In a nutshell: Working on neglected global problems that could be even more pressing than those we currently prioritise could be very high impact. If you identify such a problem, resources could be directed to address it much earlier than might have been done otherwise. On the other hand, if your research indicates a potential problem shouldn’t be prioritised, then you can write up your findings for others, saving them time.
This path isn’t exactly competitive per se, but it seems very difficult to succeed, so we group it with highly competitive paths like becoming a public intellectual.
Sometimes recommended — highly competitive
This career is potentially high-impact, but is exceptionally competitive.
Based on a shallow investigation
Why might exploring a potentially pressing problem be high impact?
There are many neglected global problems that could turn out to be as or even more pressing than those we currently prioritise most highly. We’d be keen to see more people explore them by acquiring relevant training and a network of mentors, and getting to know the relevant fields.
If the problem area still seems potentially promising once you’ve built up a background, you could take on a project or try to build up the relevant fields, for instance by setting up a conference or newsletter to help people working in the area coordinate better.
If, after investigating, working on the issue doesn’t seem particularly high impact, then you’ve helped to eliminate an option, freeing up others’ time and resources to be used better elsewhere.
In either case, we’d be keen to see writeups of these explorations, for instance on the Effective Altruism Forum.
If you have an idea for a novel approach to address one of our highest-priority problems, it could also be high impact to explore that. But because our highest-priority problems have been more researched, the value of information coming from exploring more within them is likely to be lower.
We can’t really recommend exploration of new issues as a priority path because it’s so amorphous and uncertain. It also generally requires unusual degrees of entrepreneurialism and creativity, since you may get less support in your work (especially early on), and it’s challenging to think of new projects and research ideas that provide useful information about a less-explored area.
However, if you fit this profile (and especially if you are already interested in and knowledgeable about the problem you want to explore), this path could be an excellent option for you.
You might be able to explore an underexplored area as a global priorities researcher at an organisation or independently, or perhaps as a founder creating a new project to address the issue — though we generally recommend doing research first.
Want one-on-one advice on pursuing this path?
If you think this path might be a great option for you, but you need help deciding or thinking about what to do next, our team might be able to help.
We can help you compare options, make connections, and possibly even help you find jobs or funding opportunities.
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- Will MacAskill’s article Moral Progress and Cause X — where ’cause X’ refers to a cause area currently unjustifiably neglected by the effective altruism community.
- Read a range of content on about how to identify ‘cause X.’
Want to consider more paths? See our list of the highest-impact career paths according to our research.
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