Update on 80,000 Hours May 2015 – June 2016

This is a quick update on our progress over the last year. Our next in-depth annual review, in which we’ll vet everything in more depth, will be in January 2017.

Our impact across the year

Here’s our key metrics for the top of our funnel. Ultimately we care about significant plan changes, which we report right below.

Unique visitors to site
New newsletter subscribers

Our newsletter now has a total of over 50,000 subscribers, which we think makes it the largest in the effective altruism community (most others have about 10,000). Our total traffic also just overtook GiveWell, which we think is the next largest by traffic (we had 880,000 users over the 12 months ending June, compared to 860,000 when calculated the same way.)

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Should you work at GiveWell? Reflections from a recent employee.

The following are some reflections on what it’s like to work at GiveWell written by one of our readers. We’re posting their thoughts because we’ve written about GiveWell as a high-impact career in the past, and are keen to share more information about it. The opinions below, however, may not reflect our views.

I worked at GiveWell from August 2014 to May 2016. This piece is a reflection on my time there, on things I think GiveWell does well as an employer, on things I think it could do better, and why I decided to leave.

I envision two functions for this piece: (1) as an exercise to help me process my time at GiveWell, and (2) as a resource for people considering working at GiveWell. When I was considering taking a job at GiveWell, I found Nick Beckstead’s reflection on his internship at GiveWell to be very helpful. Outside of Nick’s piece, there isn’t very much substantive information available about working at GiveWell. Many people consider employment at GiveWell; I hope some of those people find this reflection to be useful.

Some background

I learned about GiveWell in Spring 2014, after reading Peter Singer’s Famine, Affluence, and Morality in a college ethics class and encountering related topics on the internet. By the time I took the ethics class, I knew that I did not want to go to graduate school immediately after my undergraduate, but I was very taken by academic ethics and wanted to continue serious thinking about the topic.

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Trevor decided to move from a non-profit to a for-profit to do more good in the long run. Was it the right call?

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.

I recently spoke to Trevor Shorb about how his career plans changed as a result of 80,000 Hours. After finishing university, Trevor worked in the Peace Corps in El Salvador and planned to work for an NGO in the developing world. But after reading our advice, he decided to gain skills in the private sector first, in order to have a bigger impact in the long run. Today Trevor does business development for an international education company in emerging markets in Latin America. He plans to start a non-profit or for-profit in the developing world in the future.

How and why did he make this transition? Read our interview with him to find out.

How did you find out about 80,000 Hours and effective altruism, and what were you planning on doing with your career before that?

I first became interested in effective altruism when I read “The Life You Can Save” around the time I graduated college and had committed to serve in the Peace Corps.

Before that I had undergone a fundamental change in perspective. Recruited to college to play lacrosse, I was fully dedicated to the pursuit of being the best and leading the team. A case of chronic Lyme disease led to multiple operations and much time spent in doctor’s offices.

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Is deep work the most underappreciated skill for career success? An interview with Cal Newport.

Deep-WorkIn the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king – or so the saying goes. In his new book, Deep Work, Cal Newport argues that when it comes to deep concentration, we have become the land of the blind.

He believes that the ability to do focused work is essential for career success, but becoming increasingly rare. And the fewer people are capable of deep work, the more of an edge you should be able to get by being the exception.

We think Cal is one of the most interesting thinkers working on the issue of career strategy, so recommend you check it out. We interviewed Cal to learn more.

Quick summary of the book

Cal defines “deep work” as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task”.

In his previous book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal argues it’s better to focus on gaining career capital rather than “following your passion” (we agree). Part one of Deep Work takes off where his previous book ends – he argues that deep work is essential to gaining valuable career capital. In short:

  • Deep work is increasingly valuable in the modern economy because it’s what allows you to master new intellectual skills and produce creative breakthroughs. People able to do both of these can take work that’s unlikely to be automated and reach the top of their fields,

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Update on number of significant plan changes

This is a brief update on the number of significant plan changes we’ve caused as of the end of Dec 2015.

We define a significant plan change as:

Someone tells us that 80,000 Hours caused them to change the career path they intend to pursue, in a way that they think increases their lifetime impact.

More on what counts as a significant plan change here.

Our total number of significant plan changes as of the end of Dec 2015 is 453.

Here’s a summary of our key figures:

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Maria Gutierrez on doing good through art, Costa Rica and why 80,000 Hours changed her career

This week I interviewed Maria Gutierrez to learn more about how 80,000 Hours had changed her career plans. For the last year Maria has been our freelance graphic designer, producing most of the artwork on our site today.

I sped up the recording so it is quick to listen to:

Summary of the interview

  • In 2014 Maria had a general desire to improve the world, but no idea how to put that into practice. She didn’t see any way to do useful work while using her creative skills and was frustrated by this.
  • She stumbled onto 80,000 Hours and effective altruism while browsing the internet, and its ‘honesty’ immediately resonated with her. It provided a much more concrete way to assess what would actually be useful to do than she previously had. It was the first time she had considered ‘earning to give’ as a way to do good.
  • She realised that she could do a lot of good by using her artistic skills to contribute to any organisation that does exceptional work. She decided to make her first contribution by working for us.
  • Maria decided to move back to Costa Rica to dramatically lower her cost of living, and thereby be able to donate more. This is possible because all the work she does is online for groups in the US and UK. She recommends other people think about doing the same thing, and we suggest some careers that are particularly promising for remote work.
  • We discuss how the 80,000 Hours framework can be applied to others in the creative arts, and challenge the view that such skills are not valuable.
  • Long term, Maria is weighing up earning to give as a fine artist, against doing ‘direct work’ as a designer for non-profits or for-profits that she thinks are having a large social impact.
  • This raises tricky issues about personal fit, and which sacrifice she is willing to make and which she isn’t. Maria doesn’t think she could be happy without being challenged artistically. She also thinks she would burn out doing pure marketing.
  • Finally, we discuss RISE (Red de Impacto Sustenible y Effectivo), en effective altruism inspired organistion for Costa Rica, which she intends to launch with a friend. Maria explains why she doesn’t want to take donations away from charities that work in countries poorer than Costa Rica.

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The rent is too damn high – should you work on reforming land use regulations?

We’ve released a new ‘problem profile’ on reform of how land is used in cities.

Local laws often prohibit the construction of dense new housing, which drives up prices, especially in a few large high-wage urban areas. The increased prices transfer wealth from renters to landowners and push people away from centres of economic activity, which reduces their ability to get a job or earn higher wages, likely by a very large amount.

An opportunity to tackle the problem which nobody has yet taken is to start a non-profit or lobbying body to advocate for more housing construction in key urban areas and states. Another option would be to try to shift zoning decisions from local to state governments, where they are less likely to be determined by narrow local interests, especially existing land-owners who benefit from higher property prices.

In the profile we cover:

  • The main reasons for and against thinking that working on land use reform is among the best uses of your time.
  • How to use your career to make housing in prospering cities more accessible to ordinary people.

Read our full profile on land use reform.

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New report: Is climate change the biggest problem in the world?

We’ve released a new ‘problem profile’ on the risks posed by extreme climate change.

There is a small but non-negligible chance that unmitigated greenhouse emissions will lead to very large increases in global temperatures, which would likely have catastrophic consequences for life on Earth.

Though the chance of catastrophic outcomes is relatively low, the degree of harm that would result from large temperature increases is very high, meaning that the expected value of working on this problem may also be very high.

Options for working on this problem include academic research into the extreme risks of climate change or whether they might be mitigated by geoengineering. One can also advocate for reduced greenhouse emissions through careers in politics, think-tanks or journalism, and work on developing lower emissions technology as an engineer or scientist.

In the profile we cover:

  • The main reasons for and against thinking that the ‘tail risks’ of climate change are a highly pressing problem to work on.
  • How climate change scores on our assessment rubric for ranking the biggest problems in the world
  • How to use your career to lower the risk posed by climate change.

Read our full profile on the most extreme risks from climate change..

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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 SupportGood social supportSocial isolation
      How to copeMindsetReframe demands as opportunities, stress as usefulView demands as threats, stress as harmful to health
      AltruismPerforming 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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