EA Radio

Help find your dream colleague | Max Dalton | EA Global: London 2021

May 29, 2022
EA Radio
Help find your dream colleague | Max Dalton | EA Global: London 2021
Show Notes Transcript

If you are doing direct work - research, policy, operations - it’s easy to be focused on your day-to-day work. Max claims that you should also consider spending some time mentoring and advising younger people, building the field you want to be a part of in five years’ time. He also shares some prompts and ideas for how you can do this.

This talk was taken from EA Global: London 2021. Click here to watch the talk with the PowerPoint presentation.

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okay yep welcome everybody and hi to everyone who's joining us uh virtually a few announcements so remind us to use the swap card app to submit your questions and the hashtag for sharing on social media is hashtag ea global so it's my pleasure to welcome max dalton max is the executive director of the center for effective altruism and the former head of cea's content team he previously ran student groups at in oxford and york where he studied the cost effectiveness of research and the determinants of technological progress please welcome me in please join me in welcoming max [Applause] so i'd like to start by asking you to imagine your dream colleague someone who has a bunch of skills which you don't currently have on your team on your organization someone who can do

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vital work that you can't currently do and imagine where that dream colleague might be now i think they're probably they might be a university student they might be a few steps back in their career and this talk will be about how you can help some mindsets which i think you might want to try on and it can help you find that dream colleague um some reasons why you might or might not want to actually try to actually use those mindsets and then finally some specific ideas for things you could do to make it more likely that you can find a stream colleague so to start off with some mindsets um i think the first mindset is a kind of part-time mindset to spend a bit of time helping newer people people who are a couple of steps back in the journey maybe a couple of hours a week and doing this alongside your your main work

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a second mindset you can use is to maybe go more all in and say okay rather than doing my research or or my operations work i'm going to view myself as instead building a team around the research questions that i have for the longer term and building a field that you want to be a part of in five years time rather than just being an individual contributor so having that more as like the full-time thing that you're doing so these are two mindsets that i think you might want to consider a part-time mindset and a full-time mindset but before we explore those more i want to look into why might you want to do this why might this be be a good idea and i think broadly there are some reasons of impact which is maybe the first thing we care about and then also some more personal reasons why you might want to consider this so first off impact i think the key argument here is a multiplier argument so i think if you spend a few dozen hours talking with people helping advise them mentor them support

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them in their career you might every now and then be able to help switch someone into a much more high impact path or you might be able to accelerate them in that path by a few months or a year and so i think there are cases obviously you need to do counter factual adjustment and a whole bunch of caveats but i think there can be cases where you put in a few hours and you get a lot more aligned time in the long run from someone else and i think this is backed up by survey data as well so this is open data from open philanthropy um and they were basically asking people what got you into your career path and you can see that the green and the yellow a lot of that is just people giving each other advice and that's actually comparable to the impact that a bunch of major organizations had so i think people giving each other advice can be just very powerful and i think another reason why you might want to consider this is that when we ask community leaders what percentage of our resources should we be putting in different buckets

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it looks like um compared to what they think we should be putting into meta we're still not putting in enough and so that means that if you're doing direct work maybe you should consider spending a bit of your time also on meta projects to write that balance and then there are some other reasons some personal reasons why i think this might be a good idea for you too so one is to pay it forward so i know i've benefited a lot from mentorship from people in the past and i think there's a kind of it feels like a good norm for the people who benefited from mentorship and advice and support to pay on to other people who really need that support another reason is to um build your network so yeah a lot of the people who you might be talking to they currently might be quite junior but they might well end up being leaders of the field and if you start building those relationships and getting to know them i think both you and the field will benefit in the long

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run and remember that you're tracking things that other people are not so like cea tries to keep abreast of a bunch of different fields but if you're doing research in a particular area you're going to know a lot more about the people you want to hire you're going to know a lot more about how to communicate the idea as well and so it's really vital that you get involved if you want to see the type of field that you want to be a part of and finally i think it can just be satisfying a lot of our work we don't have a direct benefit uh we don't see the direct benefit very much you know you might be doing research which you hope will reduce existential risk in the long run whereas mentoring someone i think you it can be just very nice to see someone career progress and help them find a satisfying place but i think it's also worth considering why not do this and probably the main reason i i bet is that it feels like there's just not any time and yeah i think you're probably kind of right about this

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you are busy and you're doing a bunch of important things but because of the multiplier argument i think sometimes it can be that the this sort of field building work is even more high impact than what than your direct research work and it is just something that you should prioritize and put first another reason might be that you're focused on your own work you've got your own agenda your own ideas and vision that you're driving forward but again i think it might be more effective to drive that vision forward by as part of a team and by building a team and a field around those ideas you're much more likely to be able to tackle the problems in the long run and finally you might think this just isn't a good fit for me uh like i much prefer you know operations work or i prefer to be in a spreadsheet or doing research but actually i think there are often ways to use different skills you might not be a good fit for some types of community building but it might be another way that you can help build the field that does leverage the skills you have so now onto some specific ideas and i'm just going to share a bunch of different ideas you know yourself best and you can

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best figure out like where you want how you want to contribute here um so yeah place your strengths as we go through this so on that first kind of approach or mindset to helping build a field which is this part-time mindset of helping uh people who are maybe a couple of steps back in their journey um yeah we're gonna get dig into like some ways you might find such people um but yeah first i want to say that one one to two steps back in your journey i think is a real sweet spot so if you have just entered a job you're gonna know a lot about the application process uh processes that you went through you're gonna give much better advice to people who are on the job market then maybe someone much senior and similarly if you're just finishing up a phd or something you're probably going to be able to give much better advice to people who are just starting out on a phd about how to be successful in that so i think this means often that even quite junior people even if you're

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just starting out on your career you might still be able to offer a lot of really useful advice to people who are one to two steps back you don't need to be senior or an expert to be helpful to other people and so the key thing here is really just it's about meeting new people um meeting people who are one to two steps back offering advice offering support kind of listening to what they're thinking through and maybe for some of those if it's a good fit it ends up being a long-term mentorship relationship and i imagine that a lot of you might have been doing this or receiving a lot of this eea global so that's one great place you can do this i think the next best place to do this is to visit a local group so there are loads of amazing um a lot of as i said a lot of your future dream colleagues are probably going to be in university groups right now and i think it's it's possible to go and visit these groups to get to know these people who could be really important colleagues in the future and to share some of the cutting edge ideas with them share some advice

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and then you benefit from this broader network that will be useful in the future so consider trying to find a group near you or a group you have connections to and arranging a time to visit another thing you can do similarly is facilitate a virtual program so you can sign up on the website and this is basically to lead eight discussion groups with a bunch of people who are new to ea and keen to learn more so that's a bunch of ways in which you can spend a small amount of your time meeting people who are a couple of steps back and helping them on their journey but i want to also talk about this more full-time mindset of i'm going to rather than being an individual contributor i'm going to see the main part of my role as building a field around this work that i'm really passionate about and i know a lot about and i think this can be a really useful model so here's an example i think one of the most useful things you can do is kind of mentor and supervise people and so i was

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when i was an undergrad i got a lot of really useful mentorship from owen cotton barrett who helped me kind of think through a bunch of research skills and um yeah reflect on my own thinking and mistakes and um yeah owen did this with me and he did this with some other people and he realized oh actually i'm pretty good at this and it's very useful and so he set the research scholars program which is trying to find hire and mentor these people long term so this is just an example i think other things might be like internships or other kind of junior research programs or things like that but i think generally like trying to spend time mentoring and supervising people and doing that as a major part of your work um can be really very high impact if instead you've got some ideas do you really want people to explore more or there are people who you want you want to have encourage conversations between different groups of people i also would encourage you to run retreats on topics you're interested in like research topics or to try and get more people into a field um

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i think this can be as simple as renting an airbnb and getting takeaway um so it doesn't have to be incredibly logistically complicated but it can really spark a bunch of interesting conversations and help more people get involved and then finally you can it's not all about kind of events and talking with people if you prefer writing i think it can be very useful to write up advice and share that more widely perhaps on the forum or unless wrong so an example of this recently is michael ed wrote up some advice on what he would tell someone who wants to apply to ea funds and that probably took a couple of hours of michael's time but it can be read by hundreds or even thousands of people and hopefully help them uh with with that process so if you don't like meeting people so much consider writing instead and can even consider writing textbooks so i think an interesting edge case here is like probably most people you might think of the precipice as mostly a book there's a research book and it is in a way like there's a bunch of original research in there and careful thought

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but it's also a book that's designed to help people get familiar with these concepts help make it easier to share them more widely and so i think this is an example where there's a bit of a blurry line between what's meant to work and what's uh object level research work and i think work at that intersection can often be really useful so to summarize um i think there's a lot of useful i think it can be useful for people who are doing direct work particularly research um to think about how can you spend more of your time getting more people into the field and kind of via these two mindsets one is to spend a little bit of your time uh mentoring people who are a couple of steps back in their journey and sharing your advice and the second is to go more all in where you think rather than being an individual contributor my main goal will be to build a field around a set of ideas or a set a piece of work that i'm excited about so what are some things that you could

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do today um first off i think you could meet people probably exhausted of meeting people by now but i particularly encourage you to try and reach out to people those people who are like a couple of steps back in their journey see if you can help them and especially amongst that group i'd really encourage you to talk to more group organizers there are loads of group organizers doing incredible work and i think a lot of them a lot of the organizers and also the people in our groups will be the people that you're recruiting in a couple of years time as the fields grow and so see maybe there's a group you can visit that's nearby you see if you could set that up in the next few hours so and more broadly what i think i want to leave you with is thinking about the stream colleague the colleague who has the skills you need who will do the work that no one else is doing right now and think about where they are keep looking out for them over the next few months and think about how you could use a bit of your time of next few months to find them and help them

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thank you [Applause] thanks very much max um so you talk about a kind of a multiplier effect um when you do this kind of work and mentoring people um but how do you think about the kind of counterfactual impacts of that mentoring if they're already kind of ea sympathetic yeah so i think um this is one reason why i talked about it is a bit more of a speed up rather than necessarily switching someone from like producing no value to producing tons of value so yeah i think it can be easier to think about how rather than someone yeah maybe someone was gonna switch into a new career in october but you talk to them in january and you like get them involved a bit sooner and soon you can maybe counterfactually be responsible for those few few months of work so that's a bit of the idea i don't think you can kind of make the whole

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difference but you can speed things up and that's quite valuable yeah absolutely um and then when people are considering whether to do this kind of work like part-time or full-time what are the main considerations you think they should think through yeah so i think um the second mindset is in a way quite similar to a kind of management skill set in in a way it's you might think of it as pretty similar to like looking out for people to hire and mentor and and coach and so i think if you enjoyed that skill set um then the second thing is is a pretty good option and similarly if you really enjoy writing i think that that's more the kind of second uh the building a field route um and if you if neither of those things is kind of your favorite thing maybe i'd then think about doing it uh more part-time as like spending a bit of time giving advice and sharing context instead can you say a bit more about what you mean when you say kind of a manager at school certain yeah uh it's probably a bit hard to fully unpick

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but maybe particularly like if you enjoy talking with people about their work and helping think through like what are they stuck on um and uh work through problems like that might be one thing that's particularly useful in that context yeah and i guess for your own experience you spoke a bit about having owen's mentor was he kind of the primary example of that did you have other mentors like in what ways did they help you yeah yeah i feel like uh i feel like i've been very lucky to have kind of a series of mentors and people i've i've learned from over the years uh i think probably my first mentors were like i worked at a b and b and just like learning diligence and has setting high standards and stuff in that context was really useful and then owen and then um yeah i think more recently nick beckstead has also been very useful like helping me learn to be a better manager um as well yeah um and you talk about building the field that you want to see in five years time i guess for your field like what do you see that as being

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and what work are you doing to make it the field that you want to see yeah um yeah i feel so excited about um what kind of the meta space in general is how that's going at the moment um so yeah i think broadly what i hope in 30 years time is that the in 10 years times the ea community is 30 times bigger um so i think there's just this massive growth that we're going to see in general and then i think what that means for the metaspace in particular is i think we need to scale up events like this um and and rethink uh them so that they then become i think could in a few years time be some of the biggest conferences exist could be like more like comic-con than yeah just a small event like this and um another thing i'm particularly excited about is the growing uh presence on universities and so one thing that i'm really excited about which i think joan is going to talk about soon is the campus specialist program which is one thing investment we're making in this to provide a it's a

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bit like teach for america or teach first provide a program of two years employment and training and support for people who've just graduated to try out organizing on their campus and i think that's a great way to test out a bunch of different roles in the meta space and then maybe to find find another maybe if you enjoy event organizing on your campus you can then go on and do event organizing as a career in the meta space for instance so i'm very excited about i mean i'm really excited about it so i did i did teach first out of university i think it's um uh i think it was a really impressive way to like i guess like uh make something that typically i guess like people wouldn't necessarily go into and it made an entire profession kind of exciting for young people and prestigious so that's really that's really cool um so how much time do you personally spend mentoring people outside of ca in a given week or month um and how much time do you think someone should spend on it obviously it depends on the person but yeah um i think i probably actually still don't spend as much as i should um probably i sp so in a given month um

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maybe i spend uh like three or four hours total and but i think i'd be open to spending more um yeah i'm kind of yeah and i think i'm kind of on the lookout for people i could do that more with i think maybe like one to two hours a week um might be a good level but i do think it just varies a lot by person yeah and um how do you think how would how would one know that they're far enough far enough along in their ea journey to start mentoring because i guess you don't want to mentor if you're uh you're not kind of grounded enough in the basics or um you don't really understand the concepts yet yeah so i think this is where the the idea of like looking one to two steps back is how i think about this so even yeah probably if you've just heard about ea maybe you could even begin sharing that with friends who haven't heard about ea yet and if you've gone through uh if you've spent done a lot of reading on ea already you think you're familiar with the core concepts probably you're then able to begin teaching people some of the core concepts a little bit more so that's kind of how i think about it

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and i think it can like the it can start early but obviously you should also know your limitations so don't kind of if you've learned the basics of ea don't begin being very confident about what people should do in the long term so i think obviously yeah know your limitations as well but i think you can begin being useful to people earlier than some people think great and which programs are you most excited about um in terms of like facilitating mentorship is that what joan's going to touch on or um yeah so i think groups is in in a way a form of dismentorship kind of early on where people have learnt a fair amount about ea and then keen to share that with other people on campuses and then i think that's actually the main purpose of ea global yeah is bringing people together who are at different stages and helping yeah share knowledge and context between them so that's the main thing we're trying to do with ea global and i'm really excited to keep trying to expand that and scale it up i've been hugely impressed with you know people you meet they've gone through like the ea introductory fellowship firstly the

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caliber of people it brings in and then what they learn what kind of success stories you've heard from the fellowship yeah so i think we've already had like a billionaire go through the fellowship for something quite surprising um and yeah um i think generally some of the biggest successes so far have been i think one of the great things about the virtual fellowships in in particular is that anywhere there's an internet connection you can be a part of them and so that's been really useful for setting up uh communities in new parts of the world new universities because there can be like a few few people who we find through virtual programs and we then we can then connect them and say like hey you might want to start a local group so that's really nice to to see that then leading to more established communities yeah wonderful and uh to wrap up what's one thing you'd like the audience to sort of take away from this talk one message one action yeah i think um probably the key thing is to look for people who are a couple of steps back in their journey and in particular at this conference

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see if you can talk to some group organizers before you go home okay wonderful thanks very much max please join me in thanking max [Applause] thank you