Plan change analysis and cost-effectiveness

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Introduction

This document is part of our annual review. In section one, it aims to resolve some key uncertainties within our review of program performance:

  1. How many significant plan changes has 80,000 Hours caused?
  2. What were these changes?

In section two, we move on to consider:

  1. What costs has 80,000 Hours incurred in causing these changes?
  2. Does the value of the significant plan changes justify total historical costs?

In the appendix, we also include 27 studies of career changes.

Summary

The following is a four page summary of what we found. More detail is provided in the main body of the document.

How many significant plan changes has 80,000 Hours caused?

As of December 2013, we’ve collected 107 cases of significant plan changes, which we define as a 20% shift in plans plausibly attributable to 80,000 Hours. The full definition is below.

Over 60 were found through our impact survey. The remainder were found through our coaching evaluation, previous evaluation work and from prior knowledge.

We estimate that 14 occurred in 2011, 34 in 2012 and 59 in 2013. The changes resulted from a mixture of online research, coaching, community engagement and events, although it’s difficult to untangle these influences, so we are unsure which was most important. Nevertheless, there is evidence that both the online content and coaching can change careers in isolation.

Overall, we think this is good evidence that 80,000 Hours is having a significant effect on the career plans of its users. Nevertheless, there is potential for bias in collecting the evidence. In the future, we would like to outsource the evaluation process and potentially do a randomised control trial.

What did the plan changes involve?

The most common changes were becoming more likely to pursue earning to give, work at an effective altruist organisation, or support one of our high priority causes. Lots of plan changers also say they increased the extent to which they generally prioritise making the most difference with their careers. One in four was introduced to the effective altruism community for the first time by us, and over 80% say they are ‘active supporters of effective altruism’.

Before coming across 80,000 Hours, most were planning ‘conventional careers’, such as corporate jobs without donating, careers in academia, or conventional social sector careers such as teaching or non-profit work.

You can see a list of 20 randomly selected plan changes here, followed by ten explored in-depth.

You can see studies of some of the most high impact plan changes here.

The ability of the group of 107 is also very high. It includes an Oxford maths lecturer, several people who expect to earn well over £100,000 in their first year of work, several founders of tech startups, and several founders of non-profits. The majority attended Oxford, Cambridge or Ivy League Universities, and about a third have postgraduate qualifications.

What costs has 80,000 Hours incurred?

As of December 2013, our total financial costs were £147,000. If not donated to us, we think about 30% would have been given to other effective altruist organisations, 10% to GiveWell recommended charities, 20% to organisations working to mitigate existential risk, and 40% to other charities.

In addition, about 13 years of labour had been spent on the project by the team. We think the opportunity cost of this labour is likely to be larger than our financial costs. Estimates of how much we could have donated if we pursued earning to give instead suggest an opportunity cost of £233,000 in forgone donations.

This implies total costs of £370,000 at the end of 2013, or £3,500 per significant plan change.

Does the value of the significant plan changes justify total costs incurred to date?

What’s our prior?

We think our programs are likely to lead our users to have significantly more impact with their careers, because we provide significant benefits they wouldn’t have received otherwise, including introduction to new concepts like earning to give, in-depth research on specific careers, a structured planning process and useful connections to others in our community.

Based on this, the size of the shifts and the ability of the group (as explored above), we expect the plan changes to be highly valuable.

We provide three approaches to estimating their value and comparing it to our costs. This necessarily involves difficult judgement calls. We flag these in the body of the document, and provide substantial detail on the individual cases so you can make up your own mind.

Below is a summary of the approaches and the conclusions we’ve personally drawn.

(1) An estimate based on earning to give

39 of the 107 people (35%) who made significant plan changes are pursuing earning to give. They expect to donate over £2.5m over the next three years to high impact charities, of which they attribute £700,000 to 80,000 Hours. They have already donated £200,000, of which they attribute £70,000 to 80,000 Hours.

This is already double our costs, though doesn’t include adjustments for bias in the reporting, losses due to discounting (the costs have already been incurred but the donations arrive over the next three years), and opportunity cost (the relevant individuals may have turned down other high impact paths in order to pursue earning to give). The donations only justify our costs if these factors reduce their value by less than half.

We doubt the opportunity cost is very high because most top donors would have taken corporate careers otherwise, but they would not have donated to high impact charities. Discounting could reduce their value by 10-30%, and we’re unsure about bias. Overall, we’re unsure whether the value of donations over the next three years alone justifies our costs.

On the other hand, the figure of £700,000 ignores donations beyond 2016. Most people pursuing earning to give expect to donate more per year beyond 2016 due to earnings growth, and over five are on paths that have a realistic chance of income over £1m per year within the next five years.

We’ve ignored any impact the group has beyond their personal donations, though there have already been cases of people pursuing earning to give persuading others to donate significantly more.

The figure also ignores the impact of the remaining 68 people (65%) who are not pursuing earning to give. Many of these people compared their plans to earning to give, and decided they could have more impact by doing something else. If the value of these plan changes is comparable to the value of the changes towards earning to give, then the total value is about three times higher.

Overall, we think this approach suggests the value of the significant plan changes justifies our costs.

(2) An estimate based on labour reallocation

Since each plan change is intended to be a shift of more than 20%, and people make major career decisions every four years, if the figure of 20% is correctly measured, at least 85 years of labour has been reallocated on the basis of these plan changes over the next four years.

Only 13 years of labour and £147,000 (enough to pay for about another five years of labour) has been spent on 80,000 Hours, so we’ve influenced about five times more labour than we invested through the significant plan changes. To justify our costs, therefore, we’d need to increase the value of this labour by about 20%.

We think this is likely, because many of the 107 are now pursuing our top recommended careers, which, based on our research, we think are likely to be several times higher impact than ‘conventional careers’.

This doesn’t include any impact beyond the next four years. However, we think that the influence of the plan changes will carry through to the impact have beyond the next four years, because what you do over the next four years influences what you can achieve after that. More importantly, most of the group of 107 are now engaged with the effective altruism community, and a significant fraction say they now generally prioritise making a difference more than they did before. It seems likely that a significant fraction will stay engaged over the coming decades, rather than just the next four years, which would raise the expected value several fold.

(3) An estimate based on examining the most high impact plan changes

We’ve collected 13 of the highest impact significant plan changes after July 2012. they include several people intending to donate over £100,000 over the next couple of years, someone going into politics, the founders of two new organisations and four people working on effective altruist projects. most of them now highly prioritise making a difference with their career. we think it’s likely that the value of these changes justifies our costs.

Conclusions

Overall, we’re fairly confident that the value of these plan changes justifies our total historical costs of £3,500 per significant plan change (in terms of donations to high impact charities). We guess they are somewhere between equally valuable and ten times as valuable. We don’t rule out scenarios in which the plan changes don’t justify our costs. But we also don’t rule out scenarios in which they turn out to be far more valuable.

Key uncertainties and directions for future work

  • How much better is the advice our users receive from 80,000 Hours compared to what they would have received without us?
    • We intend to submit our research to external evaluation over the next year.
  • How valuable are ‘conventional careers’ compared to the paths taken by the 107 people and effective altruist-style activities in general?
    • We can reduce this uncertainty by carrying out more careers research, which is our key priority over the next year.
  • To what extent does bias in our surveying methods mean we’ve overestimated how much these plan changes are due to 80,000 Hours?
    • We can reduce this uncertainty by outsourcing more of the evaluation, improving our attribution methods (for instance, by carrying out a randomised controlled trial of our coaching), and gaining better information on the career plans of new users. In the most important cases, we could also do more in-depth explorations of how the changes came about. We intend to pursue some of these options over the next couple of years.
  • How deep and long lasting is the influence of a plan change?
    • We intend to continue to track this group of 107 people.
  • What’s the chance of one or two people in the group having extreme impact, such as founding a highly influential organisation, donating tens of millions of pounds to charity, or being elected to office?
    • Likewise, we’ll learn more over the next couple of years by tracking our users.
    • Perhaps more importantly, we’ll learn more about this through further research into the chances of extreme impact from various careers.
  • How can we be confident that further work will cause more people to change their career plans?
    • We can learn more about this by continuing to track the effect of our programs on our user’s careers over the next year.

Value beyond significant plan changes

In this document, we only examine the value of known significant plan changes. This does not fully capture our impact.

It’s likely our activities have caused career changes we don’t know about or which will occur in the future. We do not include these in our estimates.

Moreover, we believe 80,000 Hours has created substantial value beyond changing the careers of our users. This includes building the effective altruism community, building CEA (which has already incubated four other projects), creating a body of research and working out how to create an organisation with the chance of becoming much more influential in the future. We’ve written about these other types of impact in ‘what impact has 80,000 Hours had?


Section 1 – Plan changes


Definition of a significant plan change

A significant plan change is defined as:

An individual has made a significant plan change if they say they have changed their credence in pursuing a certain mission, cause or next step by 20% or more; they attribute this change to 80,000 Hours, and there’s a plausible story about how engaging with 80,000 Hours caused this change.

For instance, suppose someone says they anticipate going to medical school with probability 55% and law school with probability 45%. They then read an article on the 80,000 Hours blog and switch to 75% medical school and 25% law school. That’s the minimum that could count as a significant plan change. We set the threshold at 20% to make the metric more robust, and because it would be impractical to track very small changes.

In practice, if someone told us they changed their best guess option, then we counted that as a shift of greater than 20%.

We count the plan change as plausibly due to us if:

  • The person tells us that they changed their plans and they think it was due to us.
  • We can identify the new information we gave them that changed their mind.

How many have we caused?

In total, 107 that we know about. We collected these from the following sources (click to find the evidence behind each source):

How did they come about?

In the survey we asked whether the changes arose from: reading our online content, one-on-one coaching, discussion with people met through 80,000 Hours and attending an event. We also asked whether respondents had worked for, volunteered for or donated to 80,000 Hours. They were allowed to select more than one answer. Their answers are here.

For the other sources, I judged which one, two or three pathways seemed most important, using my knowledge of their case.

Overall, this is what we found:

Reading online contentOne-on-one coachingDiscussion with people met through 80,000 HoursWorking with us or otherwise knowing us personallyAttending an event
Total4346453020
Percentage39%41%41%27%18%

There’s also some more breakdown for 2H 2013 in the metrics matrix.

This provides a rough indication of what triggered the plan changes. It’s much more challenging to work out which programs actually caused the plan changes, because it’s difficult to know the counterfactual. For instance, if we had done much less coaching, the same people might have spent more time reading our research or engaging with the community. For this reason, when our programs are more established, we will consider a randomised controlled trial of our coaching service.

However, we think we can make some tentative conclusions:

  • All of our programs have been somewhat important in causing significant plan changes.
  • Events have been less important, but this could be because we’ve spent less time on them. Their main benefit is outreach, not changing plans directly.
  • In the survey, 37 people said online research was the only significant factor. this suggests the online content on its own can change careers.
  • The coaching evaluation shows that short coaching sessions could trigger significant plan changes in 40% of cases. Although it’s likely some of these changes would have happened anyway due to other programs, we think this suggests coaching can cause significant plan changes in isolation at the margin.

When did they come about?

This is difficult to estimate because changes tend to happen gradually over time.

We estimated when most of the influence occurred by going over the list of significant plan changes and using our prior knowledge of the cases.

  • In 60% of cases, we were familiar with the details and made an informed guess.
  • In 25% of cases, we could estimate when they first found out about 80,000 Hours. Absent prior knowledge, we assumed the plan change occurred six months after they first found out about us.
  • In 15% of cases, we couldn’t estimate, so we distributed these in proportion to the changes we had already classified.

From this analysis, we arrived at the following totals:

Period# of significant plan changesAnnual growth
Total 201114
Total 201234142%
Total 20135976%
Total (all time)107

Were they really due to us?

To count as a significant plan change, each must satisfy the following conditions:

  • The relevant person agrees their plans changed due to 80,000 Hours.
  • We can say roughly what their plans were before, and what they were after.
  • We can point to the information they gained that led to the change (for instance, attending an event or reading a blog post)

Since it’s difficult to work out what would have happened without the existence of 80,000 Hours, there’s uncertainty in each case. Still, based on these conditions, we think it’s reasonable to conclude that 80,000 Hours is changing a significant number of plans.

To provide further evidence, we took a random sample of ten of the first 103 significant plan changes (the remaining four were added later during the evaluation). For each of these, we wrote a study explaining the changes and how they came about. We checked these write-ups with each individual. They pointed out any inaccuracies and confirmed our exact wording.

  • You can see the random sample here.
  • You can also see further studies here and here.

Three further sources of evidence are:

  • Many of the careers people switch to are unusual. For instance, about a third of the people who made changes are pursuing earning to give. Many others are planning to work at effective altruist organisations, or in support of unusual causes like global priorities research. This suggests the changes are due to either 80,000 Hours or other groups in effective altruism. Since 80,000 Hours has been one the main groups growing the effective altruism community, a portion of this influence is likely to be due to us.
  • The impact survey showed that the people who made career changes are pursuing different careers from other elite university graduates, and from survey respondents who didn’t report changed career plans.
  • As explained in the overall review of the performance of our programs, we caused these significant plan changes whilst reaching over 100,000 people and having several thousand engaged users. It seems reasonable to claim that 1% of our engaged users would change their plans based on our content.

We think the main arguments against the plan changes being due to us are:

  • The relevant individuals underestimate the extent to which these changes would have happened anyway due to other groups in the effective altruism community.
  • The relevant individuals are biased to overstate our influence, because they are supporters of 80,000 Hours and about a quarter know us personally. (Although note people may also be bias towards understating the influence of others on their decisions).

We therefore expect our influence on the group of 107 is more likely to be overstated than understated. Still, we remain confident that 80,000 Hours is changing a significant number of careers.

We can reduce uncertainty about bias in the future by outsourcing more of the evaluation, improving our attribution methods (such as by having a randomised controlled trial of our coaching), gaining better information on the career plans of new users to act as a baseline, and conducting more in-depth explorations of how plan changes came about. We intend to pursue some of these options over the next couple of years.

What were the changes?

Typical examples

We took a random sample of twenty of the first 103 people (the remaining four were added later, since they were discovered during the evaluation). Based on our knowledge of their cases (normally due to survey responses) we identified how their plans had changed due to 80,000 Hours. We sent our written account to the individuals concerned and asked them to point out inaccuracies.

We’ve listed the plan changes here.

We broadly categorised the types of plan change, and recorded how many times they arose. The changes mentioned more than once are summarised below. Note that it was possible for one person to make several types of change, so the percentages add up to 155%.

Became more likely to…Number of instancesPercentage of people
Consider and pursue earning to give1260%
Work at an effective altruist organisation630%
Say they prioritise making the most difference with their career more highly630%
Work to reduce existential risk315%
Support global priorities research210%
Prioritise gaining career capital210%

The most common shift was towards earning to give. 30% also became more concerned with aiming to choose the career in which they can make the most difference.

The majority of these people attended Oxford, Cambridge or Ivy League Universities. Of the twenty, two have PhDs, two have Masters degrees, one is a Marshall Scholar, one is a graduate of Entrepreneur First and three are founders of startups.

The impact survey provides more data on what professions the plan changers will pursue, and how these differ from most elite graduates and followers of 80,000 hours who haven’t changed their plans. it suggests we’ve made our users much more likely to go into finance and effective altruist organisations, and a lot less likely to go into academia.

The survey also showed that most people who made a significant plan change now identified as effective altruists. 63% also switched from ‘conventional careers’ (i.e. aiming to pick the career that’s best personally) or conventional social impact careers (i.e. typically in non-profits, education or medicine) into the careers rated highly by 80,000 Hours, while the others switched between high rated options. A quarter were introduced to effective altruism for the first time by 80,000 Hours.

High impact examples

We expect that a significant fraction of the value will come from the top couple of plan changes. This is similar to what we found in our evaluation of earning to give.

Using our prior knowledge, we examined about 25 significant plan changes which we thought have the potential to be the highest impact (made large shifts, clearly influenced by us and entered high impact options). We investigated further, and selected the top 13. We’ve written up studies of each here.

We applied the further condition that these plan changes occurred after July 2012, when we started working full-time. This removed about seven similarly impressive cases, which are listed here.

The group includes the founders of three new organisations, several people who plan to donate hundreds of thousands of pounds over just the next few years to high impact charities, and many people who changed from leading normal careers to primarily aiming to make a difference in their careers.

How many people have become ‘dedicated members’?

Instead of focusing on significant plan changes, some have suggested we focus on how many dedicated members we create. A dedicated member is someone who has made a significant plan change, and says that in the future they (i) will decide what career to pursue primarily based on where they can make the most difference, (ii) are prepared to consider a wide range of options, and (iii) will be highly engaged with the effective altruism community.

Compared to a significant plan changer, a dedicated member is more likely to stay involved and pursue the career opportunities that turn out to have the most impact in the future.

From the 107 people who made significant plan changes, we identified 12 (11%) who we think plausibly became dedicated members because of 80,000 Hours. This is a small number, but their level of commitment is very high.

We’ve also written up studies of their plan changes, which you can see here.

To what extent do changed plans translate into action?

We write about this in the overall review of the performance of our programs. The majority seem to have already followed through and acted on their changed intentions. The majority of the remainder have not followed through because not enough time has passed (e.g. they’re still at university). Overall, we did not find evidence of many people abandoning their plans.

Section 2 – Cost-effectiveness


How much did the significant plan changes cost?

At the end of 2013, our total financial costs to date were £147,000.

If this money hadn’t been spent by 80,000 Hours, we think about 30% would have been given to other effective altruist organisations, 10% to GiveWell recommended charities, 20% to organisations working to mitigate existential risk, and 40% would have been given to other charities. This is based on where we guess our eight biggest donors over 2013 would have given otherwise, assuming they would have donated otherwise and assuming alternative effective altruist organisations would have sprung up in our place.

In addition, about 13 years of labour have been spent on the project by the team. We believe the opportunity cost of this time is likely to be larger than our financial costs. One way to roughly estimate this opportunity cost is to consider how much we could have donated if we had pursued earning to give instead. Using £20 per hour for staff, £7.50 per hour for interns, £2 per hour for volunteers before 2012 and £10 for volunteers after, we get an opportunity cost of £233,000 in forgone donations.

Combining these, we arrive at total costs of £350,000, of which a significant proportion would have been donated to high impact charities otherwise.

If we assign all of these costs to the plan changes and ignore resources spent on other activities, then the cost per significant plan change is about £3,500.

Total201320122011
Financial costs in £147,000124,11223,1710
Weeks of labour spent on 80,000 Hours58835115978
Opportunity cost of labour in £233,000163,79363,2796,248
Number of significant plan changes107593414
Total costs divided by number of plan changes3,4584,7102,543446

You can find a more detailed breakdown of costs in our review of program performance.

Why have costs per plan change increased over time?

Cost per plan change was very low in 2011 because we initially influenced a group of people we knew personally and only focused on outreach. In 2012, we started working with new people through the website, which was more costly.

In addition, in 2011 we were student volunteers with a low opportunity cost. By 2012, we had graduated, so had the option to work elsewhere.

Another variable is how much time we’ve devoted directly to changing careers and how much time we’ve devoted to investing for future growth. In 2013, the majority of our efforts were focused on testing our business model, developing our content and generally building the organisation. In 2012 we were more focused on outreach. We don’t expect the efforts in 2013 to have already paid-off, which has increased the cost per plan change in the short-term. Our coaching evaluation showed that short one-on-ones caused a significant plan change for an opportunity cost of about £500. This suggests if we had more of these, we could have substantially reduced the average cost per change.

Overall, we don’t think the trend from 2012 to 2013 is concerning, but we will continue to closely monitor the ratio.

Does the value of these changes justify the costs incurred by 80,000 Hours?

Putting a figure on the value of a significant plan change is difficult, since it involves estimating the impact the person will have in their new career path, the impact they would have had in their previous career path and how much of the change is due to 80,000 Hours. Any answer will necessarily involve judgement calls over which different people can reasonably disagree.

Due to these difficulties, we’ll evaluate the question of whether the plan changes justify the costs from multiple angles, including:

  • What types of information did the relevant people gain from us, and would you expect this to increase their impact?
  • How much extra money do they intend to donate to charity?
  • How much labour has been influenced?
  • How valuable do the most high impact plan changes seem?

Note that whether the value of these plan changes justifies the costs incurred by 80,000 Hours is a different question from whether 80,000 Hours has justified its costs overall. We expand on some of the other types of value we have created in ‘what impact has 80,000 Hours had?’.

What types of information did our users gain, and will this to lead to more impact?

Our audience is highly intelligent and altruistic (for instance, see the analysis of the applications for coaching and see the individual studies of career change). If you give them more information about having social impact which causes them to change their plans, then absent other information you’d expect their new plan to be an improvement, meaning it will lead to higher impact.

To think that the plan changes don’t lead to higher impact, you would need to think:

  • The information is presented in a misleading way, so it’s either biasing or convinces people of incorrect information.
  • The information is correct, but not very important in determining social impact.
  • The information is correct but demotivating, which reduces overall impact.

In contrast, we think we provide our users with highly significant and original information, as well as other useful support.

We sketch these benefits below. Note that we intend to investigate this in more detail in our upcoming research evaluation.

Benefits of our programs for users

  1. We introduce them to important and often original information, including:

* Important concepts like earning to give; impact-based charity and aid evaluation (e.g. telling them about GiveWell); strategic cause selection; the importance of the long-run future; the importance of keeping your options open; the importance of assessing your actions compared to the counterfactual; and so on.
* Concrete information about various careers, like medicine, politics, biomedical research and others.
* Evidence based recommendations on how to make rational career decisions, which jobs are most satisfying and how to find jobs that fit.

  1. We connect users, often leading to exchanges of information from more experienced workers to job seekers. For instance, most people who receive coaching are introduced to 1-3 other people in our network of over 100 alumni. We also provide a members directory.

  2. Those who receive coaching benefit from a structured career planning process, an encouraging relationship with one of our staff and an outside view on their decisions.

  3. Our content and community generally promotes being ambitious, altruistic and rational in your choice of career.

Based on this, we think it’s likely that the plan changes lead to significantly more impact. It’s hard to know from this alone, however, whether the value of the changes is sufficiently large to justify our costs. So now we will turn to several methods of estimating the value of a plan change.

How much more money do they donate to high impact charities?

Encouraging people to pursue earning to give is our most quantifiable impact. We use it to estimate a lower bound on the value of a plan change. In the random sample of 20 plan changes, 60% became more likely to pursue earning to give. among the 107 significant plan changes, based on our knowledge of them, we counted 39 significant plan changers (36%) who are now pursuing earning to give as their best guess strategy.

We defined ‘pursuing earning to give’ as someone who:

  1. Seeks a high earning job, like in finance, software, consulting or law.
  2. Intends to donate over 10% of their income (typically over 20%).
  3. Is highly concerned with the effectiveness of their donations.
  4. Participates in the effective altruism community.

To cover total historical costs of £350,000, each person pursuing earning to give would have to donate an additional £9,000. This is just 20-30% of a typical professional annual starting salary (and most of these people have an entire 40 year career ahead of them). Around a quarter are going into finance, where expected earnings are in the hundreds of thousands of pounds per year. We’ve identified five who are on career paths within hedge funds and tech entrepreneurship that carry a reasonable chance of earning millions of pounds within the next decade.

We attempted to measure in more detail how much these people are planning to donate in our earning to give evaluation, and we’ve provided studies of the individual donors so you can make your own assessments.

Have sufficiently large donations already been made to justify costs?

A random sample of ten of the 39 said they donated £200,000 over the last three years to high impact charities, of which they attribute £70,000 to 80,000 Hours. This is £6,000 per person, which is already close to justifying costs. However, 90% was due to one individual, who was by far the largest historical donor in the group of 39. So the overall average is likely to be significantly lower.

How much do they intend to donate over the next three years?

  • The largest five donors we’ve identified expect to donate £2.1m over the next three years to high impact charities, of which they attribute £565,000 to 80,000 Hours.
  • The random sample of ten expect to donate £1m over the next three years, of which they attribute £320,000 to 80,000 Hours. Excluding the largest donor, the corresponding figures are £146,000 and £37,000.
  • This suggests the entire group expects to donate about an additional £700,000 due to 80,000 Hours over the next three years, or £18,000 per person (565 + 37 * 3.5).

So expected donations over the next three years may already justify our costs.

Why might donations over the next three years not justify costs?

There may be upward biases in the survey results. For instance:

  1. Overconfidence about earnings, donations and the chance of dropping out.
  2. A desire to tell us what we want to hear, especially since many of the people surveyed are supporters of 80,000 Hours, and about a quarter know us personally.
  3. An inability to disentangle our impact from the rest of the effective altruism community, which may have caused them to start earning to give soon after we persuaded them.

These biases might outweigh biases in the opposite direction, such as not wanting to admit being influenced, not putting enough weight on a small chance of very high earnings and not wanting to boast. We encouraged people to point out inaccuracies to help reduce these biases.

More importantly, pursuing earning to give may carry an opportunity cost: the alternative high impact activities these people could have pursued. We encourage you to read about the individual cases to judge the opportunity costs, since this is a difficult call.

To our knowledge, all of the top donors believe this is the best path for them in terms of impact. Four out of seven of the largest donors would have pursued corporate careers without giving as much, and without giving to high impact charities. So overall we don’t think the opportunity costs were high. On the other hand, the other three probably would have pursued academic careers, which likely carries some cost, depending on your view of the value of academic careers.

Finally, the donations from earning to give will come later, which means they’ll be less valuable than donations made now. Very roughly, this might reduce their value by 10-30%.

For donations over the next three years to fail to justify our costs, the opportunity costs, discounting and biases would have to remove more than half their value. We think this is plausible but somewhat pessimistic.

What about donations from 2016 onwards?

These are harder to estimate, since it’s hard to understand our causal influence and the chance of dropout becomes highly important. Nevertheless, the majority of people pursuing earning to give said they expect to be donating more in three years time (see the random sample of ten due to earnings growth. several are pursuing careers in hedge funds and tech startups, so have the chance of very high earnings. so, it’s likely there’s significant value in the donations beyond 2016.

Overall, we think the expected donations from people pursuing earning to give alone are likely to justify our costs.

What about other types of impact beyond donations?

The people pursuing earning to give may have other forms of impact beyond the money they personally donate. For instance, there have already been cases of people pursuing earning to give persuading others to donate more. This is ignored in the estimates above.

Comparison with the previous estimate in the trustee evaluation

Our trustee, Nick Beckstead, attempted to estimate the value of an additional member of 80,000 Hours in May 2013. His best estimate was that an additional member leads to counterfactually-adjusted, time-discounted lifetime donations to high impact charities of $11,000, with a range of $700 to $170,000. However, he cautioned that this estimate is highly speculative, and you shouldn’t put much weight on it.

We no longer track impact in terms of members recruited. However, in old surveys of members we asked whether they anticipated making a significant plan change due to 80,000 Hours. 36% responded to the survey, and 37% of respondents said they anticipated making a “significant” or “complete” career change. That suggests one significant plan change corresponds to about ten members. When membership closed, we had about 1000 members and 70 significant plan changes, suggesting a ratio of 1:15.

Using the lower ratio implies the value of a significant plan change is about £68,000 in counterfactually-adjusted, time-discounted lifetime donations to high impact charities, with a range of £4,000 to £1m. This would comfortably justify costs of £3,500 per significant plan change.

What about people not pursuing earning to give?

About 35% of the people who made significant plan changes are pursuing earning to give as their best guess strategy. So far, we’ve shown that the additional donations from these people are already likely to justify our costs. This ignores the additional impact of the remaining 65% of people who made significant plan changes.

It’s harder to quantify the value of these changes, but we think it would be pessimistic to assume they have negligible value compared to earning to give. Earning to give has become a common baseline in our careers advice. That is, many people compare their options to it and only pursue something else if they think it’s likely to have more impact. If our users are able to correctly judge on average when they can do something better than earning to give, then the other 65% of plan changes are likely to have significant value compared to the 35% pursuing earning to give. If the value per plan change is similar, then our overall impact is three times the size of the impact of donations alone.

How much labour has been influenced?

Another way to think about the value of a plan change is in terms of the amount of labour reallocated from conventional career paths to our recommended career paths.

This source claims people change job on average every four years. A significant plan change is defined as a shift of over 20% in their plans concerning their career path, cause, or next step. So if that percentage is correctly measured, each significant plan change would cause 0.8 years of labour to be spent differently over the next four years, and likely more beyond. In total, that makes 86 years of labour reallocated. Was this worth the cost of 13 years of labour from the team, and £147,000 in donations?

The average Oxford graduate starting salary is £25,000, so £147,000 of donations is worth roughly another five years of labour, raising the total to cost to 18 years of labour.

That means we’ve influenced about five time as much labour as we’ve spent on the project. For the costs to be justified, therefore, we’d need to increase the impact of our users’ careers by about 20% compared to what they would have done otherwise. (And assuming that the paths the team would have followed otherwise are about as valuable as the paths our users take).

We think it’s very likely the plan changers on average pick options that have 20% more impact than they would have had otherwise. This is because we think the paths our users take are likely to have several times as much impact as the ‘conventional careers’ they would have taken otherwise.

Problems with this method

One significant problem is that the figure of 0.8 years per plan change may be too high, because it may not be properly counterfactually adjusted. However, if you think our recommended paths are twice as high impact as what our users would have pursued otherwise, you’d need to think this figure was overstated by a factor of ten before the plan changes no longer justify our costs.

Moreover, we’ve ignored any influence by 80,000 Hours beyond their next career decision. This seems pessimistic. First, what you do over the next four years changes the opportunities you can take after that. Second, and more importantly, many of the people making a significant plan changes say they have becme more generally concerned about making a difference, and we think over 10% have become ‘dedicated members’. Even if only a small proportion continue to be influenced beyond the next four years, since our users have their entire careers ahead of them, it could increase the expected value several fold.

Analysis of the most high impact plan changes

Since it’s likely that a significant proportion of the impact comes from the tail of the distribution, another approach is directly analysing the most high impact plan changes. We’ve given details of changes we think have the highest impact since we went full time in July 2012 here, so you can make up your own mind.

In addition to several people who intend to donate hundreds of thousands of pounds to high impact charities over the next couple of years, there’s also:

  1. Someone doing prioritisation research at the Global Priorities Project, which probably also wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for 80,000 Hours. They previously planned on maths research.
  2. Three people working at the Centre for Effective Altruism, who switched from pursuing conventional careers to prioritising making a difference.
  3. An Oxford PPE graduate starting a political career as an effective altruist, which we think is likely better than earning to give for someone well suited to it. They would have become a lawyer or an academic otherwise.
  4. Someone who founded Animal Charity Evaluators with our help, which has already received donations of over £60,000.

Even ignoring the donations, we think these examples alone may well justify historical costs of £350,000.

Conclusion – did the value of the significant plan changes justify our costs?

In summary, we looked at whether to expect the plan changes to lead to more impact. Then, we examined from three angles whether the additional impact is likely to be large enough to justify our costs: (i) an estimate based on the additional donations of people pursuing earning to give (ii) an estimate based on how much labour has been reallocated, and (iii) an estimate based on the most high impact plan changes.

This question involves difficult judgement calls, so we’ve aimed to make enough detail available on the relevant individuals that you can make up your own mind.

Our assessment was that all three angles suggest the significant plan changes justify our historical costs, so overall we are over 80% confident the costs are justified.

By how much do the changes justify our costs? Our overall subjective estimate is that the significant plan changes are worth one to ten times as much as our costs.

Could the significant plan changes be worth much more than our costs?

We have some reason to believe they are worth more than ten times our costs. Particularly high figures could be justified if:

  1. Effective altruist style activities (like donating to GiveWell recommended charities, donating to GiveWell itself, or working on existential risk) turn out to have far more impact than conventional careers.
  2. You’re optimistic that the people who have made significant plan changes will remain engaged in the long run.
  3. You think that 80,000 Hours will remain influential in the effective altruism community.
  4. You think there’s a good chance of ‘tail’ outcomes among the 107 people, like someone earning and donating tens of millions of pounds, being elected to office or founding a highly influential organisation.

How could the significant plan changes be worth less than our costs?

Some possibilities include:

  1. Our research could be importantly misleading, or not relevant to having more social impact.
  2. More generally, it could turn out difficult to help moderately altruistic people have much more social impact than they were going to have anyway.
  3. Our research could be correct, but few people will stick to their changes even over the next couple of years.
  4. 80,000 Hours could turn out to be relatively unimportant in effective altruism, and most of our influence would have happened anyway due to other groups.

Impact not included in the estimates

We’ve only considered the value of significant plan changes. This means we’ve ignored:

  1. Impact due to plan changes we don’t know of.
  2. Impact due to small changes in career plans.
  3. Impact due to plan changes that will occur in the future due to past efforts, such as when engaged users are making their next career decisions.

Given that over 100,000 people have viewed our website and millions of people have heard our ideas in the media, we think it’s likely there’s a significant number of plan changes we’ve caused that we don’t know about. Moreover, we expect our work will continue to generate a stream of plan changes in the future with little continued investment. Our survey suggests that for every three significant plan changes there are at least two other people who have been significantly influenced. this could easily lead to further future plan changes.

Overall, we think (1) – (3) could be a significant additional source of impact from career changes.

Moreover, we think it’s unlikely most of our impact to date comes from changed career plans at all. Rather, the value is in investment and learning could enable us to become much larger in the future. The value is also in building the effective altruism community. More information.

Conclusion

To date, we think we have caused 107 significant plan changes. We think this is good evidence that 80,000 Hours is changing the career plans of our users.

We’re over 80% confident the value of these plan changes justifies total historical costs of £3,500 per significant plan change (of which £1,200 is a financial cost and £2,300 is the opportunity cost of labour). We don’t rule out the possibility that the plan changes will not justify our costs, but we also don’t rule out the possibility that they will prove far more valuable.


Appendix – Typical email to a career changer

Dear…

Thanks very much for filling out our survey.

(Here we would often discuss their feedback of 80,000 Hours from the survey)

As part of our impact evaluation, we’re making a list of 20 randomly selected plan changes we’ve caused. Your name fell in the sample, so I wanted to check the following with you. Is it OK if we list this on the blog as part of the list? Your name will not be listed.

What were they planning before? Physics PhD, most likely followed by research in particle physics or cosmology.

How did their plans change, and what are they doing now? Will probably pursue earning to give in quantitative finance or other high-paid corporate jobs after finishing studying. Less likely to do a PhD.

We want it to be as accurate as possible given space, so please point out anything you think is misleading.

All the best,

Ben

Appendix – Studies of career change

20 randomly selected plan changes

We took the list of 104 plan changes and randomly selected 20. In this table, we display the plan changes that 80,000 Hours seems to have caused.

The process was:

  1. We wrote the description of the plan changes based on what we currently knew from their own words in the survey, our coaching write ups, our own knowledge or the studies of career change prepared in October 2013.
  2. We sent these descriptions to the relevant person by email, asking them to point out mistakes (unless noted otherwise).
  3. When we had a version they were happy with, we confirmed the final wording with them (unless noted otherwise).

We’ve explored the first ten in more depth below.

NumberWhat were they planning beforeHow did their plans change?
1Wanted to do a maths degree, with the intention of going into academia, to research biological anthropology.Had wanted to go into academia for all of their life, but now is much less sure. Can now imagine doing earning to give, which they more or less despised before. Still doing a maths degree, as planned before.
2Was planning to do a master’s in Psychology, with the view to go into research designing interventions to increase people’s happiness, productivity and decision-making.He decided to work at 80,000 Hours instead. He intends to pursue his career on the basis of where he can make the most difference.
3Student and intern at The Life You Can Save. Member of Giving What We Can. Very undecided about what to do.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.
4Pursue a career in climate policy or be a science advisor to NGOs or governments.Initially switched to considering earning to give in finance, but after several months decided to work within effective altruist organisations. Intends to pursue the career in which he can make the most difference.
5Was planning on doing a Maths postdoc, but was considering other options.Increased confidence that working in finance was a good option for them, applied to a financial trading firm, did an internship with them, and now has two offers from top finance firms that they are choosing between.
6No concrete career intentions though highly concerned about making a difference.Initially pursued jobs at THINK, which she discovered through 80,000 Hours. Then decided to intern at CEA. Finally, decided to found Effective Fundraising, which does nothing but fundraise for the most effective charities in the world, thereby creating a charity that’s even more cost-effective. This decision was influenced by 80,000 Hours, among several other groups. Intends to pursue the career in which she can make the most difference.
7Split between working as a programmer, freelancing as a programmer, or starting a startup. Interested in but had vague ideas about making a difference through reducing existential risk or broad interventions to support economic growth.Still considering the same three career paths, but became convinced that reducing the risks from artificial intelligence is the most important cause. Decided to donate 2.5-5% of their income. Currently working as a programmer at a consultancy, having been recommended for the role by other members of 80,000 Hours. Intends to donate to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute.
8Student, considering a variety of paths.Applied to GiveWell and is now working there.
9Consultancy, politics or charity. Also donating 10% of income as a member of Giving What We Can.Decided against pursuing charity work, and is currently pursuing consultancy.
10Intending to either go to law school or start a career in academic philosophy.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.
11Planned to work in the city, occasionally volunteer and donate monthly to Save the Children and Unicef.Still planning to enter management consulting, but seriously considering taking the Giving What We Can pledge after getting a job. More concerned about the cost-effectiveness of their donations.
12Physics PhD, most likely followed by research in particle physics or cosmology.Will probably pursue earning to give in quantitative finance, ASML or other high-paid corporate jobs after finishing studying. Less likely to do the PhD.
13Highly uncertain, but most likely journalism, teaching or non-profit work.Pursuing earning to give in consultancy or finance. 80,000 Hours was a significant factor in this decision, though they were already aware of some of the general ideas through Giving What We Can.
14Student. Highly uncertain intention to become a science journalist.He decided to found a start-up with the aim of building skills and initially earning to give. He decided against science journalism. Working at a company he founded (Corvin Educational).
15Choosing between doing a medical degree to go into medical research and maximising earnings in finance to do earning to give. Most likely to do medical research. Highly concerned with making a difference.Now most likely to take the earning to give route in finance. More likely to donate to meta-charities.
16Planning to do post-graduate study in philosophy and then either go into academia or work somewhere in the not-for-profit sector, or potentially go into teaching.Shifted his career strategy so that where he can make the most difference is now the most important consideration in his choice of career. He is very confident that this would not be the case if it were not for 80,000 Hours. In terms of causes, he now considers advancing global prioritisation and mitigating global catastrophic and existential risks as very important. In the near future, he plans to apply to management consultancies, internships at the Centre for Effective Altruism, and to investigate whether he could intern with the Future of Humanity Institute or the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.
17Donate 5% of income to local charities, and more in the future. Intending to go into Public or Community Health.Job intentions unchanged, but now intends to donate to GiveWell recommended charities.
18Uncertain plans to become a barrister/ solicitor.Made me consider research, journalism and working for charity. Also raised possibility of carrying on with previous plans and earning to give.
19Student. Planning to work in start-ups.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. Now he’s the 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.
20Working to fight climate change or global poverty through campaigning or social entrepreneurship.Decided that promoting effective altruism is the most important cause. Significantly increased how likely he is to found an effective altruist organisation.
19Giving 10% to global poverty charities as a member of Giving What We Can. Uncertain intention to work in academia.More likely to pursue Earning to Give. Considered quantitative finance careers, but decided to start career in tech SME to build skills to improve long-term prospects and earnings. Intends to donate to meta-charities or effective altruist organisations. Currently working in a small tech company.
20Unable to confirm

10 randomly selected studies of career change

We took the first ten of the twenty randomly selected plan changes in the previous section, and explored the changes in more depth.

We used the same process as above:

  1. We wrote the studies out in full, using our prior knowledge.
  2. We contacted the person with further questions and asked them to point out inaccuracies.
  3. We confirmed the exact wording with the relevant person.

Three have been anonymised.

1. Denise Melchin

Background
Denise is studying Maths at university in Germany.

What were they planning before?
Denise wanted to do a maths degree, with the intention of going into academia, to research biological anthropology.

How did their plans change, and what are they doing now?
Denise had wanted to go into academia for all of her life, but now she is much less sure. She can now imagine doing Earning to Give, which she more or less despised before. Denise is still doing a maths degree, like she had planned before.

How and why did the change come about?
Denise changed her plan through reading online content and through discussions with people who were also concerned with the goals of 80,000 Hours and involved in the Effective Altruist community, though she didn’t meet them directly through 80k.

In their own words:
“My opinion gradually changed, I got more and more used to ideas like EtG and started to dislike them less. I might actually follow such paths now and think they are good ideas.”

2. Roman Duda

Background
Roman did the BPhil in Philosophy at Oxford, and was choosing between a wide range of careers.

What were they planning before?
He was planning to do a master’s in Psychology, with the view to do go into research designing interventions to increase people’s happiness, productivity and decision-making.

How did their plans change?
He decided to work at 80,000 Hours instead. He intends to pursue his career on the basis of where he can make the most difference.

What are they doing now?
Roman is working full time at 80,000 Hours.

How and why did the change come about?
Roman came to care more about making a difference with his career while an intern at 80,000 Hours. The plan change came about as a result of a case study done on Roman’s situation by 80,000 Hours whilst Roman was an intern at 80,000 Hours.

3. Sam Hilton

Background Oxford University – Masters in Physics and Philosophy, graduated 2011

What were they planning before? Student and intern at The Life You Can Save. Member of Giving What We Can. Very undecided about what to do.

How did their plans change? 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 are they doing now? Policy analyst at the UK treasury.

How and why did the change come about? Participating in our community in Oxford. Received career coaching from our staff.

In their 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…

4. Niel Bowerman

Background University of Oxford, PhD candidate in Climate Physics. Climate campaigner. Named a “Young Global Shaper” by the World Economic Forum.

What were they planning before? Pursue a career in climate policy or be a science advisor to NGOs or governments.

How did their plans change? Initially switched to considering earning to give in finance, but after several months decided to work within effective altruist organisations. Intends to pursue the career in which he can make the most difference.

What are they doing now? Working at CEA on outreach, prioritisation research and policy development.

How and why did the change come about? Attended a Giving What We Can event in Oxford, and was introduced to the arguments in favor of earning to give, which immediately convinced him to rethink his approach. This led to him becoming heavily involved in the community in Oxford, and helping to set up 80,000 Hours.

5. William Denver

Background
William is working at an education non-profit he co-founded, and recently completed a PhD in Maths a top-5-ranking US graduate school.

What were they planning before?
William was planning on doing a Maths postdoc, but was considering other options.

How did their plans change, and what are they doing now?
William ended up increasing his confidence that working in finance was a good option for him, he applied to a financial trading firm, did an internship with them, and now has two offers from top finance firms that he is choosing between.

How and why did the change come about?
Through one-on-one coaching with 80,000 Hours and a conversation with someone in the 80,000 Hours network who works at a financial trading firm. 80,000 Hours gave William more confidence that pursuing a finance path was right for him.

In their own words:

The reassurance of talking to people who were really serious about career advising meant I could focus on the most important aspects of my job search, and this in turn meant I had less doubt and more intent on what I was doing. I imagine this made it much more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise.

I actually wasn’t planning to change careers when I started talking to 80,000 Hours; I was just applying to things for exploratory reasons, but I found a job that was just so awesome that I had to take it. I was so busy at the time, having 80,000 Hours to narrow my search made it meant I actually had time to do my interviews. It’s possible I would have missed this opportunity if I’d been less focussed on my best options.

6. Xio Kikauka

Background Student in Psychology at Thompson River University and Acadia University.

What were they planning before? No concrete career intentions though highly concerned about making a difference.

How did their plans change? She initially pursued jobs at THINK, which she discovered through 80,000 Hours. Then she decided to intern at CEA. Finally, she decided with Joey Savoie to found an organisation, Effective Fundraising, that does nothing but fundraise for the most effective charities in the world, thereby creating a charity that’s potentially even more cost-effective. This decision was influenced by 80,000 Hours, among several other groups. She intends to pursue the career in which she can make the most difference.

What are they doing now? Working at Effective Fundraising/The Greatest Good Foundation.

How and why did the change come about? As soon as Xio and Joey heard about 80,000 Hours, they got involved volunteering and reading our blog. Later, they interned with CEA, and had extensive discussions about their career with people they met through us.

7. Edward Green

Background Studied computer science at Warwick. Graduate of Entrepreneur First.

What were they planning before? Split between working as a programmer, freelancing as a programmer, or starting a startup. Interested in but had vague ideas about making a difference through reducing existential risk or broad interventions to support economic growth.

How did their plans change, and what are they doing now? Still considering the same three career paths, but became convinced that reducing the risks from artificial intelligence is the most important cause. Decided to donate 2.5-5% of their income. Currently working as a programmer at a consultancy, having been recommended for the role by other members of 80,000 Hours. Intends to donate to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute.

How and why did the change come about? Became convinced of artificial intelligence risk being important while interning at 80,000 Hours and being introduced to others in the community.

In their own words:

Interning at 80,000 Hours and being involved in the community did make me think through in more depth which causes I thought were most important. I came to the conclusion that AI research is probably the most important cause right now.

8. Sean Conley

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

What were they planning before?Student, considering a variety of paths.

How did their plans change, and what are they doing now? Applied to GiveWell and is now working there.

How and why did the change come about? He found out about the opportunity to work at GiveWell through an 80,000 Hours member and the blog.

9. Dean Westerman

Background Studied History, University of Oxford, graduated 2011

What were they planning before? Consultancy, politics or charity. Also donating 10% of income as a member of Giving What We Can.

How did their plans change, and what are they doing now? Decided against pursuing charity work, and is currently pursuing consultancy.

How and why did the change come about? Discussions with staff and members of 80,000 Hours persuaded him that donating might be more important than working directly in the charity sector, which contributed to the decision to pursue consulting.

10. Jacob Nebel

Background Princeton – Philosophy, Class of 2013

What were they planning before? Intending to either go to law school or start a career in academic philosophy.

How did their plans change, and what are they doing now? 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. He’s now studying a Masters in Philosophy at Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship.

How and why did the change come about? 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. Learned about the importance of the long-run future and ways to have impact within academic philosophy. We also gave him significant advice in writing his Marshall application.

In their own words:

80,000 Hours changed how I looked at my career prospects. At first, I thought 80,000 Hours’s 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.

Most high impact 13 plan changes from July 2012

We think the majority of the impact of the plan changes we cause is likely to come from the top 10% of most significant changes.

To explore the top 10% better, Ben selected the 13 plan changes he judged to be most significant. These plan changes involve a significant shift in plans into a plausibly very high impact path, and relatively clear evidence of 80,000 Hours’ influence. In addition, we highlight the founding of Animal Charity Evaluators, which was founded by a former intern at 80,000 Hours during their internship.

Since we’re most interested in understanding our impact after we became a professional organisation, the following are all plan changes judged to have occurred after July 2012. Many of the plan changes that occurred while 80,000 Hours was still a voluntary organisation are documented here.

The process for collecting the studies was the same as the above:

  1. We wrote the studies out in full, using our prior knowledge.
  2. We contacted the person with further questions and asking them to point out inaccuracies.
  3. We confirmed the exact wording with the relevant person.

Unfortunately we can’t share one of the stories due to anonymity concerns. Two have been anonymised.

The following are not in order.

1. Owen CB

Background Post-doc in mathematics.

What were they planning before? Intended to pursue an academic career in pure mathematics. Giving 10% to effective charities as a member of Giving What We Can.

How did their plans change? Owen became convinced to consider impact in choosing research topics. This made him less inclined to continue research in pure mathematics, preferring areas with important but neglected questions.

What are they doing now? He’s doing prioritisation research at the CEA-FHI Global Priorities Project.

How and why did the change come about? Owen met the 80,000 Hours community through his involvement in Giving What We Can in Oxford. He was introduced to the case for basing career choice on expected impact by people in this community. Through further discussions, he became convinced to use his research skills to work directly on the most pressing questions.

80,000 Hours also contributed to founding the Global Priorities project where Owen now works. 80,000 Hours contributed to the initial idea, and wrote up the arguments in favor of the project, which helped the project to secure funding, some of which came from members of 80,000 Hours.

In their own words: He said we had a ‘significant impact’ on his beliefs because we introduced him to the relevant arguments for the first time. He adds:

One of the major influences of 80,000 Hours was the idea of framing a career as part of what you can achieve for good in the world rather than just thinking of achieving good via donations.

2. Sam Bankman Fried

Background MIT – Physics, graduates in 2014

What were they planning before? Student. Considering politics, journalism and academia. Highly concerned with making a difference.

How did their plans change? 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.

What are they doing now? Completed an internship at a proprietary trading firm and intends to take up a job offer in the summer. Intends to donate all earnings he doesn’t need to live on and do well in his job. Final year at MIT. He plans to lead his career on the basis of where he can make the most difference.

How and why did the change come about? Sam was convinced through discussion with 80,000 Hours staff; introduction to the 80,000 Hours community; and lectures on the core concepts. Participating in the 80,000 Hours community contributed to finding his finance internship.

How much have they donated over the last three years? None

How much do they plan to donate over the next 3 years? ~£100k, though ~$1mn per year from 3 years time if they don’t leave finance. Attributes this mainly to 80,000 Hours.

3. Roman Duda

Background
Roman did the BPhil in Philosophy at Oxford, and was choosing between a wide range of careers.

What were they planning before?
He was planning to do a master’s in Psychology, with the view to do go into research designing interventions to increase people’s happiness, productivity and decision-making.

How did their plans change?
He decided to work at 80,000 Hours instead.

What are they doing now?
Roman is working full time at 80,000 Hours.

How and why did the change come about?
The change came about as a result of a case study done on Roman’s situation by 80,000 Hours whilst Roman was an intern at 80k.

4. Peter Hurford

Background Student at Denison University, studying political science and psychology.

What were they planning before? PhD in political science. Involved in the effective altruism community. Intending to donate a portion of his salary as a member of Giving What We Can.

How did their plans change? Considered earning to give in law, software engineering and marketing, and working in effective altruist organisations. Became more inclined to see his career as a route towards doing good, rather than just donate money.

What are they doing now? Pursuing earning to give in software engineering and running the effective altruist volunteer group .impact. Intends to choose career primarily on the basis of impact.

How and why did the change come about? Peter has explained his career decision in detail here. 80,000 Hours contributed through conversations with several members of staff and attending our workshop, which persuaded him to consider pursuing earning to give, take career capital into account and broadened the job options he considered.

In their own words:

I relied heavily on research done by 80,000 Hours to inform my decision – both in assisting my initial selection of high-impact options and in comparing them. The existence of 80,000 Hours moved me away from pursuing a Ph.D. program in political science toward earning to give in web development. 80,000 Hours very much impacted my decision.

How much has he donated in the last 3 years?
$1,100 donated – details are here. Has saved an additional $12,400 for future donations.

How much does he intend to donate over the next 3 years?
Around $60,000 to effective altruist organisations. This is at least $45,000 more than if he had pursued a PhD. He attributes 50% of this to 80,000 Hours.

5. Ramit Nehru

Background University of Chicago, Economics, worked as a quantitative financial analyst for several years.

What were they planning before? Choosing between doing a medical degree to go into medical research and maximising earnings in finance to do earning to give. Most likely to do medical research. Highly concerned with making a difference.

How did their plans change? Now most likely to take the earning to give route in finance. More likely to donate to meta-charities.

What are they doing now? Applying for roles in finance and medical research internships, while continuing as a quantitative financial analyst and studying medicine part time.

How and why did the change come about? During a case study with 80,000 Hours, he learned that: the earnings in finance are higher than he thought, in medical research it’s not uncommon to become stranded mid-career, there are reasons against thinking the medical research path is better than earning to give and that there are good donation opportunities within meta-charities.

Full write up of the case study is here.

6. Marek Duda

Background
Originally from a liberal-arts background, Marek worked his way into a job at a bulge bracket investment bank in Mexico City.

What were they planning before?
Marek was planning to pursue a career in Finance/Business. He was at an investment bank, and planning to eventually make the jump to the buy side, or maybe doing an MBA and going into a different part of the finance/business world. His main focus was money, mainly for the purpose of being rich when older. He didn’t really think about making a large positive difference, in part due to a lack of interest in it, but also due to an ignorance of that even being a possibility.

How did their plans change?
The first change after his exposure to 80,000 Hours was to greatly increase his interest in making a large positive difference in the world, and he thought he would do so by donating to the most effective causes from his corporate career. Eventually, he became convinced that to have the largest positive impact with his career, working directly within organisations focused on promoting doing good in an evidence-based, cause neutral way, would probably be the best thing for him to do. Marek changed his career plan radically and quickly; having only landed a job in finance the previous year, he decided to leave it to work at the Centre for Effective Altruism.

What are they doing now?
Marek started working at CEA in March 2014.

How and why did the change come about?
The change came about as a result of one on one coaching with 80,000 Hours, reading the 80,000 Hours website, and discussion with other people at CEA as well as from his other/unrelated networks.

7. Ben Clifford

Background
Ben was a Philosophy student at the University of Warwick when he first heard about 80,000 Hours.

What were they planning before?
Ben was planning to work in the public sector, most likely as a teacher to start with, and eventually somewhere in the education / local government/central government.

How did their plans change?
Ben changed his plans to initially build career capital, and eventually earn to give or occupy a leadership role in an effective altruist organisation. Where he can make the most difference is now the most important consideration in his choice of career and this is due to 80,000 Hours.

What are they doing now?
Ben is currently the Director of Community at Giving What We Can.

How and why did the change come about?
Through reading our online content and coaching with 80,000 Hours, including a group workshop. It took a year and a lot of thinking for Ben to decide not to be a teacher and to aim for something that could do more good.

In their own words:

Anyone who is serious about changing the world should read through 80000 Hours’ research first. It has radically changed my perspective about how best to help people and my expectations about how much I can achieve.

8. Ben Halton

Background Oxford University – Politics, Philosophy and Economics, graduated 2012

What were they planning before? A student intending to donate 10% of his income to cost-effective development charities as a member of Giving What We Can, probably from a career in law or academia. He wanted to make a difference but wasn’t sure he would be able to.

How did their plans change? 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. More broadly, he realised that it was possible to confirm his real-life goals to his idealistic ones, and devote his career to making the biggest possible difference.

What are they doing now? Working as an intern at CEA. Intends to start a political career.

How and why did the change come about? He found out about 80,000 Hours through Giving What We Can, and was convinced by the arguments in favour of earning to give. Later, he was introduced to the idea that politics might be an even better opportunity, which was confirmed through research produced as a part of a case study we did with him.

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

9. 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. Has pledged 10% of her income to effective charities. Intends to primarily plan her career on the basis of where she can make the most difference.

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.

10. Andrew Farmer

Background Major in Math at MIT.

What were they planning before? Identified as a utilitarian. Choosing between a career in software engineering or quantitative trading. Had job offers within both.

How did their plans change? Became more convinced of the importance of donations compared to the direct impact of working in software. Within finance, became more inclined to take the option with the highest discounted earnings, rather than the best lifestyle. Believes they’ve become more likely to stick to their altruistic aims.

What are they doing now? Decided to take a job in quantitative trading and donate over half of his income to GiveWell recommended charities and meta-charities. Highly concerned with choosing the career in which they can have the largest impact, including long-run effects.

How and why did the change come about? Was persuaded by the importance of donations compared to direct impact through discussion with a member of 80,000 Hours. Received career coaching and was given estimates of direct impact, which confirmed this impression. Was also encouraged to consider the discovery value, career capital and degree of fit with both options, and was told about crucial considerations around existential risk.

How much does he intend to donate over the next 3 years? £300k He attributes ~15% of his total impact to 80,000 Hours.

11. Adam Gleave

Background Studying computer science at the University of Cambridge, graduates in 2015.

What were they planning before? A career in finance or software.

How did their plans change, and what are they doing now? Became more inclined to donate a substantial fraction of their income to charity. Became more inclined towards finance in order to earn more. Plans to donate to GiveWell recommended charities, organisations aiming to mitigate existential risk, or effective altruist organisations. Has accepted an internship in quantitative trading.

How and why did the change come about? Found out about the arguments in favour of donating through 80,000 Hours and Giving What We Can. Now an active participant in the 80,000 Hours community in Cambridge.

How much do they plan to donate over the next 3 years? £50k, and substantially more in later years that if he continues in finance. He attributes 70% of future donations to 80,000 Hours.

In their own words:

80,000 Hours has significantly changed how I view my career. Helping others is very important to me, but as the standard ethical careers don’t fit my abilities or interests, I was unsure what to do next.

Until encountering 80,000 Hours, I had adopted the ‘Ostrich approach’ of ignoring the problem. Although I was initially skeptical, reading 80,000 Hours’ research made me realise that I could make a difference by doing what I was good at, and donating the money I didn’t need. I greatly appreciated 80,000 Hours rigour and quantitative approach, which gave me confidence I was making the right decision.

In retrospect, much of what 80,000 Hours is saying is really just common sense. I think 80,000 Hours style of career evaluation will become much more common in the years to come. In the meantime, I’ve found the 80,000 Hours community is a great way to connect with people of similar interests, and is almost as valuable as the research.

12. Anonymous

We can’t share the details of this case, but they expect to donate £420k to GiveWell recommended charities in the next three years. They attribute 25% of this to 80,000 Hours, or £105k.

13. Eitan Fischer and Animal Charity Evaluators

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 Eitan Fischer during an internship at 80,000 Hours. 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. One of our team members, Rob Wiblin, was a founding trustee of the new organisation. Moreover, EAA was legally part of 80,000 Hours for 6 months, before being spun-off and independently registered.

Dedicated members

Rather than plan changes, an alternative way to look at our impact is in terms of ‘dedicated members’ created. A dedicated member has made a significant plan change, and says:

  1. Where they can make the most difference is the most important consideration in choosing a career.
  2. They are prepared to consider a wide range of causes and careers (and have demonstrated this so far).
  3. They identify as a member of the effective altruism community.

The idea of this metric is that it captures our impact over the long-run better than plan changes because dedicated members are likely to take the most high leverage opportunities as they are discovered, and this is what most matters.

The following is a sub-set of plan changers who we think are likely to be dedicated members, and were substantially influenced in that direction by 80,000 Hours. There are 12 in total.

The studies were collected in the same way as above.

From the high impact plan changers list above:

  1. Roman Duda
  2. Peter Hurford
  3. Jess Whittlestone
  4. Marek Duda
  5. Owen CB
  6. Ben Halton
  7. Ben Clifford
  8. One anonymous person

Additional people:

9. Matt Gibb

Background: Oxford University – PhD in Computational Biology 2012

What were they planning before? Student. Planning to work in start-ups.

How did their plans change, and what are they doing now? 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.

Now he’s the 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.

How and why did the change come about? 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 much have they donated over the last three years? £2-3k to AMF and SCI.

How much do they expect to donate over the next three years? £100k in expectation, though likely to be zero.

For more, see this interview

10. Abbie Taylor

Background: University of Oxford – Medicine, class of 2015

What were they planning before? Planned to become a doctor and make a difference through treating patients.

How did their plans change, and what are they doing now? Rather than assuming that she will have a large direct impact as a medic, Abbie decided to focus on influencing other medics to multiply her impact. While completing medical school, she is establishing a network of healthcare professionals interested in helping people more effectively through careers in policy, research and earning to give, among others. She has secured £6,000 in funding from the 2023 Challenge. She is focused on using her medical career to make the most difference she can.

Abbie also became a dedicated volunteer at 80,000 Hours in Oxford. She has 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.

How and why did the change come about? Always highly concerned with helping people through her career, after attending an event and talking to several of 80,000 Hours’ staff, Abbie was persuaded that the direct effects of her work on patients was not the most important factor in her impact. While a volunteer, she considered pursuing earning to give, but decided she could do more by influencing other healthcare professionals into high potential paths. 80,000 Hours has also helped by giving her careers advice, encouraging her to think strategically about how to make an impact in medicine, and advising her on the business plan for the network.

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.

11. Callum Calvert

Background
Callum is a maths student at University of Warwick.

What were they planning before?
He wasn’t sure, but a possibility was a role in the charity sector.

How did their plans change, and what are they doing now?
Callum changed his plan to do earning to give in finance. He is currently applying for jobs in finance whilst finishing his last year at university.
Where he can make the most difference is now the most important consideration in his choice of career. Callum says that 80,000 Hours probably had a large part to play in making it so, just through suggesting the idea.

How and why did the change come about?
The change into earning to give in finance happened as a result of watching a video of the first 80,000 Hours lecture and being persuaded by the arguments, as well as reading our online content and discussion with people he’s met through Giving What We Can and CEA.

12. Richard Batty

Background Oxford University – Human Sciences, graduated 2012

What were they planning before? Uncertain intention to go into public health as a researcher or NGO worker.

How did their plans change? 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 are they doing now? He’s working at a start-up consultancy in London which aims to improve board decision making.

How and why did the change come about? 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.

Other benefits 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.

Largest earning to give donors

See our earning to give evaluation.