Why and how to work on nuclear security

We’ve released a new ‘problem profile’ on the risks posed by nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons that are currently armed have the potential to kill hundreds of millions of people directly, and billions through subsequent effects on agriculture. There are many examples in history of instances in which the US or Russia came close to accidentally or deliberately using their nuclear weapons.

Fortunately, nuclear security is already a major topic of interest for governments, inter-governmental organisations and think tanks. However, this does make it harder for any additional individual to influence the outcome.

Most opportunities to reduce the risks posed by nuclear weapons seem to be through work in the military or foreign policy establishments, or research in the think tanks that offer them ideas on how to lessen the risk of nuclear conflict.

In the profile we cover:

  • The main reasons for and against thinking that nuclear security is a highly pressing problem to work on.
  • How to use your career to ensure nuclear weapons are never used.

Read our full profile on nuclear security..

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How and why to use your career to make artificial intelligence safer

We’ve released a new ‘problem profile’ on the risks posed by artificial intelligence.

Many experts believe that there is a significant chance we’ll create artificially intelligent machines with abilities surpassing those of humans – superintelligence – sometime during this century. These advances could lead to extremely positive developments, but could also pose risks due to catastrophic accidents or misuse. The people working on this problem aim to maximise the chance of a positive outcome, while reducing the chance of catastrophe.

Work on the risks posed by superintelligent machines seems mostly neglected, with total funding for this research well under $10 million a year.

The main opportunity to deal with the problem is to conduct research in philosophy, computer science and mathematics aimed at keeping an AI’s actions and goals in alignment with human intentions, even if it were much more intelligent than us.

In the profile we cover:

  • The main reasons for and against thinking that the future risks posed by artificial intelligence are a highly pressing problem to work on.
  • How to use your career to reduce the risks posed by artificial intelligence.

Read our full profile on the risks posed by artificial intelligence.

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The case for and against using your career to combat smoking

We’ve released a new problem profile on reducing tobacco use in the developing world.

Smoking takes an enormous toll on human health – accounting for about 6% of all ill-health globally according to the best estimates. This is more than HIV and malaria combined. Smoking continues to rise in many developing countries as people become richer and can afford to buy cigarettes.

There are ways to lower smoking rates that have been shown to work elsewhere, such as informing people who are unaware about how much smoking damages their health, as well as simply increasing the price of cigarettes through taxes. These are little used in developing countries, suggesting there is a major opportunity to improve human health by applying the World Health Organization’s recommended anti-tobacco programs.

In the profile we cover:

  • The main reasons for and against thinking that smoking in the developing world is a highly pressing problem to work on.
  • How to use your career to reduce the health damage caused by smoking.

Read our profile on tobacco control in the developing world.

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Why and how to work on cause prioritisation research

We’ve released a new problem profile on global priorities research based on our investigation of the area in 2014.

Governments, charities, intergovernmental organisations, and social enterprises spend large amounts of money to improve the world but there is currently little research to guide them on what priorities they should focus on at the highest level.

Global priorities research seeks to use new methods to determine in which causes funding to improve the world can have the biggest impact, and make a convincing case about this to people in a position to redirect large amounts of money.

In the profile we cover:

  • The main reasons for and against thinking that global priorities research is a highly pressing topic to work on.
  • How to use your career to make progress in this research area.

Read our profile on global priorities research.

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Is global health the most pressing problem to work on?

Every year around ten million people in poorer countries die of illnesses that can be very cheaply prevented or managed, including malaria, HIV, tuberculosis and diarrhoea.

In many cases these diseases or their impacts can be largely eliminated with cheap technologies that are known to work and have existed for decades. Over the last 60 years, death rates from several of these diseases have been more than halved, suggesting particularly clear ways to make progress.

In our full ‘problem profile on health in poor countries’ we cover:

  • The main reasons for and against thinking that this is the most pressing problem to work on.
  • How to use your career to combat diseases of poverty.

Read our profile on health in poor countries.

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Why and how to use your career to work on biosecurity

We’ve released a new profile on biosecurity.

Natural pandemics and new scientifically engineered pathogens could potentially kill millions or even billions of people. Moreover, future progress in synthetic biology is likely to increase the risk and severity of pandemics from engineered pathogens.

But there are promising paths to reducing these risks through regulating potentially dangerous research, improving early detection systems and developing better international emergency response plans.

In the profile we cover:

  • The main reasons for and against thinking that biosecurity is a highly pressing problem.
  • How to use your career to work on reducing the risks from pandemics.

Read our profile on biosecurity.

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Why and how to use your career to end factory farming

We’ve released a new problem profile on factory farming.

50,000,000,000 animals are raised and slaughtered in factory farms globally each year. Most experience extreme levels of suffering over the course of their lives. But there are promising paths to improving the conditions of factory farmed animals and to reducing meat consumption.

In the profile we cover:

  • The main reasons for and against thinking that factory farming is a highly pressing problem.
  • How to use your career to work on ending factory farming.

Read our profile on factory farming.

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We’ll pay you up to £1,000 to write a career review for us

JournalistYou can earn £1,000 by writing a review of a career path that’s sufficiently good for us to publish it on our site. At the same time you’ll help tens of thousands of people choose a career path with more social impact.

We are willing to pay £1,000 if you send us something that’s as good as, or better, than what we could have done ourselves, and only needs minor revisions; £300 if it’s usable but requires significant input from us; and £150 if it’s a helpful input into one of our reviews.

Before you start, send an email to rob@80000hours.org to confirm the title you’ll work on.

Some example reviews that we think have an appropriate level of detail to target include Economics PhD, Journalism, and Marketing.

An outstanding career profile is Medical Careers. Here’s a list of all our career profiles (including some ones in an old format and some that are both much longer and shorter than the 3 above).

To help you get started see our list of headings we fill out when writing career reviews, and a list of links we often refer to. In most cases you will want to speak to 1-3 people in the relevant career to collect information to include.

You’ll probably find it easiest to write about a career or course of study you’ve done yourself,

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Which skills make you most employable?

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Summary

We correlated 35 key transferable skills with salaries, then rated them on how easy they are to learn, and combined them into 11 categories.

Based on this analysis, the five skills to learn that will most boost your employability are:

  1. Learning how to learn and personal productivity
  2. Persuasion and negotiation
  3. Science
  4. Communication
  5. Analysis and problem solving

This analysis is still preliminary, so we wouldn’t put too much weight on it.

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Will high stress kill you, save your life, or neither?

Many people assume stress is obviously bad, and lots of people tell us they want to find a “low stress job”. But a new book (and TED talk with over 10 million views) by psychologist Kelly McGonigal claims that stress is only bad if you think it is, and that stress can make us stronger, smarter and happier. So are most people wrong, or is stress only bad if you have the wrong attitude towards it?

We did a survey of the literature, and found that as is often the case, the truth lies in between. Stress can be good in some circumstances, but some of McGonigal’s claims also seem overblown.

  • In summary, whether work demands have good or bad effects seems to depend on the following things:
    VariableGood (or neutral)Bad
    Type of stressIntensity of demandsChallenging but achievableMismatched with ability (either too high or too low)
    DurationShort-termOn-going
    ContextControlHigh control and autonomyLow control and autonomy
    PowerHigh powerLow power
    Social Support1Good social supportSocial isolation
    How to copeMindsetReframe demands as opportunities, stress as usefulView demands as threats, stress as harmful to health
    Altruism2Performing altruistic actsFocusing on yourself

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Interview: trying to change the resources industry from the inside

Benjamin Todd interviewed Michael Dello-Iacovo about his attempts to do good as a geophysicist inside the Australian mining industry.

What does the job involve?

I’m a geophysicist working for a resources company in Australia. The resources industry is broad, and includes exploration, mining and oil and gas production. Roles in the resources industry include geologists, environmental scientists, engineers (of almost all types), information technology, and a host of others. All of these potentially involve some intermittent field work. I’ll focus on geophysics and geology, as these are the roles I’m most familiar with. Note that this summary is focussed on private oil & gas and mining companies, not government or research organisations. While the roles may be similar in these organisations, the culture, salary and other perks are likely not.

As a resources geophysicist, my work ranges from data processing (which is actually more enjoyable and challenging than it sounds), interpreting and developing geological models and spending time in the field, where my role becomes more one of contractor management, environmental/safety auditing and data quality management. Being in a technical role, I don’t have a lot of meetings (perhaps 2-3 formal meetings per week), and a lot of time is spent behind a computer screen.

Why did you take this job?

I first decided to enter the resources industry part-way through my university science degree because I had a long-time love of rocks and minerals, I liked physics,

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Help build our career guide as a freelance web engineer

We’d like to hire a freelance web engineer to work 2-3 days per week developing our career guide for the next six months.

The role will be similar to the product engineer position we advertised in the fall, except freelance and for six months.

In the next few months, you’d work on: (i) adding features to the career quiz and testing them (ii) restructuring the site around a new package of intro materials (iii) testing ways to boost our key conversions. You’d also play the role of lead developer, and act as the point person for any technical issues in the team.

The ideal candidate would have one year web development experience, and an eye for design. The site is built in WordPress, though we use angular JS for the front-end of the quiz.

Apply now

For more info, contact direct.ben at 80000hours.org.

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New career review: web designer

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What is the best career for someone whose main strengths are in visual design?

To start figuring that out we’ve released a new career review on web design.

Here’s a quick summary:

Pros

  • Web designers can work on a broad range of high impact projects because they are in-demand across many types of organisations, including charities, governments and startups.
  • As a backup, web designers can enter paths with good pay, like UX design ($80,000 median salary), and earn to give.

Cons

  • Good design is hard to measure, which makes it hard to prove your abilities to potential employers, meaning entry and progression can be difficult.

Who should do it?

  • You should consider web design if you studied graphic design or a related field; you’ve already spent several years developing web-design skills; and you are persuasive enable you to get a foot in the door when you’re starting out.
  • However if you have the technical skills to do web development, we recommend you do that instead, since it wins over web design on most dimensions (salary, number of jobs, job growth rate, quality of work is easier to measure).

Read the full review.

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What the literature says about the earnings of entrepreneurs

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It depends what kind of business you’re running.

This piece is part of our series on high impact entrepreneurship. Sign up to our newsletter and we’ll email you with the rest of the series.

Summary

  • Until recently, academics lumped ‘entrepreneurs’ together with all the ‘self-employed’. A new paper, however, split the self-employed into those who owned incorporated businesses and those who don’t. (Though note that the incorporated self-employed are still very different from startup founders.)
  • Self-employed people who own incorporated businesses earn about 50% more than people with regular jobs.
  • Most of this is due to them being more educated and working harder. However, even if you correct for these factors, it seems like shifting into owning an incorporated business boosts income by about 18%.
  • The unincorporated self-employed (mostly running things like hairdressers, restaurants, corner shops etc.) earn less than salaried workers on average.
  • Once you try to compare like-for-like workers, you find that when people switch into unincorporated self-employment, 50% earn less than they would as a salaried worker (but gain more freedom), and 30% earn more. The overall average is about the same.

Introduction

It’s widely believed that entrepreneurs earn more than salaried workers. However, until recently the research did not seem to back this up. In fact, the findings of several studies in 1989 presented a puzzle: entrepreneurs appeared to earn less than their salaried counterparts.

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Use our tool to decide whether you’re on the right career path

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You know how you should review your career at least once a year to make sure that you’re on the right path and set goals for the coming year?

You did that already, right?

Oh, no?

Well, in that case we’ve created a tool to make it quick and easy. Just answer the questions, and we’ll email you your answers when you’re done. There are only six key questions:

Do your annual career review

 
Once you’re done and have decided what steps to take, you can relax about your career trajectory for another 12 months!

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Is nursing or headhunting the best career for you?

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Read our full review of nursing.
Read our full review of executive search.

 
One of the most frequent criticisms of our career recommender is that it usually recommends highly competitive options that are beyond the reach of most people. Furthermore, it disproportionately recommends careers for people with strong mathematical skills.

To begin to address this we have written two shallow career reviews of options that are both less competitive and less quantitative – nursing and executive search (also known as headhunting). Both are primarily ‘earning to give‘ careers.

Try our career recommender to get personalised career ideas.

Join our newsletter for regular updates about all our new career reviews.

What were the bottom lines?

Nursing:

  • is quite well paid in some countries, with a low risk of unemployment
  • provides a launching pad for a career in medical management
  • is satisfying work for most nurses, with flexibility around hours, though nurse ‘burn out’ at unusually high rates
  • offers the opportunity to study advanced nursing degrees which are even better paid.

On the other hand,

  • we expect more nurses in the developed world will improve health outcomes only a small amount
  • we are cautious about recommending a nursing degree to high-school leavers because it won’t be much use to them if they decide not to become nurses –

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How important is finding a career that matches your strengths?

One of the most common ideas in career advice is that finding a good career is a matter of finding the role that uniquely matches who you are. You’ll be fantastic at the career that best matches you, and terrible at other careers, so the mission should be to find the career that’s the best match.

We haven’t found much support for this idea so far. The most in-depth attempt to study “match” is Holland-types, but several meta-analyses have found no or only a very weak relationship between Holland-type match and performance (or job satisfaction). On the other hand, we’ve encountered some important general predictors of success. For instance, hundreds of studies have found that the smarter you are, the more likely you are to succeed in almost every career. With a general predictor like intelligence, more is always better – it’s not that it means you’ll do well in some jobs but worse in others depending on your “match”.

However, a new line of research into “strengths” might shift the picture. There have been two attempts – the Virtues in Action (VIA) Signature Strengths test and Strengths Finder – to determine people’s character strengths, and study the importance of leading a career in line with them.

We did a review of the literature to see whether we should incorporate them into our advice, which we summarise below.

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Doing good through for-profits: Wave and financial tech

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Get the rest of our series on doing good through start-ups by signing up to our newsletter.

Wave is one of the most high potential social impact for-profit startups we’re aware of, and it was co-founded by someone in our effective altruism community – Lincoln Quirk. Wave allows immigrants to send money from North America to relatives in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia with much lower fees than if they used Western Union or MoneyGram. (Though Wave existing is nothing to do with 80,000 Hours, someone we recently coached chose to work for Wave and help them expand into the UK.)

Why is Wave such an important company? Previously, if immigrants wanted to send remittances, they had to use Western Union or MoneyGram. Both the sender and receiver would have to go to a physical outlet to make the transfer, and worst of all, the sender would have to pay 10% in transfer costs! Lincoln Quirk and his cofounder Drew Durbin have built software that allows instant transfers from a mobile phone in the US or Canada to a mobile phone in Eastern Africa or Ethiopia – and they only charge 3%, a saving of 7%.

For each dollar of revenue that they make, they are saving $2.33 for someone in the world’s poorest countries. Assuming a 20% profit margin, the figure is $12 in savings for each $1 of profit.

The potential positive impact of this idea is huge.

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Rule-breaking in children predicts future success

A paper was recently released looking into which personality factors in childhood predict success in education and work. The study followed participants over a 40 year period and attempted to control for intelligence and socioeconomic background. Much of it is exactly what you would expect. But here are some quotes that are more surprising (emphases ours). Note of course that the result has not yet been replicated:

In general, we found significant relations for childhood IQ and SES [socioeconomic status] with educational attainment that is in line with the sociological and psychological models (see Blau & Duncan, 1967; Eccles, 2005). As there is much previous research on the validity of these predictors for educational success (e.g., Gottfredson, 2002; Gustafsson & Undheim, 1996; Kuncel et al., 2004), we will focus our discussion on student characteristics and behaviors.

Educational attainment was best predicted by defiance of parental authority, [lack of] sense of inferiority, and teacher-rated studiousness. The effects were still significant after including IQ and parental SES as predictors.

First, students with high rule breaking and defiance of parental authority might be more competitive in the school context and more visible in interactions in the classroom. This might lead to at least higher oral grades compared with students with lower levels of rule breaking and defiance and to more demanding and encouraging teacher behavior. Rosenbaum (2001) demonstrated that teachers used not only the students’ cognitive abilities to determine grades but also students’ noncognitive behaviors.

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We can learn a lot from Tara, who left pharmacy to work in effective altruism

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Tara saved lives working as a pharmacist in Bhutan – no really we checked, and she totally did – but she nevertheless left to try to find something better.

This is part of our series of profiles of people who changed their career in a major way in order to have more impact because of their exposure to 80,000 Hours.

Today Tara Mac Aulay is the head of operations in the Centre for Effective Altruism. But just two years ago she was working as a pharmacist. How and why did she make this transition? Her career path is sufficiently fascinating it’s worth telling the story form the start.

Tara was extremely conscientious and hard-working from a very young age. As a result she was able to finish high school and start studying at university at the young age of 16, rather than the usual 18 or 19. She managed to do this while at the same time i) redesigning the staff and inventory management for an Australian restaurant chain, then, because this saved them so much money, being promoted to a more senior role to ii) travel around the country to make major changes to failing stores to save them from closure. As a teenager! Needless to say, this entrepreneurialism and ambition allowed her to develop a wide range of professional skills at a young age.

At the age of 15 she applied to study pharmacy,

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