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I came across a program for curious young people called Leaf through an online course tailored about how to save and help lives, then attended a residential where I further explored these ideas. Going from being told there is a right or wrong way in my school system, I explored EA through the lens of learning techniques which I may or may not use to try to get closer to my goals- of helping others and saving lives. Through the adjacent opportunities such as books, talks, the 80k podcast, the network of people and the further online events, I have continued exploring the cause areas and have now changed my career progression plans.

IMPORTANT: this article was written based on my personal views, and with the motivation of documenting my personal journey but without any aim in terms of future involvement. Of course, please comment or contact me if you want to know more, or for clarification, or to ask about anything, but I am a young student, with disabilities, so may not respond very quickly, and may not be able to do something really intensive such as a report or breakdown of a topic...

This article was not proofread, and nothing was ran past any entities mentioned. Everything is my own opinion and I only have positive experiences overall, so honestly, I don't think there is anything negative to say so far, but it is truthful and I am sorry if you disagree and please let me know. I talk a lot about Leaf, this is a non profit started that helps young people between 16-19 do more good by helping them see how and with what techniques they can do good in the world even at a young age, and the fact that they help with career guidance, university and degree choices, and teaching about techniques was very positive and useful for me, but no one from Leaf approves or pre saw this article (or even knew I was writing it before) and I would be happy to be contacted for views, opinions or anything else but I am not paid or affiliated to them, just grateful genuinely for their help. 

How it started: a chance encounter with Leaf

I had never heard of EA until around February 2023. I had been searching for summer university opportunities and came across Leaf, and at first believed it was simply an Oxford summer school to do with learning and applied on the original form, for the online cohort. Doing the extended application, I came across questions such as 'Watch this video on what the future might be like, what do you agree with, now what would you disagree with, now how would you critique your disagreements' and I was shocked; we were asked to critique our own critiques and extend our arguments (with a very tight word limit that definitely caused a lot of editing and annoyance at first). As I went further, questions like 'What is the weirdest opinion you hold' or 'What is the worst injustice in the world, how would you solve it with 1 million pounds' definitely intrigued me... what normal summer program asks us about this?

I explored further and fell more in love, here I was, a 16 year old, used to being taught the 'Right Opinion TM' without ever being asked what I thought or why I might change my mind. I had never been asked what I would do to solve injustices, or to even consider the fact that I myself can do so.

I was invited to a discord server (a very steep learning curve for someone who never had social media before) where at first it was me and 2-3 people and I cautiously tested the water with an introduction mentioning that I enjoy discussing the education system. What followed was me and the 2 peers amassing over 180 messages within a week, from topics such as quantum computing, navigation, meritocracy, genetic basis of intelligence, targeted support, nature vs nurture, political power, and so much more. Aside from constantly being thrilled when I saw a new notification from the 'Leaf- explore tomorrow' server, I also started searching for the people I was talking to. They were ASTOUNDING. My age, and yet one was in talks with AQA around an online education platform, and had thousands of followers on a GCSE social media, and the other knew so many languages, had scored such high scores in all their GCSEs, and was starting tutoring schemes and initiatives. Honestly, I definitely felt unworthy compared to the people around me, but the quote 'if you're the smartest person in a room, you're in the wrong room' stuck with me and I decided to keep going, hoping to learn from these amazing people about how they had so much impact.

How to save 10 lives by age 20

I originally started a 5 week online program called how to save 10 lives by age 20, and OH. MY. GOODNESS. 

The ideas I came across were almost like someone had taken all the half formed and messy thoughts I had instinctively felt around helping others and given then studies and names and evidence. As well as new techniques and frameworks I never came across that suddenly made the most abstract concepts such as 'how valuable is a life' make sense.

Some of the main techniques that helped me find my feet:

  • The idea of effective altruism (lower case)- that we want to help others, if we can we want to help more people with limited resources, and the idea we are in triage and make tradeoffs between who we can help and how with these limited resources
  • The idea that we are exponentially improving; less disease, higher QoL, higher life expectancy; from both our past and between countries. From moving from Ukraine to England during my childhood, I saw first hand the opportunities I was granted, from healthcare, diagnoses, the ability to attend school, the ability to have public transport and services such as libraries. These aren't perfect (as I'm sure many are aware) but infinitely better than what others may have access to, or indeed what I would have had access to 10, 100 or 10,000 years ago. Something as simple as an infected papercut would have killed me without antibiotics a few years ago. 
  • And yet, this very papercut may well kill someone without access, or may actually kill me in a few years, if our current threat of antibiotic resistance keeps growing. With the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture, the incorrect consumption of them for viral infections or in incorrect timeframes, and the lack of alternatives have led to them being names the estimated number 1 global health threat by 2050, with current trajectories expecting the use of antibiotics to lead to broad scale resistance and a return to death from infections within a few decades.
  • Scope insensitivity and the 'care-o-meter' we visualise scaling at around 150. We can imagine the suffering of 1 vs 2 people, but 1 million vs 2 million feels inconsequentially similar.
  • Scout mindsets and evidence>identity, the idea that we shouldn't stick to the norm of what others think or what we should think in accordance to the 'in group' but critique our mental framework with new evidence and experience and admit to mistakes and bias and past issues, ensuring saying 'I don't know yet' or 'I was wrong' or 'I changed my mind' is as celebrated as 'I agree' or 'I see what you mean'
  • Productive disagreements, we don't argue for the sake of defending our position or changing someone else's, but for the sake of civally presenting our evidence to critique to ensure we keep it updated and accurate, and hearing the opinions of others, not to deconstruct, but to reflect on how they interact with our own. 
  • Fuzzies vs utilons, and the idea that I can guilt free limit the amount of time, energy or money I spend on worrying about helping others the most efficient way. Say I have 100 pounds, I can decide to split it 70/30, give £70 to a charity such as GiveWell malaria where it can potentially save a life very effectively, and spend the other £30 on a less effective charity, that is emotion led, such as a local bake sale for a child to get a school trip, or an animal shelter. This clear construct between boundries of care and our want to selflessly helps others allows us to safeguard our mental health and community without compromising completely on our guilt and want to help so many others.
  • The 80/20 principle, the idea that 80% of impact tends to come from 20% of agents or entities, such as 20% of the most effective charities probably do 80% of the actual help, and that for example spending 1k on healthcare in England may only purchase a lifelong medication for a month or so, vs potentially administering multiple life saving vaccines elsewhere. Or the idea that merit based scholarships cost more and gave less average days at school added than deworming treatment, or how a guide dog for the blind is around 600 times more expensive than cataract surgery. This idea that we don't necessarily need to spend MORE, but spend considerately, and understand the difference in impact in where and on what we spend our money on
  • Unseen consequences, how some things are abstract and hard to predict (perhaps leaning into longtermist ideas of how will we affect the future) but we can look at studies and past consequences to forecast a 80% certain guess, e.g. handing out expensive juice to kids at break vs milk probably both have benefits, but the juice probably won't have a better long term effect on energy, health, attainment etc and the milk probably would have the same effect for less cost. Fermi estimates and statistics can be used to predict the effect of interventions.
  • Neglected low handing fruit, if I worked on cancer research, I'd be the 10000001th researcher and unless I had very good unique idea, it's unlikely I would have the same personal effect as laying the foundation work as the 2nd person working on an impactful disease such as malaria. And working on a disease that affects 2-3 people a year vs thousands can also potentially have a very different impact. Finally, personal fit and the importance of how good you are compared to the average. I am slightly smart (slightllly) but would be so much better at biology and reports on disease and immunity vs AI, I may enjoy both and be able to complete a project in both, but it would be easier, better and more effective to work on biology for me personally. An engineer who sees a disease killing others or his family may decide he wants to do impact and force himself to pivot and relearn about medicine and lab work and slog away, or he can invent PPE and ventilation systems, or electricity networks to use in the labs where people who are a LOT more aligned can have the direct impact a lot more effectively.
  • Specialising vs generalising, and impact NOW vs impact LATER. I think we are all told we need to have an impact and change the world and keep momentum, but, for example, in my case, getting a university degree and focusing on that now and technical skills would probably allow me to have more impact later than if I took a gap year and tried to do something now (Especially as most labs aren't keen to randomly let in unqualified under 18 year olds to touch the expensive microscopes and deadly pathogens...). 

MY CAREER SHIFT: medicine to biomedical science

I had spent 17 years preparing for medicine. I loved STEM and lab based science, but always loved helping others through medical and healthcare roles, being present and educating and advocating for patients. I had written a brilliant personal statement, did access courses, did volunteering with GPs and kitchens and primary schools and with SEND students, I did the BMAT and UCAT and spent my summer preparing for medical school interviews, and even got my offers. However, in around 2020 I had gotten very sick and eventually, at the time of making my decisions, I had sadly gotten too ill to accept my medicine offers, and, despite the great disappointment, I was saved slightly by what I had done the last 2 years before. Since 2022, where I started my Leaf course, there was a section on 'the lives you can save' which discussed how doctors can work together, e.g. a GP monitoring the HBA1C of a diabetic patient, many healthcare professionals doing physio and diet control and cumulatively keeping a patient alive- but each doctor themselves probably won't actually save a life. They may prolong the life working together, but usually taking out one person, won't change the actual effectiveness. Whilst, in terms of lab based work or communication and policy in biology, there are so many neglected causes that can potentially be greatly effective with another interested individual working in them.

Honestly, at first, I skimmed through but didn't take it in. I CRAVED being a doctor, I enjoyed volunteering in hospitals more than anything else, watching surgery, councelling patients, and so much more involved in actual patient healthcare. But then, during the summer residential, I met an amazing person called Anemone Franz. She had completed a medicine degree and then shifted to research in a biotech startup in vaccinations, and now worked in biomedical communication and policy. The cause area seemed so enticing, as she gave a talk on biorisk, pandemics, the emerging technology.. I was enthralled. After a talk that left me on the edge of my seat, she then very kindly gave a group of us office hours, where we essentially asked her endless questions for veerrrrrry long. The next day, she even kindly had a 1:1 with me discussing my career aspirations (she was one of the 80,000 hours career advisors), where I asked her about my worries in craving that people aspect in biomedical science and the need for that high paced, highly varied case base. Although she had so many amazing suggestions for how I can adapt my career to still have involvement, such as in clinical trials or with public health discussion, it was only after months of online email chains, and talks from other professionals and online Q&As that I started feeling this longing for a career in science.

I was actually influenced as well by an online course Leaf offered about the EA handbook, then the intro fellowship and EA reading lists, and then the lectures in the residential by others, such as in the AI governance and alignment field, in welfare and human rights, and in so many other cause areas, where I saw people lighting up being able to research and explore their subject and then mixing in people-based interactions by interviewing experts, writing policy reports and consulting with companies and charities. Slowly but surely, I had become very much in love with the science field, and this is what led me to put down 2 biomedical science choices on my UCAS uni options.

When it came to January 2024, and a severe downturn in health and months of hospitalisation, it was a heavy hearted but not world ending decision to reject my medicine offers and accept my biomedical science places. Within a month or so, I had already fallen in love with lab techniques, and reading scientific papers about cells, and online talks by professors, and field work, placements, lab skills, the lecture content... 

I had pivoted in what seemed like an instant, but it was an accumulation of the experiences I had had in both the EA community and adjacent to it. My life would have been a LOT rockier if it wasn't for the most kind individuals such as career advisors, professors, Leaf staff and facilitators, peers, EA slack and forum commentators and the online resource creators who showed me that I can find my own path in the science field and find what I enjoy, what I am good at and how I can help others.

The extra opportunities awarded, such as projects, research ideas, and potential support with work experience and volunteering through the mentorship by amazing individuals such as Jamie Harris (who ran all of Leaf and was on the receiving end of countless messages and emails from me), Jasmin Kaur (a biochemistry scientist who kindly mentored me for months and helped me learn cold emailing professors and interview skills and helped me cut down my CV from what would have definitely been waaaay too long to read), Jenny Chapman (a biotech and human biology expert who is leading the charge via the Churchill fellowship on food biotech), and so many councellors, facilitators, peers, mentors and other people through Leaf and the opportunities via the connections I made there, such as starting a podcast 'Under the microscope: biology magnified' where I interview biology professors and scientists who are working on helping others through science research, get amazing opportunities for work placements and recommend resources such as books, articles and podcasts to learn more. I am forever grateful for all of their help.

The residential: Leaf 2023 Changemaker Fellowship

I was so so so elated to have the opportunity, after a few online courses, to attend the Leaf 2023 Changemaker fellowship over summer. It was quite a few people from both the online program and those selected showcasing intellectual curiosity and a love for learning. At that point, I had read the handbook, the well known books, and done the courses with 1:1s and wekly online calls, but wasn't sure what EA actually WAS? I had seen techniques such names such as 'scope insensitivity' or 'Fermi's estimates' but who was this weird entity making all these articles and podcasts for free??. It was actually within the first few days where I realised what it means to me, surrounded by peers my age who were INSANELY SMART (like starting companies, founding charities, leading Atlas or Non trivial projects, and so much more), and with facilitators, councellors and mentors who ran lectures over the day, and then allowed us to endlessly debate and question the content and dissect it through the week. 

EA, my thoughts

Effective altruism, capital, is, in my view, a community. Personally, I wouldn't call myself an 'EA', but rather someone who uses EA techniques. I do have some reservations around the community itself, both from a face perspective and reactions of my peers around it, but also that, in my identity, helping others makes up a large proportion, but actual organisational ascribement is a lot less of a priority. 

At Leaf, which is funded by EA funds, and discusses EA techniques, but doesn't actually ascribe 100% to the community by either the content or the people involved, definately allowed a safe place to discuss it. I'd say I definately find the people amazing, and the resources very useful and continue to be involved, especially in the biology cause area as I find the actual content raised in that subject to be an amazing addition to my personal career plan.

I take it as, EFFECTIVE ALTRISM IS....

A question- how do we help others, how do we help more people, how do we help more people with limited resources

  • the idea that we want to do good; doing good takes resources; resources are limited; how do we use limited resources to do more good
  • the idea that good is hard to quantify or should we focus on the amount of good or the quality is still a debate that I dicuss with myself and with others, but I don't disagree that the concept of doing more good is what I wholeheartedly agree with

A community

  • to me this is secondary, and this was explained to us, we can take our impression and use or discard what techniques and frameworks (such as scale, neglecteness and personal fit) if we wanted, but we were never forced to agree or disagree---> if anything, disagreeing (politely) was celebrated, and we were always on a first-name basis with the staff and facilitators, and told to voice our own opinions and ask questions and critique the social norm if we didn't agree to it (which really helped build my confidence and skills)


So what did I take from Leaf

Honestly, more than I can put into words. This article isn't affiliated or checked by them, but honestly, Jamie Harris, the managing director, and all people tied to Leaf (such as experts who did online and in person Q&As and lectures, facilitators who helped run the sessions and present resources, councillors and mentors, peers who I met through he programs), as well as people who made a LOT of changes to adapt it to me. I am very open about my disabilities, both mobility related, fatigue and neurodiversity. The actual online courses were amazing and feedback was taken onboard, and the in person courses were very very well run, with amazing opportunities to talk to others to critique my ideas and I changed quite a few views due to hearing from other's that I otherwise would never have learnt about. It is a very inclusive, open, accessible and amazing program.

After the residential, I kept in contact and would message contacts I met through Leaf to proofread articles on biorisk, to be guests on my podcast (and to get the confidence to start the podcast), and I had the honour to volunteer to help as a student liason on the online cohort for the maths, AI and history programs after where I got to meet even more amazing people and access resources and participate in discussions and debates around education systems, healthcare, rights, inclusion, healthcare, bioscience, medicine, AI, nuclear and natural disasters, welfare, maths and statistics and so much more. (And I have definately been in the right rooms, because everywhere I go, there are so many people smarter than me ready to teach me, help me, encourage me and kindly share their experience and expertise)


Honestly, not too many. I found the communities (or the sub communities in programs and projects I did) were welcoming, kind and well run. Especially the intro to EA program with the handbook, Leaf online and in person courses, rethink wellbeing, bluedot, AI and biomed courses, and mentorship. I'd say a few negatives off the top of my head:

  • the cost, if there is any cost involved it makes it inaccessible to many people and the only reason I could get involved was the courses and residential and online programs were free, even books were reimbursed, which seems like a small thing, but it was the only reason it was possible. 
    • Something like EA conferences are impossible without a full scholarship and travel costs. I also got a full scholarship for a competitive EA fellowship and travel costs were covered originally and then due to budget they cut travel support. I and 3 of my friends who got in had to cancel, because even if the week long program was free, the travel itself was impossible to afford, which is understandable and not the end of the world, but it shows the importance of making it clear from the start and offering help to those for whom finances are a barrier.
  • Diversity and inclusion, I'd say awareness of disabilities and neurodiversity acceptance needs to be more clear. In my personal experiences, everywhere was accepting, for example Leaf especially, but no where in the front of EA forum or 80,000 hours or other fellowships such as non trivial, Atlas, or others are disability help signposted. The applications also aren't disability friendly, such as not being screen reader accessible, not having ALT text and not being compatible with access extensions such as animation descriptions and text sizing or dyslexic fonts.
  • Another issue is wheelchair and physical access isn't mentioned, without potentially feeling burdensome and exposed emailing organisers asking about this. There should be an anonymous way to ask about disability access pre application so it doesn't feel biased against applicants.
  • A lack of certainty, for example, what are the goals or outcomes of the community. The reaction around previous historic issues or missteps are a big reason why I do not identify as capital letter EA as an identity, rather I use EA to help my thinking and donations, but it seems to pressure people into certain groups such as dedicated EAs who feel personal sacrifice is championed, versus those who are scared to identify close to the community (which I heard from many people around me) because of the public's perception of the community
    • this is why to me EA is a question on how to do (more/the most) good with limited resources, rather than a community first and foremost....

What next

Currently, I am hoping to find work experience and volunteering in labs over summer and over Easter/Christmas holidays, to get some technical skills. As well as hopefully some projects online/virtually such as reading or writing reports, articles, essays around biorisk, pandemics, biomedical science etc. I hope in future I can have a big impact in the bioscience sphere, such as finding a gene for a disease or a treatment.... but that is a while away.

I am hoping I actually get into university despite a few years out of school due to illness, and a very tumultous health journey, and to stay in contact with EA adjacent groups and opportunities to help others, including volunteering for Leaf as I personally found it helped me so much with discussion skills, critical thinking, finding resources, mentorship and opportunities, uni choices and degree and career support. To me, I want to help others get excited about bioscience and going into these careers, through biology related outreach such as my podcast, Leaf and disability, neurodiversity and non traditional university access programs that I had the honour of being able to attend when I was making my choices that otherwise I wouldn't have succeeded without.

I hope in the short term I can continue in my biology research and learning about bioscience, volunteer with Leaf and find work experience, and hopefully one day help others via my love for biology research.

Thank you for reading and please comment below :) I would love to talk more about my experiences or if anyone had any questions or comments. I know it's quite long, but I hope it's a good anecdotal vision of what a young person getting into EA might experience.





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This was an interesting read, and it makes me more excited to recommend LEAF to young people. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

I mainly work with university students but sometimes do small work at high schools. What would you consider useful or underappreciated ways of supporting high school students that seem curious about EA related ideas, aside from LEAF? What are the kinds of advice or mentorship that you'd expect to be most needed or most useful?

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I'm personally very grateful to Leaf and other opportunities. I'd say the most useful aspects for me came from: A low barrier to entry e.g. online courses funnelling into residential, easily accessible resources for first impressions, no cost

A culture of disagreement, the ability to critically evaluate how we perceived a source or data and what WE thought of it, despite being very young and inexperienced compared to facilitators

Ongoing mentorship which specifically helped me find work experience, volunteering opportunities related to biorisk and biosafety such as lab projects, positions in teams, research ideas

Network of peers and faciliators and guests who can star on podcasts, proofread articles or essays or papers on biorisk or recommend competitions, olympiad etc

And less of a priority but useful:

University degree interview and subject specific personal statement help (especially since i had a large pivot that needed rewriting my application)

Fun community e.g. ethical and philosophical debates, just people my age who enjoy learning and are curious as to how to help others

Events that led to positive feelings e.g. at the residential we did BSL sessions, had student groups, mental health sessions, book clubs, debates, escape rooms etc, which is not EA specific or academic but allowed us to break the barriers to later have more open and honest conversations, and rather than a one off, I made some very strong connections who I'm in contact with over 12 months later either through daily messages with peers I met or weekly/monthly calls/emails for mentorship or help... so it's a 2 way street that was strengthened by being in one place at the same time and encouraged to mingle...

Executive summary: A young person's journey into the effective altruism (EA) community through the Leaf program helped them explore new ideas, gain valuable skills and mentorship, and ultimately change their career plans from medicine to biomedical science.

Key points:

  1. The author discovered EA concepts and techniques through the Leaf program, which challenged their thinking and exposed them to new ideas.
  2. Key EA concepts that resonated with the author include effective giving, the importance of evidence and productive disagreement, and the 80/20 principle.
  3. Interactions with mentors and learning about different cause areas influenced the author's decision to pivot from a planned medical career to biomedical science.
  4. The Leaf residential program provided valuable opportunities to engage with peers, experts and facilitators to further explore and critique EA ideas.
  5. The author views EA primarily as a question and set of techniques rather than an identity, and has some reservations about the EA community itself.
  6. The author plans to pursue biomedical research and continue engaging with EA-adjacent opportunities, with the long-term goal of having a positive impact in the bioscience field.



This comment was auto-generated by the EA Forum Team. Feel free to point out issues with this summary by replying to the comment, and contact us if you have feedback.

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