Jess Whittlestone

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Jess Whittlestone

Oxford, United Kingdom

Position

Organisation

Industry

Director of Communications

80,000 Hours

Non profit

Background and interests

I’ve been working for 80k since October, mostly on careers research and writing for the blog. I graduated from Oxford with a Maths and Philosophy degree last June and no idea where to go next. Having a career that made a difference was really important to me, but it didn’t seem like my skills and interests fitted with any of the jobs we typically think of as helping people. 80k have helped me think about this differently, and made me realise that making a difference is a) even more important to me and b) much easier (in some ways at least!) than I thought.

In October I’ll be starting a PhD at Warwick in cognitive/behavioural science. Most of my interests in this area stem from asking how people reason and make decisions - what limits our ability to do so optimally, and how does this relate to the kinds of problems we face as individuals and as a society? Can a better understanding of the limitations of our own reasoning allow us to develop tools, methods or institutions that can improve it?

Something else that interests me a lot is how to get more value out of academic research. At the moment, it seems like a lot of the incentives are wrong: much more geared towards publishing new and exciting results than answering questions of vital importance to the world. There seem to be a lot of different levels to this problem: from how funding is allocated, how individuals choose what they research, to the various biases that affect data collection and analysis and even outright fraud. It seems like, given the number of talented minds going into academia, working to better leverage this could potentially be very high impact - although I certainly have doubts about the best way to do this, or whether current incentives are too strong to make this practically realisable.

Causes I support

  • Global poverty
  • Meta-activities: Cost-effectiveness research and global prioritisation
  • Meta-activities: Building the effective altruist movement
  • Meta-activities: Improving rationality and decision making
  • High impact research
  • Protecting future generations
  • Animal welfare: Ending factory farming

My high impact activities

  • Advocacy
  • Donating money
  • Research
  • Volunteering
  • Innovation

At the moment, my vague plan is that my impact will come from a combination of research, influence and donations. Some kind of innovation could also be a possibility later on - starting an organisation that targets the kinds of problems with academic research I talked about above, for example.

Right now, getting a PhD seems like the best available option as it a) allows me to develop skills and experience that will be useful to me in a variety of paths later on, b) gives me more status and credibility, c) keeps a variety of options open as I learn more. It also just excites me more than anything else I can think of - and even for the most altruistic person, I think that counts for something!

All that said, I’m very open to objections or alternative suggestions.

Experience

Research Assistant

80,000 Hours

November 2012 - Present

Intern

Europa Partners

August 2012 - October 2012


Education

Oxford University

Mathematics and Philosophy

Masters

2008 - 2012

Donation pledge

I have pledged to donate 10% of my pre-tax income to cost-effective causes.