Plan change story: from neuroscience academia to cost-effectiveness research

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Hauke did a PhD in Neuroscience and was planning to go into academia. But after reading our research, he changed his plans and applied to jobs in German politics, consulting, tech-startups and our parent organisation, the Centre for Effective Altruism. He’s now Director of Research at Giving What We Can, where he researches which charities most effectively alleviate extreme poverty.

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How to pursue a career in research to lower the risks from superintelligent machines: a new career review.

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This is a summary of our full career review on artificial intelligence risk research.

Have you read the profile and think you want to contribute to artificial intelligence risk research? Fill out this form and we’ll see if we can help.

Many people we coach are interested in doing research into artificial intelligence (AI), in particular how to lower the risk that superintelligent machines do harmful things not intended by their creators – a field usually referred to as ‘AI risk research’. The reasons people believe this is a particularly pressing area of research are outlined in sources such as:

Our goal with this career review was not to assess the cause area of AI risk research – on that we defer to the authors above. Rather we wanted to present some concrete guidance for the growing number of people who want to work on the problem.

We spoke to the leaders in the field, including top academics, the head of MIRI and managers in AI companies, and the key findings are:

  • Some organisations working on this problem,

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Donating to Giving What We Can is higher impact than donating to GiveWell recommended charities.

Giving What We Can is fundraising. When I last checked, they had only reached £70,000 of their £150,000 target.

Last year, more than $28m was donated to Give Directly, AMF, SCI and Deworm the World – the charities recommended by GiveWell and Giving What We Can.1 In contrast, Giving What We Can (GWWC) spent under $200,000. My claim in this post is that if you donate to these top recommended charities, you’ll have even more impact (at the margin) if you donate to Giving What We Can instead.

GWWC is closely affiliated with 80,000 Hours, so I’m likely to be biased in GWWC’s favour. However, I feel strongly enough that I think it’s worth writing on the topic anyway.

Here’s three reasons why to donate to GWWC.

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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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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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Interview with a project manager at the Copenhagen Consensus

Ben recently interviewed Brad Wong about his career and current job at the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC), a leading global think tank which draws together over 100 top economists to work on prioritizing the solutions to the most pressing global issues.

We spoke to Brad to learn more about whether working at the CCC could be a good opportunity for our members, following up on our previous research.

The CCC is hiring two more project managers to work on a Copenhagen Consensus project for development in Bangladesh, in a role similar to Brad’s. These jobs can either be based in Dhaka, Bangladesh or Budapest, Hungary or in the Centre for Effective Altruism’s office’s in Oxford (shared with us!).

The interview was conducted via phone call. Below we summarise the key messages of the conversation, followed by some excerpts, which have been edited and reorganised for clarity.

In summary, Brad told us:

  • Brad manages a project to provide cost-benefit analysis of the UN’s next development goals.
  • Before this job, Brad completed a PhD, worked as a consultant at Booz & Company, and did strategic consulting at an Indian non-profit, Technoserve. All three were good preparation for his current role, which requires an understanding of academic research and development, combined with the ability to manage a project and get things done.
  • Brad really enjoys his work at the CCC. Day-to-day, the work ranges from very exciting (networking with UN ambassadors) to quotidian (writing contracts, organising meetings, proofreading).
  • He’s excited about the project’s potential impact – their analysis is being used at the highest levels within the UN and there are already more than 100 media articles about the project from major outlets, such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
  • Brad would like to continue working at the CCC, though long-term would like to work at a major foundation or consult for foundations.
  • 80,000 Hours did not directly affect his decision to work for CCC, but exposure to Givewell and 80,000 Hours significantly changed his attitude towards impact in his career.

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The Copenhagen Consensus speaks to 80,000 Hours about global prioritisation

In October, Bjorn Lomborg from the Copenhagen Consensus Centre led a global priorities setting session at 80,000 Hours: Oxford in the Oxford Union. The video of the event has been uploaded by the Union.

In the session, Lomborg guides the audience through the pros and cons of different uses of development aid, and asks them to put them in order of priority from the perspective of maximising the welfare of the global poor. Throughout the session, live votes are taken from the audience via wifi.

More on the Copenhagen Consensus…

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5 ways to make a big difference in any career

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At 80,000 Hours, we’re focused on finding the very best opportunities for you to do good with your career. We’re worried that sometimes this continuous focus can be demoralising. After all, it’s hard to find the best opportunities. Moreover, we’re worried that sometimes our members lose sight of the fact that you can make a big difference in any career.

We don’t mean spending your birthday volunteering at a soup kitchen, giving seniors the ‘gift’ of your art, or buying a charity wristband. We mean you can transform the lives of hundreds of other people, in any career.

So, we decided to write this note explaining how…

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Thoughts on my experience working at GiveWell

Introduction

In this post, I offer some thoughts on my experience working at GiveWell. I’ve had a number of different people ask me about this, and I think many people interested in effective altruism are curious about working there. So I thought I would explain my views in detail so that others who are thinking about working there have more information.

Summary

In summary:

  1. I worked at GiveWell for two months in 2012, during which time I mainly did literature reviews and constructed cost-effectiveness models for a few different interventions (breast-feeding promotion, vaccination for neonatal tetanus, vaccination for meningitis, and vaccination for measles).

  2. While there, I primarily learned about how to do a literature search, how to evaluate research (especially causal attribution in economics), and how to construct cost-effectiveness models. I also learned a lot about how to run an effective organization in general, which may have been the most valuable part of the experience.

  3. For people who may be a good fit and have the opportunity to work at GiveWell, I recommend trying it without hesitation. I believe that working at GiveWell is an outstanding opportunity for personal development and having an impact. I also found it a very enjoyable place to work.

  4. I didn’t end up working at GiveWell because the work they wanted me to do didn’t line up well with the work that I wanted to do, working there offered me less autonomy than my best alternative (working at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford), and I believed that working at the Future of Humanity Institute would offer me more job security and options in the future.

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Looking for a seriously high impact job using your managerial skills?

We recently interviewed Roland Mathiasson, vice president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC), a leading global think tank which draws together over 100 top economists to work on prioritizing the solutions to the most pressing global issues. The Center’s leader, Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine and has been repeatedly named one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy. We initiated the interview after being contacted by Roland about a job opportunity with CCC…

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The Future of Humanity Institute is hiring a high-impact project manager

We recently secured funding for a Research Collaboration with Amlin Insurance focusing on systemic risks associated with risk modelling. This is a unique opportunity to build a world-leading research programme. We’re looking for someone who can not only manage this project, but who also has the drive and initiative to find new sources of funding, network with leading experts, and design future plans for the project. We’re also looking for someone who understands and is motivated by the aims of the FHI; the post-holder will have the opportunity to contribute across the board to FHI projects, and may be a crucial part of the FHI’s success going forward.

It’s a two year position, but there will be the possibility of extension depending on the success of the project and the acquisition of further funding. All the details can be found here

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Looking for a seriously high impact job using your analytical skills?

Recently we interviewed Holden Karnofsky, co-founder of the independent, nonprofit charity evaluator GiveWell. We recommend GiveWell as a leading source of information on where to have the largest impact with your charitable donations.

Our conversation suggested that GiveWell might be one of the highest impact career opportunities in the world. There’s reason to think that GiveWell has the potential to be an extremely impactful organisation, but they are short of some key types of staff. If you fit their criteria, then this is a position really worth considering. Read on for excerpts from our conversation on (i) what GiveWell does and why it’s important (ii) what kind of people will do well there (iii) how you can get a job there.

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Interview with Holden Karnofsky, co-founder of GiveWell

Holden Karnofsky is the co-founder and co-executive director of GiveWell, an independent, nonprofit charity evaluator. We recommend Givewell as a leading source of information on where to have the largest impact with your charitable donations.

In 2012 GiveWell moved over $9.5 million to its top charities and the amount of money moved by GiveWell has so far been roughly doubling each year. GiveWell also recently formed a partnership with GoodVentures, a new multi-billion dollar foundation which aims to do as much good as possible. This has already had huge impact, for example at the end of 2012, Good Ventures awarded $2 million in grants to GiveWell’s top recommended charities.

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High impact interview 1: Existential risk research at SIAI

The plan: to conduct a series of interviews with successful workers in various key candidates for high impact careers.

The first person to agree to an interview is Luke Muehlhauser (aka lukeprog of Less Wrong), the executive director of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, whose mission is to influence the development of greater-than-human intelligence to try and ensure that it’s a force for human flourishing rather than extinction.

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