Our 20 most popular pieces of research

I recently wanted to see what content we’ve written in the past are still popular with readers. Our most visited pages are articles in our career guide, or tools like our career quiz, problem quiz and career decision tool, around which the site is designed. And of course anything that was released recently tends to attract a lot of readers. So let’s look at the others.

These are the pieces we’ve written that i) were most visited over the last three months, and ii) were written more than six months ago, iii) not a tool or part of our career guide. Enjoy!

  1. What are the 10 most harmful jobs?*
  2. Problem profile: Why Bill Gates and others are concerned about AI, and what to do about it

  3. To find work you love, don’t (always) follow your passion*

  4. Career review: Why an economics PhD might be the best graduate program

  5. Career review: If you want to change the world for the better, should you work in a think tank?

  6. Artificial Intelligence safety syllabus

  7. Which skills make you most employable?*

  8. Problem profile: Why helping to end factory farming could be the most important thing you could do

  9. Is global health the most pressing problem to work on?

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We’ll pay you up to £1,000 to write a career review for us

Journalist

Update: Unfortunately, due to staff limitations we cannot accept any more freelance career reviews.

You 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.

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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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The value of coordination

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This post is intended for people who are already familiar with our key content. If you’re new, read the basics first.

In assessing your positive impact on the world, you need to look at the additional good you do after taking into account what would have happened if you hadn’t acted. But how can you evaluate this?

One way is the “single player approach” – consider what would happen if you act and what would happen if you don’t act, holding everyone else constant, and then look at the difference between the two scenarios.

This approach worked pretty well in the early days of effective altruism, but it starts to break down once you’re part of a community of thousands of people who will change their behaviour depending on what you do.

When you’re part of a community, the counterfactuals become more complex, and doing the most good becomes much more of a coordination problem – it’s a multiplayer rather than a single player game.

In this post, I’ll list five situations where this insight can help us to become even more effective, and I’ll suggest new rules of thumb that I think might be the best guide in a multiplayer world. This is a complex topic, so the answers I give are still tentative. I’m keen to see many more people in the community start thinking about these issues,

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Take the growth approach to evaluating startup non-profits, not the marginal approach

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In its first 2 years, Google made no revenue. Did this indicate it was a bad idea to invest or work there?

We spent the summer in Y Combinator, and one of the main things we learned about is how Y Combinator identifies the best startups. What we learned made me worry that many in the effective altruism community are taking the wrong approach to evaluating startup non-profits.

In summary, I’ll argue:

  1. There’s two broad approaches to assessing projects – the marginal cost-effectiveness approach and the growth approach.
  2. The community today often wrongly applies the marginal approach to fast growing startups.
  3. This means we’re supporting the wrong projects and not investing enough in growth.

At the end I’ll give some guidelines on how to use the growth approach to evaluate non-profits.

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Our new tool can help you make the right career decision

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We’ve released a new tool to help you think through career decisions, such as which major to study, which jobs to apply for, and which of various offers to accept. We’ve tested it in one-on-one coaching over the last six months, and are now making it freely available.

These decisions can both be very important and very difficult. This tool will make these decisions easier by walking you through a step-by-step process, asking you the questions we use during coaching, and checking that you’ve applied the most important results of our research. We designed the process using the scientific literature on decision making to reduce bias and it has received positive feedback from many users:

  1. Try out the tool.
  2. Share it on Facebook or Twitter.

It won’t tell you what to do, but it will make sure you haven’t missed anything obvious, are asking the right questions, and have a clear next step. It takes about 30 min to run through.

We will continue to improve the tool in coming months based on your feedback and our experience in coaching.

If you know a friend or family member trying to make a career decision you might also like to pass it on to them!

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How to write a career plan

We see lots of career planning mistakes.

Some people simply don’t have a plan, and hope the future will figure itself out. This leads them to take steps that seem attractive in the short-run but don’t help in the long-run e.g. we’ve met quite a few people who ended up regretting doing a philosophy PhD.

Other people try to figure out “what to do with their lives”, or make a detailed “10 year plan”. That doesn’t work either.

Instead, we recommend:

  1. Have a plan, but make it flexible – we call this flexible plan a “vision”.
  2. Review your plan at least once a year. Think like a scientist testing a hypothesis.
  3. Make sure you gain flexible career capital, that way you’ll be in a better position no matter what the future holds.

We recently updated our key article on career planning to explain.

For long-term readers, what’s new?
1. New content on how to make your “vision”

We added a new step-by-step process for making your plan based on “ABZ planning”, an idea we found in Reid Hoffman’s excellent book “The Start-Up of You”.

Here’s the process we recommend:

First start by asking:

  1. What does the world most need? List the 1-3 causes that you think are most pressing. If you’re trying to make an impact, then you need to start by understanding what the world most needs.

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Join us as product engineer, build our interactive career guide, and help millions of graduates have a greater social impact. $1000 for referrals.

Our aim is to help as many graduates as possible maximise the social impact of their careers. We’re looking for a web product engineer to lead the development of our interactive career guide.

If you’re a good fit, this job is an exceptionally high-impact opportunity.

And the role will give you fantastic self-development. You’ll be taking a major role in a Y Combinator-funded nonprofit, that’s one of the founding organisations in the effective altruism movement, affiliated with Oxford University, and has grown engagement 25-fold in the last four months.

We’re looking for a full stack web engineer with design skills, who’s really into effective altruism, and ready to take the lead on project with huge potential for impact. The position will be in Oxford initially, then we’ll likely move to the Bay Area. Some remote work is possible.

If interested, fill out our short application form and we’ll arrange a meeting to tell you more.

If you know someone else who might be a good fit, ask them to apply and tell ben@80000hours.org. If we hire them and we didn’t know them already, we’ll give you $1,000.

What’s the role?

We’ve done four years of research into how to best choose a career with social impact. Now we want to use that research to make the career guide that every socially-motivated graduate uses.

As product engineer:

  • You’d lead on building our interactive guide.

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Will effective altruism destroy the arts? No.

158300A recent article on the Washington Post expressed concern that the growth of effective altruism could seriously reduce funding for the arts. It even mentions that the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation recently decided to focus 100% on funding the arts and culture, in part because “philanthropy, directly or indirectly influenced by the effective altruist approach, is increasingly focused on problems perceived as more pressing”.

This was astonishing to me.

Here’s why effective altruism is not going to destroy the arts.

1) Only a couple of percent of American philanthropy is influenced by effective altruism, and it’s not taking funding from the arts.

Explicitly “effective altruist” giving is well under $100m per year, only 0.03% of the total Americans give to charity each year.

If we look more broadly to giving that has an effective altruist style, even if it doesn’t explicitly use the label, the Gates Foundation is the largest proponent. But the Gates Foundation spends about $4bn per year, only 1% of the total Americans give to charity each year.

It seems hard to claim that more than a couple of percent of American philanthropy is even remotely influenced by effective altruism. One study found that only 3% of American donors give based on the relative performance of the nonprofits they donate to. Only 4% of total American giving even goes to international causes,

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What are the 10 most harmful jobs?

We spend most of our time discussing the most helpful careers that you should take.

We just created a three minute career recommender to highlight some of the options with the largest positive social impact for you.

As most of the people we talk to are deciding between reasonable to excellent options, this seems like the right focus.

But which careers are the worst?

Here we try to guess which mainstream jobs are most likely to do significant harm. As almost no one we know is considering careers of this kind we have limited our investment in this research; it’s an initial exploration of the topic, based on general knowledge and a review of the key figures.

Here are the criteria:

  • The job has to be legal. Needless to say, organised crime is a harmful career!
  • More than one in a million people has to work in the job in the OECD, so it can’t be incredibly obscure or specific.
  • It can’t be harmful only if you’re particularly incompetent (for example, being a bad teacher), deliberately trying to do a bad job, or violating the profession’s code of ethics.

It’s easy to think of jobs that are useless and just transfer money from one person to another. But being unproductive alone isn’t enough to make a top ten list. There are also notable industries that cause harm,

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Try the new 80,000 Hours ‘Career Recommender’ – it could change your life

We just added a new and very cool feature to our website: the ‘career recommender’.

It takes about 3 minutes to use and might end up significantly changing the course of your career.

Our goal is to ask you just a questions and then tell you in what careers you can have the greatest social impact.

If that sounds ambitious, that’s because it is! But the thousand of people who have already used it during testing it have found it surprisingly useful.

It should at least throw up options you should seriously consider before you do something else. So:

  1. Use the Career Recommender.
  2. Once you’re done, it can email you your suggestions so you can read more about them later.
  3. Share it on social media and perhaps change the lives of your friends and family for the better.
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Would you get these results? Try it and find out!

We expect the career recommender to remain a core part of our career guide in the future. It’s already useful, but it will become much more so over time as our research expands and we:

  • ‘Review’ and rate a wider range of paths, especially those in which people can achieve great things without having to have far above average quantitative or language skills.
  • Change the questions to more precisely measure people’s skills.
  • Check that it gives good answers for any possible set of inputs.

Stay informed of significant updates by signing up to our twice monthly research newsletter.

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‘Replaceability’ isn’t as important as you might think (or we’ve suggested)

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Often if you turn down a skilled job, the role simply won’t be filled at all because there’s no suitable substitute available. For this and other reasons we don’t place as much weight as we used to on the idea of ‘replaceability’.

When we started 80,000 Hours, one of the key ideas we presented was the replaceability argument:

Suppose you become a surgeon and perform 100 life saving operations. Naively it seems like your impact is to save 100 people’s lives. If you hadn’t taken the job, however, someone else likely would have taken it instead. So your true (counterfactual) impact is less than the good you do directly.

I still think this is a good argument, but I’m not sure how relevant it is when comparing real career options.

In particular, I see the argument often being used incorrectly in the following two ways:

  1. Ignoring direct harm: Suppose you’re considering taking a job that some people think is harmful (e.g. certain parts of the financial sector) in order to donate, do advocacy or build skills. You reason “if I don’t take the job, someone else will instead, so the potential harm I’ll do directly doesn’t matter”.

  2. Ignoring direct impact: Suppose you’re considering working at a high-impact nonprofit. You reason “if I don’t take the job, someone else will instead, so I won’t have much impact.”

I disagree with both of these claims in most circumstances. Why?

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Systemic change becomes non-systemic change and vice versa

As you might have heard, there is an active debate among the 80,000 Hours community about the effectiveness of attempts to change societal systems – such as laws, institutions or social norms – versus so-called “non-systemic” approaches, such as funding health treatments directly, or becoming a teacher.

Sometimes these debates become quite heated.

To put my cards on the table, I lean towards systemic change being a more promising approach, at least given my skills. Hence, I’ve studied public policy and worked in a Government think tank myself. I also see one of the major long-run impacts of 80,000 Hours to be changing social norms about how people think about how they spend their working life.

But I find it hard to get too passionate with those who lean the other way. One reason for this was well explained in a comment by my friend Catriona Mackay:

I think that people on the whole are biased towards against non-systemic change (i.e if you did a survey asking whether it’s best to treat the causes or the symptoms of poverty, almost everyone would answer ’causes’, even if there were strong evidence that both were effective in terms of increasing net well-being), and so it’s likely that non-systemic causes are more underfunded, so I can contribute more.

On the other hand, I think that scaling up proven health solutions and cash grants and so on are also ways of contributing to systemic/revolutionary change.

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Effective altruists love systemic change

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Effective altruists are out working every day to fix society’s systemic problems. It’s time to definitely rebut the claim that we don’t care about systemic change.

Yesterday we put to rest the idea that 80,000 Hours, and effective altruists more generally, are only enthusiastic about ‘earning to give’. While some people should earn to give, we expect the right share is under 20%, and think that ‘earning to give’ is now more popular among the people who follow our advice than it ideally would be.

Today I want to put to rest another common misunderstanding about effective altruism and 80,000 Hours: that we are against systemic change.1

Despite being the most widespread critique of effective altruism, the idea is bizarre on its face. We are pragmatists at heart, and always looking for any ways to more effectively make the world a better place.

Why couldn’t pursuing broad-scale legal, cultural or political changes be the most effective approach to making the world a better place? The answer is simply that they could!

So there is nothing in principle about the idea of maximising the social impact of your work that rules out, or even discourages, seeking systemic change.

What about in practice, though? Here are some systemic changes people who identify as effective altruists are working on today:

  • Most of the recent Open Philanthropy Project research and grants, on immigration reform, criminal justice reform, macroeconomics, and international development, are all clearly focussed on huge structural changes of various kinds.
  • The OpenBorders.info website also researches and promotes the option of dramatic increases in migration from poor to rich countries.
  • A new startup called EA Policy, recommended for support by my colleagues at EA Ventures, is trialling making submissions to open policy forums held by the US government over this summer.
  • Our colleagues at the Global Priorities Project research the most important policy priorities for governments, and how they can establish better cost-benefit and decision-making processes.
  • One of GiveWell’s main goals from the beginning, perhaps it’s primary goal, has been to change the cultural norms within non-profits, and the standards by which they are judged by donors. They wanted to make it necessary for charities to be transparent with donors, and run projects that actually helped recipients. They have already significantly changed the conversation around charitable giving.
  • Giving What We Can representatives have met with people in the UK government about options for improving aid effectiveness. One of the first things I wrote when employed by Giving What We Can was about appropriate use of discounts rates by governments thinking about health services. Until recently one Giving What We Can member, who we know well, was working at the UK’s aid agency DfID.
  • Some 80,000 Hours alumni, most of whom unfortunately would rather remain anonymous, are going into politics, think-tanks, setting up a labour mobility organisations or businesses that facilitate remittance flows.
  • Several organisations focussed on existential risk (FHI, CSER and FLI jump to mind) take a big interest in government policies, especially those around the regulation of new technologies, or institutions that can improve inter-state cooperation and preclude conflict.
  • 80,000 Hours alumni and effective altruist charities work on or donate to lobbying efforts on animal welfare, such as Humane Society US-FARM, or are activists working for dramatic society-wide changes in how humans view the moral importance of non-human animals.

It looks to me like it’s more accurate to say that effective altruists <3 systemic change.

We’re not done though.

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In some careers your parents can give you a huge boost. Should you do what they did?

Angelina-Jon-GettyWould Angelina Jolie have been as successful if her father wasn’t Jon Voight?

In our talks we often note that in the past people typically went into the same career as their parents, but today young people are free to choose from a much wider range of options that might suit them better. That’s true, and it’s a great thing. However, there are still sometimes reasons to follow in your parents’ footsteps.

New research shows that working in the same field as a successful parent can give your odds of success a huge boost. Surely some of what’s going on here is that the child of a star parent is more likely to try to enter the same field in the first place, but part must also be that they are more likely to succeed when they do so.

Some, perhaps even most, of that effect will be due to to unfair and zero-sum nepotistic advantage, and so shouldn’t be actively exploited. But part of it must also be down to nothing immoral: you will start learning about the work incidentally from a young age, you’ll happen to make useful contacts as you grow up, and your parent may even be able to offer you personal coaching.

Unfortunately, the boost seems to be largest in fields where performance is hardest to measure (it’s smaller in sport and science) or where a brand surname matters, as in politics.

Here are the results for some of the most competitive positions in society:

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I recommend reading the full article which has many more details.

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New TEDx talk released!

Check out the TEDx talk video by our Executive Director and co-founder Benjamin Todd.

In it, Ben sets out what we’ve learned through our research about finding fulfilling work. Rather than following your passion, find something you’re good at that helps others. If you aim to do what’s valuable, passion for your work will emerge. And you can also make a big difference with your life.

If you like what you see, please go ahead and share the video. We’d like to get it listed on the main TED channel!

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Get paid to do existential risk reduction research

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The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) is hiring for postdoctoral researchers. Existential risk reduction is a high-priority area on the analysis of the Global Priorities Project and GiveWell. Moreover, CSER report that they have had a successful year in grantwriting and fundraising, so the availability of research talent could become a significant constraint over the coming months. Here is Sean’s announcement:

The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (University of Cambridge; http://cser.org) is recruiting for postdoctoral researchers to work on the study of extreme risks arising from technological advances. We have several specific projects we are recruiting for: responsible innovation in transformative technologies; horizon-scanning and foresight; ethics and evaluation of extreme technological risks, and policy and governance challenges associated with emerging technologies.

However, we also have the flexibility to hire one or more postdoctoral researchers to work on additional projects relevant to CSER’s broad aims, which include impacts and safety in artificial intelligence and synthetic biology, biosecurity, extreme tail climate change, geoengineering, and catastrophic biodiversity loss. We welcome proposals from a range of fields. The study of technological x-risk is a young interdisciplinary subfield, still taking shape. We’re looking for brilliant and committed people, to help us design it. Deadline: April 24th. Details here, with more information on our website.

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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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A meta-analysis may not mean much

Scott Alexander recently posted an interesting and provocative article: “Beware the man of one study” (and see the follow up post here).

In the post, he points out that it’s not uncommon to find two meta-analyses with opposite results on the same question.

Indeed, especially when it comes to a politically divided issue, both sides can sometimes produce apparently overwhelming evidence in support of their case.

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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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