sabrinachwalek

Brown EA President

Topic Contributions

Comments

Bad Omens in Current Community Building

Hi, thanks for writing this! I've shared a number of your concerns, especially around the use of "HEAs," copy-paste community building efforts leading EA to become more intellectually homogenous, and EA group organizers viewing people instrumentally. However, I think you underestimate the variance in community-building efforts and the degree to which many community-builders are aware of these problems and actively trying to mitigate them.  I'm not sure how many university-group organizers you've engaged with, but I'd be curious if you thought these problems were less severe than you claim after talking to more of them. Here are a few of my thoughts on specific things you wrote: 

Community-building is coercive:

  • Most of community-building doesn't entail reading prepared scripts or tracking people in CRMs. While I have copied intro talk templates before, we stopped running those this semester after attendance was low and found talking to people casually at an intro event to be a lot more engaging. We do share fellowship materials with other groups, but most of the fellowship is oriented around fellows engaging with the material, not facilitators coercing anyone.
  • I think very few groups in practice are actually trying to explicitly identify/create HEAs. First of all, the definition of HEA is too vague to be useful when running a group. Second of all, I think a lot of community-builders (myself included) have an aversion to binarily labeling people as an HEA or non-HEA.  (To be frank, I wouldn't mind getting rid of the term altogether.)
  • I view a lot of my community-building efforts as genuinely trying to build a community. I think effective community-building often starts with meeting the person as an individual and trying to help them along their path to having an impact, rather than pushing them into certain predefined paths.

Community-builders are too new to EA: 

  • I agree this is a big issue and I'm wary of tasking people who've just heard about EA to run their student group. I think it's a lot easier for young community-builders to defer to other people's judgments instead of forming their own inside views, and it's difficult to build epistemically healthy communities without understanding the arguments yourself.
  • I'm hopeful that the increase in workshops/retreats for community-builders will help mitigate this, especially if they prioritize improving their reasoning. However, I also expect this problem to become more salient as the number of EA groups rapidly scales, coordination becomes more difficult, and support systems for groups don't scale quickly enough. 

People think EA is a cult: 

  • I honestly haven't heard this said frequently at Brown. Maybe it's due to selection effects and me not engaging with the people who think EA is culty, but most of the criticisms I've heard second-hand are that EA is too demanding, doesn't care enough about local communities, or has an overly strong world-view.  The only people I've heard call it culty are close friends of mine who aren't EAs but are confused about what community-building is / why EA sends students to free conferences.   
  • I think the degree to which people see EA as a cult likely comes from their interactions with their EA group's leadership. Some groups have a stronger "EA is everything" vibe, while other groups have more diverse interests and ethical commitments.  

EA groups have poor epistemics: 

  • This is my biggest concern. Pretty much everyone in a university EA group is between the age of 18-22 with limited real-world experience, and I think the median college EA is too quick to defer to the advice of "experts" and high-status people in EA. 
  • Despite my concern, I'm also pretty optimistic about mitigating this problem. A successful EA group should create a culture that encourages disagreement and debate and attracts philosophically-minded people who evaluate arguments based on their merit. There are also more proactive ways to do this, such as running red-teaming events, cause prio workshops, etc. 

One caveat: A lot of these thoughts come from my personal experience, so maybe I'm anchoring too much on my model of community-building and how I choose to run Brown EA. However, I've talked to dozens of community-builders over the past year and the majority of them seem socially astute and cognizant of these pitfalls. That being said, I do think we can do significantly more to improve the epistemics of university groups/community-builders and avoid EA coming across as culty. FWIW, I'm planning on redesigning Brown EA's intro program over the summer to focus more on introducing people to EA reasoning/principles rather than conclusions/cause areas. 

Announce summer EA internships farther in advance

big +1!  Thanks for writing this. 

I think also announcing summer internship opportunities in the fall/winter, even if applications don't open for a few months, would also be helpful so students know which EA orgs are planning on offering internships. 

EA Internships Board Now Live!

Thanks for flagging that—should be fixed now. 

EA Internships Board Now Live!

We haven't reached out yet but that's a great idea and we're planning on it! 

EA Internships Board Now Live!

Hi Harrison, 

Thanks for your comment! I definitely agree that only featuring highly-competitive internships is suboptimal and that this can lead people to feel discouraged and demotivated. I'm also sympathetic to Holden's aptitudes framework and that most of the value of internships isn't the direct work, but the experience, connections, and insights you gather.  And in many cases, getting a less competitive internship might better help you skill-build and test your fit for a career path. 

However, I think this advice is also very dependent on what career path someone is pursuing. While it's easier to build career capital for roles in policy, operations, management, academic research, etc. outside of the EA community, it's harder to gain comparable career capital in AI safety/meta-EA/x-risk roles outside of the EA community. I also have concerns about people using motivated reasoning to justify how an unrelated internship is helping them build skills/aptitudes.

We're also hoping to use the website to highlight some bootcamps/entry-level opportunities in the EA community that wouldn't otherwise be featured on the 80k job board (e.g. like AI Safety Camp or Phil Trammel's summer course). And we hope the third phase of our project will expand the number of entry-level internships available to young people in the community. 

Overall though, I'd love to add an advice page with similar things to what you mentioned above! 

EA Internships Board Now Live!

Thanks so much for the resources—adding them to our website now! 

EA Internships Board Now Live!

We've had a few people request these filters so we should be adding them within the next week!

EA Internship & Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

It's more of a job board since we're only publishing active opportunities, but if you submit any reoccurring opportunities that'll be offered later in the year we'll make sure to add those once they're active! 

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