Just wanted to say I appreciate this post and I feel you. I had a very similar feeling when applying to receive coaching from 80K. I think they’ve improved their message since I applied, but at the time I didn’t fully realize the type of person they were taking was literally the going to Harvard, in the middle of a machine learning Phd type.
I also feel like generally there’s a huge under-utilization of talent in EA. I see so many cases of smart, motivated people who may not have literally the best resume ever, but could be extremely helpful *somewhere*. It’s strange considering the emphasis on talent constraints.
I don’t have an easy solution unfortunately and it does seem to be a really hard problem, but the Teach for America like funnel that I believe Nick Beckstead recommended and was brought up in a recent EA forum post seems really promising to me.
In a similar vein, I don’t mean to pick on 80K—of course they do great work—but I’m confused why they don’t just hire more career coaches. I realize they want to remain lean and have a really strong team, but I think they only have 2 coaches. That number is going to leave a lot of promising EAs wandering in the dark for a while.
p.s. I also know of an EA that applied to EA orgs for a long time and got rejected by all of them. They now work at one of the FAANG companies.
Howie from 80k here. Note that I’m just one staff member and don’t speak on behalf of the whole team, but I wanted to give some thoughts on your comment.
First of all, I appreciate the feedback and I’m sorry to hear that you had a frustrating experience applying for coaching from 80k. Unfortunately, we can only work with a small fraction of the people who apply. Our current coaching page tries to make this clear and I apologize if we’ve done a bad job communicating this (either currently or in the past).
I understand that this situation might be particularly frustrating in light of the EA community’s recent emphasis on ‘talent gaps.’ We think this term has ended up causing a lot of confusion and it’s partly our fault, so we wrote a post back in November that tries to clarify our thinking on this issue.
In particular, we believe that very specific skill sets are the biggest constraint for most of our priority problems, as opposed to ‘talent’ in general. To address this, we’ve increased our focus on what we call ‘priority paths,’ which are the best ways we know of for people to use their careers to free up these specific constraints. Our current priority in coaching is to help people who have demonstrated an interest and the ability to excel in (at least) one of these paths. This is partly because we think the need for people in these paths is particularly pressing but also because we’re most able to help people in areas that are our focus. We try to make sure that we talk to the people we think we’re best placed to help with coaching in other ways too, for example some of our advice and many of the connections we can make are particularly valuable for people who don’t already have lots of current links to other effective altruists.
You don’t literally need an ML PhD from Harvard to be accepted but we agree that there are a lot of very talented people who we don’t end up advising. In our experience, these people aren’t “wandering in the dark;” many of them are already on their way to incredibly high impact careers. Our aim is also for the research and content we put out (both in writing and through the podcast) to be useful to the vast majority of our audience that doesn’t receive formal coaching.
We do hope to add to our coaching capacity sometime this year. That said, we continue to endorse our decision to hire relatively slowly. As you say, we think it’s important to stay ‘lean’ at this stage in our development. Hiring and training are time intensive and directly trade off against our capacity to develop and improve our various products. Moreover, we’ve found that it’s quite hard to hire qualified coaches. Coaches need to have a very broad and deep understanding of EA, as well as being skilled advisors, which means most good candidates have several other excellent career options. Our users often make major career decisions based on our coaching, so we think it’s essential to maintain a very high bar for these positions.
Hope this helps to at least somewhat explain where we’re coming from.
I really wasn’t expecting a reply from an 80K staff member so I really appreciate taking time out to give myself and other readers more context. FWIW, I think generally the moves you describe make sense.
On “In our experience, these people aren’t ‘wandering in the dark;’”—this is just anecdotal evidence but I’d like to push back on that a bit: That phrase might be a bit of an exaggeration but I think personally in my own case and in a number of EAs I’ve come across, a 20-60 min session with an expert could have helped substantially, perhaps shaving off years of semi-time wasting.
For example in my own case, I had read many of 80K’s articles but hadn’t come across the more advanced advice of downgrading broad-based advocacy for the very top causes. I spent ~1 year working on media advocacy without fully knowing that—I’m not trying to blame 80K here, just that a short conversation with an expert who could really push back on my plan and point me in a particular direction I think would have been really useful. The specific advice I’m talking about is here: https://80000hours.org/articles/extinction-risk/#ways-to-contribute-that-are-harder-to-get-right-advocacy-and-for-profits
I’ve also seen many other smart, motivated people kind of defaulting to software engineering (which seems to have recently been generally downgraded), or kind of doing their own thing and generally being under-employed/under-utilized imo.
Perhaps as you note the tradeoff in training/hiring isn’t worth it and the current model is optimal, I’m not sure. Hopefully this anecdotal evidence is at least somewhat useful. Cheers!
I think part of what might be driving the difference of opinion here is that the type of EAs that need a 45 minute chat are not the type of EAs that 80k meets. If you work at 80k, you and most of the EAs you know: probably have dozens of EA friends, have casual conversations about EA, pick up informal knowledge easily, and can talk out your EA ideas with people who can engage. But the majority of people who call themselves EA probably don’t have many if any friends who work at EA organizations, donate lots, provide informal knowledge of EA, or who can seriously help you figure out how to have a high impact career.
A 45 minute discussion can therefore do a lot more good for someone outside the EA social circle than for someone who has friends who can have this conversation with them.
I agree that a quick and decisive input from someone very knowledgeable about EA and the topic involved would be very useful and save a lot of time and indecision for people evaluating career options.
I think we can provide a bit of this though through more engaged online communities around given topic areas. Not nearly as good as in person talks but people can at least get some general feedback on career ideas. I’m hoping to host an event later this year that will gather people interested in a cause area and use that as a catalyst to form a more cohesive online community. As far as I can tell (and in my experience) people tend not to engage much in an online community if they don’t really know the people well. Though it’s definitely true that some people are more than happy to engage with people they don’t know.
I don’t know how this could move forward but it seems like someone could potentially make a difference by engineering Facebook or Slack groups focused on certain cause areas to be more active places for general discussion and career advice. This would be so helpful for people who lack close contact with knowledgeable people in EA or within their cause area.
Strongly agreed. I really like Raemon’s analysis why it’s so hard to get EA careers: we’re network constrained. [This isn’t exactly how he frames it, more my take on his idea.]
Right now, EA operates very informally, relying heavily on the fact that the several hundred people working at explicitly EA orgs are all socially networked together to some degree. This social group was significantly inherited from LessWrong and Bay Area rationalism, and EA has had great success in co-opting it for EA goals.
But as EA grows beyond its roots, more people want in, and you can’t have a social network of ten thousand, let alone a million. So we have two options: (a) increase the bandwidth of the social network, or (b) stop relying so much on the social network.
(a) increasing bandwidth looks like exactly what you’re talking about: create ways for newcomers to EA to make EA friends, develop professional relationships with EAs, etc., by creating better online platforms and in person groups.
(b) not relying on personal relationships looks like becoming more corporate, relying on traditional credentials, scaling up until people actually stand a strong chance of landing jobs via open application, etc.
(a) seems to have clear benefits with no obvious harms, as long as it can be done, so it seems very much worth it for us to try.
Hi Aidan, I’m really late to this thread, but found it interesting. If you don’t mind coming back in time, could you clarify this:
“I think part of what might be driving the difference of opinion here is that the type of EAs that need a 45 minute chat are not the type of EAs that 80k meets.”
I imagine this is true for a lot of EA org staff. It sounded from Howie’s comment like it’s probably less true for coaches at 80K, though, compared to other EA org staff.
“We try to make sure that we talk to the people we think we’re best placed to help with coaching in other ways too, for example some of our advice and many of the connections we can make are particularly valuable for people who don’t already have lots of current links to other effective altruists.”
I find the network constrained hypothesis interesting and am interested in exploring it, so I think clarifying our models here seems useful
I would also like to see more 80K coaches. Possibly you can offer light coaching option, where people can have a 30-minute time slot to ask questions openly.I’ve had such valuable feedback when I’ve attended CFAR workshop, through which I’ve had the opportunity to talk to other EAs about positions I had in my mind. Through CFAR I’ve got to access to 1-on-1 sessions with Lynette Bye from EA Coaching, and she was also very helpful. All this expanded my EA circle and got me even more opportunities. I would undoubtedly reiterate 80K hours advice that attending conferences and joining the community can help immensely. But, before doing all that I wished I could have a couple of quick sessions with a coach from EA/80K. Also attending some of the events don’t come cheap, and they require a significant time commitment.
Just wanted to flag – I’ve been surprised and sad about how frequently people delete accounts on the EA forum. This is a totally reasonable comment and I’m confused about why the author would have deleted their account within 40 minutes of posting it (as seems to be the case as-of-the-time I write this)
This is a bug :) I’ll contact forum maintainers. I’m active user and my name is Marko Bastovanovic
Do you know where Nick Beckstead mentioned the Teach for America model? I don’t think that was cited in the recent Forum post, and I’m curious about what kinds of work he thought people within that “funnel” would be doing.
It’s quoted here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/uWWsiBdnHXcpr7kWm/can-the-ea-community-copy-teach-for-america
Search for “teach for America” in this transcript: https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/nick-beckstead-giving-billions/