In 2021, we released over 20 new articles and blog posts, plus over 30 new podcast episodes.
It was a lot to keep up with! So I asked my colleagues at 80,000 Hours to recommend some of their favourites from last year.
Below are their top picks.
Lots of the team found Keiran Harris’s interview with our chief of staff, Howie Lempel, particularly powerful (and a few of us, myself included, have struggled with many of the issues Howie discusses) — so much so that the majority of my colleagues thought of this release first when I asked them to recommend their favourite.
Alex Lawsen, one of our advisors, describes the episode’s impact on him:
“I had to listen to Howie’s podcast episode over the course of a few days because of how intense its effect on me was; although I’ve never had an episode as difficult as the one he described, the thought patterns felt very familiar. The advice he gives is just about the best I’ve ever heard on mental health: things like noticing when something has become aversive and then making it a top priority, pre-writing an email in case of something like a mental health crisis to minimise the negative repercussions, or considering whether you should see a therapist or seek a diagnosis — all advice I’ve taken and benefited hugely from. I’ve now shared the episode with more people than any other episode, and it’s had some incredibly positive and profound reactions from my friends.”
Niel Bowerman, the director of our one-on-one programme and the job board, explains why this article appeals to him:
“As Ben discusses in the article, I’m keen for our community to take on more big, hard projects and generally to aim higher. Ambition was also a theme for me personally in 2021: I strived to become more confident and comfortable taking on larger initiatives. Sometimes I return to this article, as I think it includes a helpful articulation of the reasons why!”
Arden Koehler, our head of website, felt similarly:
“I love this article. It’s inspiring, it’s true, and I think it’s a message people really need to hear — including me!”
Rob Wiblin, our head of research, on why he liked this episode so much:
“I particularly enjoyed interviewing economist Mushtaq Khan because he offered me a fresh take on why some countries struggle to develop productive industries and so remain poor. I thought we would talk just about corruption, but Mushtaq instead offered a whole new framework for understanding politics. He’s also a brilliant storyteller, and his historical anecdotes about why industrial subsidies produced highly productive companies in South Korea but didn’t in India — except for its car industry, for reasons I never would have guessed — were very memorable.”
Advisor Habiba Islam writes:
“It’s tempting to suspect people who take longtermism seriously aren’t at all troubled by the terrible harms we see around us today, and just enjoy following abstract maths. But that’s not true, even of 80K staff! Michelle shared her perspective on the conflicting pull she feels to help people now and how she stays motivated to work on something she thinks is important but more speculative. It’s a post I frequently share with people I speak to in advising calls who are feeling similarly about this difficult but important aspect of trying to do the most good.”
Our podcast producer, Keiran Harris, explains:
“I really loved Luisa’s episode of the podcast — it’s one of my all-time favourites. Luisa had just joined 80K, and was pretty nervous going in — but she was such a natural that I immediately thought we might have the perfect replacement as host if Rob ever follows his lifelong dream of joining the circus. Admittedly I already found this topic fascinating, and Luisa is one of my absolute favourite people on the planet — but I’m willing to bet that I would’ve loved it even if I wasn’t incredibly biased!”
Sashika Coxhead, our operations specialist, writes:
“This episode really renewed my appreciation for Our World in Data’s work. I think it’s easy to take access to accurate data for granted, so it was fascinating to hear about the challenges involved in pulling together COVID-19 data at the start of the pandemic. I also loved the discussion about the impact of their work, and the importance of data for our global (and personal!) sanity.”
Our newest advisor, Matt Reardon, says he often recommends this episode to advisees:
“It comes out swinging at what I think is the biggest reservation people have for diving into longtermist work: that it seems too weird. Holden’s answer is that what we perceive as normal on the scale of our individual lifetimes is downright bizarre on the scale of human history, and that there is no straightforward continuation from this point that we would all think of as normal. His argument does what the best insights do: makes something that wasn’t obvious before seem obvious in hindsight.”
Michelle Hutchinson, our assistant director of the one-on-one programme, writes:
“I’ve recommended this episode a couple of times because of his great discussion of cold emailing — something I think people feel too wary of. It’s also just a super fun episode, and he’s a great role model for trying out non-traditional things to try to help others and have an impact.”
Brenton Mayer, our director of internal systems, on why he loves this episode:
“Some of the views that were common several hundred years ago are utterly bizarre. I found myself pausing a lot to wrap my head around them or to fact check something — for example, the idea that fossils are rocks that are midway through transitioning into animals in some sort of metaphysical category upgrade.”
Benjamin Hilton, our newest research analyst, explains:
“For me, this article perfectly captures why I love working in and with the effective altruism community. Rob and Keiran make effective altruism–style thinking seem obvious — so much so that once you’ve read this piece, you’ll wonder why everyone isn’t trying to answer the core question of ‘How can we do the most good?’ in exactly this way. But my favourite part of this article is the part on humility: it’s the effective altruism community’s focus on aspiring to find the truth, to know how uncertain we are, and to change our minds when new evidence comes to light (no matter how hard that can sometimes be) that makes working with this community so refreshing and inspiring.”
Our software engineer Roman Duda on why this was his favourite piece of 2021:
“It was just so interesting, and I learned a bunch of things about machine learning that I’d otherwise never learn because of feeling too intimidated by the subject. Also Chris Olah is just a lovely person to listen to.”
Our CEO and cofounder, Benjamin Todd, on why he thought this episode was especially important:
“Carl made an important critique of our work: maybe longtermism isn’t that important in justifying working on existential risk and AI. Plus, he covered a ton of other great material he’s been thinking through for years (in his first-ever public interview).”
Have you particularly enjoyed any of our content this year?
If you’ve enjoyed any of our articles or podcast episodes over the last year, we’d love for you to share it with a friend or leave a review on your favourite podcasting platform (this helps us help more people find impactful careers)!
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