What We Owe The Future: A review and summary of what I learned 2022-08-16T14:19:51.788Z
Announcing the Longtermism Fund 2022-08-11T13:06:45.864Z
GWWC has ambitious plans from 2022 onwards (we're hiring!) 2022-03-16T06:21:37.131Z
The value of small donations from a longtermist perspective 2022-02-25T16:42:09.853Z


Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on What highly-impactful work is the most similar to solving fun math puzzles (if any)? · 2022-09-07T06:28:02.045Z · EA · GW

You might be interested in some of the answers to a different question: "What are the coolest topics in AI safety, to a hopelessly pure mathematician?" 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on The Role of "Economism" in the Belief-Formation Systems of Effective Altruism · 2022-09-01T11:50:29.833Z · EA · GW

I found reading this valuable. I’ve long-thought there seems to be a way of thinking that is widely shared among effective altruists (even if it doesn’t need to be — the project is not committed to a particular view). But it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what this is, and I think you’ve done an excellent job of that here.

If you get the time, I think it’d be valuable to produce an executive summary of this (even if it’s just in dot-points) as I suspect it’ll get a much wider reach that way than through this link post (and I think it deserves this reach).

Alternatively, there are quite a few threads in this essay, it could be worthwhile publishing it as a sequence, going through one chapter at a time.

Here are a few initial comments/questions; I might add more if I get time.

  • I agree with your characterisation of EA as tending to be “methodologically individualist” — though I don’t quite follow your ‘process’ focussed alternative. Can you offer a real-world example of where the two different methodologies might conflict?

  • I think the idea that some charities (and interventions more broadly) can do potentially orders of magnitude as much good as others, is pretty core to the epistemic foundations of EA. It’s a fact that motivates optimising, and I think recognising this and taking that seriously has been one of the reasons EA has to-date been so successful (e.g., GiveWell has massively improved how well-funded these best charities are).

If I were to accept that a lot of your criticism about this optimisation-mindset is correct, how could I avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water?

Perhaps another way to frame this: it seems to me there are many cases where the types of reasoning you’ve criticised (formal, precise, quantified, maximising) are the very things that led EA to be quite successful to-date, as they seem to be tremendously effective in many domains (even complex ones!). Do you agree with the premise of my question? If so, how do you tell when it is appropriate to avoid this style of reasoning (or perhaps, how do you tell which parts of this reasoning to jettison?).

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on What We Owe The Future: A review and summary of what I learned · 2022-08-22T00:39:03.577Z · EA · GW

Hi Ramiro, glad you enjoyed it! 

Very happy for you to translate it into Portuguese and share it :) -- I just ask that you reference the original source (the GWWC blog) when you share it, and that you let me know where you've shared it.  

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Yale EA got an office. How did it go? · 2022-08-16T14:40:51.351Z · EA · GW

Thanks for this! I'm trying to help setup a new office space, and appreciated you sharing the lessons you learned from your experience. 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Announcing the Longtermism Fund · 2022-08-13T00:32:48.506Z · EA · GW

We’ll release payout reports each quarter. The exact format/style hasn’t yet been determined, but we’re aiming to explain the reasoning behind each grant to donors. 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Announcing the Longtermism Fund · 2022-08-12T07:44:37.458Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your questions!

  • As Linch suggests, opportunities that seem promising but aren’t sufficiently legible can be referred to other funders to investigate.
  • We reached out to staff at Open Philanthropy about setting up this fund, and received positive feedback. The EA Funds team (with input from LTFF grant managers at the time) had also previously considered setting up a “Legible Longtermism Fund” — my understanding is the reason they didn’t was due to lack of capacity, but they were in favour of the idea.
  • Whether the best opportunities are sufficiently legible is an interesting question:
    • It may depend on whether you look at it in terms of cost-effectiveness, or total benefit:
      • In pure cost-effectiveness terms:
        • I think I may share your intuitions that some of the smaller grants the Long-Term Future Fund makes might be more cost-effective than the typical grant I expect the Longtermism Fund to make (though, it’s difficult to evaluate this in advance of the Longtermism Fund making grants!).
        • Though, we anticipate the Longtermism Fund’s requirement for legibility might, in some cases, be beneficial to cost-effectiveness. For example, we anticipate some organisations to prefer receiving grants from the Longtermism Fund (as it’s democratically funded and highly legible) than other funders. Per his comment, Caleb (from EA Funds) and a reviewer from OP share this view.
      • In total benefit terms:
        • My intuition, informed by just double-checking Open Phil’s and FTX FF’s respective grants databases, is that a significant amount of longtermist grantmaking goes to work that would be sufficiently legible for this fund to support.
        • There therefore seems to me to be plenty of sufficiently legible work to support.

My bottomline view is the effect of the fund will be to:

  • Increase the total amount of funding going to longtermist work. This may be especially important if longtermism manages to scale up significantly and funding requirements increase (e.g., successful megaprojects).
  • Changing the proportion of funding to legible/illegible opportunities provided by individual donors/large funders (i.e., the proportion of funding going to legible work provided by individual donors will increase).
  • Provide a funder that may be favourable to grantees who want to be funded by something democratically supported/highly legible.
  • I don’t think it’s ‘screening off’ opportunities that don’t fit meet its legibility requirement will make it more difficult for those organisations to receive funding.

Worth noting that I’m speaking as a Researcher at GWWC, whereas Longview is primarily responsible for grantmaking. 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Announcing the Longtermism Fund · 2022-08-12T07:44:03.907Z · EA · GW

As mentioned on the page, the fund’s grantmaking will be informed by all of Longview’s work, and therefore everyone in their team plays a role. The fund managers listed on the page are especially likely to contribute. For work outside their focus areas, such as in AI and Bio, the grants will be heavily informed by others with expertise in those areas (including the work of other organisations, like Open Philanthropy and FTX FF). 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Announcing the Longtermism Fund · 2022-08-12T07:43:32.791Z · EA · GW

At this stage, we won’t be taking applications from organizations looking to apply for funding. I’ll add this question and response to the FAQ — thanks for asking! This is something we plan to review within the first year. 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Announcing the Longtermism Fund · 2022-08-12T01:48:30.365Z · EA · GW

Credit goes to Alex Savard :)

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Bahamian Adventures: An Epic Tale of Entrepreneurship, AI Strategy Research and Potatoes · 2022-08-09T22:40:20.112Z · EA · GW

I love following this, Jaime. Best of luck in your new adventures! 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on On being ambitious: failing successfully & less unnecessarily · 2022-05-27T08:11:03.226Z · EA · GW

Glad you posted this, Luke. I really like the idea of EA being more ambitious, and I think if the community onboards some of the suggestions in this post, it's more likely to happen. 

One specific comment: I am also concerned by overselling (discussed in section 6), but I think it's worth being aware of how "EA overselling" might look different from regular overselling. 

In my mind, I can imagine grant applications overselling while saying things that sound pretty humble, like:

  • "I think there's a small, but plausible chance that this organisation succeeds in its mission."
  • "We have an extremely competent director, though one risk is that they'd have more impact on a different project."
  • "We understand that the base-rate of success for similar projects is quite low, but our team has a strong inside view that the project will succeed. Our credence in success is 70%."

These kinds of statements genuinely do show self-awareness, and may be of interest to funders, so I think it's a good thing that the community has a norm where this language is rewarded, and not punished. But depending on their context, they might only be a little humble, or even worse, could even have the effect of making the overselling harder to spot. Take the above example, where someone says it's plausible but unlikely they'll succeed in their mission. If their mission involves literally saving humanity from a key extinction risk, claiming  it's plausible they'll succeed might actually be wildly overconfident (or at least misleading). 

I also think EA overselling might come more from ommission

  • Not sharing highly relevant, but negative, information -- e.g., criticisms others have made.
  • Providing a vision for your project that implies more alignment with the funder than there is in reality (e.g., the funder cares about X, but you care about X, Y and Z, yet in the application you de-emphasise Y and Z).
  • Underselling what you and the team would otherwise do if you didn't work on your project.

In any case, I think your suggestion is right. To get around this, it's just really important funders and fundees have a strong, high-trust relationship. But I agree, that's hard to do if there's little communication between them. 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Sort forum posts by: Occlumency (Old & Upvoted) · 2022-05-15T11:32:40.779Z · EA · GW

I'd use this feature if added!

I wonder if the algorithm (if it is done algorithmically?) that selects the posts to put in "Recommendations"/"Forum Favourites" should also be weighted for occlumency. It seems like the reasons outlined in this post would push in favour of this, though I have some concern that there'd be old posts that are now outdated, rather than foundational, which could get undue attention.  

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on My Job: EA Office Manager · 2022-05-03T05:16:30.068Z · EA · GW

As another anecdote of the value of a well-run office: After working at Trajan for a few weeks during a visit to the UK, seeing how incredible the office was (thanks to Jonathan) I honestly considered moving countries. I'm now inspired to look into whether it'd one day be possible to setup an office space in Australia (please message if interested!). 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Increasing Demandingness in EA · 2022-05-01T22:30:42.470Z · EA · GW

What Bec Hawk said is right: my claim is that that the number of people effective giving causes to go into direct work will be greater than the number people it causes to not go into direct work (who otherwise would). 

For what it's worth, I don't think >50% of people who take the GWWC pledge will go onto doing direct work. 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Increasing Demandingness in EA · 2022-04-29T03:03:02.610Z · EA · GW

 I think this post does a great job of capturing  something I've heard from quite a few people recently.

Especially for longtermist EAs, it seems direct work is substantially more valuable relative to donations than it was in the past, and I think your thought experiment about the number of GWWC pledges it'd make sense to trade for one person working on an 80k priority pathway is a reasonably clear way of illustrating that point. 

But I think that this is a false dilemma (as you suggest it might be).  This isn't just because I doubt that the pledge (or effective giving generally) are in tension, but because I think they're mutually supportive. Effective giving is a reasonably common way to enter the effective altruism community. Noticing that you can have an extraordinary impact with donations — which, even from a longtermist perspective, I still think you can have — can inspire people to begin to taking action to improve the world, and potentially continue onto working directly. I think historically it's been a pretty common first step, and though I anticipate more direct efforts to recruit highly engaged EAs to become relatively more prominent in future, I still expect the path from effective giving --> priority path career, to continue much more often than effective giving --> someone not taking a priority path.

I've heard a lot of conflicting views on whether the above is right; it seems quite a few people disagree with me, and think there's much more of a tension here than I do, and I'd be interested to hear why. (For disclosure, I work at GWWC and personally see getting more people into EA as one of the main ways GWWC can be impactful) 

I suppose the upshot on this, if I'm right, is that the norm that "10% and you're doing your part" can continue, and it's not so obvious that it's in tension with the fact that doing direct work may be many times more impactful. While it may be uncomfortable that there are significant differences in the impactfulness of members of the community, I think this is/was/always will be the case.

Another thing worth adding is that I think there's also room for multiple norms on what counts as "doing your part". For example, I think you should also be commended and feel like you've done your part if you apply to several priority paths, even if you don't get one / it doesn't work out for whatever reason. Maybe Holden's suggestion of trying to get kick-ass at something, while being on standby to use your skill for good, could be another.

By way of conclusion, I feel like what I've written above might seem dismissive of the general issue that EA has yet to figure out — given the new landscape — how to think about demandingness. But I really think there is something to work out here, and so I really interesting this post for raising it quite explicitly as an issue. 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on EA needs money more than ever · 2022-04-25T20:17:13.696Z · EA · GW

I like this framing! 

In general, I think that the fact that funding is often not a bottleneck for the most impactful longtermist projects often gets conflated with the idea that marginal donations aren't valuable (which they are! Many/most of those previous opportunities in non-longtermist causes that got many of us excited to be part of effective altruism still exist). 


Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on My GWWC donations: Switching from long- to near-termist opportunities? · 2022-04-24T21:08:15.081Z · EA · GW

Thanks for posting this -- as the other comments also suggest, I don't think you're alone in feeling a tension between your conviction of longtermism and lack of enthusiasm for marginal longtermist donation opportunities. 

I want to distinguish between two different ways at approaching this. The first is simply maximising expected value, the second is trying to act as if you're representing some kind of parliament of different moral theories/worldviews. I think these are pretty different. [1]

For example, suppose you were 80% sure of longtermism, but had a 20% credence in animal welfare being the most important issue of our time, and you were deciding whether to donate to the LTFF or the animal welfare fund. The expected value maximiser would likely think one had a higher expected value, and so would donate all their funds to that one. However, the moral parliamentarian might compromise by donating 80% of their funds to the LTFF and 20% to the animal welfare fund. 

From this comment you left:

I'm not convinced small scale longtermist donations are presently more impactful than neartermist ones, nor am I convinced of the reverse. Given this uncertainty, I am tempted to opt for neartermist donations to achieve better optics.

I take it that you're in the game of maximising expected value, but you're just not sure that the longtermist charities are actually higher impact than the best available neartermist ones (even if they're being judged by you, someone with a high credence in longtermism). That makes sense to me! 

But I'm not sure I agree. I think there'd be something suspicious about the idea that neartermism/longtermism align on which charities are best (given they are optimising for very different things, it'd be surprising if they turned out with the same recommendation). But more importantly, I think I might just be relatively more excited about the kinds of grants the LTFF are making than you are, and also more excited about the idea that my donations could essentially 'funge' open philanthropy (meaning I get the same impact as their last dollar). 

I also think that if you place significant value on the optics of your donations, you can always just donate to multiple different causes, allowing you to honestly say something like "I donate to X, Y and Z -- all charities that I really care about and think are doing tremendous work" which, at least in my best guess, gets you most of the signalling value.

Time to wrapup the lengthy comment! I'd suggest reading Ben Todd's post on this topic, and potentially also the Red-Team against it. I also wrote "The value of small donations from a longtermist perspective" which you may find interesting. 

Thanks again for the post, I appreciate the discussion it's generating. You've put your finger on something important.

  1. ^

    At least, I think the high-level intuition behind each of these mental models are different. But my understanding from a podcast with Hilary Greaves is that when you get down to trying to formalise the ideas, it gets much murkier. I found these slides of her talk on this subject, in case you're interested!

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Can we agree on a better name than 'near-termist'? "Not-longermist"? "Not-full-longtermist"? · 2022-04-20T20:20:41.838Z · EA · GW

I agree that the term, whether neartermist or not-longtermist, does not describe a natural category. But I think the latter does a better job at communicating that. The way I hear it, "not-longtermist" sounds like "not that part of idea-space", whereas neartermist sounds like an actual view people may hold that relates to how we should prioritise the nearterm versus the longterm. So I think your point actually supports one of David's alternative suggested terms.

And though you say you don't think we need a term for it at all, the fact that the term "neartermist" has caught on suggests otherwise. If it wasn't helpful, people wouldn't use it. However, perhaps you didn't just mean that we didn't need one, but that we shouldn't use one at all. I'd disagree with that too because it seems to me reasonable in many cases to want to distinguish longtermism with other worldviews EAs often have (i.e., it seems fair to me to say that Open Philanthropy's internal structure is divided on longtermist/not-longtermist lines). 

Also, cool image!

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on The Vultures Are Circling · 2022-04-06T09:59:00.826Z · EA · GW

Like other commenters, to back-up the tone of this piece, I'd want to see further evidence of these kinds of conversations (e.g., which online circles are you hearing this in?). 

That said, it's pretty clear that the funding available is very large, and it'd be surprising if that news didn't get out. Even in wealthy countries, becoming a community builder in effective altruism might just be one of the most profitable jobs for students or early-career professionals. I'm not saying it shouldn't be, but I'd be surprised if there weren't (eventually) conversations like the ones you described. And even if I think "the vultures are circling" is a little alarmist right now, I appreciate the post pointing to this issue.

On that issue: I agree with your suggestions of "what not to do" -- I think these knee-jerk reactions could easily cause bigger problems than they solve. But what are we to do? What potential damage could there be if the kind of behaviour you described did become substantially more prevalent?

Here's one of my concerns: we might lose something that makes EA pretty special right now. I'm an early-career employee who just started working at an EA org . And something that's struck me is just how much I can trust (and feel trusted by) people working on completely different things in other organisations. 

I'm constantly describing parts of my work environment to friends and family outside of EA, and something I often have to repeat is that "Oh no, I don't work with them -- they're a totally different legal entity -- it's just that we really want to cooperate with each other because we share (or respect the differences in) each other's values". If I had to start second-guessing what people's motives were, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't feel able to trust so easily. And that'd be pretty sad.

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Save the Date: EAGxMars · 2022-04-01T12:56:56.058Z · EA · GW

I'd just like to give a shotout to the organisers for their great work!

I don't think anyone appreciates how hard running a conference can be at the best of times. But on Mars, the logistical difficulties are on another planet: the organisers have had astronomical health and safety challenges,  and don't get them started on the availability of vegan catering... 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Announcing What We Owe The Future · 2022-03-31T10:33:29.017Z · EA · GW

Very excited to see this! Hoping to pre-order enough books to have Christmas and birthday presents for years to come...

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on A new Our World in Data article on longtermism · 2022-03-17T18:59:32.849Z · EA · GW

Makes sense! From your appearance on the 80,000 Hours podcast, I was shocked by how much you have managed to do given you're such a small team. I'm really looking forward to seeing what you accomplish as you expand :) 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on A new Our World in Data article on longtermism · 2022-03-17T17:01:13.639Z · EA · GW

This was fantastic, thanks for sharing! 

I think there're a lot of inferential steps most people would need to go through to get from their current worldview, to a longtermist worldview. But I think a pretty massive one is just getting people to appreciate how big the future could be, and I think this post does a great job of that.

An added bonus is that the idea that the future could be huge is a claim the longtermist community is particularly certain of  (whereas other important ideas, such as the likelihood of various existential risks and what we can do about them are extremely uncertain and contested). While quantifying how big the future could be, or is on expectation, is really difficult -- but the idea that it could be extremely big stands up to scrutiny quite well. I think it's really useful to have such beautifully illustrated graphs that put where humanity is now into context, I'm excited to use them for future work on longtermism at Giving What We Can.

RE something that would be useful for OWID on longtermism. I'd be very interested in approximate data on the amount of funding each year that gets directed to improving the very long-term future. Given there'd be a lot of difficult edge-cases here (e.g., should climate change funding be included?), it may need to be operationalised quite narrowly (perhaps "How much money do we spend each year on avoiding human extinction?" would be better.) 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on What are your giving recommendations to non-EA friends interested in supporting Ukraine? · 2022-03-05T16:50:00.047Z · EA · GW

I've heard of people giving money directly through services like Airbnb. There might be something especially useful about low transaction cost giving to people in a desparate situation, who may not have much liquidity. But, I'm not really sure, just leaving this comment in case someone else has more information.

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on The Future Fund’s Regranting Program · 2022-03-04T23:41:50.496Z · EA · GW

Good to know, thanks!

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on The Future Fund’s Regranting Program · 2022-03-01T18:43:16.384Z · EA · GW

This is very exciting!

For those interested in applying to to become a regrantor, is there a deadline? And even if there's no hard deadline, is there a time that would be useful to apply by?

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Being an individual alignment grantmaker · 2022-02-28T17:10:47.146Z · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing this! 

My sense is that having a funding landscape with multiple funders, each with a different focus, could be really valuable (especially if it's possible for these funders to share lessons with each other, minimise wheel-reinventing in a relatively new area). Looking forward to your future posts outlining what you've learned along the way.  


Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on The value of small donations from a longtermist perspective · 2022-02-25T21:59:23.124Z · EA · GW

RE your pet peeve:

Also, as a pet peeve, I think that the near-termist part of EA also has enough money that, e.g.,  as a near-termist, attempting to create a new NGO through Charity Entrepreneurship also beats earning to give. 

Obviously, it'll depend on the fit for earning to give/starting a new NGO, but this sounds plausible to me in general — I'm extremely excited about people creating new NGOs through Charity Entrepreneurship (among other ways of doing direct good in global health and development, animal welfare, etc.).

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on The value of small donations from a longtermist perspective · 2022-02-25T21:56:16.663Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your reply. 

It seems to me your key disagreement is with my view that promoting effective giving is compatible with (even complementary to) encouraging people to do direct work. Though, I’m not exactly sure I understand your precise claim — there are two I think you might be making, and I’ll respond to each. 

One way to interpret what you’re saying is that you think that promoting effective giving actually reduces the number of people doing direct work:

Because in fact, effective giving is in tension with pursuing direct work. 

As an example, you suggest that GWWC members, upon reading this post, might fail to switch to direct work due to its emphasis. I don’t agree, in part because I don’t think people are going to make career decisions based on the “emphasis” of a post, in spite of the fact that same post has a section titled “So, should I earn to give?” which highlights that:

It’s possible for donations to be impactful, but for direct work to be much more impactful.

And in part I disagree because I more broadly think that a journey from improving the world by effective giving, to doing direct work, is one many have already taken, and I expect many future people  will continue to take. But I’m not sure how to resolve our disagreement about this broad point (as mentioned, I’ll be providing more arguments for it in an upcoming post). 

But perhaps you aren’t making as strong a claim as this (that GWWC, and promoting effective giving generally, actually reduces the amount of people doing direct work). Another way to interpret you (based more off what you’ve said in our personal conversations than your comments here) is that, though GWWC and promoting effective giving likely does help encourage people to do direct work, it’s not “optimal” or “the best strategy now.” 

The issue with this less strong view is I’m not sure I follow it, because I don’t know what you mean by optimal or “best strategy.” My claim is that effective giving should remain a part of the effective altruism portfolio, in part because effective giving — even from a longtermist perspective — is still impactful. The reason I think it should be part of the effective altruism portfolio isn’t because I think it provides the best marginal use of money or time from a longtermist perspective (I don’t think that’s the relevant bar). 

Perhaps I can state my position in your terms: I think it wouldn’t be optimal for GWWC to stop promoting effective giving (from a longtermist worldview, but perhaps especially from other plausible non-longtermist worldviews). I also think it wouldn’t be optimal for us to be squeamish about mentioning that we think donations can be extremely impactful, for fear of making people mistakenly pursuing earning to give when direct work would have been better.

This is mostly responding to the negative case against effective giving, and I want to flag that I’m excited about promoting effective giving much more because of its positive case than my scepticism of the negative one! But I thought there was enough in this comment already for you to respond to.

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on The value of small donations from a longtermist perspective · 2022-02-25T18:11:55.722Z · EA · GW

I appreciate the point of your story, Nuño, but I don't think it fairly characterises my post, and I think its dismissiveness is unwarranted. 

For one, I didn't suggest that, from a longtermist perspective, "the optimal thing to promote was earning to give." I explicitly said the opposite here: personal all-things-considered view is pretty similar to Ben’s: when someone has a good personal fit for high-impact direct work, they’re likely to have more impact pursuing that than earning to give. This view is also shared by Giving What We Can leadership. 

And in general, I quite repeatedly indicate that my argument does not make claims about the value of effective giving compared to direct work. Promoting effective giving  is not the same thing as promoting earning to give. 

So I think your story, though humorous and (I take it)  coming from a place of love, is directed at something I'm not saying.

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Personal health is instrumental to being effective · 2022-02-16T22:26:27.586Z · EA · GW

Thanks for this post, Ryan! 

I just have two additional points I think might be worth adding. 

I think (1) you might be able to do more about burnout without having experienced it than you imply, and (2) that it's worth a reminder that having a support network isn't enough: you have to use it. 

On the first point: 

I think you can have at least some sense of the early warning signs of burnout without having experienced it. People often talk about sudden lack of sleep, bad dreams, greater than usual friction in personal relationships, and a few have reported lying to friends and family about their present emotional state and stress levels. I'm sure there are other signs too -- I'd be interested to see if there's a less arbitrarily produced list somewhere. 

On the second point: 

You mention building a support network, which I think is clearly a great idea! But a support network needs to be used. 

I personally haven't experienced burn-out, but (I think?) I have experienced some early warning signs. I've found it really helpful to over-share these symptoms with my closest friends and family, and I'm also lucky I get to share it with my manager who has been non-judgemental, and consistently emphasises that doing so is a good thing (he doesn't want me to burn-out either!). I don't always find this easy to do, but I've never really regretted it. They often encourage me to do the things (many that you suggest) that will help me return to my usual state, and I think very often I wouldn't be able to do these things without encouragement. 

Hope the points helped, and thanks again for the post :) 


Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Which EA orgs provide feedback on test tasks? · 2022-02-01T16:30:29.738Z · EA · GW

As someone who just went through a bunch of these, this list sounds like it could be really useful!

Giving What We Can recently did some hiring, and we gave the option for applicants who reached the work trial stage to receive unedited, anonymously graded reviewer feedback. We also look to work with people who scored well in the work trials on a contract basis. 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Improving the EA framework · 2022-01-29T18:17:47.783Z · EA · GW

Great question! 

At least as I understand it, "Sustainability" would fit under "Importance" in the ordinary understanding of the ITN framework. 

This is because "Importance" is trying to track how important it would be to solve a particular problem/how good a particular solution would be. This should therefore already incorporate whether the problem recurs, or whether the solution is only temporary. 

But it's an imperfect framework, generally made up of useful heuristics as opposed to a model with discrete parameters that neatly work together to form a valid, all-things-considered view of how much we should prioritise a particular cause or intervention. Quite plausibly, sustainability could be a useful heuristic to consider. 

Here is a summary of critiques of the ITN framework that you might be interested in. 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Launching the EA Groups Resource Centre · 2022-01-24T13:43:40.427Z · EA · GW

This is fantastic! Especially exciting to see resources on how to run a fellowship, I think this is a really exciting thing for groups to be doing, but it can be tricky to pull off. 

In case it's helpful, I thought I'd share some older, somewhat forgotten (but I still think excellent) resources from GWWC for group organisers

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on I Created Free Content Training for Nonprofit Orgs · 2021-08-04T02:29:33.306Z · EA · GW

Thanks so much for doing this! 

As someone who is looking to build skills writing/researching for EA Orgs, I'm really excited to check out the resources you've provided. 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on FAQ: UK Civil Service Job Applications · 2021-03-28T02:21:47.830Z · EA · GW

Thanks for this post! As someone looking to apply to the UK Civil Service in the future, it's really useful to have a resource like this :)

One question I have is whether you have a sense of the value of a Master's program in public policy. In particular, are you aware of many/any positions where having a Master's is either required or would significantly increase the chances of a successful application? 

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Law school vs MPP in Australia for those who have strong verbal skills but are weak at maths · 2021-03-27T01:03:42.895Z · EA · GW

No problem :)

Again I'll just flag I'm happy to have a call to discuss this with you!

2: I think it varies between law schools and my impression is Usyd might be just particularly harsh marks wise. For what it's worth, undergrad and JD students are marked together at Usyd. 12% getting HD's seem high to me (I think Usyd is minimum 1% and max 5%?) but sounds like that's just an exception to the norm. Also, I agree that philosophy is a great background (it is also mine!) though I have found I personally work about twice as hard for law and receive a grade on average marks 10 lower.

3:  Yep, I'm in undergrad. I've always aimed to work in the US/UK and have only recently been looking into Aus options, so my views  aren't very informed/considered.  For what it's worth, I have applied to a few jobs (e.g. UK Fast Stream) with the intention of not finishing my law degree if I was accepted.  I probably would at least consider the APS grad streams in the situation you suggest.

As for your last question, I think that it's very likely that if you're particularly suited for law and enthusiastic about it (which it sounds like you are) that there will be ways of using the vocation to have an impact in your career. Within Australia, for example, working for the ALRC seems very promising. I personally doubt those options would be in corporate law (aside from earning to give) or criminal law. Given those are the standard paths, I'd strongly encourage having a think about what the more impactful careers might be so that you can plan for them early on and not get swept up by the conventional route.

Comment by Michael Townsend (Michael_Townsend) on Law school vs MPP in Australia for those who have strong verbal skills but are weak at maths · 2021-03-25T14:16:50.602Z · EA · GW

Hi Douglas,

I'm currently studying law at Usyd with the intention of going into policy. Very happy to have a call if you think that would help! Just send through a message :)

I don't have work experience in government, nor do I have much sense of what an MPP involves or how they are viewed, but I do have a few thoughts/bits of information that might help:

  • For going into policy, most of what you study in a law degree will not be relevant. It does help develop a general sense of how the law works, what some of its difficulties are (from a policy perspective) and how legislation and regulations are interpreted by courts. I'm not sure how helpful that sense is, but my sense is not particularly.
  • It's particularly difficult to get good grades at a top law school (e.g. most students received ATARs of 99+ and the median marks are often 65-70), though my impression is it's easier in second tier law schools. Of my friends who studied law and economics, even those who were far stronger verbally, had significantly higher marks in econ than law (85 avg econ seems comparable to 70 in law for those with similar aptitudes). I don't know how comparable econ is to an MPP.
  • For policy careers, the advice I've received is that your experience is more important than your educational background. Good grades/degree might be a threshold requirement, but the predominant interest is in your ability to be able to discuss relevant work or extra-curricular experience. 
  • I'm not sure how to think about going into politics! I agree that law backgrounds seem common, and I imagine being involved in party politics and student politics at a prestigious uni might be helpful. 
  • I suspect even with lower aptitude for maths, the basic statistics and economics subjects should be manageable (if they are introductory) and at least I personally regret not having been able to study them as my sense is they are actually relevant to a significant amount of policy work.

I hope that helps!