Why I’m doing a PhD

I’ve just started a PhD in Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School. People who have thought hard about how to make a difference seem to disagree about the value of PhDs. Having thought about this quite thoroughly for my own situation, I’ve decided to write up my decision process. Hopefully some of the considerations that were relevant for me will be generally applicable and useful to others making similar decisions.

Summary

Essentially, I’m doing a PhD because:

  • I want to use my career to do as much good as I can. However, I’m quite uncertain about which causes are most important and what I should do with my career long term. This means I want to spend the next few years learning and building “career capital” to keep my options open for whatever is highest impact later.

  • I believe that the PhD I’m doing is the best way for me to do this right now because:

  • It gives me the opportunity to build skills across a variety of disciplines/areas, whilst expanding my network and also giving me credentials that will help me later

  • At the same time, the research itself could be valuable – I’ve got a lot of flexibility with what I focus on, within an area that has the potential to be very important and useful (improving rationality/decision making)

  • I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to work on other high impact projects during the next few years alongside my PhD – volunteering for 80,000 Hours being just one example

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More on What Really Matters for Finding a Job You Love

We think being satisfied in the work you do is really crucial if you want to make a difference: you won’t be motivated otherwise. This is why we’ve spent time over the past year trying to summarise the evidence-based research on job satisfaction, to help you find a job you’ll love and make a difference in. In doing this, we found something a bit surprising: the common view that you should find a career that is a good fit for your personality type doesn’t have much support in the job satisfaction literature. The evidence seems to point towards the characteristics of the job itself (things like having variety, a sense of contribution, and clearly defined tasks) being more important than your personality fit.

Of course, we don’t think that this is the end of it – that all that matters when it comes to job satisfaction are five simple factors. So we’ve spent a bit more time delving into the job satisfaction literature to get a better sense of what personal or social factors might be most important alongside this. One finding that seems to be fairly well supported is that, whilst “personality fit” might not matter that much, feeling socially supported at work on the other hand, does.

In summary:

  • Feeling like you are socially supported at work – that you are able to get help and advice from your supervisors and coworkers – correlates with increased satisfaction at work

  • This is pretty intuitive, and seems to be both due to the direct benefits of social interactions, and the fact that support from coworkers also means we’re less likely to suffer from stress

  • This suggests it may be worth explicitly focusing on finding a working environment where you feel supported e.g. having a manager who you can go to with problems, perhaps above things like “personality fit” or “being the right type of person.” It also means that organisations (like 80,000 Hours!) should make creating this environment high priority

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Should more altruists consider entrepreneurship?

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One thing you might consider, if you’re aiming to do the most good with your career, is going into entrepreneurship. In this post I’ll summarise our reasons for thinking for-profit entrepreneurship[^1] is a promising career path for altruists, and outline our plans for research which will form the later parts of this blog series.

In summary:

  • For-profit entrepreneurship is potentially one of the highest earning careers, making it an attractive option for earning to give
  • It seems more promising than other high-earning careers for doing good directly, because you have the option to sell products that help the world, and contribute to innovation in the economy
  • Furthermore, we think that startups may be one of the best ways to build career capital early on in your career

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Making a difference through social entrepreneurship: an interview with Tom Rippin

I spoke with Tom Rippin, founder and CEO of On Purpose, a leadership programme aimed at “attracting and developing talent to address the greatest issues faced by society and the environment.” We talked about:

  • Tom’s own career path and what led him to founding On Purpose

  • Why he thinks that social enterprise has the potential to have an enormous positive impact on the world

  • What constraints the social enterprise movement faces at the moment

  • How On Purpose is working to address these issues, and how they plan to assess their own impact

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Introduction to our career model

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Drawing on similarities between an individual planning their career and a startup business, we’ve realised the importance of learning and adapting to change early in your career. Rigid career plans don’t seem that useful, and could even be harmful – but you do still need some means of direction and motivation for the future.

One promising solution we’ve found is the idea of having a “career model”: identifying your aims and values, and making a best guess of how you might achieve them. What’s key is that this model is designed to be tested and adapted as you learn.

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We’re looking for a Director of Fundraising and a Finance Manager!

Hopefully you’ve seen by now that 80,000 Hours is hiring!

In addition to the positions advertised previously, we’re also looking for a Finance Manager and Director of Fundraising. Both would be full-time paid positions based in Oxford, and you’d be working across both 80,000 Hours and our sister organisation Giving What We Can.

The deadline for all positions is Friday 16th August at 5pm GMT.

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Your career is like a startup

We think that we can draw many useful insights about career planning from thinking about how startups operate successfully. There seem to be a lot of direct analogies between startup strategy and career planning: both mean finding a niche where you can excel and beat the competition, and both require doing so in a highly uncertain and changing environment.

So what can we learn about career planning from startup strategy?

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80,000 Hours is hiring!

We want to change the world by revolutionising something incredibly important: the way people think about and spend their careers. Our mission is to help talented and dedicated people have the biggest possible positive impact with their careers. This is a big project, and we’re growing fast, so we’re looking for bright and ambitious people to join us. If this sounds like something you’d like to be part of, then apply to work for us!

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How to add value in international development: an interview with Eva Vivalt

I recently interviewed Eva Vivalt, who works for the World Bank and is the founder of AidGrade, a new organisation that evaluates and recommends different development programs on the basis of effectiveness. AidGrade’s mission is “to improve the effectiveness of development efforts by understanding and encouraging what works using rigorous, actionable and engaging evidence.” You can find out more about AidGrade on their website here.

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What should I read if I’m new?

Are you new to 80,000 Hours, and wondering where to start?

We’ve put together this summary of our most popular blog posts from over the past year to make it much easier to get a quick overview of our key content and ideas. Even if you’ve been around the site for a while, you might might find something here you’ve missed or forgotten about!

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Biases: how they affect your career decisions, and what to do about them

A large and growing body of research suggests our reasoning is far from perfectly “rational.” This means that an important part of designing a process for choosing a high impact career has been looking into the extent to which these biases tend to affect peoples’ career decisions, and what can be done about them.

It turns out that we likely don’t know as much as we think we do, and our judgements can often be mistaken in ways that affect our career decisions negatively. Just being aware of this also doesn’t help much. Rather we need to be more sceptical of our decisions than we might be inclined to be, and take a more systematic and evidence-based approach to career choice.

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How much is 50p worth to you?

Suppose we meet on the street one day and I tell you that, through no fault of my own, I’m having to live on just a pound a day for food and drink. Would you give me just 50p, knowing this could greatly improve my day without really affecting your own at all? I’m pretty sure you would.

Between the 29th April and the 3rd May, I and a number of others from 80,000 Hours and Giving What We Can will be “living below the line” – spending no more than a pound a day on food and drink. Admittedly we’re doing this out of choice, but those who live below the poverty line in reality do so by force of circumstance, and suffer a great deal more. So if you’d buy me something to eat, or give me 50p if I was doing this through no fault of my own, please instead make a donation to one of the charities we’re doing this to raise money for

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Should you plan your career?

Should you try to plan your career?

On the one hand, goals provide direction and motivation. Especially if you care about really making a difference, you don’t want to be just stabbing in the dark. Yet at the same time, the world around you is constantly changing, as are you – isn’t it naive to plan for the future when you have no real idea what the job market will look like, what the world’s biggest needs might be, and what you might want personally?

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Bringing it all together: high impact research management

There’s a general misconception that researchers are the only people who really contribute towards scientific progress. But there’s a lot of incredibly important work, besides research itself, that’s vital to producing important research, and such work is often underappreciated. We don’t realise how important other people working in academia are: people in administration, management, or communications. Their work is crucial; they bring it all together.

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Two questions you won’t want to ask yourself but should

Most of us spend a lot of time visualising scenarios we’d like to happen, thinking about reasons the things we believe (or the things we want to believe) are likely to be true. We very rarely do the opposite: really thinking through worst case scenarios, or actively looking for reasons our deepest held beliefs are false. Why would we want to do this? We might found out something we don’t want to know. But this is exactly why we should do it.

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Advice on going into a research career: An interview with Richard Thaler

I’ve recently been following a great new blog doing interviews with “research heroes” in the field of judgement and decision-making called InDecision. Some of these interviews seem like they could be really useful and interesting to anyone wanting to make a difference in a research career, and the blog’s editors have kindly agreed to let us repost some of them. First up: Richard Thaler, most famously co-author of global best-seller Nudge.

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