Joseph Lemien

People Operations Specialist @ Centre for Effective Altruism
Pursuing a graduate degree (e.g. Master's)
Working (6-15 years of experience)
967Joined Dec 2020



I have work experience in HR and Operations. I read a lot, I enjoy taking online courses, and I do some yoga and some rock climbing. I enjoy learning languages, and I think that I tend to have a fairly international/cross-cultural focus or awareness in my life. I was born and raised in a monolingual household in the US, but I've lived most of my adult life outside the US, with about ten years in China, two years in Spain, and less than a year in Brazil. 

As far as EA is concerned, I'm fairly cause agnostic/cause neutral. I think that I am a little bit more influenced by virtue ethics and stoicism than the average EA, and I also occasionally find myself thinking about inclusion, diversity, and accessibility in EA. I tend to care quite a bit about how exclusionary or welcoming communities are. I was told by a friend in EA that I should brag about how many books I read because it is impressive, but I feel  uncomfortable being boastful, so here is my clunky attempt to brag about that.

Unless explicitly stated otherwise, opinions are my own, not my employer's.

I'm also looking for a romantic partner to settle down with in a long-term relationship, so if you think we might be compatible and make a good match you can reach out to me. My OkCupid profile is here.

How others can help me

I'm looking for a place to be my home. If you have recommendations for cities, for neighborhoods within cities, or for specific houses/communities, I'd be happy to hear your recommendations.

How I can help others

I'm happy to give advice to people who are job hunting regarding interviews and resumes, and I'm happy to give advice to people who are hiring regarding how to filter/select best fit applicants. I would have no problem running you through a practice interview and then giving you some feedback. I might also be able to recommend books to read if you tell me what kind of book you are looking for.


How to do hiring


Hmmmm. I'm wondering what part of the "selecting people for a job" model is transferrable and applicable to the "selecting people for a research program, grant, etc."

In those circumstances, I'm guessing that there are specific criteria you are looking for, and it might just be a matter of shifting away from vibes & gut feelings and towards trying to verbalize/clarify what the criteria are. I'm guessing that even if you won't have performance reviews for these people (like you would with employees), you still have an idea as to what counts as success.

Here is a hypothetical that might be worth exploring (this is very rough and was written in only a few minutes fairly off the top of my head, so don't take t too seriously):

The next cohort for the AI Safety Camp is very large (large enough to be a good sample size for social science research), and X years in the future you look at all the individuals from that cohort to see what they are doing. The goals of AI Safety Camp are to provide people with both the motivation to work on AI safety and the skills to work on AI safety, so let's see A) how many people in the cohort are working on AI safety, and B) how much they are contributing or how much of a positive impact they are having. Then we look at the applications that they submitted X years ago to join AI Safety camp, and see what criteria those applications have that they have.

I'm not good enough at data analysis to be able to pull much info, but there likely would be differences (of course, in reality it would have to be a pretty big sample size in order for any effects to not be overwhelmed by the random noise of life that has happened in the intervening X years). So although this little thought experiment is a bit silly and simplistic, we can still imagine the idea.

I think that focusing too much on refining the application process is hubris. I don’t believe anyone is good at this. The best we can do is to give as many people as possible the opportunity to participate and contribute. If you disagree and if you know how to set up a great application process, then please message me and teach me your magic.

Hi there! I think I disagree with you. :) I have some broad ideas about setting up a great application process. I guess a high-level summary would be something like:

  • know what you are looking for
  • know what criteria/traits/characteristics/skill/etc. predict what you are looking for
  • have methods you can use to assess/measure those criteria
  • assess the applicants using those methods

The implementation of it can be quite complicated and the details will vary massively depending on circumstances, but at a basic level that is what it is: know what you are looking for, and measure it. I think this is a lot harder in a small organization, but there are still aspects that can be used.

I don't want anyone to think that I am an expert who knows everything about applications. I'm just a guy that reads about this kind of thing and thinks about this kind of thing. Then in early 2023 I started to learn a bit about organizational behavior and industrial-organizational psychology. But I'd be happy to bounce around ideas if you'd like to have a call to explore this topic more.

I think there isn't a single term (although I'm certainly not an expert, so maybe someone with a PhD in business or a few decades of experience can come and correct me).

Finance, Marketing, Legal, Payroll, Compliance, and so on could all be departments, divisions, or teams within an organization, but I don't know of any term used to cover all of them with the meaning of "supporting the core work." I'm not aware of any label that is used outside of EA analogous to how "operations" is used within in EA.

Agreed. One of the things I've struggled with is taking the time to interrogate the task rather than diving into it. Power dynamics and desire to please certainly come into play. I suspect that this is common (although I might merely be victim to a typical mind fallacy).

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that having clarity about the task (priority, dependencies, etc.), allows better work to be done. But I think that many employees, especially people with relatively little work experience, struggle with it.

The term “Operations” is not used in the same way outside EA

I agree that this is weird. In EA operations is something like "everything that supports the core work and allows other people to focus on the core work," while outside of EA operations is the core work of a company. Although I wish that EA hadn't invented it's own definition for operations, at this point I don't see any realistic options for it changing.

I would love to read a book written by you. I've enjoyed many of your blog posts.

Aside from my own reading preferences, I think it would be very nice to have a book written about EA  ideas (broadly described) by someone who is not a philosophy professor, and which focuses more on the mundane aspects of everyday life, rather than distant and abstract moral aspirations.

I've felt something similar. I'm roughly thinking of it as being "actively welcoming" as opposed to being "passively welcoming."

I've been reading a few academic papers on my "to-read" list, and The Crisis of Confidence in Research Findings in Psychology: Is Lack of Replication the Real Problem? Or Is It Something Else? has a section that made me think about epistemics, knowledge, and how we try to make the world a better place. I'll include the exact quote below, but my rough summary of it would be that multiple studies found no relationship between the presence or absence of highway shoulders and accidents/deaths, and thus they weren't built. Unfortunately, none of the studies had sufficient statistical power, and thus the conclusions drawn were inaccurate. I suppose that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence might be somewhat relevant here. Lo and behold, later on a meta-analysis was done, finding that having highway shoulders reduced accidents/deaths. So my understanding is that inaccurate knowledge (shoulders don't help) led to choices (don't build shoulders) that led to accidents/deaths that wouldn't otherwise have happened.

I'm wondering if there are other areas of life that we can find facing similar issues. These wouldn't necessarily be new cause areas, but the general idea of identify an area that involves life/death decisions, and then either make sure the knowledge is accurate or attempt to bring accurate knowledge to the decision-makers would be incredibly helpful. Hard though. Probably not very tractable.

For anyone curious, here is the relevant excerpt that prompted my musings:

A number of studies had been conducted to determine whether highway shoulders, which allow drivers to pull over to the side of the road and stop if they need to, reduce accidents and deaths. None of these inadequately powered studies found a statistically significant relationship between the presence or absence of shoulders and accidents or deaths. Traffic safety engineers concluded that shoulders have no effect, and as a result fewer shoulders were built in most states. Hauer’s (2004) meta-analysis of these studies showed clearly that shoulders reduced both accidents and deaths. In this case, people died as a result of failure to understand sampling error and statistical power.

I read The Tyranny of Structurelessness because of it being mentioned in this post, and I found it very applicable to EA groups, and to other non-structured groups I've been a part of. I'm not a sociologist, but I enjoy adopting the lens of sociology to look at social psychology and group dynamics. So I wanted to thank you for sharing a reference to something that I found interesting and useful.

Peter Wildeford wrote a personal post criticizing the Apology

I want to flat that this link goes to a post written by Shakeel Hashim in his role managing communications for CEA, not a personal post by Peter Wildeford. Could you please either update this link or change the wording?

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