Applications have opened for the Summer 2023 Cohort of the SERI ML Alignment Theory Scholars Program! Our mentors include Alex Turner, Dan Hendrycks, Daniel Kokotajlo, Ethan Perez, Evan Hubinger, Janus, Jeffrey Ladish, Jesse Clifton, John Wentworth, Lee Sharkey, Neel Nanda, Nicholas Kees Dupuis, Owain Evans, Victoria Krakovna, and Vivek Hebbar.

Applications are due on May 7, 11:59 pm PT. We encourage prospective applicants to fill out our interest form (~1 minute) to receive program updates and application deadline reminders! You can also recommend that someone apply to MATS, and we will reach out and share our application with them.

Program details

SERI MATS is an educational seminar and independent research program that aims to provide talented scholars with talks, workshops, and research mentorship in the field of AI alignment, and connect them with the Berkeley alignment research community. Additionally, MATS provides scholars with housing and travel, a co-working space, and a community of peers. The main goal of MATS is to help scholars develop as alignment researchers.

Timeline

Based on individual circumstances, we may be willing to alter the time commitment of the scholars program and allow scholars to leave or start early. Please tell us your availability when applying. Our tentative timeline for applications and the MATS Summer 2023 program is below.

Pre-program

  • Application release: Apr 8
  • Application due date: May 7, 11:59 PT
  • Acceptance status: Mid-Late May

Summer program

  • Program Start: Early Jun. The Summer 2023 Cohort consists of three phases.
  • Training phase: Early-Late Jun
  • Research phase: Jul 3-Aug 31
  • Extension phase: ~ Sep-Dec

Training phase

A 4-week online training program (10 h/week for two weeks, then 40 h/week for two weeks). Scholars receive a stipend for completing this part of MATS (historically, $6k).

Scholars whose applications are accepted join the training phase. Mentors work on various alignment research agendas — when a mentor accepts a scholar, the scholar is considered to have entered that mentor’s specific “research stream.” At the end of the training phase, scholars will, by default, transition into the research phase.

MATS has a strong emphasis on education in addition to fostering independent research. The training program hosts an advanced alignment research curriculum, mentor-specific reading lists, workshops on model-building and rationality, and more.

Research phase

A 2-month in-person educational seminar and independent research program in Berkeley, California for select scholars (40 h/week). Scholars receive a stipend for completing this part of MATS (historically, $16k).

During the research phase, each scholar spends ~1-2 hours/week working with their mentor, with more frequent communication via Slack. Scholars' research directions will typically be chosen through a collaborative process with their mentors, and scholars are expected to develop their independent research direction as the program continues. Educational seminars and workshops will be held 2-3 times per week, similar to our past Summer 2022 and Winter 2022 seminar programs.

The extent of mentor support will vary depending on the project and the mentor. Regardless of the specific project or mentorship direction, we encourage scholars to make full use of our Scholar Support program to maximize the value of their experience at MATS. Our Scholar Support team offers dedicated 1-1 check-ins, research coaching, debugging, and general executive help to unblock research progress and accelerate researcher development.

Community at MATS

In contrast to doing independent research remotely, the MATS research phase provides scholars with a community of peers. During the Research phase, scholars work out of a shared office, have communal housing, and are supported by a full-time Community Manager.

Working in a community of independent researchers gives scholars easy access to future collaborators, a deeper understanding of other alignment agendas, and a social network in the alignment community.

The Winter 2022 program included workshops (automated research tools, technical writing, research strategy), scholar-led study groups (mechanistic interpretability, linear algebra, learning theory), weekly lightning talks, and impromptu office activities like group-jailbreaking Bing chat. Outside of work, scholars organized social activities, including road trips to Yosemite, visits to San Francisco, and joining ACX meetups.

Extension phase

Pending mentor and funder review, scholars have the option to continue their research in a subsequent four-month Autumn 2023 Cohort, likely in London.

Post-program

MATS aims to produce researchers who will, after completion of the program:

MATS alumni have published AI-safety research, joined alignment organizations (e.g., Anthropic, MIRI), and founded an alignment research organization. You can read more about MATS alumni here.

Who should apply?

Our ideal applicant has:

  • an understanding of the AI alignment research landscape equivalent to having completed the AGI Safety Fundamentals AI Alignment Course;
  • previous experience with technical research (e.g. ML, CS, math, physics, neuroscience, etc.), generally at a postgraduate level;
  • strong motivation to pursue a career in AI alignment research.

Even if you do not meet all of these criteria, we encourage you to apply! Several past scholars applied without strong expectations and were accepted.

Attending SERI MATS if you are not from the United States

Scholars from outside the US can apply for B-1 visas (further information here) for the Research phase. Scholars from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Designated Countries can instead apply to the VWP via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which is processed in three days. Scholars accepted into the VWP can stay up to 90 days in the US, while scholars who receive a B-1 visa can stay up to 180 days. Please note that B-1 visa approval times can be significantly longer than ESTA approval times, depending on your country of origin.

How to apply

Applications are now open! Submissions are due May 7, 11:59 pm PT. We encourage prospective applicants to fill out our interest form (~1 minute) to receive program updates and application deadline reminders! You can also recommend that someone apply and we’ll reach out to them and share our application.

SERI MATS runs several concurrent streams, each for a different alignment research agenda. You can view all of the available agendas on the SERI MATS website. To apply for a stream, please fill out our application.

Before applying, you should:

  • Read through the descriptions and agendas of each stream and the associated candidate selection questions.
  • Prepare your answers to the questions for streams you’re interested in applying to. These questions can be found on our website.
  • Prepare your LinkedIn or resume.

Applications are evaluated primarily based on responses to mentor questions and prior relevant research experience.

The candidate selection questions can be quite hard, depending on the mentor! Allow for sufficient time to apply to your chosen stream(s). A strong application to one stream may be of higher value than moderate applications to several streams (though each application will be assessed independently).

Attend our application office hours

We have office hours for prospective applicants to clarify questions about the MATS program application process. Before attending office hours, we request that applicants read this current post fully and our FAQ.

You can add the events to your Google Calendar. Our office hours will be held on this Zoom link at the following times:

  • Wed 12 Apr, 10 am-12 pm PT;
  • Wed 12 Apr, 2 pm-4 pm PT;
  • Mon 3 May, 10 am-12 pm PT;
  • Mon 3 May, 2 pm-4 pm PT.

The MATS program is a joint initiative by the Stanford Existential Risks Initiative and the Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative, with support from Conjecture and AI Safety Support.

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25 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:33 AM

If you're applying from outside the United States and the wait times for a B1 visa are too long, travel to a country with shorter wait times and apply from there. Here are some countries where the wait time is less than 14 days:

  • Brunei
  • Greece
  • Samoa
  • Madagascar
  • Turkmenistan
  • Serbia
  • Belgium
  • Burundi
  • Guinea
  • Curacao
  • East Timor
  • Tajikistan
  • Italy
  • Botswana
  • Indonesia
  • Micronesia
  • Kuwait
  • Marshall Islands
  • Japan
  • Papa New Guinea
  • Latvia
  • Bosnia
  • South Korea
  • Singapore
  • Bulgaria
  • Fiji
  • Estonia
  • Lithuania
  • Saudi Arabia

Can you confirm that one doesn't need to be a resident in a given country in order to apply for a visa from there?


I tried doing this for a different visa (non-US) in a country with a shorter waiting time and the consulate there said I couldn't do it there as they'd require financial proofs and they had to be from local banks as they are not able to verify documents coming from different countries. 

I would recommend calling the consulate and talking to them about the details before making any travel plans. I am unable to provide such confirmation myself since different countries may do things differently.

At the end of the training phase, scholars will, by default, transition into the research phase.

How likely does "by default" mean here, and is this changing from past iterations? I've heard from some others that many people in the past have been accepted to the Training phase but then not allowed to continue into the Research phase, and only find out near the end of the Training phase. This means they're kinda SOL for other summer opportunities if they blocked out their summer with the hope of doing the full MATS program which seems like a rough spot.

From my understanding, this decision is up to the mentors, and only Neel and John are actively planning to reduce the number of scholars. Neel will likely take on more scholars for the training phase than the research phase, and John's scholars willl need to apply for LTFF and receive funding through LTFF before continuing. (Ryan may correct me here if I'm wrong)

John's scholars have historically only had to seek LTFF funding for the 4-month extension program subsequent to the in-person Scholars Program. They are otherwise treated like other scholars.

Gotcha, perhaps I was anchoring on anecdotes of Neel's recent winter stream being particularly cutthroat in terms of most people not moving on.

Clicking on Owain Evans in the application doesn't show the mentor's questions, unlike the rest of the mentors. I think this is a bug?

Owian's stream doesn't have any mentor questions!

Are applicants encouraged to apply early? I see that decisions are released by mid-late May, but are applications evaluated on a rolling basis? Thanks!

Applications may be evaluated on a rolling basis, but we plan to release all acceptance and rejection messages simultaneously. You're welcome to apply early and that will likely help us gauge how much we should prepare for additional applicants!

thank you. if I am done with one of the mentors questions, but still am writing the response for another, should I submit the first mentor's questions first? or is it better for administrative purposes to wait until I am ready for both, and submit them in the same form?

Feel free to submit them at separate times! 

That makes sense! Thank you.

I wouldn't be able to start until October (I'm a full time student and might be working on my thesis and have at least one exam to write during the summer); should I still apply?

I am otherwise very interested in the SERI MATS program and expect to be a strong applicant in other ways.

There's most likely going to be a winter cohort starting in November

Aah, it's probably just best to wait till then.

Yeah, we hope to hold another cohort starting in Nov. However, applying this time might be good practise and, if the mentor is willing, you could just defer to Winter!

Update: during your interview for a B1/B2 visa, be sure to emphasize the "training" aspect of SERI MATS above the "research" aspect. Got told to submit J1 documents so now I need the organizers to give me a DS 2019. 

At least I don't need to reinterview.

As an educational seminar and independent research program, MATS cannot offer J1 visas. We can support scholars' ESTA and B1/B2 visa applications, however.

Yep, I’ll just get my B1/B2 from somewhere else.

Hi, 
I just learned about this amazing opportunity and am very passionate about trustworthy, reliable, and interpretable AI, as I wish to use AI for impact, to improve people's lives and Alignment is the core of that. Is there any way I can turn in the application now? The air table seems to be password protected.

Hi Pulkit. Unfortunately, applications have closed for our Summer 2023 Cohort. Hopefully, we will launch applications for our Winter Cohort soon!

Does anyone know roughly how many candidates typically apply or what the acceptance rate is?

The Summer 2023 Cohort has 460 applicants. Our last cohort included 57 scholars.