What Courses Might Be Most Useful for EAs?

post by Risto_Uuk · 2019-02-02T09:04:40.640Z · score: 13 (6 votes) · EA · GW · 5 comments

This is a question post.

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  Answers
    John_Maxwell_IV's answer
    Khorton's answer
    Khorton's answer
    rakelthe1@gmail.com's answer
1 comment

80,000 Hours recommends undergraduates to pursue these options to build flexible career capital:

We think it’s reasonable to aim for the most fundamental, quantitative option you can do i.e. one of these in the following order: mathematics, economics, computer science, physics, engineering, political science / chemistry / biology (the last three are roughly equal). If you want to focus on something non-quantitative, then consider focusing on developing great written communication skills in philosophy, history or English. If you want to do something more applied, then maybe business or accounting. A good combination seems to be a major in a quantitative subject and a minor in a subject that requires great written skills (e.g. major in maths and minor in philosophy). We say this because people who can both understand quantitative topics and communicate clearly seem to be highly in-demand in all kinds of areas.

80, 000 Hours' latest survey indicates that the most needed skills/experience in the EA community are these:

EA organisation leaders said experience with operations or management, and generalist researchers are what their organisations will need most of over the next five years. They said the community as a whole will most need more government and policy experts, operations experience, machine learning/AI technical expertise, and skilled managers.

80,000 Hours has also claimed that these skills make people most employable:

According to this analysis, the most valuable skills could be summed up as “leadership” skills, such as: 1. Analysis and learning, including judgement, critical thinking, complex problem solving, active learning. 2. Management, including time management, monitoring performance, coordinating people. 3. Social skills, including active listening, spoken communication, social perceptiveness.

Suppose someone already implemented advice given here, e.g. they chose an impressive quantitative program, minored in something non-quantitative to practice writing, and organized a student society or started some other project. What courses would you recommend her/him to take to develop broadly most useful skills for EA organizations slightly more directly?

Of course, it depends on the specific goal of the person (for example, whether she/he wants to do research at GiveWell or Global Priorities Institute), but let's continue with the theme of keeping options open here. For example, would you recommmend this person to take microeconomics, courses about cost-effectiveness assessment, or programming for data science? What would you recommend?

Answers

answer by John_Maxwell_IV · 2019-02-03T03:27:12.200Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · EA · GW

I think more people should be studying statistics, machine learning, and data science, especially Bayesian methods and causal inference. Not only do these skills offer a chance to contribute to AI safety, they're also critical for evaluating scientific papers (important for any field given the replication crisis), doing predictive modeling, and generally thinking in a data-driven and evidence-based way. Math is apparently 80k's #1 recommendation, but when I was a student, I went to an event where math majors talked about their experiences in industry. Most of them said they didn't use the math they learned much and they wish they had studied more statistics. So I would suggest applied math with a statistics emphasis.

answer by Khorton · 2019-02-02T17:28:26.927Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I'm not sure I can answer from an EA perspective, but I'll try to personally reflect on the most useful university courses I've taken:

-I took two postgraduate research methods courses (Quantitative Research Methods and Evaluating Public Policy). I am now much better at evaluating the claims made in social sciences papers, which I'm really happy about.

-My Christian theology courses helped develop my thinking about my faith, which I've found personally valuable.

-Sociology / Psychology courses have influenced some of my core beliefs (nature vs nurture; rewards vs punishment; etc), so in a sense I use this knowledge on a daily basis.

-Drama classes can be great for developing your communication skills, as well as your ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes.

-I trained as a teacher, and my classroom management class was surprisingly transferable to an office setting. It really helped me think about how I can influence other people's behaviour by choosing a meeting's environment and agenda and through my own verbal and nonverbal communication.

answer by Khorton · 2019-02-03T12:49:49.094Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Taking one programming class to test your aptitude (or spending the equivalent time learning online) might also be worthwhile. If your one programming class goes well, you might decide that programming would be a good back-up option in case you don't end up working at MIRI/GPI/CEA/wherever else you really want to work.

I think people don't stress enough how important it is to be able to pay your student loan and keep a roof over your head after your graduation. Learning a programming language and, if that goes well, interning or working part time or taking a summer job working in that language, is an excellent way to keep yourself out of poverty.

answer by rakelthe1@gmail.com · 2019-02-02T13:45:37.087Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I think it also depends on what you already have and how much you think you can improve.

From Social Psychology I know that personality rarely changes. Skills do.

So if you are an inrovert (which is by the way, the most stable characteristic), not agreeable, not consciouscious (meaning not hard working), not open to experience (uncurious) or neurotic, sadly there is a little to be done about it.

You can improve little "islands" in your personality, like setting clear goals as a leader (I guess), but a lot of soft skills are ranging between obvious to easier said than done.

Is the soft skill too easy for you? Is it too hard? I guess the best fit will be a challenging skill - a bit too hard for you to step out of your comfort zone, but not to be overwhelmed.

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comment by rafa_fanboy · 2019-02-02T13:27:03.288Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

frugal living course, or just look it up http://yboris.com/frugality/