Jess Whittlestone portrait

Case study

Jess Whittlestone

Jess's story

I graduated in June 2012 with a Maths and Philosophy degree from Oxford. I’d been feeling increasingly confused about what to do afterwards; I knew I wanted to make a difference somehow but didn’t really know what that meant. None of the careers we typically think of as “ethical” seemed to really fit with my skills and interests. I was looking at going into philosophy of mind or cognitive science research, but felt somewhat dissatisfied that this probably wasn’t going to lead to me helping many people.

I came across 80,000 Hours in July, and started doing an internship in October. Through advice sessions and informal conversations with people I now have a much clearer idea of what I want to do with my career. I’m going to do a PhD in Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School next year, as I feel this will allow me to develop the skills, experience, and networks that will keep many options open later on. I’m still thinking a lot about my longer term career plans, but I’m open to a much wider range of things I might do to have an impact.

Without 80,000 Hours I also wouldn’t have taken the pledge to donate 10% of my earnings over my lifetime to the most effective causes, and probably would have donated substantially less and been less well informed about where to donate.

In general, interacting with 80,000 Hours has nothing short of revolutionised the way I think about my career, and even beyond that, my life in general. I have a deepened understanding of what I care about and a much clearer idea of what it means to “make a difference.” 80,000 Hours has made me realise how many more options are open to me. I’m so much more ambitious and excited about my career than I was a year ago.

Jess decided to pursue a PhD as her next step using our how to choose process. Here’s the steps she went through:

1) Clarify the decision

Jess was looking to decide on the first step after university. Ultimately, the time limit was the deadline for deciding whether to take up an offer to study for the PhD.

2) State your goals

Since Jess was at the start of her career, she decided career capital that kept her options open was the most important factor, followed by immediate impact.

She thought personal fit and exploration value were less important in this case because she didn’t think her options would differ too much based on them.

3) Brainstorm new options and rank

Jess had already undergone a period of exploration, and wanted to focus on deciding between doing the PhD and working at 80,000 Hours.

4) Resolve key uncertainties

Jess was doing an internship at 80,000 Hours to try out that option. She also talked to over twenty people about the choice and wrote out all the pros and cons of each possibility.

5) Assess options

She decided that although 80,000 Hours won on immediate impact, the PhD was better for career capital. She didn’t think there was a large difference based on Personal Fit and the PhD narrowly won on Exploration Value since she had already done an internship at 80,000 Hours. Overall, the PhD came out ahead.

See her reasoning in her own words here.