President of Stanford Effective Altruism, currently working full-time on building up Stanford's Existential Risks Initiative and running Stanford EA.
Ooh I like the changing profile picture idea, can I add that to the post? (I'll give you credit of course)
Do you mean two or more people are sharing their screen at the same time? How does that work? We share our screens for group meetings, but I've never heard of screen-sharing during co-working sessions. Also, wouldn't people feel like they are being watched (or that they might show something private) if they are screen-sharing while working?
Yea we allow multiple participant screen-sharing on Zoom, which does run the risk of people seeing something private, but at least for me it really helps me not succumb to distractions, so the risk is worth it. You can't see other people's screens while sharing yours on Zoom, but everyone has the option of stopping sharing for a while and checking in on others, so the chance of that is often enough to keep us motivated. I think Focusmate might be another alternative, I haven't looked into other options yet.
2. When you said you have "around twice as much weekly programming as pre-pandemic", around how many events on average is that per week exactly? Also, how do you know that this is the right amount (and not too little or too much)? Is it your hope that every member at Stanford EA is showing up to at least 1 event per week?
It's hard to count since some members are involved in multiple daily activities (e.g. goal setting and co-working) while others just come to weekly programming (like our exec meetings/discussions/board game nights) but I've listed all of our recurring programming in the above post. I would love for every member of Stanford EA to show up to at least 1 event per week, and we have some systems in place to help with this (e.g. lots of mentors for our fellowships, many cause area subgroups to cater to all members' interests, etc.), but in practice this isn't the case. As for deciding how much is too much, if attendance for an event is low and it doesn't seem to be very valuable we're pretty comfortable cutting things.
Hey Akash! Thanks for your comment, and apologies for my late response!Let me respond to your individual thoughts:
1- I'd love to hear more about your decision to go with a career-focused post rather than a donation-focused post. I see how someone changing their career could have an immense impact (especially if they are able to find something impactful that they're also very good at). However, I'm skeptical about the proportion of people who would seriously consider changing their career paths as a result of this. Maybe my forecast is off, though-- I wouldn't have expected 5 messages/calls! Would love to hear more about how those go.
I think that students, especially young students (like 1st/2nd/3rd year undergrads) are often open to many different career paths, or don't know what they want to do yet. I've noticed that with advertising for Stanford EA's fellowship, career-focused mentorship and readings are the part of the fellowship students are most excited about, since many students want to go into high-impact careers, but don't know what options are out there. This is corroborated by post-talk survey data after an intro to longtermism/EA talk with Will MacAskill last year, where many more people said they were interested in learning more about how to enter high-impact career paths (~90%) than finding out the most cost-effective donation opportunities (~60%).
2. I wonder if a post that had info about careers and donations would be effective. Maybe readers would be left feeling confused and it's better to focus on one thing. But maybe adding a paragraph about GiveWell and including a quick blurb would be enough for some people, without distracting too much from the focus on 80k hours. What do you think?
I wanted to focus on career choice exclusively rather than give people multiple options to increase the likelihood of them checking out 80K, and also to counter the misconception that EA is primarily about donations as mentioned in the post.
3. At first glance, I think it would've been net positive to explicitly mention EA. Personally, I think people would have seen this as a "birthday post" (especially because of your great/clear hook) rather than "just another EA post."
Yea, I spent some time debating what was best and wasn't sure of my decision in the end. I maybe mistakenly assumed everyone who read this would know this was indirectly about EA given how much I talk/post about it, but I think that was an incorrect assumption. That being said, the comments have lots of mentions of EA so hopefully that compensates somewhat. I also imagine most of the value of this post comes from people checking out 80K, in which case they're likely to find out about EA anyway.
4. I think your description of existential risk is great-- one of the most accessible/engaging that I've seen. I wonder if mentioning existential risk might turn people off, though (then again, it seems like you would've had to mention it since you're working at the Existential Risks Initiative).
I think terms like "existential risks/threats/etc." are fairly commonplace (e.g. they were brought up in a U.S. presidential debate earlier this year in reference to climate change), so I didn't worry too much about it throwing people off, but did also try to describe their scope/scale in a way that would make people take the issue seriously without being too sensational.
Thanks for all the feedback and for your kind words! :) I'd be happy to edit a draft of your birthday post if you'd like!
Here are some of my thoughts on EA residencies/moving people into the full-time EA recruiting pipeline that I shared with Buck:
The primary bottlenecks preventing people (who are already interested in EA) from doing high-impact EA work full-time from what I’ve seen in no particular order (based on 2 years running Stanford EA and a few conversations with non-student EAs and community group leaders):
1. Full time EA work, and the transition required feels too costly (in terms of time, money, moving, social costs, preserving optionality, sunk cost fallacy, mental/physical energy, etc.) compared to the path of least resistance
2. Not having (or thinking they don’t have) the right skillset for high-impact EA work (specifically the paths that 80K recommends)
3. Lack of belief that they can be (really) impactful (not trying because why bother)/ High levels of uncertainty about whether investing the time to try to pursue EA work full-time will pan out. (This was really huge for me - once I updated towards thinking I could be impactful if I just tried really hard a lot of the other bottlenecks solved themselves somewhat).
4. Different models of the world (e.g. different credences for person affecting views, different cause prioritization, differing views on the importance of earning to give, relative impact of working on different cause areas, etc.)
5. Lack of clarity on how to progress/next steps
6. System 1 misalignment (Wanting to want to do impactful things in theory but in practice preferring other things for various reasons, some of which are listed above).
Prioritizing the Bottlenecks to address:
The time needed to successfully address each of these can be drastically different (at least this was the case for me, and I still grapple with a few of the above bottlenecks). Ability to move the needle on each of these probably varies a lot by person and the relationship between the EA resident and whomever they’re speaking to.
For example it might be hard for a stranger (the person doing the EA residency) to convince an interested EA that their specific skillset is actually valuable for EA, but it might be easier to clear up misunderstandings that lead to different world views (but even here the willingness of people to meaningfully update might depend a lot their relationship with the person). Although on the skillset front maybe listing what skills are needed for several kinds of important jobs, and which of these can be learned/developed with practice can give people a better sense of what might suit them, since it’s probably hard to learn enough about someone’s skillset from limited interactions/familiarity to give good personal advice.
This being said, I think that if you’re able to change someone’s mind about certain important things, other bottlenecks will resolve themselves (for example once my self-belief increased, I felt motivated to tackle my uncertainty about next steps and work on my career plan).
I think EAs with authority/clout/working at an EA org can particularly help with some of these - #2, 3, and 4 depending on how knowledgeable and good at communicating ideas they are (the resident EA). And #5 is also probably doable if you’re good at career-coaching/problem solving. It seems like being good at EA career coaching would be a really useful skill for someone doing an EA residency (good knowledge of EA landscape, what the gaps are, what skills are needed to fill the gaps, good at figuring out what someone’s skillset is, good at communicating, motivating people, etc).
Helping move the needle on 1 and 6 seem really important, and pretty time-intensive to change on average, and probably hard to do so predictably/reliably. It’s also unclear how much an EA residency can help with this. I don’t think it’s impossible but explicitly thinking about how to do this seems good. For example, reading Strangers Drowning and On Caring by Nate Soares really helped me with #6 and a few other serious EAs I know (at least 3 but I haven’t had this conversation with many people). Maybe certain types of conversations can also be reliably/reproducibly high impact.
It might be hard for an outsider to integrate into various social settings/I’m not sure realistically how much high-quality social interactions you’d be able to have during a residency, especially with students who are busy/not the best at managing time. I’d imagine planning sufficiently far enough in advance can help a lot with this. If you know/reach out to an organizer in the area you can coordinate with them to set up a bunch of 1:1s and group discussions with promising members.
I think these residencies could be really useful, especially in places where people don't have access to full-time EAs very regularly (basically anywhere other than Oxford/London/Bay Area) to mobilize people, and help them see that doing EA work full-time (to be clear not necessarily at an EA org) is a real, viable option. The above points were just things to take into account to make the residencies go well.