The social impact of different professions

Economists and Harvard and Chicago recently published a paper1 that contains a number of estimates of the social value produced by different professions per dollar of salary. The estimates aren’t the core aim of the paper, but are none-the-less fascinating.

The first set of estimates are by one of the authors of the paper, Lockwood, and aims to stick to views that would be typical based on the the economics literature:

Profession Lockwood’s estimates (additional social $ value produced per $ of salary at the margin)
Academia/research 2
Advertising/marketing/sales -0.3
Agriculture 0
Arts/Entertainment 0
Business operations 0.1
Engineering/technical 0.4
Entrepreneurship 2
Financial Services -0.5

What do these figures mean? Read on for more…

A meta-analysis may not mean much

Scott Alexander recently posted an interesting and provocative article: “Beware the man of one study” (and see the follow up post here).

In the post, he points out that it’s not uncommon to find two meta-analyses with opposite results on the same question.

Indeed, especially when it comes to a politically divided issue, both sides can sometimes produce apparently overwhelming evidence in support of their case.

Opportunity to work at JPAL as a Research Associate – just hours left to apply!

The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) is the world leader in conducting evidence-based research in developing countries. Their mission is to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence.

They are currently running a winter recruitment drive (96 total positions) which ends on at 6am EST January 8th. Applications submitted during the drive will be reviewed and short-listed candidates will be contacted. During the rest of the year, applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.

What is the position?

Research Associate (RA) positions last 1-2 years, and come in two types. Field RAs (38 positions available) are based around the world, managing field implementation of specific research projects. University-based RAs (8 positions) are primarily based in North America, focusing on data analysis of research projects.

What are the benefits of the position?

  • Work directly on J-PAL research programs, which are used by Givewell and other organizations to determine the most effective global poverty interventions (a top cause).
  • Cultivate high-quality research skills. Other organizations pay J-PAL to teach them these program evaluation techniques.
  • Work in a developing country, which can be very useful if you want to work in international development.
  • Build a network and career capital for evidence-based development work. Many NGOs now have full time positions for Monitoring and Evaluation.1 Some RAs go on to top PhD programs or start their own impact evaluation NGOs.2
  • It’s paid!

Overall, if you’ve already got a graduate degree, this looks like a good way to start a career in evidence-based international development. However, we have not performed an in-depth investigation of the pros and cons of this job – this assessment is based on our background knowledge and what we’ve read about the positions online.

Earning to give is systemic change

One of the most common criticisms of earning to give (e.g. see this article released yesterday), and advocating for charitable donations generally, is that it just makes thing better at the margin, and doesn’t address the “systemic”, “structural” “root cause” issues that really matter.

One response to this we’ve given before is: yes that’s true, but donating is still a good thing to do.

Another response we’ve given before is that if systemic change is the most important cause, donate to organisations working on systemic change. This works so long as you’re not in a job that does a lot to prevent systemic change (e.g. conservative politician, professional strikebreaker) and you don’t think the act of philanthropy itself prevents systemic change (even if donating to systemic change organisations). If you think this all sounds completely implausible, consider the example of Engles who worked as a factory manager in order to fund Marx’s research.

A response we haven’t often given before, however, is just to argue that no, promoting earning to give is a form of important systemic change: imagine how different the world would be if almost everyone regularly donated 10% or more of their income to whichever causes they thought had the biggest impact.

Why apply to Teach First?: An interview with the UK’s largest graduate recruiter

Teach First

Teach First is a two year program that places talented graduates in schools in challenging circumstances as teachers after a rapidly accelerated six week training program. It aims to offer rapid personal development while also contributing to an important social cause. It’s similar to Teach for America in the US.

Founded in 2002, it’s now the UK’s largest graduate recruiter, hiring over 1,500 graduates in 2014, so we’re curious to learn more.

We were approached by the Teach First recruiter at Oxford, Tom Cole, and we offered to do an interview as a first step towards learning more. Teach First’s popularity is equally strong in Oxford as the rest of the country: secondary school teaching one of Oxford’s most common graduate destinations, with about 10% of the class becoming teachers, and a significant fraction of these graduates enter Teach First.

Overall, we don’t yet have firm views on the option; but my initial impression is that it’s a strong, if challenging, option for learning, building career capital and keeping your options open, which makes it an option worth considering early career if you have good personal fit, though it’s probably possible to have more immediate impact earning to give.

In the interview, we focus on the career capital benefits, which we’ve been told are often overlooked by people considering the programme.

The interview was conducted via email, but we met in person with Tom Cole to discuss the content.

The interview begins below:

The camel doesn’t have two humps – update to software engineering profile

In our current software engineering profile, we say:

Programming ability seems to roughly divide into two groups: those who find it relatively easy and those who don’t. If in the past you’ve done well at mathematics and science and can think abstractly, then it’s likely you can learn to program well enough to get an entry-level job within about six months.

In evidence of the first claim, one piece of evidence we cited was a paper called “The Camel Has Two Humps” by Dehnadi and Bornat.

However, we’ve just discovered that Bornat has publicly redacted this paper. He says:

It’s not enough to summarise the scientific result, because I wrote and web-circulated “The camel has two humps” in 2006. That document was very misleading and, in the way of web documents, it continues to mislead to this day. I need to make an explicit retraction of what it claimed. Dehnadi didn’t discover a programming aptitude test. He didn’t find a way of dividing programming sheep from non-programming goats. We hadn’t shown that nature trumps nurture. Just a phenomenon and a prediction.

Though it’s embarrassing, I feel it’s necessary to explain how and why I came to write “The camel has two humps” and its part-retraction in (Bornat et al., 2008). It’s in part a mental health story. In autumn 2005 I became clinically depressed. My physician put me on the then-standard treatment for depression, an SSRI. But she wasn’t aware that for some people an SSRI doesn’t gently treat depression, it puts them on the ceiling. I took the SSRI for three months, by which time I was grandiose, extremely self-righteous and very combative – myself turned up to one hundred and eleven. I did a number of very silly things whilst on the SSRI and some more in the immediate aftermath, amongst them writing “The camel has two humps”.

Based on this, we’ve removed the paper from the profile, and removed the claim about the distribution dividing into two clumps.

We intend to do a more thorough review of the predictors of success in this field when we release our full profile of software engineering in the new year.

Did we make a mistake in this case? The profile was only at the “considered” stage, so not the result of in-depth research. Even so, when most skills and abilities are normally or log-normally distributed, we should have been cautious about the existence of a bimodal distribution without relatively strong evidence.

Stop worrying so much about the long-term

thinker

Today I’ve been reviewing our most recent round of coaching, and something struck me about the applications. Many of them were written by people who were clearly desperate to plan out the next decade of their career, or even their entire working life. As a result, they tended to feel anxious and even overwhelmed by the options available and the weight of the decisions in front of them.

Might this be you? Some giveaways are phrases like “how can I find the right career for me?” or “I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life”.

To people who feel this way, I have this advice: stop worrying so much about the long-term.

Don’t get me wrong, of course your career decisions are important. 80,000 Hours is built around the idea that you can make an incredible difference through your career choices, if you choose carefully.

However, I don’t think that making a detailed career plan is a particularly good way to ensure that your career goes well in the long-term. A better idea, especially at the start of your career, is to make sure you get the next step right: focus on getting into a better position, and then worry about what comes next when more decisions arise.

This may sound counter-intuitive. So why do I recommend it? Four reasons:

Learn to code in 16 weeks for free in the UK at Founders and Coders

Introduction

Ben Clifford

Are you interested in doing something like App Academy to learn to program, but in the UK? Makers Academy is often thought to be the best option, and we’ve had good reports from one of our members. But it costs £8,000. What about doing something similar for free?

In this interview, Ben Clifford – another member who changed his career due to 80,000 Hours – tells us about a free alternative called Founders and Coders. Ben recently went through the course, and is currently working at a startup in London.

If interested, you can apply here. the deadline for the next round is on Friday.

Summary of main points:

  • Founders and Coders is a free coding program based in London.
  • The course aims to make people full stack javascript developers in 16 weeks.
  • The biggest benefits of doing a coding course are providing structure and tackling motivation problems.
  • The weakest point of Founders and Coders is links to employers but Ben thinks this would not stop determined students can get jobs.
  • The most important thing for getting a place is commitment to becoming a software developer. Being motivated to do good in your career also improves your chances.
  • Applications for January close on Friday 12th December. You can attend taster days by supporting their Indiegogo campaign.

Giving What We Can is seeking a Director of Research

Giving What We Can is our sister organisation, and we are cross posting this job opportunity from their blog:

In just five years, Giving What We Can has grown to over 660 members in 25 countries worldwide. The community has pledged over $330m towards ending poverty. We are looking for additional hires to build on this success.

Apply to be our Director of Research

The deadline for submitting applications is now Midnight GMT on Friday 12th December 2014.

As Director of Research, you would lead our efforts to find the charities most effective at alleviating extreme poverty and advise the Giving What We Can community in their donation decisions.

Specifically, you would be responsible for:

  • Determining which charities we should recommend – based both the effectiveness of the interventions the charities carry out, and how well those organisations implement them.
  • Understanding the broader landscape of top charitable interventions and organisations, in order to advise our members when deciding where to donate
  • Presenting the research in compelling ways in order to encourage people to donate to the most effective charities, both via our website and presentations.

We are a small team, so you’ll also have the opportunity to be involved in recruitment, fundraising, publishing our findings in the media, and whatever else most interests you.

Why work at Giving What We Can

  • Be at the heart of an inspiring community of people who care about others and really put their passion into practice:
    We have members all around the world,

 » Read more about: Giving What We Can is seeking a Director of Research  »

Interested in working in international development? Consider 2Seeds.

Many people have told us that if you want to work in international development, it’s very useful to spend time working in a developing country (e.g. see our interview with Owen Barder), and living abroad is probably useful for exploration value too. It’s also very useful to get project management experience early on in this space, because it opens up jobs in non-profits and foundations. But management positions in the developing world are rare early in your career.

This made me interested to hear about 2Seeds, which gives graduates the opportunity to volunteer as a project manager in rural Tanazania for a year.

I met the co-founder of 2Seeds, Sam Bonsey, at a conference, and then followed up by doing the following interview with their Outreach Manager, Abby Love. Based on what I’ve seen, it looks well worth considering as an early career step, especially if you’re interested in working within international development.

Read on to see the full interview, which was conducted by email.

Interview with a project manager at the Copenhagen Consensus

Ben recently interviewed Brad Wong about his career and current job at the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC), a leading global think tank which draws together over 100 top economists to work on prioritizing the solutions to the most pressing global issues.

We spoke to Brad to learn more about whether working at the CCC could be a good opportunity for our members, following up on our previous research.

The CCC is hiring two more project managers to work on a Copenhagen Consensus project for development in Bangladesh, in a role similar to Brad’s. These jobs can either be based in Dhaka, Bangladesh or Budapest, Hungary or in the Centre for Effective Altruism’s office’s in Oxford (shared with us!).

The interview was conducted via phone call. Below we summarise the key messages of the conversation, followed by some excerpts, which have been edited and reorganised for clarity.

In summary, Brad told us:

  • Brad manages a project to provide cost-benefit analysis of the UN’s next development goals.
  • Before this job, Brad completed a PhD, worked as a consultant at Booz & Company, and did strategic consulting at an Indian non-profit, Technoserve. All three were good preparation for his current role, which requires an understanding of academic research and development, combined with the ability to manage a project and get things done.
  • Brad really enjoys his work at the CCC. Day-to-day, the work ranges from very exciting (networking with UN ambassadors) to quotidian (writing contracts, organising meetings, proofreading).
  • He’s excited about the project’s potential impact – their analysis is being used at the highest levels within the UN and there are already more than 100 media articles about the project from major outlets, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
  • Brad would like to continue working at the CCC, though long-term would like to work at a major foundation or consult for foundations.
  • 80,000 Hours did not directly affect his decision to work for CCC, but exposure to Givewell and 80,000 Hours significantly changed his attitude towards impact in his career.

80,000 Hours is seeking a Head of Research

As Head of Research, you will become part of our founding team to lead our research efforts into how to select the most high-impact careers. Our research is what drives the advice we provide via our website and career coaching.

Specifically, you become responsible for:

  • Deciding what questions to investigate and personally coming up with answers to these questions, or overseeing the delegation of this research to others.
  • Helping to translate these findings into practical products that help people make better decisions – books, web applications, workshops and others.
  • Fitting the research into the overall strategy for the organisation.

We are a small team, so you’ll also have the opportunity to be involved in recruitment, fundraising, publishing our findings in the media and whatever else most interests you.

Apply to be our Head of Research


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The Centre for Effective Altruism is seeking a Chief Operating Officer

We are recruiting a Chief Operating Officer to lead our central division, managing a team that supports the recruitment, finance, logistics, HR and fundraising of all our projects. This role is a unique opportunity to shape a rapidly-growing charity into an incubator that can quickly scale up the best ideas emerging from the nascent effective altruism movement. We see this as one of the most challenging roles in the organisation, requiring a high level of competency across most skill areas. The role is located in Oxford, and you would work in our offices which are housed within the University.

The Centre for Effective Altruism is an incubator of projects we believe have potential to create significant positive change in the world at low cost. Our organisation includes two established projects, Giving What We Can and 80,000 Hours, as well as two newer projects we are incubating, the Global Priorities Project and Effective Altruism Outreach. We have also spun two projects out of the Centre for Effective Altruism – Animal Charity Evaluators and The Life You Can Save – which are both now run independently in the US.

In this role you would be involved in the operational aspects of all of CEA’s projects. You will meet and provide invaluable help to a large share of the people and projects in the effective altruist movement today. You will learn about all aspects of CEA’s work, including our expansion into other countries. As a result, it will provide you with the skills and contacts you would need to lead on future projects.

 » Read more about: The Centre for Effective Altruism is seeking a Chief Operating Officer  »

Serial social entrepreneur, Michael Norton OBE, speaks in Oxford

The serial social entrepreneur, Michael Norton, recently spoke at 80,000 Hours: Oxford.

Michael started his career as a scientist, merchant banker and publisher before becoming a social activist. Since then, he has helped to found over 40 charities and social enterprises, including UnLtd, which has raised an endowment of over £100 million to support thousands of social enterprises. He spoke to us about his career and what he’s learned about making a difference.

What follows are some notes I made based on his presentation. All are paraphrased, and I can’t guarantee they accurately reflect Michael’s views.

Why and how to keep your options open

Keeping options open is important for everyone, it’s especially important if you want to make a difference, because the most effective career opportunities are likely to change in the future. Indeed, we think it’s usually more important to keep your options open to make an immediate impact.

Many people think that ‘keeping your options open’ means being non-committal and avoiding tough decisions. We disagree. The best to keep your options open is to commit to building flexible abilities and resources, such as transferable skills, money and a public platform.

For more, see our new page on the topic.

Mid-year review September 2014

This document is an update on the priorities we set in our May 2014 team plan, as part of our annual 2013 review, for the period June 2014 – September 2014.

Summary

  • We’ve made good progress on the priorities we set in our review. In general, we’ve exceeded our goals and are on-track to make the rest by the end of the year.

  • Some of our key achievements include: (i) published our expanded research pages, including 30,000 words of new static pages, (ii) completed our fundraising targets, and (iii) hired Peter Hartree as our part-time web developer, allowing us to exceed our targets on web development.

  • The main problem we face is that we’ve failed to hire someone to lead on research, which has contributed to a shortage of staff capacity in this area.

  • Over the rest of the year, we intend to focus on improving our online content and the research behind it, by (i) doing another round of work on the key web pages (ii) doing a round of coaching (iii) publishing a round of articles from our research backlog.

  • After February 2015, we’ll do our annual review, a hiring round, and our next round of fundraising.


In the rest of this document, we review in more depth (i) our big picture strategy and priorities (ii) how we’ve performed relative to the priorities we set in our last team plan (iii) the challenges we’re facing and (iv) our priorities for the next six months.

Should you wait to make a difference?

The issue

One big picture consideration in career choice is the question of how important it is to make a difference now versus later. Here’s the issue: suppose you could either work at a charity next year or go to graduate school. If you work at the charity, you’ll be making a difference right away, speeding up progress. If you go to graduate school, you’ll be investing in yourself and able to have a larger impact later. Which is better?

If you think it’s better to make a difference as soon as possible, the more you’ll value your immediate opportunities for impact. In our framework, you’ll put more emphasis on path impact potential. If you think it’s better to invest and give later, the more you’ll value activities that build your skills, connections and credentials (career capital), and the more you’ll value learning about the world so you can make better decisions in the future (exploration value).

There’s a similar issue with charitable giving. If you have some money, you can either give today, or you can invest your money, which will grow over time, and give a larger amount later. Under what circumstances should you invest rather than give now?

Summary

Overall, we favour investing in your human capital and wealth early, so that you make a greater difference later in your career. Why?

  1. You’ll be able to find better opportunities to make a difference in the future, because you’ll get wiser and be able to use better research in which causes and careers are most effective.
  2. Early-to-mid career, most people can make investments that significantly increase their career capital, such as learning new skills, doing a graduate degree and building a professional network. The returns from these investments more than justify the cost of waiting.

Nevertheless, there are a few other reasons to start making a difference now: it will teach you about the world; it will help you find collaborators; it’s motivating; and it will help you build altruistic habits.

So, overall, we suggest that early in your career you mainly focus on building career capital and learning more, though still put some weight on your immediate impact. If choosing between two jobs, this could mean choosing the one that best builds your career capital, using immediate impact as a tiebreaker. As you get older, put more and more weight on your immediate impact.

Read on to see a full discussion of the considerations and our reasoning.

Update: 7 career strategies for making a difference

We recently released a page on “top career strategies”, featuring two strategies for building your long-run potential, and five for immediate impact:

  1. The experimenter: Finding a career that’s the right fit for you is important, but it’s also difficult to do just by thinking about it. It can therefore be a good strategy to try out a number of different areas in order to learn more about your own interests and skills.
  2. The self-developer: When you’ve narrowed down which area you want to enter, focus on investing in yourself to build your career capital.
  3. The effective worker: There are many non-profit and for-profit organisations that have a large impact, which are short of specific types of human capital. If you’re a good fit for a high-impact organization, it’s an option worth considering. By high-impact organisations we mean those that are well-run and work on an effective cause.
  4. The entrepreneur: If you’ve got potential as an entrepreneur, attempt to found new effective non-profit organisations or innovative for-profits that benefit their customers and create positive spill-over effects.
  5. The philanthropist: Some people have skills that are better suited to earning money than the other strategies. These people can take a higher-earning career and donate the money to effective organisations. We call this strategy ‘earning to give’.
  6. The researcher: Some people are especially good at and interested in research – attempting to create new knowledge. If this is you, and have you have the opportunity to work in a field that seems particularly important, tractable and neglected, then this could be a way to have a large impact.
  7. The advocate: If you can take a job that gives you a public platform, good network and credibility, you can use it to promote and unite people behind important ideas.

Want to do something about the risks of artificial intelligence?

Nick Bostrom’s recent book, “Superintelligence”, has been a great success, gaining favorable reviews in the Financial Times and the Economist, as well as support from Elon Musk, the founder of Telsa and SpaceX.

The field of research into the risks of artificial intelligence is also taking off, with the recent founding of Cambridge University’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk and the Future of Life Institute (supported by Morgan Freeman!); continued strong growth at MIRI; and GiveWell’s recently declared interest in the area.

If you’ve read the book, and are interested in how you can contribute to this cause, we’d like to hear from you. There’s pressing needs developing in the field for researchers, project managers, and funding. We can help you work out where you can best contribute, and introduce you to the right people.

If you’re interested, please email ben at 80000hours.org, or apply for our coaching before the end of October.

What I learned quitting my job to found a tech startup

Ben West

I’ve been earning to give as a software developer for the past several years, and it started to become clear that I could make more money in a different job. But I was torn between a finance career which put my math skills to use and founding a company where I might achieve the vocational equivalent of winning the lottery.

I eventually decided to pursue entrepreneurship because I thought it would better build career capital, i.e. it would prepare me for a wider variety of future careers. After four months of running a company that idea still doesn’t seem completely idiotic, but it doesn’t seem completely true either.

I’ve encountered several people who are in similar positions, so I’d like to give an overview of my motivations (particularly the ones which haven’t been discussed here before), how I went about my career change, and of course how I should’ve gone about my career change. Optimizing for one narrow career path is a bad idea, so I hope this post is useful to everyone, not just potential entrepreneurs.