What’s the best way to spend $20,000 to help the common good?

I recently came across the following question posted by Paul Buchheit (the founder of Gmail):

Assume that I’m going to get rid of $20,000 and my only concern is the “common good”. Which of these is the best use of the money: give it to the Gates foundation, buy a hybrid car, invest it in a promising startup, invest it in the S&P500, give it to the US government, give it to a school, other?

Many of our users donate money as way to do good with their careers, and I liked this way of posing the question – it’s both broad and concrete. So I spent an hour writing out a rough answer.

I’ll take each option in turn and eliminate the worst ones, then compare a shortlist at the end.

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I want to make a difference. Should I become a philosopher?

To most people, this question sounds like a joke. I think that’s the wrong reaction. (Full career profile on philosophy PhDs here)

I think research into philosophy (certainly, at least, moral philosophy, and some other areas in political philosophy, epistemology and decision theory), is potentially extremely valuable. The impact of philosophy on the world seems to me to have been vast. Aristotle, Aquinas and Augustine shaped much of Christian ethics. Locke heavily influenced the American constitution. Peter Singer helped give rise to both the animal welfare movement and to the effective altruism community, and Nick Bostrom has catalyzed concern for existential risks, in particular risks from artificial intelligence. If you include aspects of the Bible (such as the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule), the writings of Budda and the writings of Confucius as philosophy, as I think you should, then most people for most of civilization have had large chunks of their lives shaped by the philosophical views of the time…

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Should you go into journalism to make a difference?

We just completed an exploratory profile on journalism. To write the profile, we interviewed an NPR correspondent and a writer for the New Yorker, and spent a day reading the best advice we could find on the career.

When it comes to having a social impact, journalism might not be the first career you think of, but we think it’s actually a pretty good option, because you can use it as a platform to promote neglected causes to a big audience. The main downside is its competitiveness, which is exasperated by reductions in the number of positions over the last decade. Spending a couple of years in journalism is also better for career capital than it first looks, because you can use it the build a good network.

Read the rest of the profile.

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5 reasons not to go into education

When we first speak to people interested in doing good with their careers, they often say they want to get involved in education in the US or the UK. This could mean donating to a school, doing education policy work, or becoming a teacher.

However, we haven’t prioritised careers in education at 80,000 Hours. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dispute that education is a highly important cause. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to be very tractable or neglected (important elements of our cause framework), so all else equal, it looks harder to have a large impact in education compared to other causes. In the rest of this post, I’ll give five reasons why.

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Should you do a computer science PhD?

We’ve released a new exploratory profile on computer science PhD’s in the US.

Our recommendation in the profile:

A computer science PhD offers the chance to become a leading researcher in a highly important field with potential for transformational research. Especially consider it if you want to enter computer science academia or do high-level research in industry and expect to be among the top 30% of PhD candidates.

Read the rest of the profile.

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Why an economics PhD might be the best graduate program

We’ve released an exploratory profile on doing an Economics PhD in the US, concluding that it looks like one of the most promising graduate study options for people who want to make a difference.

Our recommendation in the profile:

An economics PhD is one of the most attractive graduate programs: if you get through, you have a high chance of landing a good research job in academia or policy – promising areas for social impact – and you have back-up options in the corporate sector since the skills you learn are in-demand (unlike many PhD programs). You should especially consider an economics PhD if you want to go into research roles, are good at maths (i.e. quant GRE score above 165) and have a proven interest in economics research.

Read the rest of the profile.

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Announcing the effective altruism handbook

Effective Altruism HandbookA new Effective Altruism handbook has been released, which features some of 80,000 Hours’ ideas about high impact careers.

This handbook is made up of blog pieces and essays that are freely available online, and has been compiled by Ryan Carey, and released with some assistance from the Centre for Effective Altruism.

It has 24 mini-chapters altogether, split into five sections What is Effective Altruism, Charity Evaluation, Career Choice, Cause Selection and Organizations. Its foreword by Will MacAskill and Peter Singer, is new, as are concluding letters by seven effective altruist organizations. A lot of discussions have gone into deciding which writings are the best for describing the main concepts of effective altruism, so that’s another reason to check it out.

The rest of the essays are freely available online, and were compiled by Ryan Carey with the support of the Centre for Effective Altruism.

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New profile on a new career path: data science

Data science

We’ve released a new exploratory profile on data science.

Our recommendation in the profile:

If you have a PhD in a quantitative subject, or if you’re the type of person who would enjoy a quantitative PhD, you should consider data science as an option. You are particularly likely to be well suited if you want to do research that produces immediate and tangible results, and are able to clearly present quantitative findings to people without technical backgrounds.

Read the rest of the profile.

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New in-depth profile on software engineering

We’ve released a major update to our career profile on software engineering.

See the updated profile here and the full report on which it’s based here.

Our recommendation in the profile:

Software engineering at large tech-firms is a highly promising option that’s especially easy to test out. If you have good analytical skills (even if you are from a humanities background), you should strongly considering testing it.

Topics explored in the full report include:

  • How to test out your fit for software engineering.
  • Using software engineering to pursue high-impact projects on the side.
  • A comparison of US and UK earnings – we found that average salaries are 40% higher in the US than in the UK, 80% higher in Silicon Valley than in London, and starting salaries for bootcamp graduates are around twice as high in Silicon Valley as in London.
  • What software engineering is like day to day and the key stages of progression.

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The winner takes all economy

It’s said that we live in an increasingly “winner takes all” economy. The following chart provides a nice illustration.

From “The Rich are Getting Richer” by The Investor Field Guide (click image for link)
From “The Rich are Getting Richer” by The Investor Field Guide (click image for link)

It shows that from the mid-90s, the companies with the largest profit margins have seen their profit margins expand dramatically – from about 15% to over 20%.

Those at the bottom have seen their profit margins shrink, and the middle 60% have seen little change. The winners are increasingly taking it all.

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Donating to Giving What We Can is higher impact than donating to GiveWell recommended charities.

Giving What We Can is fundraising. When I last checked, they had only reached £70,000 of their £150,000 target.

Last year, more than $28m was donated to Give Directly, AMF, SCI and Deworm the World – the charities recommended by GiveWell and Giving What We Can.1 In contrast, Giving What We Can (GWWC) spent under $200,000. My claim in this post is that if you donate to these top recommended charities, you’ll have even more impact (at the margin) if you donate to Giving What We Can instead.

GWWC is closely affiliated with 80,000 Hours, so I’m likely to be biased in GWWC’s favour. However, I feel strongly enough that I think it’s worth writing on the topic anyway.

Here’s three reasons why to donate to GWWC.

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The rise of income inequality and what it means for your career

One of the most important (though maybe regrettable) long-term trends effecting the outlook of many careers is the rise in income inequality. In countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, the difference in earnings between the best and worst paid has risen sharply for the last few decades, with the top earners taking a higher and higher proportion of total income. From the early 1900s to the 1970s, income inequality gradually decreased. However, in Anglo-Saxon countries it began to rise again from the late 1970s. The rise was sharpest in the United States, where the income share of the top decile of earners rose from 33% to 48% in forty years, while the share of the top percentile rose from 8% to 17%.1 In Japan and the rest of Western Europe on the other hand, inequality was either steady or rose much more gradually.

Increasing income inequality means a better outlook for many high-earning careers. It may also reflect trends in which skills are most in-demand and useful as technology changes, making it important to understand if you want good career capital in the future. Finally, it may mean the financial rewards of being at the top of a profession (compared to the middle) are increasing, and this means the importance of personal fit is increasing.

The top decile income share: Europe and the U.S., 1900-2010
This graph is taken from Pikkety (2014) 2

In the rest of this post, we’ll look at the reasons economists have put forth for the increase in income inequality, and speculate on whether the trend will continue.

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Why I stopped Earning to Give

I have earned to give for 2.5 years as an Analyst and then Associate in the mergers and acquisitions team of an industrial conglomerate in Sweden. I stopped in mid-2014, and I do not plan to earn to give again. Instead, I am now writing a master’s thesis in philosophy, and I aim for a career in that field. In this post, I will describe my primary reasons for not earning to give with a focus on my main thought—that it seems easier to perform in work that one loves. My aim is not to argue against anyone earning to give; I think it is good that there is more awareness these days that earning to give is an option and others may find that it suits them better than it suits me. My purpose is rather to share my experience in case it might be of interest to people considering earning to give. Also, the recommendation from 80,000 Hours is only earn to give if you have good personal fit with the career, which fits my impression.

My three main reasons for not earning to give are:

  1. I seem to perform much better when I work directly on issues that that I think are most important from an altruistic perspective. I feel that it is difficult to be enthusiastic enough about the work in business.
  2. I see few giving opportunities that I would like to support through earning to give.
  3. It is challenging to have different values from one’s colleagues.

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New TEDx talk released!

Check out the TEDx talk video by our Executive Director and co-founder Benjamin Todd.

In it, Ben sets out what we’ve learned through our research about finding fulfilling work. Rather than following your passion, find something you’re good at that helps others. If you aim to do what’s valuable, passion for your work will emerge. And you can also make a big difference with your life.

If you like what you see, please go ahead and share the video. We’d like to get it listed on the main TED channel!

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New in-depth profile on management consulting

We’ve released a major update to our career profile on management consulting.

See the updated profile here.

See the new in-depth report upon which it’s based here.

Overall, our recommendation is similar to before:

Consider a job in consulting if you have strong academic credentials and you aren’t sure about your long-term plans and want to experience work in a variety of business environments, or you want to pursue earning-to-give but not a good fit for quantitative trading or technology entrepreneurship.

But we’ve gone much more in-depth into:

  • The chances of becoming a partner, showing that it’s about 10% but requires a great deal of dedication.
  • Common exit options, showing that consultants enter a very wide range of fields when they leave.
  • What proportion of people who want to become consultants actually make it.
  • The potential for direct impact, arguing it’s worse than other common alternatives.

This is our first ‘medium-depth’ career profile, and we hope it will act as a template for further work.

Thank you to Nick Beckstead for carrying out the research.

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The four big challenges

The 80,000 Hours community is involved with many different causes – from scientific research to social justice – but there are four big (rather ambitious!) causes that have, so far, gathered the most support.

These are the four big challenges our community has set itself. They are all huge, but they also seem especially solvable, or especially neglected, and this means working within them offers the opportunity to make huge difference over the coming decades…

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10 new organisations founded due to 80,000 Hours

One of our key reasons for founding 80,000 Hours was the “multiplier argument”:

When we graduated, we had two options: (i) pursue whichever career paths we thought were highest impact or (ii) do research to find even better career paths and spread that research to enable hundreds of people to take those paths instead of us, having hundreds of times as much impact. Given our progress at that point, it seemed like the second option was possible, and therefore higher-impact.

So, three years later, how is it turning out?

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Get paid to do existential risk reduction research

cser

The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) is hiring for postdoctoral researchers. Existential risk reduction is a high-priority area on the analysis of the Global Priorities Project and GiveWell. Moreover, CSER report that they have had a successful year in grantwriting and fundraising, so the availability of research talent could become a significant constraint over the coming months. Here is Sean’s announcement:

The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (University of Cambridge; http://cser.org) is recruiting for postdoctoral researchers to work on the study of extreme risks arising from technological advances. We have several specific projects we are recruiting for: responsible innovation in transformative technologies; horizon-scanning and foresight; ethics and evaluation of extreme technological risks, and policy and governance challenges associated with emerging technologies.

However, we also have the flexibility to hire one or more postdoctoral researchers to work on additional projects relevant to CSER’s broad aims, which include impacts and safety in artificial intelligence and synthetic biology, biosecurity, extreme tail climate change, geoengineering, and catastrophic biodiversity loss. We welcome proposals from a range of fields. The study of technological x-risk is a young interdisciplinary subfield, still taking shape. We’re looking for brilliant and committed people, to help us design it. Deadline: April 24th. Details here, with more information on our website.

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