Joseph Lemien

2284 karmaJoined Dec 2020Pursuing a graduate degree (e.g. Master's)Working (6-15 years)Seeking work



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. Some parts of the EA community that I've observed in-person seem not very welcoming to outsides, or somewhat gatekept. 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.

How others can help me

I'm looking for interesting and fulfilling work, so if you know of anything that you think might be a good fit for me, please do let me know.

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 run a hiring round and 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


(All the normal caveats apply: I don’t know anything about your life circumstances, your preferences, your interests, your abilities, etc. i’m also making fairly broad assumptions about finances, and what kind of lifestyle you might want.)

Yes, you should go to college. There are a small number of situations for which makes sense for a person to not go to college. If you are the next Bill Gates, or if you already have considerable work experience and a strong network, or if you have some kind of a specialized skill and a clear plan for how you will support yourself financially, then consider not going to college. But (in expectation) attending college is one of the best things you can do for your lifetime earnings. I don’t recall specific studies, but I suspect it’s also very correlated with a variety in general life stability factors.

It does take a long time and it is expensive. You can mitigate some of that with scholarships and transferring credit from community college or from cheap online options (such as, where you can take a lot of general ed classes).

It is also an incredible maturing experience, where you’ll meet lots of new people, many of whom will become strong, professional, contacts and/or lifelong friends. Many people meet romantic partners in college.

(I hope you'll forgive me if this is a bit meandering.)

I've not yet read the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, but my vague understanding is that the general argument is about how exploring a wide range of fields is beneficial. I'm certainly biased, because I'm a person who is interested in a variety of different topics, so of course I'll love any argument saying that the way I naturally tend to do things is good/right/beneficial. Whether wide-ranging learning tends to have direct benefit is going to depend on the specific topics learned, but I do find that there are unexpected connections that are revealed only once you do some kind of cross-disciplinary study.

I strongly suspect that certain areas/subjects a more "transferable benefit rich" than others. As a silly example : I enjoy learning about history, but I've been able to use my elementary knowledge of social psychology and statistics in a much wider range of contexts than the various books I've read about the Opium Wars or about the Aztec perspective of the conquest of Mexico.

I also suspect that we can't really make a confident claim about how much a particular field will or won't contribute to another field if we haven't studied both. I assume that learning biology wouldn't contribute much to AI safety, but this ends up being an issue of "I don't see anything there, therefore I claim that nothing is there." So it is hard to claim which fields are 'worth' exploring if you haven't explored them yet. I vaguely remember reading something about a collaboration between professors of music and... something.[1]

So I guess my non-expert answer to your question would be something like "some Effective Altruists should learn a wide range of subjects, but not all of them. Some subjects should be encouraged for cross-disciplinary study more than others. There is benefit to specialization, just like there is benefit to being a jack of all trades, but not everyone should specialize."

  1. ^

    Out of curiosity, I asked ChatGPT about the most successful cross-disciplinary collaborations, and was told about:

    • the human genome project (genetics, biology, computer science)

    • climate research (atmospheric science, ecology, economics, sociology, and policy-making)

    • translational medicine (basic science, clinical research, and healthcare delivery)

    • smart cities (urban planners, architects, engineers, computer scientists, economists, and policymakers)

the worry that someone with high degrees of partiality for a particular cause manages to hijack EA resources is much weaker than the concern that potentially promising cases may be ignored because they have an unfortunate messenger

I think you've phrased that very well. As much as I may want to find the people who are "hijacking" EA resources, the benefit of that is probably outweighed by how it disincentivized people to try new things. Thanks for commenting back and forth with me on this. I'll try to jump the gun a bit less from now on when it comes to gut feeling evaluations of new causes. 

I suspect you are right that many of us (myself included) focus more than we ought to on how similar an idea sounds in relation to ideas we are already supporting. I suppose maybe a cruxy aspect of this is how much effort/time/energy we should spend considering claims that seem unreasonable at first glance?

If someone honestly told me that protecting elephants (as an example) should be EA's main cause area, the two things that go through my heard first are that either that this person doesn't understand some pretty basic EA concepts[1], or that there is something really important to their argument that I am completely ignorant of.

But depending on how extreme a view it is, I also wonder about their motives. Which is more-or-less what led me to viewing the claim as anti-scouty. If John Doe has been working for elephant protecting (sorry to pick on elephants) for many years and now claims that elephant protection should be a core EA cause area, I'm automatically asking if John is A) trying to get funding for elephant protection or B) trying to figure out what does the most good and to do that. While neither of those are villainous motives, the second strikes me as a bit more intellectually honest. But this is a fuzzy thing, and I don't have good data to point to. 

I also suspect that I myself may have an over-sensitive "bullshit detector" (for lack of a more polite term), so that I end up getting false positives sometimes.

  1. ^

    Expected value, impartiality, ITN framework, scout mindset, and the like 

the community can easily vet and detect bad cases

You make a good point. I probably allow myself to be too affected by claims (such as "saving the great apes should be at the center of effective altruism"), when in reality I should simply allow the community sieve to handle them.

I think that to a certain extent that is right, but this context was less along the lines of "here is a cause that is going to be highly impactful" and more along the lines of "here is a cause that I care about." Less "mental health coaching via an app can be cost effective" and more like "let's protect elephants."

But I do think that in a broad sense you are correct: proposing new interventions, new cause areas, etc., is how the overall community progresses.

I'm concerned whenever I see things like this:

"I want to place [my pet cause], a neglected and underinvested cause, at the center of the Effective Altruism movement."[1]

In my mind, this seems anti-scouty. Rather than finding what works and what is impactful, it is saying "I want my team to win." Or perhaps the more charitable interpretation is that this person is talking about a rough hypothesis and I am interpreting it as a confident claim. Of course, there are many problems with drawing conclusions from small snippets of text on the internet, and if I meet this person and have a conversation I might feel very differently. But at this point it seems like a small red flag, demonstrating that there is a bit less cause-neutrality here (and a bit more being wedded to a particular issue) than I would like. But it is hard to argue with personal fit; maybe this person simply doesn't feel motivated about lab grown meat or bednets or bio-risk reduction, and this is their maximum impact possibility.

  1. ^

    I changed the exact words to that I won't publicly embarrass or draw attention to the person who wrote this. But to be clear, this is not a thought experiment of mine, someone actually wrote this. EDIT: And the cause this individual promoted is more along the lines of helping homeless people in America or protect elephants or rescuing political dissidents: it would probably have a positive effect, but I doubt it would be competitive with saving a life (in expectation) for 4-6 thousand USD. 

I can weakly recommend the books Donor-Centered Fundraising (by Penelope Burk) and Achieving Excellence in Fundraising (by Genevieve G. Shaker). This is a weak recommendation because I haven't actually read the books myself; I recently saw them on the syllabus for a graduate-level class called Principles and Practices of Fundraising.

I want to say that not only was this a good summary, this post also nudged a professional development book club that I am in to read the book, and we all agreed that it had a lot of helpful/useful ideas.

If anybody wants to read and discuss books on inclusion, diversity, and similar topics, please let me know. This is a topic that I am interested in, and a topic that I want to learn more about. My main  interest is on the angle/aspect of diversity in organizations (such as corporations, non-profits, etc.), rather than broadly society-wide issues (although I suspect they cannot be fully disentangled).

I have a list of books I intend to read on DEI topics (I've also listed them at the bottom of this quick take in case anybody can't access my shared Notion page), but I think I would gain more from the books if I am able to discuss the contents with other people and bounce around ideas. I think that I tend to agree too readily with what I read, and having other people would help me be a more critical consumer of this information. Most of these books are readily available through public libraries (and services like Libby/Overdrive) in the USA or through online book shops.

I'm not planning on formally starting another book club (although I'm open to the possibility if there are a handful of people that express interest), but I would really enjoy having a call/chat once every several weeks. I'm not expecting this to evolve into some sort of a working group or a diversity council, but I'd be open that possibility in time.

- - - - -

  • The Inclusion Dividend: Why Investing in Diversity & Inclusion Pays Off
  • We Can't Talk about That at Work!: How to Talk about Race, Religion, Politics, and Other Polarizing Topics
  • Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work
  • Inclusify: The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams
  • The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety
  • How to Be an Ally: Actions You Can Take for a Stronger, Happier Workplace
  • Race Rules: What Your Black Friend Won't Tell You
  • Say the Right Thing: How to Talk About Identity, Diversity, and Justice
  • OtherWise: The Wisdom You Need to Succeed in a Diverse and Divisive World
  • Inclusion Revolution: The Essential Guide to Dismantling Racial Inequity in the Workplace
  • Inclusive Growth: Future-proof your business by creating a diverse workplace
  • Leading Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: A Guide for Systemic Change in Multinational Organizations
  • Managing Diversity: Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace
  • A Queer History of the United States
  • The Making of Asian America: A History
  • White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
  • No Right to Be Idle: The Invention of Disability
  • History from the Bottom Up and the Inside Out: Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Working-Class History
Load more