A huge opportunity for impact: movement building at top universities
Edit: While we think the case for movement building at top universities is still very strong, CEA has discontinued the Campus Specialist Program. Individuals interested in this opportunity are now encouraged to apply to Open Philanthropy’s University Group Organizer Fellowship.
To summarize this post:
If you’re able to help students at top universities to devote their career to the world’s most pressing problems, this is one of the most impactful things you could do.
We (CEA) are launching the Campus Specialist programme to help scale up this work. This replaces the Community Building Grants programme for university groups.
If you’re a good fit, you will spend two years or more founding and growing a Campus Centre at one of our focus universities. Each year, you could help dozens of people to learn about EA and focus their lives on critical problems.
What we offer you:
A minimum of two years’ employment at CEA with generous benefits
Support and funding for your personal development
An opportunity to contribute to our university groups strategy
Autonomy, funding, and close mentorship to rapidly grow a Campus Centre
Networking opportunities with professionals across a range of EA areas
30% of your time to work on other projects (eg. other entrepreneurial projects, research, or personal development)
For those who haven’t graduated, we also offer Campus Specialist internships throughout the school year, and a summer position for people who want to assist their school’s full-time specialist(s).
We’re looking for entrepreneurial EAs with a strong understanding of EA ideas. You don’t need to be a graduate of one of our focus universities.
If you’re interested, you can apply here.
If you’d prefer to watch something, try this talk from Joan Gass.
The recruitment opportunity
To solve pressing global problems — like existential risk, global poverty, and factory farming—we need more talented, ambitious, altruistic people to focus full-time on these issues.
Hundreds of thousands of these people are clustered at the world’s top universities.
University is often a time when people are thinking deeply about their priorities: what they care about most, and how they want the world to be. It’s also the last time most people will seriously consider so many possible career paths. This makes university a uniquely important time to help them learn about effective altruism and get their careers off to an impactful start.
Open Philanthropy’s data supports this: when they surveyed 217 people who they believed were likely to have careers with particularly high expected altruistic value from a longtermist perspective, their respondents on average first heard of EA/EA-adjacent ideas when they were college-aged. They also asked their respondents what had been most important for them to have a positive impact. Answers were split broadly across different areas, but local groups were most frequently on respondents’ list of the biggest contributors, and within local groups, most of the impact came from university groups. (Additionally, within university groups, Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, and Harvard’s groups alone were responsible for between 40-55% of all impact from groups of any kind, according to the impact points metric used in the survey analysis.)
One rough estimate from 80,000 Hours is that someone working in one of the most impactful roles creates millions of dollars of value per year. We think that the best Campus Specialists will contribute to creating around ten of these people each year (albeit with some delay before they start doing their most impactful work, and an adjustment for counterfactuals which would reduce the impact several-fold). That would mean a Campus Specialist could create tens of millions of dollars of net present value per year.
Claire Zabel, who’s made tens of millions of dollars of grants in the EA meta space, told us that, speaking from a longtermist perspective:
I generally recommend strong community-builders pursue movement-building activities rather than earn-to-give, even when they would be giving >$500k/year
I think top universities may be the single best overall situation for EA outreach/recruitment that exists in the world. As far as I know, nowhere/no-when else is there such a density of extremely gifted people (and people who will become very influential), for an extended period of time, during what seems to me to be the critical age for taking on new values and career plans.
There are massive opportunities for impact here, and CEA wants to help people to take them.
A unique opportunity for students and recent graduates
Being a Campus Specialist may be an excellent option for experienced people, but we think the opportunity is particularly good for students and recent graduates. If you work as a Campus Specialist at the university you attended, you can be an expert in your early twenties, because you know the culture of the university. That means:
You have an intuitive sense of how to build rapport with students, and explain ideas in an appealing and understandable way
You know which framings of EA, longtermism, or animal welfare might draw the most people to an introductory talk or other events, and how to best advertise programs
You know which professors are friendly to EA, which other groups you can partner with, and which communities within your university might be especially promising to reach out to
This means that in your early twenties you can immediately help several other people transition to higher-impact career paths — creating several lifetimes of counterfactual impact, even given that some of those people might have discovered EA at some point anyway.
We aren’t the only ones who believe that this is among the top options for students and recent graduates. From a memo by Buck Shlegeris, a manager of the EA Infrastructure Fund and CTO of Redwood Research:
My current guess is that if you are able to do student group organizing [...] don’t hate that kind of work, and are at a suitable school [...] whose student group has less than two full-time equivalents (FTEs) working on it, there’s an 80% chance that an optimal allocation of your time over the course of your undergraduate degree would involve spending at least one FTE year on student group organizing. [...] It is quite rare for someone to make a contribution to EA that impresses me as much as people who run good student groups.
Our vision for the next three years
By 2024, at least a dozen of the world’s top universities will have a flourishing EA hub we are calling a Campus Centre—a mature university group that includes dozens of engaged students and support for people with different high-priority skills and cause area interests. Each centre will have office space and a team of full-time staff.
These centres will draw in talented students and help them understand EA ideas, tools, and conclusions, and then prepare them to pursue relevant careers and projects. We hope that each of them will help at least eight people per year to begin a career focused on the world’s most important problems.
These centres will run introductions to EA, run cause specific-programs, and provide thoughtful career advice. They will also help students connect with the wider EA movement — bringing professionals in for talks and conferences, and sharing news about movement-wide events (like a multi-day conference with free tickets and travel).
These are just the basics — taking things we’ve already done and growing them at the same pace they’ve been growing. Ambitious Campus Specialists might also:
Create a pre-orientation programme which gets adopted by the university as an official option for new students.
Help professors incorporate EA-aligned content into popular courses.
Help us discover more effective ways of creating highly-engaged EAs than our current methods. If you’re successful, your innovations will be shared with other university groups.
A few university groups are already on track to get here, so we think it’s very plausible to get to a dozen schools over the next three years.
A step change in movement building
Despite its massive impact, we think that movement-building has generally been underappreciated within EA — and hard to explain outside of it.
Our Community Building Grants were a step up from an all-volunteer force of organizers, but we think they had some problems:
We didn’t have a clear strategy about what university groups were trying to achieve.
We didn’t encourage group leaders to innovate, and didn’t have a systematic way to share innovations between groups.
Grants were made for only a year at a time, making it hard for people to create long-term plans for their group.
This instability also had a strong negative emotional effect on some grantees, who felt that they could lose both financial stability and a meaningful career if they didn’t live up to certain opaque standards.
Organizers weren’t official CEA staff, and it wasn’t clear what they should do after their grant periods.
We lacked the capacity to provide as much support to organizers as we should have—we had some conversations with grantees, but didn’t give ongoing support.
We also didn’t spend enough time listening to and learning from organizers.
Some organizers only had part-time funding, and had to work other jobs alongside their community building work.
The role didn’t have external prestige in line with its impact and skill requirement, and was hard to explain to people outside of the EA community.
We are sorry for these mistakes, and think that the Campus Specialist programme is a big step forward. We think that helping to found a Campus Centre is an extremely impactful and high-priority option, so we want to invest in it heavily, and for it to feel commensurately rewarding.
Here’s what you’ll get as a Campus Specialist:
An intense focus on personal development: You’ll have a dedicated advisor who will provide regular feedback on your ideas and progress. Our Campus Specialist managers are experienced community builders who have founded ambitious projects in the meta space. You’ll also get a £2,000 personal development stipend to pay for productivity coaching, external management training, and guaranteed access to 80,000 Hours advising in 2022.
A critical role in CEA’s university groups strategy: To give you full context and a chance to share input on CEA’s university groups strategy, you’ll attend specialized Q&A sessions with CEA leadership (Max Dalton and Joan Gass), and have the option to attend a CEA team retreat.
A systematic way for your innovations to be scaled: You’ll share data from your Campus Centre to help us identify successes. You’ll participate in conversations about our key uncertainties, and set up experiments with other Campus Centre leaders to test ideas. If your innovations are successful, they will be scaled to other Campus Centres, and potentially across hundreds of university groups.
Integration into professional networks: We’ll host a variety of specialized retreats with staff from other EA orgs. We’ll cover your flights to EA Global and EAGx conferences, and give you coworking space in the offices shared by CEA, the Future of Humanity Institute, and the Global Priorities Institute for when you’re in Oxford. We’ll also cover flights to the UK so you can use this space, and hold an in-person summer programme for Campus Specialists.
30% time to work on other projects: We want to set you up for success after your initial two years, so we’ll let you set aside 30% of your work hours for other work. Examples might include doing research, applying to grad school, trialling at another organization, or launching a startup outside your Campus Centre.
A job where you talk to lots of interesting people: People currently working as Campus Specialists say that on of the best things about their job is that it’s fun — you spend your days working with a community of interesting people about ideas that motivate you.
After the initial two years, you’d have many options for your next step (more than we can list). You might continue growing your Campus Centre, manage other Campus Centres, move to a new role at CEA, start other entrepreneurial projects, or begin graduate study.
For more details, see the job description.
We offer a Campus Specialist Internship programme for people who want to work:
Part-time as they work toward a degree
Part- or full-time during a school break or gap semester
The internship programme is paid, and includes many of the same benefits as the full-time position.
In the past, we’ve heard concerns that community building wasn’t great for building skills or developing career capital.
And this was before the Campus Specialist program. As the founder of a Campus Centre, you could be leading a large team and managing a multi-million dollar budget within three years of starting. You’ll gain experience with management (of people and projects), recruitment, strategy, and communication, all while regularly meeting with professionals from across the movement at conferences and retreats. EA is going to keep growing: it will need larger organizations, and more managers. The Campus Specialist programme is great training for founding and growing a critical EA organization. Outside of EA, you’ll be able to demonstrate a range of in-demand skills.
A few personal notes from Joan on this front:
People recruiting from EA orgs in every area—not just meta work—constantly ask me to recommend group leaders — they understand that running a group well is evidence of many critical skills
There are many projects where having been a group organizer is a huge advantage — for a lot of meta work, we need people who have deep internal models of our target audience and community building strategy, and it’s hard to beat group organizing as a way to develop those models
I started my career in management consulting. There were valuable skills I learned, but my expectations didn’t always match reality. For example, I spent a lot of time formatting PowerPoint slides, and not as much time as you’d expect having deep conversations about business development. I really wish the Campus Centre opportunity had been around when I started my career—I think it would have been a phenomenal opportunity from a learning perspective.
Where can I found a Campus Centre?
As a Campus Specialist, you and your team would be responsible for building a Campus Centre at one of our focus universities — which you don’t need to have attended yourself.
If your work goes well and it’s a good fit, you could go on to manage people at other universities, and may end up owning responsibility for a number of groups (though we think many successful Campus Specialists will prefer to focus on growing their own Campus Centre and running local projects).
What kind of Campus Centre can I found?
We don’t believe that every Campus Centre should be the same. With input from your manager, you’ll find a mixture of different outreach methods, programmes, and events which match your strengths and the university you’re working at.
For some, this could involve running a fellowship for upcoming development economists. For others, this might be an AI safety and machine learning bootcamp. Others might create a selective space for co-working, discussion, and early-stage projects.
Wherever you found a Campus Centre, you’ll have lots of independence, and freedom to pursue your own ideas.
Is this for me?
The ideal candidate for this kind of work:
Is deeply interested in EA ideas—you’ll need to be impact-driven and truth-seeking, and care about impartial welfare. There may be areas of EA you’re particularly interested in, where you’ve formed detailed inside views.
Has a track record of getting people excited about ideas- It’s great if you’ve done this in the specific context of EA, but we’d also be happy to see this experience in other contexts.
Wants to start ambitious projects- we want to grow Campus Centres quickly, at a high level of quality, and we will need entrepreneurially-minded people to make that happen.
While each of these characteristics is somewhat common, it’s hard to find people who combine all three. If you think you might be one of these people, you may be uniquely positioned to found a Campus Centre.
You might also be a good fit if:
You’re an EA researcher who likes talking to people—If you deeply understand EA ideas and have developed your own views on key questions, that will be valuable for both talking about EA and setting the high-level strategy of your Campus Centre.
You’ve run a university group before- you’ll have the context you need to hit the ground running.
You’re an entrepreneur looking to pivot into a priority path—many of the skills required to be a successful for-profit entrepreneur are invaluable for founding a Campus Centre.
You have strong interpersonal skills- you’ll need to work well with a diverse range of people, build rapport with students, and create high-quality events.
You have great organisational skills, or the capacity to develop them- you execute on your plans consistently, and focus on the details that matter.
You’re a quick learner and respond well to feedback- you’ll need to grow in this role, and learn from your team, your advisor, and personal experience.
If you want to get a better sense of your fit, you can take a look at the job description (which we will publish later this week), or you can reach out to Alex Holness-Tofts, our Campus Specialist hiring manager — he’d be happy to talk through your experience and share his impressions.
The Stanford group in 2015 included:
Claire Zabel, who leads Open Philanthropy’s granting on effective altruism
Kelsey Piper, the world’s first full-time journalist on topics in effective altruism
But the Stanford group went dark in 2016. People graduated and moved away, and there was only one active member for a few years. They ran some events, but nobody was prioritising the group, so it didn’t cause anyone new to become deeply engaged.
As a result, we probably lost a few Bucks, Claires, Carolines, Kelseys, and Nates. That’s a lot of missing impact.
We want to make sure that future Campus Centres are consistently thriving and growing, and never go dark. We want the world’s top young talent to be going into highly impactful roles like technical AI safety, alternative meat research, and biosecurity policy.
To reach these people, we need your help.
Currently, we think that top campuses create around 8-10, not counterfactually adjusted, but we’re still learning how to run these Campus Centres well, and we think we can do better in the future. ↩︎
Assuming a 20% discount rate, a 40 year career, and $2 million of additional value created per year per highly engaged Campus Centre alumnus, ten highly engaged Campus Centre alumni would produce around $80 million of net present value. The actual number is lower, because of counterfactuals. ↩︎
In the unlikely event that a Campus Specialist is underperforming, and we need to end their employment early, we’ll offer an exit grant of six months’ salary. ↩︎
Starting salary depends on a number of factors, including location and experience. For a Campus Specialist with no work experience the starting range in the US is $66,900 - $80,000, depending on location. The equivalent range for the UK is £42,200 - £46,300. ↩︎
Given their inherent qualities, these ‘lost’ people are probably doing exciting, impactful things with their lives. But on average, we think they could be doing much better things if they were integrated into communities of people who are dedicated to fixing pressing problems. ↩︎