If you’d like to work in education research and design to make a difference, how should you go about it? We recently asked Dan Greene for his thoughts. Dan is a member of our community and graduate researcher at Stanford specialising in online education.
It’s no secret that networking can be one of the keys to career success. It’s useful in helping you to find out about jobs and to land them. But what’s the best way to go about building a successful network?
The best advice we’ve come across so far on how to network is Keith Farrazzi’s Never Eat Alone.1 It’s not as evidence-based and rigorous as we’d like (and his style can be annoying!), but the core of his recommendations makes sense.
Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) uses research, evidence, and reason to find the most effective opportunities to improve the live of animals. ACE was founded by 80,000 Hours staff working in Oxford, and has since become an independent organization based in California. In 2014 alone, ACE influenced over $141,000 in giving to their recommended charities.
What is the position?
From the position description:
[The position] will involve developing and managing research department strategies and activities, including designing, managing and executing research projects, data analysis, and program evaluation.
A sample project:
Intervention evaluations. You will research the effectiveness of a common tactic in animal advocacy, including by conducting interviews with advocates who regularly use the tactic. You will then write up your findings for use within ACE and for publication on our website. Example evaluation: corporate outreach.
I just came across a study of what top-tier investment banks, law firms, and management consulting firms look for when recruiting. The author of the study interviewed over 100 recruiters at these firms to find out what criteria they used.1
The Chronicle of Higher Education summed up the results:
If you want to get a job at the very best law firm, investment bank, or consultancy:2
1. Go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or (maybe) Stanford. If you’re a business student, attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will work, too, but don’t show up with a diploma from Dartmouth or MIT. No one cares about those places.
2. Don’t work your rear off for a 4.0. Better to graduate with 3.7 and a bunch of really awesome extracurriculars. And by “really awesome” I mean literally climbing Everest or winning an Olympic medal. Playing intramurals doesn’t cut it.
Here’s a chart showing the key signals that recruiters used to screen candidates.
If you’re committed to making the biggest difference possible with your career, you may well find that there is a tension between doing good now and laying the groundwork for doing good later.
- Next year, you have two choices. You could work for an effective charity, making an immediate difference to its beneficiaries. Or you could go to graduate school and build up your career capital, (hopefully) allowing you to have a larger impact later.
- You have a substantial sum of money. You could give it today, or you could invest it, allow it to grow, and then give the larger amount later.
How can you go about deciding between these options? Here we present a summary of our findings – the full research has been published on the Global Priorities Project page.
The main factors
Which option is highest-impact varies from case to case. In general, the earlier you are in your career, the less stable your view of the best cause and the more well-established the cause, the more the balance shifts from doing good now towards doing good later.
Here’s a summary:
We’ll further explain each factor below.
How much will your personality, values and preferences change over the next decade? Probably more than you think, at least according to a recent paper, “The End of History Illusion” by a team of psychologists at Harvard and the University of Virginia.
In a number of separate experiments, the authors asked a total of over 19,000 people between 18 and 68 to measure their current personality, values and preferences. Half of them were also asked to complete the assessment as they believed they would have done ten years earlier, while the other half were asked to predict what they would say in ten years’ time.
80,000 Hours: Oxford recently hosted a panel on tech careers, co-hosted with Codelaborate, featuring four people who did arts degrees but ended up working in tech and loving their jobs.
The panel included:
- Matt Clifford – studied Ancient History at Cambridge before doing a degree at MIT, worked in strategy consulting but quit to start Entrepreneur First
- Jackson Gabbard – studied English at a small college in the US but was one of the first engineers at Facebook London
- Nabeel Qureshi – studied PPE at Oxford, worked in consultancy but now works at startup GoCardless
- Steven Shingler – studied double bass at the Royal College of Music in London, but now works at Google as an engineer.
New and improved technologies will make jobs redundant, even as they open up new opportunities. This has always been the case, but with recent advances in Machine Learning and Mobile Robotics, changes in the labor market could be particularly extreme in the years to come. In fact, a recent paper suggests that up to 47% of American jobs could be vulnerable to automation within the next couple of decades.
That paper is “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation?”1 by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of the Future of Humanity Institute (which is affiliated with 80,000 Hours). In the paper, widely discussed in outlets such as The Economist and The Financial Times, Frey and Osborne look at the likely impact of recent advances in order to determine which jobs are likely to be automated.
Economists and Harvard and Chicago recently published a paper1 that contains a number of estimates of the social value produced by different professions per dollar of salary. The estimates aren’t the core aim of the paper, but are none-the-less fascinating.
The first set of estimates are by one of the authors of the paper, Lockwood, and aims to stick to views that would be typical based on the the economics literature:
|Profession||Lockwood’s estimates (additional social $ value produced per $ of salary at the margin)|
What do these figures mean? Read on for more…
In the post, he points out that it’s not uncommon to find two meta-analyses with opposite results on the same question.
Indeed, especially when it comes to a politically divided issue, both sides can sometimes produce apparently overwhelming evidence in support of their case.
The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) is the world leader in conducting evidence-based research in developing countries. Their mission is to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence.
They are currently running a winter recruitment drive (96 total positions) which ends on at 6am EST January 8th. Applications submitted during the drive will be reviewed and short-listed candidates will be contacted. During the rest of the year, applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.
What is the position?
Research Associate (RA) positions last 1-2 years, and come in two types. Field RAs (38 positions available) are based around the world, managing field implementation of specific research projects. University-based RAs (8 positions) are primarily based in North America, focusing on data analysis of research projects.
What are the benefits of the position?
- Work directly on J-PAL research programs, which are used by Givewell and other organizations to determine the most effective global poverty interventions (a top cause).
- Cultivate high-quality research skills. Other organizations pay J-PAL to teach them these program evaluation techniques.
- Work in a developing country, which can be very useful if you want to work in international development.
- Build a network and career capital for evidence-based development work. Many NGOs now have full time positions for Monitoring and Evaluation.1 Some RAs go on to top PhD programs or start their own impact evaluation NGOs.2
- It’s paid!
Overall, if you’ve already got a graduate degree, this looks like a good way to start a career in evidence-based international development. However, we have not performed an in-depth investigation of the pros and cons of this job – this assessment is based on our background knowledge and what we’ve read about the positions online.
One of the most common criticisms of earning to give (e.g. see this article released yesterday), and advocating for charitable donations generally, is that it just makes thing better at the margin, and doesn’t address the “systemic”, “structural” “root cause” issues that really matter.
One response to this we’ve given before is: yes that’s true, but donating is still a good thing to do.
Another response we’ve given before is that if systemic change is the most important cause, donate to organisations working on systemic change. This works so long as you’re not in a job that does a lot to prevent systemic change (e.g. conservative politician, professional strikebreaker) and you don’t think the act of philanthropy itself prevents systemic change (even if donating to systemic change organisations). If you think this all sounds completely implausible, consider the example of Engles who worked as a factory manager in order to fund Marx’s research.
A response we haven’t often given before, however, is just to argue that no, promoting earning to give is a form of important systemic change: imagine how different the world would be if almost everyone regularly donated 10% or more of their income to whichever causes they thought had the biggest impact.
Teach First is a two year program that places talented graduates in schools in challenging circumstances as teachers after a rapidly accelerated six week training program. It aims to offer rapid personal development while also contributing to an important social cause. It’s similar to Teach for America in the US.
Founded in 2002, it’s now the UK’s largest graduate recruiter, hiring over 1,500 graduates in 2014, so we’re curious to learn more.
We were approached by the Teach First recruiter at Oxford, Tom Cole, and we offered to do an interview as a first step towards learning more. Teach First’s popularity is equally strong in Oxford as the rest of the country: secondary school teaching one of Oxford’s most common graduate destinations, with about 10% of the class becoming teachers, and a significant fraction of these graduates enter Teach First.
Overall, we don’t yet have firm views on the option; but my initial impression is that it’s a strong, if challenging, option for learning, building career capital and keeping your options open, which makes it an option worth considering early career if you have good personal fit, though it’s probably possible to have more immediate impact earning to give.
In the interview, we focus on the career capital benefits, which we’ve been told are often overlooked by people considering the programme.
The interview was conducted via email, but we met in person with Tom Cole to discuss the content.
The interview begins below:
In our current software engineering profile, we say:
Programming ability seems to roughly divide into two groups: those who find it relatively easy and those who don’t. If in the past you’ve done well at mathematics and science and can think abstractly, then it’s likely you can learn to program well enough to get an entry-level job within about six months.
In evidence of the first claim, one piece of evidence we cited was a paper called “The Camel Has Two Humps” by Dehnadi and Bornat.
However, we’ve just discovered that Bornat has publicly redacted this paper. He says:
It’s not enough to summarise the scientiﬁc result, because I wrote and web-circulated “The camel has two humps” in 2006. That document was very misleading and, in the way of web documents, it continues to mislead to this day. I need to make an explicit retraction of what it claimed. Dehnadi didn’t discover a programming aptitude test. He didn’t ﬁnd a way of dividing programming sheep from non-programming goats. We hadn’t shown that nature trumps nurture. Just a phenomenon and a prediction.
Though it’s embarrassing, I feel it’s necessary to explain how and why I came to write “The camel has two humps” and its part-retraction in (Bornat et al., 2008). It’s in part a mental health story. In autumn 2005 I became clinically depressed. My physician put me on the then-standard treatment for depression, an SSRI. But she wasn’t aware that for some people an SSRI doesn’t gently treat depression, it puts them on the ceiling. I took the SSRI for three months, by which time I was grandiose, extremely self-righteous and very combative – myself turned up to one hundred and eleven. I did a number of very silly things whilst on the SSRI and some more in the immediate aftermath, amongst them writing “The camel has two humps”.
Based on this, we’ve removed the paper from the profile, and removed the claim about the distribution dividing into two clumps.
We intend to do a more thorough review of the predictors of success in this field when we release our full profile of software engineering in the new year.
Did we make a mistake in this case? The profile was only at the “considered” stage, so not the result of in-depth research. Even so, when most skills and abilities are normally or log-normally distributed, we should have been cautious about the existence of a bimodal distribution without relatively strong evidence.
Today I’ve been reviewing our most recent round of coaching, and something struck me about the applications. Many of them were written by people who were clearly desperate to plan out the next decade of their career, or even their entire working life. As a result, they tended to feel anxious and even overwhelmed by the options available and the weight of the decisions in front of them.
Might this be you? Some giveaways are phrases like “how can I find the right career for me?” or “I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life”.
To people who feel this way, I have this advice: stop worrying so much about the long-term.
Don’t get me wrong, of course your career decisions are important. 80,000 Hours is built around the idea that you can make an incredible difference through your career choices, if you choose carefully.
However, I don’t think that making a detailed career plan is a particularly good way to ensure that your career goes well in the long-term. A better idea, especially at the start of your career, is to make sure you get the next step right: focus on getting into a better position, and then worry about what comes next when more decisions arise.
This may sound counter-intuitive. So why do I recommend it? Four reasons:
Are you interested in doing something like App Academy to learn to program, but in the UK? Makers Academy is often thought to be the best option, and we’ve had good reports from one of our members. But it costs £8,000. What about doing something similar for free?
In this interview, Ben Clifford – another member who changed his career due to 80,000 Hours – tells us about a free alternative called Founders and Coders. Ben recently went through the course, and is currently working at a startup in London.
If interested, you can apply here. the deadline for the next round is on Friday.
Summary of main points:
- Founders and Coders is a free coding program based in London.
- The biggest benefits of doing a coding course are providing structure and tackling motivation problems.
- The weakest point of Founders and Coders is links to employers but Ben thinks this would not stop determined students can get jobs.
- The most important thing for getting a place is commitment to becoming a software developer. Being motivated to do good in your career also improves your chances.
- Applications for January close on Friday 12th December. You can attend taster days by supporting their Indiegogo campaign.
Giving What We Can is our sister organisation, and we are cross posting this job opportunity from their blog:
In just five years, Giving What We Can has grown to over 660 members in 25 countries worldwide. The community has pledged over $330m towards ending poverty. We are looking for additional hires to build on this success.
The deadline for submitting applications is now Midnight GMT on Friday 12th December 2014.
As Director of Research, you would lead our efforts to find the charities most effective at alleviating extreme poverty and advise the Giving What We Can community in their donation decisions.
Specifically, you would be responsible for:
- Determining which charities we should recommend – based both the effectiveness of the interventions the charities carry out, and how well those organisations implement them.
- Understanding the broader landscape of top charitable interventions and organisations, in order to advise our members when deciding where to donate
- Presenting the research in compelling ways in order to encourage people to donate to the most effective charities, both via our website and presentations.
We are a small team, so you’ll also have the opportunity to be involved in recruitment, fundraising, publishing our findings in the media, and whatever else most interests you.
Why work at Giving What We Can
- Be at the heart of an inspiring community of people who care about others and really put their passion into practice:
We have members all around the world,
Many people have told us that if you want to work in international development, it’s very useful to spend time working in a developing country (e.g. see our interview with Owen Barder), and living abroad is probably useful for exploration value too. It’s also very useful to get project management experience early on in this space, because it opens up jobs in non-profits and foundations. But management positions in the developing world are rare early in your career.
This made me interested to hear about 2Seeds, which gives graduates the opportunity to volunteer as a project manager in rural Tanazania for a year.
I met the co-founder of 2Seeds, Sam Bonsey, at a conference, and then followed up by doing the following interview with their Outreach Manager, Abby Love. Based on what I’ve seen, it looks well worth considering as an early career step, especially if you’re interested in working within international development.
Read on to see the full interview, which was conducted by email.
Ben recently interviewed Brad Wong about his career and current job at the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC), a leading global think tank which draws together over 100 top economists to work on prioritizing the solutions to the most pressing global issues.
We spoke to Brad to learn more about whether working at the CCC could be a good opportunity for our members, following up on our previous research.
The CCC is hiring two more project managers to work on a Copenhagen Consensus project for development in Bangladesh, in a role similar to Brad’s. These jobs can either be based in Dhaka, Bangladesh or Budapest, Hungary or in the Centre for Effective Altruism’s office’s in Oxford (shared with us!).
The interview was conducted via phone call. Below we summarise the key messages of the conversation, followed by some excerpts, which have been edited and reorganised for clarity.
In summary, Brad told us:
- Brad manages a project to provide cost-benefit analysis of the UN’s next development goals.
- Before this job, Brad completed a PhD, worked as a consultant at Booz & Company, and did strategic consulting at an Indian non-profit, Technoserve. All three were good preparation for his current role, which requires an understanding of academic research and development, combined with the ability to manage a project and get things done.
- Brad really enjoys his work at the CCC. Day-to-day, the work ranges from very exciting (networking with UN ambassadors) to quotidian (writing contracts, organising meetings, proofreading).
- He’s excited about the project’s potential impact – their analysis is being used at the highest levels within the UN and there are already more than 100 media articles about the project from major outlets, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
- Brad would like to continue working at the CCC, though long-term would like to work at a major foundation or consult for foundations.
- 80,000 Hours did not directly affect his decision to work for CCC, but exposure to Givewell and 80,000 Hours significantly changed his attitude towards impact in his career.
As Head of Research, you will become part of our founding team to lead our research efforts into how to select the most high-impact careers. Our research is what drives the advice we provide via our website and career coaching.
Specifically, you become responsible for:
- Deciding what questions to investigate and personally coming up with answers to these questions, or overseeing the delegation of this research to others.
- Helping to translate these findings into practical products that help people make better decisions – books, web applications, workshops and others.
- Fitting the research into the overall strategy for the organisation.
We are a small team, so you’ll also have the opportunity to be involved in recruitment, fundraising, publishing our findings in the media and whatever else most interests you.