Many of the top problem areas we focus on are mainly constrained by a need for additional research, and we’ve argued that research seems like a high-impact path in general.

Following this path usually means pursuing graduate study in a relevant area where you have good personal fit, then aiming to do research relevant to a top problem area, or else supporting other researchers who are doing this.

Research is the most difficult to enter of the four categories, but it has big potential upsides, and in some disciplines, going to graduate school gives you useful career capital for the other four categories. This is one reason why if you might be a good fit for a research career, it’s often a good path to start with (though we still usually recommend exploring other options for 1-2 years before starting a PhD unless you’re highly confident you want to spend your career doing research in a particular area).

After your PhD, it’s hard to re-enter academia if you leave, so at this stage if you’re still in doubt it’s often best to continue within academia (although this is less true in certain disciplines, like machine learning, where much of the most cutting-edge research is done in industry). Eventually, however, it may well be best to do research in nonprofits, corporations, governments and think tanks instead of academia, since this can sometimes let you focus more on the most practically relevant issues and might suit you better.

You can also support the work of other researchers in a complementary role, such as a project manager, executive assistant, fundraiser or operations. We’ve argued these roles are often neglected, and therefore especially high-impact. It’s often useful to have graduate training in the relevant area before taking these roles.

Some especially relevant areas to study include (not in order and not an exhaustive list): machine learning, neuroscience, statistics, economics / international relations / security studies / political science / public policy, synthetic biology / bioengineering / genetic engineering, China studies, and decision psychology. (See more on the question of what to study.)

Learn more about research careers and read about potentially high-impact example research questions in a variety of disciplines.

Read next: Learn about other high-impact careers

Want to consider more paths? See our list of the highest-impact career paths according to our research.

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