80,000 Hours thinks earning to give is the best option for a substantial number of people—those for whom it’s their comparative advantage. They are keen, however, to make sure that people fully consider direct work options, instead of defaulting to earning to give because they’ve heard it is the best way to do good with one’s career.
If I remember correctly, 80,000 Hours has stated that they think 15% of people in the EA Community should be pursuing earning to give. Have they revised this opinion or am I remembering it incorrectly?
If not, your description seems a bit misleading to me. Substantial number sounds like a significantly higher fraction of people to me, perhaps something like 40% instead of 15%.
As one of the people who voted, I was also surprised and disappointed by this. But different voters applied different standards on what kind of content they wish to support.
(I still feel like I don’t really understand where you’re coming from.)
I am concerned that your model of how idea proposals get evaluated (and then plausibly funded) is a bit off. From the original post:
hard to evaluate which project ideas are excellent , which are probably good, and which are too risky for their estimated return.
You are missing one major category here: projects which are simply bad because they do have approximately zero impact, but aren’t particularly risky. I think this category is the largest of the the four.
Which projects have a chance of working and which don’t is often pretty clear to people who have experience evaluating projects quite quickly (which is why Oli suggested 15min for the initial investigation above). It sounds to me a bit like your model of ideas which get proposed is that most of them are pretty valuable. I don’t think this is the case.
When funders give general opinions on what should or should not get started or how you value or not value things, again, I think you are at greater risk of having too much of an influence on the community. I do not believe the knowledge of the funders is strictly better than the knowledge of grant applicants.
I am confused by this. Knowledge of what?
The role of funders/evaluators is to evaluate projects (and maybe propose some for others to do). To do this well they need to have a good mental map of what kind of projects have worked or not worked in the past, what good and bad signs are, ideally from an explicit feedback loop from funding projects and then seeing how the projects turn out. The role of grant applicants is to come up with some ideas they could execute. Do you disagree with this?
I think it much harder to give open feedback if it is closely tied with funding. Feedback from funders can easily have too much influence on people, and should be very careful and nuanced, as it comes from some position of power. I would expect adding financial incentives can easily be detrimental for the process. (For self-referential example, just look on this discussion: do you think the fact that Oli dislikes my proposal and suggest LTF can back something different with $20k will not create at least some unconscious incentives?)
I’m a bit confused here. I think I disagree with you, but maybe I am not understanding you correctly.
I consider having people giving feedback to have ‘skin in the game’ to be important for the accuracy of the feedback. Most people don’t enjoy discouraging others they have social ties with. Often reviewers without sufficient skin in the game might be tempted to not be as openly negative about proposals as they should be.
Funders instead can give you a strong signal—a signal which is unfortunately somewhat binary and lacks nuance. But someone being willing to fund something or not is a much stronger signal for the value of a proposal than comments from friends on a GoogleDoc. This is especially true if people proposing ideas don’t take into account how hard it is to discourage people and don’t interpret feedback in that light.
EA jobs, unlike many other jobs, do not compare very well to other kinds of work experience,
I’m pretty sceptical of this claim (not just made here, but also made in many other posts). I think this might be true for some roles like the Research Analyst positions at the Open Philanthropy Project which combine academic research with grantmaking which is unusual in the wider job market.
But I don’t see why e.g. operations at an average EA organisation would not compare well to other kinds of work experience in operations. I’m happy to hear counterarguments to this.
The underlying crux here might be that I’m generally wary of any claims of ‘EA exceptionalism’.
This list seems roughly reasonable. What most stands out to me is that your suggestions are extremely time consuming, especially in aggregate. The hours applicants to jobs at EA organisations spend on timed work tests and honing their CVs pale in comparison.
I also think your suggestions are applicable to some other fields which might be of interest to people who are trying to have a high impact. It is not unusual for desirable roles in e.g. international development to require hundreds to thousands of hours of investment.
However, if people are investing those thousands of hours into learning about EA, they will not spend them investing in international development or nuclear security.
While people following your suggestions might benefit individually, as a movement we and the world might be worse off.
(Funding manager of the EA Meta Fund here)
We have run an application round for our last distribution for the first time. I conducted the very initial investigation which I communicated to the committee. Previous grantees came all through our personal network.
Things we learnt during our application round:
i) We got significantly fewer applications than we expected and would have been able to spend more time vetting projects. This was not a bottleneck. After some investigation through personal outreach I have the impression there are not many projects being started in the Meta space (this is different for other funding spaces).
ii) We were able to fund a decent fraction of the applications we received (25%?). For about half of the applications I was reasonably confident that they did not meet the bar so I did not investigate further. The remaining quarter felt borderline to me, I often still investigated but the results confirmed my initial impression.
My current impression for the Meta space is that we are not vetting constrained, but more mentoring/pro-active outreach constrained. One thing we want to do in the future is to run a request for proposals process.
This isn’t really comparing like with like however—in one case you’re doing cold outreach and in others there are established application processes. It might make more sense to compare the demand for researcher positions with e.g. the Toby Ord’s Research Assistant position.
But if your point is that people should be more willing to do cold outreach for research assistant positions like you did, that seems fair.
many candidates treated the process like a 2 way application the whole way through the process. This three off my intuitions and normally I would have dropped all candidates who weren’t signalling they were specifically very excited about my role. First call excluded.
I wonder whether this is just a result of people on both sides of the application process knowing each other in a social context.
If the candidate knows they will interact with people making the hiring decision in the future, they might not want them to feel bad about rejecting them. The people making the hiring decision might arguably feel less bad about not hiring someone if the candidate wasn’t that excited. Lack of excitement also allows the candidate to save face if they get rejected, which also only matters because the candidate and the person making the hiring decision might interact socially in the future.
I don’t really agree with your second and third point. Seeing this problem and responding by trying to create more ‘capital letter EA jobs’ strikes me as continuing to pursue a failing strategy.
What (in my opinion) the EA Community needs is to get away from this idea of channelling all committed people to a few organisations—the community is growing faster* than the organisations, and those numbers are unlikely to add up in the mid term.
Committing all our people to a few organisations seriously limits our impact in the long run. There are plenty of opportunities to have a large impact out there—we just need to appreciate them and pursue them. One thing I would like to see is stronger profession-specific networks in EA.
It’s catastrophic that new and long-term EAs now consider their main EA activity to be to apply for the same few jobs instead of trying to increase their donations or investing in non-‘capital letter EA’ promising careers.
But this is hardly surprising given past messaging. The only reason EA organisations can get away with having very expensive hiring rounds for the applicants is because there are a lot of strongly committed people out there willing to take on that cost. Organisations cannot get away with this in most of the for-profit sector.
*Though this might be slowing down somewhat, perhaps because of this ‘being an EA is applying unsuccessfully for the same few jobs’ phenomena.
I really appreciate you writing this. You are not the first person to consider doing so and I applaud you for actually doing it.
I’m a fund manager for the EA Meta Fund. Your assessment in your post is incorrect—we are also open to individual grant applications, though applications for the February distribution have now closed. I’d expect them to open again in a couple of months.
I’m curious how you got the impression that we aren’t open to applications. It’s important to us that we are able to reach all interested individuals so any insight into where we may have failed to communicate that is useful to us.
My main worry about donor lottery reports is somewhat different. Usually, people seem to assign some extra credibility to a donor’s reasoning if the donation/s is/are large. This seems reasonable to me, since donors who donate large sums often have a lot more experience with making donation decisions. But donor lottery winners have much less expertise than the average person who makes large donations (and only just as much as those long-term large donors had when they made a large donation for the first time).
In sum my concern is that people will trust donor lottery winner’s evaluations of donation targets more than they should.
We are interested in funding new projects (see also Alex Foster’s response above).
I am also concerned about the difficulty of promising new projects to be discovered. Personally, I am happy to invest some time into evaluating new projects. This is why we have a grant consideration form you can fill out to be considered for receiving a grant. That said, we are time capacity constrained and would not be able to handle 100 applications per month in our current setup.
I have personally considered putting out proposals like you are suggesting, but am concerned about the time investment. First I would like to see how much interest we can gather in different ways.
To be clear, I meant asking for a reference before an offer is actually made, at the stage when offers are being decided (so that applicants who don’t receive offers one way or the other don’t ‘use up’ their references).
I would strongly advise against making reference checks even earlier in the process. In your particular case, I think it would have been better for both the applicants and the referees if you had done the reference check even later—only after deciding to make an offer (conditional on the references being alright).
Request for references early in the process have put me off applying for specific roles and would again. I’m not sure whether I have unusual preferences but I would be surprised if I did. References put a burden on the referees which I am only willing to impose in exceptional circumstances, and that only for a very limited number of times.
I’m not confident how the referees actually feel about giving references. When I had to give references, I found it mildly inconvenient and would certainly been unhappy if I had to do it numerous times (with either a call or an email).
But for imposing costs on the applicants, it is not important how the referees actually feel about giving references—what matters is how applicants think they feel about it.
If you ask for references early, you might put off a fraction of your applicant pool you don’t want to put off.
I don’t think unsuccessful applications at organizations that are distantly related to the content you’re criticizing constitute a conflict of interest.
If everybody listed their unsuccessful applications at the start of every EA Forum post, it would take up a lot of reader attention.
The problem here is that people in the EA movement overtly associate being EA not with ‘doing high-impact things’ but with ‘do EA-approved work, ideally at an EA org’.
It is not obvious to me how this is fixable. It doesn’t help that recommendations change frequently, so that entering paths that were ‘EA-approved’ once aren’t any longer. As Greg said, people won’t want to risk that. It’s unfortunate that we punish people for following previous recommendations. This also doesn’t exactly incentivize people to follow current recommendations and leads to EAs being flakey, which is bad for long-term impact.
I think one thing that would be good for people is to have a better professional & do-gooding network outside of EA. If you are considering entering a profession, you can find dedicated people there and coordinate. You can also find other do-gooding communities. In both cases you can bring the moral motivations and the empirical standards to other aligned people.
Oh I agree people will often learn useful things during application processes. I just think the opportunity cost can be very high, especially when processes take months and people have to wait to figure out whether they got into their top options.
I also think those costs are especially high in the top applicants—they have to invest the most and might learn the most useful things, but they also lose the most due to higher opportunity costs.
And as you said, people who get filtered out early lose less time and other resources on application processes. But they might still feel negatively about it, especially given the messaging. Maybe their equally rejected friends feel just as bad, which in the future could dissuade other friends who might be potential top hires to even try.