semicycle

342Joined Feb 2022

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Now I desperately want to know: Are EA jobs as selective as EAG?

If EA(G) rejects a doctor who tries really really hard to attend (and pay for) a conference, I wonder whether the Rest-of-Us™ are wasting our time by applying for EA jobs/grants.

For now, I have updated towards believing that most EA opportunities (e.g., 80K job board postings) aren't accessible to me. Sad as that is, I now have some explanation for why I have been rejected for jobs that I'm plenty qualified for on paper. The competition must be substantially stiffer than I thought.[1] Good thing I didn't try to apply for start-up grants because those applications are a much larger time investment.[2]

Constance: Yesterday I dug myself a very deep hole of discouragement, and this post helped me climb out. Thank you!


  1. therefore, the bottleneck cannot be "talent gap"! ↩︎

  2. having been a manager and done a start-up, I sometimes wondered if I should have tried ↩︎

Markdown Syntax Reference

My User Story: As proficient markdown author and new EA Forum user, I want a reference guide for the forum's markdown, so that I can more quickly determine the correct syntax for features that vary across markdown implementations. (E.g., footnotes took me a loooong time to figure out.)

(I suspect there's an identical user story for new users who are NOT already used to writing markdown, but I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth.)

I suspect that a reference guide already exists, but my google-fu is failing me--I tried searching here, the general reference docs, github, and the code itself. As evidence that I'm not the only one, I see that the previous feature request thread has mentions a markdown cheatsheet as part of larger request for general markdown improvements. I'm hoping that adding just the syntax reference part is an easy win.

That's an incorrect summary of my comments, which is NOT your fault, rather it's my fault for not finding a way to express myself clearly. I know you're just sharing your interpretation of my comments, which is helpful feedback for my writing. I want to correct the record on two things:

This case isn't cause for update?

you're saying this one individual case wouldn't affect your beliefs.

To the contrary, I have updated my beliefs based on Constance's story, and I believe that others will do similarly, particularly absent an answer to the question about EA job selectivity. From my original comment:

If EA(G) rejects a doctor who tries really really hard to attend (and pay for) a conference, I wonder whether the Rest-of-Us™ are wasting our time by applying for EA jobs/grants... For now, I have updated towards believing that most EA opportunities (e.g., 80K job board postings) aren't accessible to me.

From my second comment:

The way I see it, Constance's story is the tip of the iceberg, a symptom, if you will, of a bigger problem... I'm worried that if EAG doesn't accept people like Constance, then the job pool might be similarly exclusive, and thousands of EA's like me are wasting our time applying for jobs.

Just one case?

you had beliefs/concerns about exclusivity and competitiveness, driven by the case of one individual

I agree that as a general rule one shouldn't update drastically on the basis of a single anecdote. However, the issue of EA exclusivity is not new, so my original point still stands whether or not I was aware of the other data points. Still, FWIW, I did mention more evidence in that original comment:

I now have some explanation for why I have been rejected for jobs that I'm plenty qualified for on paper. The competition must be substantially stiffer than I thought.

Sincere scout mindset here: I'm trying hard to grok your comment, and I don't follow you. Would you mind clarifying a couple things?

A. Backdrop

Before that, let me restate my concerns. I worry that some folks don't realize what Constance's story might imply for the rest of EA.

A.1. Perceptions of Exclusivity

First, for other EA's trying to get involved with other EA orgs, the degree of selectivity is unclear, and Constance's story may cause them (like I am doing now) to believe that other EA opportunities are roughly as selective as EAG, which may or may not be correct.

If EA(G) rejects a doctor who tries really really hard to attend (and pay for) a conference, I wonder whether the Rest-of-Us™ are wasting our time by applying for EA jobs/grants.

(Not just EAG: also EA jobs, EA grants, etc. Not just doctors: also engineers, managers, freelance editors, etc.)

A.2. Danger of Exclusivity

Second, though admittedly somewhat off-topic, I do not think EA should be exclusive.

B. My Confusion

Now, my questions about your comment and some preliminary guesses and responses.

B.1. Public Criticism

People are unwilling to provide [individual differences used to determine admission][1], because they both strongly are counter to the narrative of the post (and the highly upvoted SA post)[2] and involve a public criticism of a person.

You mean, as a way to clarify Constance's case? If so, I don't see that as the goal of the discussion, so maybe we agree about that part?

Constance is a rare exception of someone who tried really hard to understand why she got rejected and was willing to share heaps of private stuff. I admire her for that, and I agree we don't need more public criticism of her.

The way I see it, Constance's story is the tip of the iceberg, a symptom, if you will, of a bigger problem.[3] Most people are not bold enough to share these details online nor are motivated enough to aggressively pursue an explanation for their rejection. Therefore my comment isn't about whether she, specifically, should qualify for EAG.

B.2. More Candor

If this discussion was more candid and complete, these would reduce concerns like yours.

Maybe, maybe not.

Yes, it would be nice to know why I have been rejected for EA jobs[4] for which I am qualified and deeply passionate. Yes, that might help others who have been rejected by other EA orgs. However, I'm not posting here to learn why I personally was excluded.

Rather, I'm worried that if EAG doesn't accept people like Constance, then the job pool might be similarly exclusive, and thousands of EA's like me are wasting our time applying for jobs. We've been hearing since at least 2015 that there's sufficient funding and a shortage of people with specific skills. When passionate EA's hear that; find job postings for which their skills are relevant; apply; and get rejected for unclear reasons, they're forced to reinterpret EA's message to them:

“We are so talent constraint… (20 applications later) … Yeah, when we said that we need people, we meant capable people. Not you. You suck.”

B.3. Systematic Explanation about Admissions

a more systemic explanation about admissions, would need to describe/imply the quality curve about the supply of candidates (which no one completely is sure of) and is bad optics/implies eliteness/makes everyone rejected feel bad

The optics, implied eliteness, and feelings of rejection are already quite bad. If you're referring to the perceptions of people who haven't YET been rejected, well, those are the people that I most worry about. They deserve reasonable expectations about their chances BEFORE they get their hopes up.

I hope that EA is more accessible than I now believe, and I do NOT believe that 80K and EAG are deliberately signalling more accessibility than actually exists.

Fín 🥲

I could be wrong about the whole exclusivity thing. In trying to be a scout, I opened my comment as a question: How selective are EA jobs?

Like many others have expressed, I want EA to be much more accessible. I hope I'm wrong about the current level of inaccessibility, but either way hopefully we can clear that up a bit.

I'm sad about the state of things, but please know that I deeply respect and value all of you. We're all just doing our best.


Post-script

(because I couldn't figure out how to put this in a footnote.)

Here's what I got back from my last EA org rejection:

We’ve reviewed your submission and, unfortunately, won’t be moving forward with your application.
We received a number of very strong applications and are moving forward with a select few candidates to the next stage of the process.

At least the org before that permitted me an interview, though I have no idea why they passed me up either.

I don't hold this against either of them. Hiring is hard; I've been there.


  1. I took a guess as to what "the above" refers to ↩︎

  2. what narrative? that EA/EAG should be more accessible? Or, is this not particularly important to your point? ↩︎

  3. Sorry @ConstanceLi, by "iceberg" and "symptom," I swear I don't mean to imply that you weigh thousands of tons, nor do I mean to put you in the same category as boogery noses and back acne. ↩︎

  4. I couldn't figure out how to put this in a footnote: see post-script at the end for the rejection message I received ↩︎

I have written several posts that I didn't submit for a combination of reasons. Reason #3 below is deeply troubling and is the thing that I most want to see changed about EA in general. I wrote 1500 words yesterday about it, and decided not to post it because of reason #2 and reason #3 itself. Since this post asks for feedback, it seems like an OK place to copy-paste it, er, write a completely new essay on the same topic.

1. Perfectionism

This is the most common and at the same time the least tractable. It's not that I don't feel the drafts meet the EA Forum standards, rather the drafts don't meet my standards.

2. Negativity

Like Scott A. wrote about on ACX, EA self-critiques are almost a fetish. I deeply appreciate our culture of being open to criticism, and I wouldn't want to change that. However, my subconscious is always looking for more reasons to be disappointed with myself, and I don't want to add to the negativity for others, especially when I'm piling onto things that others have said already.

3. Ongoing Exclusivity of EA

Like me, many people feel like EA outsiders -- even those of us who identify deeply and passionately with EA. (To me, the forum itself is not exclusive; everyone on the forum is very kind, welcoming, and encouraging.)

If we can't absorb more people due to lack of funding, that'd be one thing. However, since at least 2015, 80K (and others) have talked about a "funding overhang" and a "talent gap," and no matter how many asterisks or replacement terms we come up with, the implication is still the same. I'll let this 2019 writer describe what he hears EA saying:

“We are so talent constraint… (20 applications later) … Yeah, when we said that we need people, we meant capable people. Not you. You suck.”

Why exactly does that prevent me from posting more on the forum? First, this is the problem I want to write about, and I can only rephrase things that others have written eloquently about for years. Second, because the inferential difference feels insurmountable even when we talk about solutions.

For example, when I read the title, "EA needs consultancies," I think, "that's exactly what I was thinking!" only to read the post and find that Luke's talking about "McKinsey-style consultancies." So, Ivy League folks? To be fair to Luke, he didn't say that "analytically strong people" excludes the average engineer or software developer;[1] I'm getting that impression elsewhere. Like I said in a comment on Constance's post about EAG rejection, if a literal doctor doesn't make the cut, what hope do the rest of us have?

4. Not Ambitious Enough

Maybe the real reason I don't post is that I need to "be more ambitious." Sorry, this is a cheap jab, but that narrative really kills me. Is there any other group on the planet with loftier goals than us? Is there a community that's trying to save the extra-super-duper long-term future?[2] I mean, I beat myself up for not being as rich as SBF, but if there's a reason I should feel worse about myself, please, do tell!


Some people interpret EA as meaning, high impact. To me, EA is for anyone who wants to have higher at the margin -- no matter who you are.


Again, I'm SO SORRY about the negative tone of this whole comment, but I worry that the level of irony from not posting it could initiate vacuum collapse. Hopefully you all know that I still love you, even though I'm a bit cranky about my unemployment these days.


  1. which is already too high a bar IMO ↩︎

  2. Besides, if there was, most of us would be over there instead of here. ↩︎

Thank you! I'm relieved to have finally posted it. There were some failed attempts because I way overthink everything that's remotely social, even something as low-stakes as posting pseudonymously.

I didn't expect to get this many comments, and I really didn't expect so much positivity and encouragement! This community really is fantastic, and I hope someday to overcome my personal foibles with social media and engage regularly with you wonderful people.

I'd like to know: Is there something the EA community could have done better to support you emotionally?

Thanks for asking. It's a great question, and I wish I had good answers. I've thought about how people like me can be incorporated better, and I honestly don't know.

The encouragement is helpful! For people who already obsess about maximizing impact, it helps to be reminded that any impact (or expected value of impact?) is still very real and valuable. I shudder to think that someone who donates any amount to AMF would ever feel bad about it, yet I know how hard it can be to convince oneself otherwise. Related, I'm glad 80k Hours has eased off on the messaging that EA should focus on the top 1% of people who have most of the impact (ivy league, etc) because that kind of thing is alienating and discouraging to everyone who isn't in that group. Even if it's true, I don't need the reminder.

As far as getting connected, at a surface level maybe it has been tougher to live in a metro area without local meetups; however, lack of opportunity has never been the root problem for me personally. After all, remote meetups have existed forever, and I have made astonishingly little effort to participate. Broadly speaking, "mental health" is the closest I get to a root cause. Ever since I read that survey saying that social anxiety was the most common reason people didn't engage actively (I hope I'm remembering that correctly), I have wondered about solutions to that. Engagement is a hard problem generally, one that Facebook et. al. spend huge sums to solve. Engagement of those reluctant to engage anywhere... especially hard.

So yeah, more mental health resources and research (!) would be helpful. I recommended to 80k Hours that they add more mental health and self care content, and I gather they're working towards that. The episode with Howie about his mental health challenges helped me tremendously, both because of his story and the practical tips. Spencer Greenberg's podcast is helpful too.

I deeply appreciate the hard work that has gone into building the EA community. I hope my post didn't come across as critical of them in any way.

Thank you! The rational part of my brain tries to communicate that to the part that's hell-bent on anchoring my priors to inadequacy. Hearing it from others helps to drown out the demons.

Or maybe I should thank that part of my brain for trying to keep me safe or something? Therapy is confusing.

Thanks for the kind words!

I think you should be proud of what you've accomplished, not just what you tried and failed to do.

I agree! At least the more rational, objective part of my brain knows that. It's the rest of my brain that still needs convincing. Depression and related maladies make rainbows into meaningless smears of gray. Like, I know it's a rainbow, but is that really as good as they get?

Maybe it's easier to see the implacable determination of a self-destructive brain when it comes to thoughts like this:

have a partner and a supportive family

My mental response distorts this in impressive way, like one of those contortionists that perform inhuman feats to cram themselves into a box. Here it's not that I expected a "better" family; to the contrary, I don't deserve such a wonderful family. I need to be better because they deserve better.

Strangely enough, "Phantoms in the Brain," a book that didn't talk much about depression, really helped me to understand the ways the brain can simultaneously see something clearly and yet be blind to it or fail to see the obvious solution.

One thing I know for sure: my kids will learn about mental health and self-compassion much, much sooner than I did. Even my contortionist-lobe agrees.

Thanks! I feel very fortunate to have skills at least somewhat relevant to EA, because I imagine that many would-be EA's don't qualify for even a single job on the job boards. Of course my brain twists my "fortune" into "why are you wasting it then?" but some part of me knows that's the wrong way to look at it, and I'm hopeful that part will win eventually.

Hopefully over time EA can grow to become more and more accessible to people. There are some remote meetup options that I "should" (hopefully someday without guilt...) get myself to attend. I deeply appreciate the work everyone in the community is doing to accommodate people with different life/personal constraints.

Wow. It takes a special breed of monster to laugh at someone's depression.

😉

JK, thanks for the kind words, and I'm glad the levity came through. I'm glad I posted it. I had a couple of false starts. It will shock you to learn that I tend to overthink things like this because they're "never good enough."

Funnily enough I immediately noticed a typo but fortunately had the presence of mind to say "screw it" and go to bed. Sometimes I get lucky or tired enough to hit "Submit" before I have a chance to fix it "just one more time."

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