kuhanj

I am currently working full-time on building up the Stanford Existential Risks Initiative and running Stanford EA/ improving EA groups at the university level. I also co-founded the Stanford Alt. Protein Project. If you'd like to chat about meta-EA strategy, longtermism field building, or anything else, here's my Calendly: http://calendly.com/kuhanj and email: kuhanj@stanford.edu.

Wiki Contributions

Comments

The importance of optimizing the first few weeks of uni for EA groups

Edited for clarity - it might be a US thing, but I'd encourage others to try it out and see how it goes unless there are strong reasons not to.

Get 100s of EA books for your student group

Regarding the concern of broad distribution of books being low-impact due to  low completion rates/readership/engagement, do you have a sense of how impactful reading groups are for books when coupled with broad distribution? They can have a high initial fixed cost and then pretty low marginal costs for repeated run-throughs (e.g. it takes a long time to make discussion sheets for the first time you run the reading group, but afterwards you have them ready, create breakout rooms, and if you don't participate in them this requires minimal effort/time).  

What are the EA movement's most notable accomplishments?

80,000 Hours as a (very thorough) resource for individuals trying to do good/maximize their impact with their careers feels like a big accomplishment. I found EA when I googled "Highest impact careers/how to have the biggest impact with your career", and didn't find anything anywhere near as compelling as 80,000 Hours. I think their counterfactual impact is probably quite massive given how insufficient impact-oriented career advice is outside of 80K (and the broader communities/research/thinking/work that have led to 80K being what it is). 

Most of the impact is indirect so I'm not sure how much this answers the original question. But 80K's impact from community building (e.g. being  the most common entry point into EA nowadays, the podcast, etc.), career plan changes, and maybe most importantly, being the best resource for impact-prioritizing people looking for career advice (and especially students), feel very noteworthy. 

Lessons from Running Stanford EA and SERI

Thanks Jake! Stanford EA and I would definitely not be where we are now without your initial mentorship/ motivation, and ongoing guidance and support! I can't thank you enough. :) 

Lessons from Running Stanford EA and SERI

Great points, thanks for commenting Ben!  Responding to each of the points: 

In my experience, running local group events was like an o-ring process. If you're running a talk, you need to get the marketing right, the operations right, and the follow up right. If you miss any of these, you lose most of the value. This means that having an organiser who is really careful about each stage can dramatically increase the impact of the group. So, I'd highlight 'really caring' as one of the key traits to have.

I think I mostly agree with this (and strongly agree that 'really caring' is a key trait to have - I imagine that comes across in the post but perhaps stating it more clearly would be beneficial). I'm not sure we'd disagree on this, but I do think aggressive 80/20ing often makes sense, rather than being a perfectionist (e.g. it's probably fine not to do follow up with everyone who participates in your fellowship/comes to your intro talk, but you need to do good follow up with the few people who seem most likely to get get highly involved/be very impactful). Maybe that's what you meant by doing things "right" in the first place though, in which case there's no disagreement. 

 I think one-off talks can be powerful, but they have to be combined with one-on-one follow up, or otherwise funnelling people into a fellowship etc. We did a lot of this in the early days and found a lot of great people like this. One-off talks should be optimised for marketing & reach, to find people for the more in-depth programmes.

I agree. One thing I forgot to mention in the post that I'll add in after this comment (although it is already a novel rip :P) is that Mauricio and I spent a bunch of time trying to make our Intro to EA presentation as good as possible (script and slides here - the slides could definitely look much better), and I give it each quarter to get people to sign up for our fellowship and offer 1:1s with anyone at the event who's interested. I think making a good intro to EA presentation is one of the highest value things I've done in the last year. Thanks for bringing this up!

I feel a bit uneasy about encouraging people to live together. It sometimes works well (& I've done it), but it can also lead to drama (e.g. romantic entanglements), a loss of work-life balance / ability to separate your doing good life from your personal life, and for people to lose their friends outside of EA, and I have think having a social network outside of EA is really valuable. One option is just to do it for 1-2yr as a way of making deeper friendships.

Interesting, I guess in the context of student life living with friends is quite normal, and my guess is the upsides (largely becoming better friends, learning a lot about EA, seeing how dedicated EAs lead their daily lives) tend to outweigh the downsides, but of course this depends a lot on the specifics of the person, who they're living with, for how long, etc. 

I agree a career focused pitch seems most attractive - that was part of why we set up 80k in the first place :) I hope we can create some better resources for the local groups to use, like the next version of key ideas (turned into a series of articles more like the old career guide), and eventually a better career-focused book.

These all sound amazing - I can't wait, and would love to help out where I can. Thanks for all your work starting and running 80K, it's how I first found EA (when I googled something like "Highest Impact Careers"), and I've been hooked ever since. Keep up the incredible work, the value you're providing to students (and others/the world) is tremendous! :)

Lessons from Running Stanford EA and SERI

That's very sweet, thank you Jonas! I have been in some conversations about EA essay/idea competitions similar to what you've mentioned, but haven't thought much about it. I think we're also thinking about ideas like hackathons as experimental outreach mechanisms to try out. How do you think something like what you're proposing would compare to the more standard intro EA programming (like intro talks and fellowships)?

New Articles on Utilitarianism.net: Population Ethics and Theories of Well-Being

Pageviews would also go up a lot if (as suggested in the post) articles from the website were included in intro fellowships/other educational programs. I'll discuss adding these articles/others on the site to our intro syllabi. 

One potential concern with adding articles from utilitarianism.net is that many (new-to-EA) people (from experience running many fellowships) have  negative views towards utilitarianism (e.g. find it off-putting, think people use it to justify selfish/horrible/misguided actions, think it's too demanding (e.g. implications of the drowning child argument), think it's naive, etc etc. I think utilitarianism is often not brought up very charitably in philosophy/other classes (again, based on my impressions running fellowships). 

So I worry about introducing ideas through the lens of utilitarianism. So one potential solution is to include these readings in fellowship syllabi after talking about utilitarianism more broadly (for what it's worth, in our fellowship we try to present utilitarianism as we/EAs tend interpret it and address misconceptions, but we can also do so much), or to bring them up in in-depth fellowships/non-intro programs where what I've brought up might be less of a concern. 

Lessons from Running Stanford EA and SERI

To clarify/set realistic expectations, much of the growth happened in our second year (2020-2021 academic year), e.g. all the things mentioned in the intro + summary bullets, the first year mostly involved getting 5-10 highly dedicated core organizers and getting SERI started. I also caveat all the things I had going in my favour (including being in the Bay, being on a CBG, and getting lucky with very dedicated and competent co-organizers).

It can be hard to sacrifice career planning/advancement for group organizing purposes, but as I mentioned in my other comment running your group well has lots of career benefits (both from within the EA community, and the skills you develop from becoming a kick-ass organizer :))!

Lessons from Running Stanford EA and SERI

Thank you for your kind words Miranda! EA group organizing can be quite difficult when others don't see it as potentially highly impactful and the group isn't doing so well - I hope this post can help change how useful EAs (and in particular students) think community building is, and help us do a better job at it so it feels more intuitively impactful and exciting!

The support system for organizers who want to put a lot of effort into their group is getting better and better. I'm always happy to have calls (or texts/emails) with organizers, to discuss how things could be better, and how to get your group members excited about EA and community building.

I didn't emphasize this much in the post, but putting a lot of effort into community building has been very rewarding for me personally (on top of being good for the group and (hopefully) the world more importantly) - in terms of job opportunities, my EA network/connections/friendships, my skillset, motivation/productivity (from being inspired by the other highly dedicated EAs I surround myself with to run our group), and impact. 

Load More