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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How to network

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.

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Researcher position available at Animal Charity Evaluators

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.

More info

Full job description and application.

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How to get “elite” jobs: Dartmouth is not good enough

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.

How to get elite jobs
Graphic re-created from original figure in Rivera (2011)

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Should I help now or later?

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.

For example:

  • 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.

Alternatively:

  • 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:

Now vs Later flowchart

We’ll further explain each factor below.

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We change more than we expect (so keep your options open!)

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.

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How to start a career in technology (even if you studied art)

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.

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Which careers are most likely to be automated?

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.

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The social impact of different professions

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)
Academia/research 2
Advertising/marketing/sales -0.3
Agriculture 0
Arts/Entertainment 0
Business operations 0.1
Engineering/technical 0.4
Entrepreneurship 2
Financial Services -0.5

What do these figures mean? Read on for more…

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A meta-analysis may not mean much

Scott Alexander recently posted an interesting and provocative article: “Beware the man of one study” (and see the follow up post here).

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.

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Opportunity to work at JPAL as a Research Associate – just hours left to apply!

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.

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Earning to give is systemic change

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.

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Why apply to Teach First?: An interview with the UK’s largest graduate recruiter

Teach First

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:

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The camel doesn’t have two humps – update to software engineering profile

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.

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