Your career can help solve the world’s most pressing problems
At 80,000 Hours, we do research into how people can most effectively use their careers to help solve the world’s most pressing problems. We use this research to provide one-on-one support to help people pursue career paths with a greater impact.
This page is a summary of what we’ve learned so far. It links to more detailed explanations of our views and reasoning, and other useful resources.
We start with the big picture and end with practical next steps. We cover: (i) the ethical views that inform our advice, (ii) the global problems we currently think are most pressing to work on, (iii) the careers we think most effectively address these problems, (iv) some advice on long-term career strategy that’s useful for whatever problems you focus on, and (v) a process for planning your career in light of your strengths and priorities.
Our advice is tailored for graduates aged 20-35 who want to have a large-scale positive impact with their careers, though much of it is relevant to a broader audience. You can find out more about us and how we were started here.
This series is a work in progress. We are currently working on this page, and drafting new articles. Join our newsletter to get notified when we release updates.
In our view, ‘having a positive impact’ is about promoting long-term welfare. However, we’re highly uncertain about this definition, so in practice we aim to consider other perspectives.
We’ve started by trying to identify the most pressing global problems to work on based on this definition. These are not necessarily the world’s biggest and most well-known problems, but rather those where additional effort can make the biggest long-term difference at the margin. Right now, we think these involve the risk of global catastrophes that could have permanent negative consequences — i.e., ‘existential risk’. Nuclear war and runaway climate change are the two most well-known catastrophic risks, and both may contribute to existential risk. However, we think that, all else equal, additional people can have even more impact by working to reduce the risk of large scale pandemics and to positively shape the development of advanced artificial intelligence, mainly because these areas are so much more neglected, which has left many of the most promising interventions untried.
Because we are very uncertain about these priorities, we also provide support to people building the new field of global priorities research, as well as people working in other high-impact areas.
We currently think some of the most promising career paths involve addressing these problems through work in carefully chosen areas of research, government policy and nonprofits. For those with the flexibility to pursue a new career path, we especially recommend considering whether one of our ‘priority paths’ might be a good fit in the long-term, perhaps after spending several years gaining skills. Those who already have specialised skills or are further along in their careers should also consider applying those skills to the most pressing global problems — this will often involve taking approaches that differ from our general suggestions. People in any field can also contribute to whichever problem they think is highest priority by financially supporting effective organisations in that area. Our research is ongoing and there are many excellent paths we’ve not written about — we discuss other promising options later.
Once you have ideas about which career paths seem most promising to you, aim to identify the option where you have the best chance of excelling in the long term i.e. where you have the best ‘personal fit’. It’s hard to predict your personal fit, so look for cheap ways to test different paths. If still in doubt, one good approach is to enter the path that would be highest-impact if you perform towards the top end of your expectations. If it works out, you can continue for many years. If it doesn’t, you can limit the downside by switching to something else (ideally a backup plan you’ve identified ahead of time). This strategy only works, however, if you’ve also tried to avoid risky options that might do more harm than good.
If you’re unsure which path to pursue, another option is to build career capital: skills, connections and credentials that are likely to be relevant to many high-impact paths in the future. You can also sometimes progress faster in your top option by first focusing on career capital. We cover this and other strategic considerations below.
To integrate all of these considerations, and work out your best options in light of your strengths and priorities, you can use our step-by-step process. Once you have a best-guess option, go ahead and pursue it. Bear in mind that career decisions are not fixed — we recommend that you review your career every 1-2 years. Between reviews, focus on excelling in your current path.
Table of Contents
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Our ethical views: What does it mean to ‘make a difference’?
- 3 Global priorities: What are the most pressing problems to work on?
- 4 Best opportunities: Which careers effectively contribute to solving these problems?
- 5 Career strategy: Other important career priorities
- 5.1 Personal fit: how to increase your chances of finding a career path where you’ll excel
- 5.2 Exploration: focus on the option with the most long-term upside, but have a backup plan
- 5.3 Accidental harm: the risk of doing more harm than good and how to reduce it
- 5.4 Career capital: deciding how much to prioritise investing in yourself relative to having an impact right away
- 5.5 Coordination: how to work with a community to have a greater impact
- 5.6 Personal wellbeing: How to handle conflicts between your own happiness and making a difference
- 5.7 Further reading
- 6 Take action: How to write your career plan and choose your next step
- 7 How else can we help?