negative. I don't have any thoughts on "defer cautiously, not wholesale" since this comes naturally to me.

Appreciate the post! A similar topic came up in a recent DC global health & development discussion

Could another argument for skipping the cash arm be having more resources for other RCTs?

Ideally, we'd study the cash arm and the asset transfer program simultaneously at multiple time periods. But each extra treatment arm and time period costs extra. I imagine one could use the savings for other RCTs instead.

Quick clarifying questions about your abstract if you have time.  I'm confused about the term "weakly constrained"

Does "weakly constrained" mean (a) the leader is weak because elite supporters make the leader weak, (b) the elite supporters are weak and can't limit the leader much, (c) a jargon-loaded academic definition that I shouldn't worry too much about because it's too hard to explain, or (d) something else?

Also, does personalist always mean anything about constrained-ness in theory? (Like I get in reality, it may correlate a certain way, but I'm wondering about the definition)

This post offered concrete suggestions for increasing representation of women at EA events and in the movement as a whole. Before reading this, I thought of diversity-type issues as largely intractable, and that I had limited influence over them, even at the local level.

Immediately after reading this, I stopped doing pub socials (which was the main low-effort event I ran at the time). Over time, I pivoted towards more ideas-rich and discussion-based events.

Really enjoyed the post. Would like clarification on something

However, I note that when some developmental economists venture out to do something new in climate change, these problems immediately rear up. This to me is moderate evidence for motivated reasoning and selection bias also being rampant in that cause area.

I'm not fully following this point and would like to hear more about it. Is this suggesting that development economists over-estimate the impacts of climate change or something else? And do you have any examples (any  will do, they don't have to be good) of what you've noted?

To me, modern-day development economics seems incredibly cognizant of how technocracy and grand theories could go wrong. It's therefore more rigorous (at least compared to other areas and other domains of economics). I'm curious if that rigor disappears when it comes to climate change.

How would you categorize the schedule flexibility at think tanks?  Do you believe it varies by the three categories you've mentioned or by seniority levels? My well-being and productivity are much higher with a later start time

I can think of one factor that encourages a rigid schedule. Government work starts at 8am or 9am, sometimes by mandate. Think tanks will have their workday earlier to maximize overlap with bureaucrat schedules

But I can also think of another factor that encourages a flexible schedule. "Ideas industry" work have deliverables that may not be time-sensitive. This means less hard deadlines, less need for "putting out fires", and less need for everyone to be on the exact same schedule

Hi Sonia, this was a path I previously considered. Hopefully someone else with actual experience will chime in. In the meantime, here's some armchair thoughts in no particular order.

If you haven't already, check out Chris Blattman's blog: He's a professor at UChicago who posted a lot on academia, policy, and economics. Highly recommend the articles linked on the sidebar.

If you're targeting a PhD, your school's ranking probably trumps everything else. And rankings tend to be consistent across sub-disciplines. There are some outliers -- I believe there's a University of California school that's high up in agricultural economics -- but generally speaking, the top 10 are always going to be Ivy Leagues.

You could try to aim for a specific advisor (Esther Duflo at MIT, or Dani Rodrik at Harvard), but I'm not sure how much control you have over that.

For networking purposes, you might find studying in DC/NYC/Boston helpful. Most US IDev jobs are in these three places (Boston is much smaller in presence, but it's also growing b/c of  J-PAL). The faculty in these locations may have more IDev connections. Plus you can pop into a think tank event on occasion

I'd only use this as a tiebreaker though. A top 20 school in the middle of nowhere is probably better for your career than a rank 50-80 school in DC. (Assuming you're pursuing a PhD, and a research-oriented path)

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