Some stories of career change due to 80,000 Hours

Introduction

What kinds of career changes has 80,000 Hours caused? The following is a collection of 15 examples we prepared as part of a grant application in October 2013.

The examples were written by us, but each was sent to the relevant person by email, who was encouraged to point out inaccuracies or exaggerations of our influence. The exact wording for each example has been approved by the career changer. 4 have been anonymised. In addition, we prepared 4 more similar examples, but don’t have permission to share those publicly.

We aimed to select the more impressive examples that we were most familiar with, so the selection is biased towards people we know personally and from the first two years of our existence (Feb 2011 – Feb 2013). We’re exploring the career changes we have caused among our readers and coachees more broadly through our impact survey and upcoming coaching evaluations. Nevertheless, we think this collection of examples is a good proof of concept. They show that talking to people about our ideas in the context of a community can lead to significant changes of career plan, more thoughtfulness and stronger intentions to make a difference.

They also help estimate a lower bound on our impact. Just considering those who switched to pursuing earning to give, we’ve already tracked donations of ~$150,000 to GiveWell recommended charities or effective altruist organisations.

The amount donated over the next couple of years seems clearly set to rise.

  • The people already donating can expect substantial salary increases as they move into their second and third years in employment.
  • Richard and Adam have only just entered employment.
  • Sam Bankman-Fried has accepted a job at a proprietary trading firms, and is on track to donate as much as Tim.
  • Matt’s startup is in an incubator, and he has legally bound himself to donate 33% of his exit value.

Given this, we’re confident that more than $1mn will be donated by this group in the next 3 years, of which a large portion is due to us.

We think there is also substantial value among those not pursuing earning to give:

  • One is a Marshall scholar, and starting a promising academic career.
  • One went to work at GiveWell.
  • One has founded a network to promote effective altruism in healthcare.

In addition, we played a substantial role in the creation of Animal Charity Evaluators, which performs research into the most effective ways to promote animal welfare and now has an annual budget of $80,000. ACE developed out of Effective Animal Activism, which was founded by an intern at 80,000 Hours during their internship. 80,000 Hours contributed to the initial concept for the charity and provided it with technical support, as well as assistance fundraising and hiring full-time staff. Moreover, EAA was legally part of 80,000 Hours for 6 months, before being spun-off and incorporated into Justice for Animals.

The full stories are below.

Notes

  • CEA= Centre for Effective Altruism, the registered charity that comprises 80,000 Hours and Giving What We Can (and previously, Effective Animal Activism and The Life You Can Save).
    • Earning to give = Pursuing a high earning career with the intention of giving 10-80% of your income to highly cost-effective charities.

    • Cost-effective charities = the charities that you think have the largest impact per dollar of donation. Typically charities recommended by GiveWell, Giving What We Can or effective altruist non-profits.

    • Effective altruism = a growing social movement based around the idea of using evidence and reason to work out how best to make the world a better place.

The examples of career change (as of Oct 2013)

1. Tim Jones

Background: Princeton – Philosophy Class of 2012

Situation before: Student. Considering a wide range of careers, with the top contenders being doctor and maths professor. Member of Giving What We Can, pledging 10% of his income to cost-effective charities.

How 80,000 Hours intervened: Through involvement with us and other groups, he started to consider earning to give or working directly in ‘effective altruist’ non-profits. We gave him extensive feedback, advice and discussion of his plans, in person and in writing, weighing up the relevant arguments and providing relevant information, over the course of months. We encouraged him to pursue earning to give, due to his unusually large earning potential.

How his plans changed: He decided to pursue earning to give, in part due to 80,000 Hours and in part due to advice from others in CEA. He plans to lead his career on the basis of where he can make the most difference.

What he’s doing now: He is working for a proprietary trading firm. He was able to donate $40,000 in his first three months, and plans to donate upwards of $100,000 after his first full calendar year. He agrees that this was the right decision. Tim continues to receive research from one of our trustees on where to donate, and we’ve introduced him to several other members of 80,000 Hours. He donates to 80,000 Hours among other organisations. He has also helped to convince a recently retired Partner of his company to support 80,000 Hours financially.

2. Jess Whittlestone

Background: Oxford University, First in Maths and Philosophy, Class of 2012

Situation before: Student. Intention to do a PhD in philosophy. Making a difference was an important goal among several.

How 80,000 Hours intervened: Had several one-on-one discussions with 80,000 Hours staff, which prompted her to consider a wider range of options and talk to lots of people, and eventually to intern with us.

How her plans changed: Decided to do a PhD in the psychology of decision making, with the intention of advocating for better practices within academia. Intends to primarily plan her career on the basis of where she can make the most difference. Has pledged 10% of her income to effective charities.

What she’s doing now: She is pursuing a PhD in the psychology of decision-making at the Warwick Business School, supervised by a leader in policy based on behavioural economics.

In her words:

*I graduated in June 2012 with a Maths and Philosophy degree from Oxford. I’d been feeling increasingly confused about what to do afterwards; I knew I wanted to make a difference somehow but didn’t really know what that meant. None of the careers we typically think of as “ethical” seemed to really fit with my skills and interests. I was looking at going into philosophy of mind or cognitive science research, but felt somewhat dissatisfied that this probably wasn’t going to lead to me helping many people.

I came across 80,000 Hours in July, and started doing an internship in October. Through advice sessions and informal conversations with people I now have a much clearer idea of what I want to do with my career. I’m going to do a PhD in Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School next year, as I feel this will allow me to develop the skills, experience, and networks that will keep many options open later on. I’m still thinking a lot about my longer term career plans, but I’m open to a much wider range of things I might do to have an impact.

Without 80,000 Hours I also wouldn’t have taken the pledge to donate 10% of my earnings over my lifetime to the most effective causes, and probably would have donated substantially less and been less well informed about where to donate.

In general, interacting with 80,000 Hours has nothing short of revolutionised the way I think about my career, and even beyond that, my life in general. I have a deepened understanding of what I care about and a much clearer idea of what it means to “make a difference.” 80,000 Hours has made me realise how many more options are open to me. I’m so much more ambitious and excited about my career than I was a year ago.*

3. Jacob Nebel

Background: Princeton – Philosophy, Class of 2013

Situation before: Intending to either go to law school or start a career in academic philosophy.

How 80,000 Hours intervened: He attended a talk by us in Princeton, then spent two months interning with us in Oxford, during which he had several in-depth discussions with our staff. He learned about the importance of the long-run future and ways to have impact within academic philosophy.

How his plans changed: Decided to focus on researching issues around global prioritisation and the risk of human extinction within law and philosophy, as well as advocate for the importance of these issues.

What he’s doing now: Studying a Masters in Philosophy at Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship.

Other support provided: Gave him significant advice in writing his Marshall application.

In his words:

80,000 Hours changed how I looked at my career prospects. At first, I thought 80,000 Hours’ message was just about earning to give, but Will persuaded me to forgo a lucrative internship at a hedge fund to do research for 80,000 Hours. I learned from this experience that I could have a great impact through research, but only if I think very carefully about how to maximize that impact. And that’s just what I hope to do through philosophy. [Through 80,000 Hours] I met amazing people, and it is important to me that I know I have a network of smart, supportive folks in the years ahead.

4. Robbie Shade

Background: Oxford University – Robotics DPhil, Class of 2012

Situation before: Student. Undecided between academia and industry.

How 80,000 Hours intervened: Robbie came to the original 80,000 Hours talk on earning to give, and was immediately convinced. He volunteered to help 80,000 Hours build our website.

How his plans changed: He decided to work in industry rather than academia and pledge to donate 25% of his income rather than 10% (which he decided due to Giving What We Can). Decided to donate to 80,000 Hours.

What he’s doing now: Earning to give by working as a Software Engineer for Google.

5. Sean Conley

Background: Oxford University – Politics, Philosophy and Economics, Class of 2012

Situation before: Student, considering a variety of paths.

How 80,000 Hours intervened: Found out about the opportunity to work at GiveWell through an 80,000 Hours member and the blog.

How his plans changed: Applied to GiveWell.

What he’s doing now: Working at GiveWell.

6. Matt Gibb

Background: Oxford University – PhD in Computational Biology 2012

Situation before: Student. Intention to work in start-ups.

How 80,000 Hours intervened: Matt came to an 80,000 Hours talk, was exposed to the idea of earning to give, and was immediately convinced. He started volunteering for 80,000 Hours as one of the founding 6 members.

How his plans changed: Decided to donate 33% of his income, and the value of the equity of any start-ups he creates, to effective charities. Plans to lead his career on the basis of where he can make the most difference.

What he’s doing now: Co-founder of a start-up, Dropkic.kr, which matches investors with crowdfunding projects. All of the founders have made a legally binding agreement to donate 33% of the proceeds of a future sale of the company.

7. Sam Bankman Fried

Background: MIT – Physics, Class of 2014

Situation before: Student. Considering politics, journalism and academia.

How 80,000 Hours intervened: Sam was convinced through discussion with 80,000 Hours staff; introduction to the 80,000 Hours community; and lectures on the core concepts.

How his plans changed: Became more in favor of earning to give, at least in the short-run, and more concerned about causes that benefit the long-run future. He plans to lead his career on the basis of where he can make the most difference.

What he’s doing now: Interning at a proprietary trading firm. Intends to donate all earnings he doesn’t need to live on and do well in his job. Final year at MIT.

Other support provided: Introduced to other members of 80,000 Hours who told him about the internship opportunity.

8. David John

Background: University of Stanford – Masters in Financial Mathematics, Class of 2010; went to UBC as an undergraduate at age 14; over 7 years experience as a quant in finance

Situation before: Looking to find a job within finance that would allow him to do more good directly. Cared about improving finance as a way to increase the long-run prosperity of humanity.

How 80,000 Hours intervened: Introduced him to EAA, where he volunteered. Long-term follower of our blog, where he found out about the concept of existential risk. Received 4 coaching sessions and written research on his options, which introduced him to global prioritisation as a cause and other crucial considerations concerning how to help the long-term future.

How his plans changed: He wants work in impact investing to build up a group of people who want to do global prioritisation.

What he’s doing now: Looking for jobs in impact investing.

Other support provided: Our support helped him to find a job at a start-up impact investing fund.

In his words:

I had been thinking about how to make a difference for some time, and when I encountered 80,000 Hours I found all these smart people who had been thinking about it for even longer. I really liked 80,000 Hours’ quantitative approach to thinking about impact. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learnt from 80,000 Hours, and it was Niel who emphasized this to me, was that the difference in effectiveness between the best interventions and the median intervention can be multiple orders of magnitude…

9. Ben Halton

Background: Oxford University – Politics, Philosophy and Economics, class of 2012

Situation before: A student intending to donate 10% of his income to cost-effective development charities as a member of Giving What We Can.

How 80,000 Hours intervened: Introduced him to the idea of earning to give, the idea of working in Politics and the importance of the long-run future through discussions with staff and other members of the community. Gave him a series of coaching sessions and in-depth research into Politics careers while he interned at CEA.

How his plans changed: He initially changed his plans to do earning to give as a lawyer. After finding out about politics and seeing our research on it, however, he decided to attempt to start a political career.

What he’s doing now: Doing a development internship at CEA.

In his words: Without 80,000 Hours, I would not be pursuing this career.

10. Dominic Hall

Background: Oxford University – Physics and Philosophy, Class of 2012

Situation before: Student, planning to do something effective to help improve people’s lives, no clear direction as to how this should be.

How 80,000 Hours intervened: Dominic came to an 80,000 Hours talk, and was immediately convinced. He had a meeting with an 80,000 Hours member of staff to discuss his plans, and has stayed in touch since.

How his plans changed: He decided to work in consulting rather than a traditionally ‘moral’ career, make a pledge to donate everything he earns above $50,000 and give to the most cost-effective charities.

What he’s doing now: After working in consultancy for a year, he founded his own consultancy, which he hopes to staff with members of 80,000 Hours.

11. Richard Batty

Background: Oxford University – Human Sciences, Class of 2012

Situation before: Student. Uncertain intention to go into public health as a researcher or NGO worker.
How 80,000 Hours intervened: Richard came to the original 80,000 Hours talk, and was immediately convinced. He then helped to found 80,000 Hours, interned with us, and received coaching. During this time, he researched a wide variety of careers. As the result of this, he considered a much broader range of sectors and considered doing earning to give rather than direct work.

How his plans changed: He decided to improve his programming skills, and pursue jobs in start-ups with the aim of creating valuable products and earning to give.

What he’s doing now: He’s working at a start-up consultancy in London which aims to improve board decision making.

Other support provided: Richard met a friend through 80,000 Hours, who later provided Richard with loans to learn to program and helped him find jobs in tech start-ups.

12. Adam Casey

Background: Cambridge University – Maths, Class of 2012

Situation before: Student. Highly uncertain intention to become a science journalist.

How 80,000 Hours intervened: Adam interned at CEA, and had extensive career coaching. He learned about the idea of earning to give, the option of working in start-ups and the usefulness of learning to program.

How his plans changed: He decided to found a start-up with the aim of building skills and initially earning to give. He decided against science journalism.

What he’s doing now: Working at a company he founded (Corvin Educational).

13. James Peterson

Background: University of Cardiff – Medicine, Class of 2015

Situation before: Wondering whether to become a doctor in a developing country or the developed world

How 80,000 Hours intervened: Introduced to the importance of giving to cost-effective charities and earning to give by an 80,000 Hours member and a lecture. Received coaching on his decision, where we estimated the relative benefits of earning to give in the developed world or becoming a developing world doctor.

How his plans changed: He decided to earn to give as a developed world doctor.

What he’s doing now: Finishing med school.

14. Amanda Johnson

Background: University of Oxford – Medicine, class of 2015

Situation before: Planned to become an average doctor

How 80,000 Hours intervened: After attending an event and talking to several of 80,000 Hours’ staff, Amanda became a dedicated volunteer in Oxford. She has since attracted hundreds of attendees to 80,000 Hours events and organized a conference on effective altruism in healthcare careers where she presented 80,000 Hours research. 80,000 Hours has also helped by giving her careers advice and encouraging her to think strategically about how to make an impact in medicine.

How her plans changed: Rather than assuming that she will have direct impact as a medic, Amanda decided to focus on influencing other medics to multiply her impact. She is establishing a network of healthcare professionals interested in helping people more effectively.

What she’s doing now: Completing medical school with plans to complete specialist training in public health or global health alongside building a network of medics in high impact careers.

In her own words:

I began working in healthcare at the age of sixteen wanting to “help people” – my medical school application stated “an interest in humans at all levels, from the molecular to the psychosocial.” My motivations are still the same, but my thoughts on how best to help people have changed dramatically.

After various token attempts at volunteering, I had become very disillusioned with my apparent inability to do anything of consequence. I pretty much gave-up on the idea of “charity”. I was also despondent about life in general, lacking any clear purpose or sense of agency, and I took several years out of studying because I was too depressed to care. It was therefore a revelation for me to learn that it is possible for one person to have thousands of times more impact simply by directing their efforts towards a more effective cause.

I first stumbled across an 80,000 Hours event on career choice as an excuse to avoid being dragged to a “This is Jesus Week” talk by friends. Ironically, it turned-out to be a life-changing experience on a scale that my Bible bashing friends could not have hoped for…I desperately wanted to maintain the enthusiasm that I took away from 80,000 Hours, and started volunteering to help get the message across to others. I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of the 80,000 Hours community, and my involvement has had the happy consequence of making me more motivated and productive in general.

I hope that by establishing a network of healthcare professionals with similar values I can help other medics to think beyond their everyday work to the bigger picture. By influencing how other people spend their money, time and efforts, I will indirectly have far more impact than I could ever achieve on my own.

15. Sam Hilton

Background: Oxford University – Masters in Physics and Philosophy

Situation before: Student and intern at The Life You Can Save. Very undecided about what to do.

How 80,000 Hours intervened: Participating in our community in Oxford. Received career coaching from our staff.

How his plans changed: Intends to pursue the career that will allow him to make the most difference. Applied to a very wide variety of jobs, aiming to pick the one that will place him in the best position to have an impact in the long-term.

What he’s doing now: Policy analyst at the UK treasury

In his own words:

*Like many students finishing university was something that happened to other people. I knew in the back of my mind it would happen to me too someday but I didn’t have time to think about that I always had other stuff to do. I had to get back to my room following the frisbee match, have a shower, finish that last question on neutrinoless double beta decay and then go to the party. Or something similar.

It is hard to tell exactly what effect 80,000 hours has had on my life. At some point reality would have reared its ugly head and I would have had to begin to make decisions about the rest of my life. I have no idea where I would have started. Maybe following whatever boring suggestions my parents recommended or maybe flying round the world looking for a job in adventure sports. Either way it never came to that. I realised that I wanted to make a difference, to help others, to change the world for the better as much as possible. And so, it was only when I found 80,000 Hours, that my future career really began…