EARadio

Campus specialists: a promising career path | Joan Gass | EA Global: London 2021

May 31, 2022
EARadio
Campus specialists: a promising career path | Joan Gass | EA Global: London 2021
Show Notes Transcript

For many careers, individuals have to spend decades developing their expertise and influence. In this talk Joan claims that full time, post graduate opportunities in EA field building on university campuses may be an exception to this general principle. These opportunities provide outsized impact for individuals in their early twenties. In addition, she outlines career capital and personal development benefits of these roles and provides advice for how an individual might know if they are a good fit.

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

okay great welcome everybody and welcome to those who are joining us virtually it's my pleasure to introduce joan today
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uh joan is managing director and head of groups at ceo joan oversees the group's team
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leading ca's work on the growth and onboarding of new community members and providing input on organization wide
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strategy she has an mba from stanford and an mpa in international development
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from harvard's kennedy school of government she previously worked at bain and company where she was a founding
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member of their nigeria office she also co-founded and directed a non-profit in uganda and launched a
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fellowship related to catastrophic risks and emerging technology policy at the harvard kennedy school please welcome me
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in welcoming joan [Applause]
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many companies like mackenzie spend a million dollars per campus per year
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recruiting students this is the norm and elite professional services firms and tech companies the
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goldmans the mckinseys the googles are spending millions of dollars per campus per year
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and this generation of college students cares more about social impact than any generation before
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i think jobs at these firms are not positive for the world most likely but i'm not convinced that it's the best
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thing to do with your career if you want to maximize your social impact
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and meanwhile social impact career services on university campuses
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are often understaffed or unrigorous telling students to do things like
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follow their passions or handing out peace score brochures
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i want to make sure that smart ambitious college students who want to make a meaningful impact on
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the world have the resources and the analytical tools to be able to do so
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and i think that university time is a critical window
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it's often the first time that people think seriously about the priorities in their life and what they want their impact on the
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world to be it's a time when people make friends that might last for lifetimes and
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influence their values over the rest of their time and it's a time when people aren't yet locked in
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haven't chosen a grad school haven't started a career i mean in the united states you don't even have to choose
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your major for the first two years which i know because i changed my major four times in those two years
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it's possible to have values and adopt a worldview that's pretty different later in life but i think it's much harder
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and we're a data-driven community so i think we see this as being true within the effect of altruism community in
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terms of when people hear about effective autism ideas and when they're most receptive
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so this is a graph from the ea survey so looking at folks that are involved in the effective altruism
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community on the bottom axis you have peop the age when people first heard about ea ideas
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and on the left-hand axis you have how engaged people are and you see the spike at the beginning which means if people
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hear about effective altruism ideas around college age they're more likely to be more engaged over the course of
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their career
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the graph supposed to go away this is also true of other data that we
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have so the open phil long termest meta team ran a survey of 200 folks that had a
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long term as careers they were particularly excited about last year and those people reported that they first heard about ea or ea aligned ideas
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when they were 20 and they also reported that it would have been optimal for people to hear about it earlier
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so university time is a really critical time to expose folks to ideas related to
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effective altruism and i think that given this really big
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gap we have in social impact career advice we're a community that could help revolutionize that space
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we have some really powerful ideas like the idea that if you focus on a
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particular intervention or a particular cause area you could have 10 or 100 times the amount of impact as with your
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donations or the idea that you could have the equivalent impact of having
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convincing 10 or 100 of your friends to have social impact careers i also think we have some of the best
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resources that are available on thoughtfully planning your career and at this conference you've heard we
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have some financial resources and we have a lot of problems that we need smart ambitious people to solve
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but what i think we really need is talent on university campuses in order to spread these ideas to more
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people so i want to paint a three-year vision that i think we might be on track to hit
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as a community so by 2024
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for the top 200 universities around the world so these are you know strong
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universities in the us and europe but also i'm talking about the iits of india and the university of sao paulo in
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brazil i want the majority of students to be able to hear about effective altruism
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and for people who are curious to encounter a nuanced version so this might look like something
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like if you go to a student activities fair you get to hear one of the boost that sticks out in
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your mind is the effect of altruism student group or there's a catchy flyer
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that you see in your dorm room that tells you about an eight-week reading group for a student-led course related
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to how to do the most good with your career which introduces you to rigorous frameworks thought-provoking questions
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and shapes how you approach university for the next four years
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this past semester we had 45 groups that were at this level that i just specified
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last year we had 15. i think it's definitely possible that we could get to 200 in the next three years
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and in some places i'm really excited about us going even deeper so by 2024 i think we could have a dozen effective
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altruism campus centers with two full-time staff and physical office space and universities
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these campus centers would provide some of the best most thoughtful social impact career advice
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staff at these centers would help students learn and connect helping them have specific
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career-focused programs and plans helping them dive into cause specific fellowships and being nodal to connect
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them to other professionals and come to regional and global conferences like this one i also think they would help students
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navigate new internships and career opportunities and funding opportunities
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such that they have really strong plans that they've pressure tested over the summers when they graduate from
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university we'll obviously continue to pivot and learn along the way but we already have
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programs like this that i just described running at cambridge and oxford
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and stanford i think it's certainly possible that we could have nine more in the next three years
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but i think that's just what we're on track to do what's really exciting is with ambitious
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entrepreneurs we could do so much more i think it's very plausible that someone
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in this room could help us continue to write the book on how to do field building at
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university so if we're in the process of writing a book i feel like we're in the first chapter and we have a pretty good
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first chapter but we need people to help us rewrite it and help us write the next
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couple chapters so for example maybe an entrepreneur in this room would think about instead of
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having a hiking pre-orientation program as a pre-orientation program at universities what would it look like to
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have a really great social impact career advice free orientation program and that becomes so popular at their university
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that other universities start copying it or what would it look like to help us figure out how we get ea aligned course
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content into popular first year courses or maybe there would be campus centers
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that would run a fellowship with nominations as competitive as fulbrights or rhodes
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and maybe most of the fulbrights and rhodes scholars would be open and excited about effective altruism ideas
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on campuses maybe the goldman sachs recruiters would view the campus center leaders
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as a little bit of a threat and maybe the career staff providing career services would
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start copying the programs that the ea campus centers are running because they're so good and so in demand
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what i think is most exciting about this vision especially for people in this room is the question of who is most
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uh well positioned to execute on it and i think that's current university
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students and recent alumni and i think this is a pretty exciting concept because in most careers and
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general and in ea cause areas you have your pinnacle impact your peak impact at the end of your career when you're in
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your 50s or 60s but ea outreach on university campuses
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is one of the only times you're an expert at your university when you're in your early 20s
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it's a uniquely outsized impact for your age and why is that
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i mean you know your users you know how to share ea ideas with other students
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you know what pizza brings people to meetings you know about the campus you know when students are busy and really really busy
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you know which professors are great to work with and what new initiatives are being run
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that's why we have students who are working part-time while they're full-time students on running their ea groups and
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students taking gap semesters and gap years and working full-time after they graduate
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and one thing i'm excited about is that we've recently seen if a university has a really strong student group
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we can bring in alumni from a different university to help run campus centers
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full-time if you're a university student
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i think there's a chance that the next one to two years could be
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the highest impact that you have even if you go on to other
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specializations afterwards it's not guaranteed
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but it's certainly plausible and i think that basically comes down to multiplier effects the idea that you could counter
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factually get someone involved in effective altruism um who wouldn't otherwise be or wouldn't otherwise take
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the ideas as seriously and i find it really um powerful to think
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about multiplayer effects by thinking through specific examples so i think back to the group that
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i was a part of um when i was in grad school and i think through what people are doing now and
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one person in that group went on to work with charity entrepreneurship um helping start a charity that sent sms reminders
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out to mothers in india to vaccinate their children and now as a data scientist at the world bank
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another group member helped create partnerships with fast food companies to introduce plant-based meat options in
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fast food restaurants across the us another group member changed their
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thesis early to write about pandemics before covet came out then was involved in the global coveted response and
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helped influence 10 billion dollars of funding related to camp pandemic preparedness
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one of my favorite stories is about a friend who was in this really unique window of trying to decide what their phd was
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going to be on and got introduced to a series of very
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influential people in the process when they were deciding this topic and ended up switching their
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phd focus to focus on a specific emerging technology and it was really important
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they had the conversations that the group introduced them to at this time because they were about to choose an advisor and they were about to choose a
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topic and be locked in and they knocked their phd out of the park and two weeks ago they started at
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the white house so i think there's a lot of impact that
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can be had by being someone that's doing field building work
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and other people in the meta space who are experts would take this even farther not just that it's impactful but that it
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could be one of the most if not the most important decades for field building and
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metalwork that's because if you think we're going to be bigger soon then opportunities for movement building
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will be less good in the future than they are now there's more low-hanging fruit and if you think we're at a hingy moment
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related to transformative technology then doing things earlier matters more
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so um some of you guys know who buck is he's a fund manager on the ea infrastructure fund and the cto of
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redwood research an ai safety organization and he wrote up a memo at a recent group
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leaders retreat that said the caveats are if you're able to do student group
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organizing if you don't massively hate that work if you're at a suitable school and your school doesn't already have two
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full-time equivalent people working there then he thinks there's more of a 50 chance that an optimal allocation of
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someone's time over the course of their undergraduate degree involves you spending at least one
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full-time year on student organizing and he goes on to talk about how he
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thinks it's quite rare for someone who's university aged to make a contribution to ea that impresses
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him as much as people who run good student groups
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so we've talked about this opportunity on the table we've talked about the university critical window and why
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students and recent alumni are well positioned to try and capture it and how much impact is on the table
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i just want to spend a little bit of time talking about what cea is going to do and has been doing in order to
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support people that are in this position the first thing is that we have
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foundational support for individuals that are running student groups this
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semester we've launched a program so that two university group leaders with a total of 10 hours a week can efficiently
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start a university group we want to make sure they aren't having to figure things out from scratch
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so these individuals receive stipends that free up time from their mundane campus jobs
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and get training on how to do intro to ea presentations and activities for
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outreach have a package of outreach materials related to funding for food and books and flyers and posters
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and then have syllabus for student-led courses with thought-provoking questions and exercises and training for student
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facilitators we're also really excited about the peer cohorts that are created through this so people aren't just starting this alone
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in their university but other peers around them are starting so they can problem solve and learn from each other
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and also an ea hub website with resources that can be helpful to share
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what other things and activities have worked across different college campuses
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the other thing that we have recently done is piloted our campus specialist program
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so with a subset of focused universities we want to make sure to elevate people
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working full-time post graduation on ea field building in their university
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we spent the summer designing this program so we had some student leaders working out of our office in oxford we
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got a bunch of great feedback from them um and we had some really exceptional
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student leaders who i think have been like pioneers in this space so james ung and emily emma abele and the student
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careers team really motivated a bunch of our thinking and we've grown our internal cea team
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three times 3x the number of times in order to support this program and so what it looks like in us for us
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to be able to support people who are working full time after they graduate from university
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is before we used to have a one-year grants program where you got some money and you got to kind of like go out on
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your own and do some work at your university now we're offering two-year employee
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status con employee employment status at cea so you have a guaranteed job for two years it
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comes with job security pension private health insurance funding for top-end laptops and a work set up we really just
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want to enable these entrepreneurs in order to build campus centers at their university
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and we really value their time which is why the salaries that we offer are competitive with the average oxbridge
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and ivy league undergrads who are graduating and getting their first job and this is average across all fields
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not just the non-profit sector we're investing in people's personal development so entrepreneurs that are
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full-time and part of this program will have an advisor and a mentor in order to
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bounce ideas off of a 2 000 pound professional development stipend and access to things like management courses
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that are often used by fortune 500 companies to train their employees
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folks in this program will have an opportunity to give input on cea group strategy q a with me and max and access
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to early strategy documents we want deeper integration into professional networks in ea so flights
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to come to that are paid to come to ea global and regional conferences um a prepaid expense card so people can
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easily access support they need for themselves in their group and retreats with meta organizations
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like open philanthropy and 80 000 hours and then the last change that we're making that i'm really excited about is
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giving people 30 time to do what they think is most impactful so they might want to explore how to
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start an effective altruism high school outreach program or building up a cause specific fellowship they might want to
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do research on their own in order to think about phd programs they want to apply for and invest in their own career
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so we want to build in a lot of flexibility for people because we are excited about the campus centers
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folks are building but we're also excited about individuals and their career trajectory
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across the rest of their lifetime and we this is the program i just described is for folks that are working
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full time on ea university field building of campus centers but we have a similar version of this in pilot focused
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universities for people that are still in school and working working part-time testing out
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their fit for this area we're obviously going to keep iterating based on user feedback and would love to
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hear from all of you about this but one thing that i think is really important is to change the profile of what
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effective altruism field building looks like on university i think it's historically been a bit low
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status within the ea community and hard to explain external to the effect of altruism community
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and i think that's changing and we should continue changing that more
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so to wrap to wrap up the last two things that i want to touch on are
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um the biggest misconceptions that i think have kind of like led to this mislabeling of field building within
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university one misconception i think is that
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doing campus organizing isn't good for career capital and when i step back and think about the
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campus centers that we're trying to build if someone's successful they could be having a million dollar budget
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managing a multi-person team creating partnerships at their university and starting new research
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initiatives that's a pretty powerful opportunity for someone out of undergrad and pretty
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unparalleled and i think it's also really cool and fun to explain over thanksgiving dinner like you can say i'm
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running a campus center that helps students navigate social impact careers i think this is great career capital if
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you're thinking about entering meta work the center for effective altruism groups team hires people who have done great
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job running groups in order to help coach other folks but we've also had alumni go on to work at 80 000 hours or
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meta-organize other meta organizations but i don't think it's just great career capital if you want to
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do meta work i think it's great career capital for a bunch of other career paths
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so as part of doing this your role is to get really involved in the effect of altruism community and build your own
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personal network so that you can support other students to do so that's why one of the reasons why 80 000
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hours advising is making sure that anyone that's on our pilot program has access to career coaching this year
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and one thing that is uh i think sometimes a bit uh
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complicated to to like think through is that having a really deep understanding of effective altruism ideas helps open
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up a bunch of different additional career opportunities and i think that's because we're in a really early stage
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building effective altruism which means organizations that are hiring aren't in the scaling position they're like trying
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to develop a product or trying to communicate a complicated idea or trying to figure out product market fit and
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that means they need to hire people that have a really good understanding of the ideas so that those people can go off
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and test out different paths to value and make a bunch of individual decisions on their own and that's why i think i
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often get requests not just from meta organizations but a bunch of direct work organizations asking me for
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recommendations about group leaders that people should consider interviewing and hiring because they want people who have
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a really strong understanding of the basic concepts so
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i think then the paths that are open aren't just in meta work but in entrepreneurship and organizational
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field building and direct work as well i can think of a group leader in the entrepreneurship space who's considering
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a multi-million dollar ea back startup right now i know folks that are helping to run the internal operations of
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forethought and will mccaskill's new book that's coming out and who are
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really doing great work with long term as policy advisory organizations helping
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like start up really really notable think tanks and i know people doing cost specific
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work that are group organizers or university field builders are now our top ai safety
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researchers or use that as a platform to then go on to graduate school
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the last thing that i would mention is if you're not sure about your cause area or your cause prioritization then doing
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field building might be a really great way for you to have time and space to think about that so i'm probably a bit biased because i
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spent seven years working on a particular cause area including a graduate school specific
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program that was linked to that cause area and it was only in graduate school where i had time and space to step back
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and think through my cause prioritization and ended up thinking that i should plausibly pivot and focus on a different area and i really wish i
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had two years earlier in my career to spend time thinking about that because that would have influenced my trajectory
23:41
pretty significantly so i think that ea field building can be really really good for career capital
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i also think it can be really good for skill development and that's the second myth that i want us to destroy which is
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that field building in university or running an ea group isn't good for skill development
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and you know i think it can be great for i mean i just think about the skills that folks in campus centers and leading
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ea groups need and it's people management and it's recruitment and it's project management and it's running an
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organization and it's operation it's communicating ea ideas and keeping up to speed with the cutting edge ones
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but um i find this even more compelling when i just like look at what current campus leaders and campus specialists
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are doing so um on the far left hand side is koki
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koki is helping to run a student
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a student course related to introducing effective altruism ideas to over 40 people
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with really diverse backgrounds around the world and doing cutting ed edge localized cause prioritization research
24:51
related to the most effective donations within the uae that's a pretty cool opportunity for a
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university student kuhan helped start the stanford
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existential risk initiative and the stanford existential risk summer fellowship
25:08
this allowed students to explore summer fellowship and summer research opportunities
25:13
related to existential risk it was so popular on campus that hundreds of students applied for a
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couple dozen spots which made it more competitive to get into than stanford itself
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and finally there's dewey so um dewey ran a successful student group at durham
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graduated um did some things and then applied to work
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as a full-time university field builder at cambridge so a really cool example of someone who ran a really strong group
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and now is running a campus center somewhere else um dewey now has a team of six people
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that are working with him um and is creating models for what it can look like for people to do fifty
25:55
percent their own cause specific research in fifty percent cause specific field building
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including running an ai safety fellowship which is one of the best learning opportunities for university
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students in the field so i think it is not true that group
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organizing or running campus centers is bad for skill development and it's really cool just to look at what some of the folks that are
26:17
currently doing are able to to work on okay it wouldn't be an ea speech so i
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didn't tell you why you shouldn't consider doing this so i'm going to tell you reasons why you might not want to consider field
26:29
building right before i wrap up if you think about the impact model the
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impact model looks something like you might want to think about how good you
26:40
are at creating multiplier effects and then you might want to think about the opportunity cost if any from doing
26:47
direct work so you should consider running an ea group or running a campus
26:53
center less if you think you're not going to be as good at creating multiplier effects so maybe this means you don't have a
27:00
track record of getting folks excited about ea ideas or maybe you might be crowding out someone who could do a
27:05
better job if you're at a really small university or you think your university is already
27:11
at the point of saturation in terms of other people promoting ea ideas you might want to consider this less
27:19
in terms of direct work if you think the opportunity cost of doing organizing as
27:24
opposed to making progress on your own direct work doesn't make sense the benefits don't outweigh the cost then
27:29
you might also want to consider not doing this so maybe you have an opportunity you can't delay maybe you have like a
27:35
co-founder and a bunch of funding and you think this is a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity and if you delayed it
27:41
something like that wouldn't come along in the future it might be a reason why the opportunity cost of your direct work isn't worth it um maybe you think the
27:49
benefit of recruiting people isn't worth what you could do during direct work for two years so if you have
27:56
super short ai timelines for example and you're doing ai safety work this might be an example
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i realize a key thing i highlighted in all this is like how good are you at multiplier effects and that's kind of
28:08
hard to figure out so that's why we have tried to develop a bunch of opportunities for people to
28:15
test their fit early if people are interested in this area or interested in exploring more about
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whether or not they should do this some standard advice i give to people is first thing is have a really solid
28:27
understanding of ea ideas i think if you're trying to communicate effective altruism to other people it's really
28:34
important to do that in a high fidelity way so i encourage people to read a lot join ea virtual programs be a
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facilitator join your local group really invest in yourself and develop those ideas
28:48
and then test your fit test what it's like to do this part time and you know many tests of this might be
28:55
applying to run a student group at your university and so we have folks on our team like jessica and catherine that are
29:01
really happy to help people get university groups off the ground if there isn't one already at your university
29:07
or if you're in one of our pilot focused universities you can talk to our campus specialist team about the additional
29:12
programs that we have as well and if that's really successful then regardless of where you are you could be
29:18
a really strong candidate for running one of our campus centers
29:25
the whole um the whole thing that we're trying to do here is just give you more information and work with you and give
29:30
you more data about your comparative advantage and your fit which is going to be localized to your university we're
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going to need to do on a case-by-case basis so i just want to wrap up by thinking
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about um stanford in 2015.
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and stanford in 2015 had a really awesome effective altruism student group the type of folks that came out of that
29:53
were buck who i mentioned earlier who's the cto of redwood research and kelsey piper who now writes at
30:00
future perfect in vox and does really incredible work and claire who leads the long term as
30:06
meta team at the open philanthropy project and i'm so excited about the current
30:11
stanford team but before that the group but before in between the 2015 team and
30:20
the current group that i'm really excited about stanford went dark we didn't have a student group there for
30:25
several years and it makes me really sad to think about the bucks
30:30
and the kelseys and the claires that we missed out on in that time
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and so we need you to help us make sure that future campuses don't go dark
30:42
and we need exciting entrepreneurs to make sure that the messages of goldman
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m google and mckinsey aren't the only recruiting messages that students here on college campuses
30:55
thank you guys so much [Applause] [Music]

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