Careers Questions Open Thread

post by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-12-04T12:05:34.775Z · EA · GW · 261 comments

Hi everyone,

Many people in EA aren’t able to get as much career advice as they’d like, while at the same time, hundreds of EAs are happy to provide informal advice and mentoring within their career area.

Much of what we do in our one-on-one advice at 80,000 Hours is try to connect these two groups, but we’re not able to cover a significant number of people. At the same time, spaces like the EA careers discussion FB group don’t seem to have taken off as a place where people get concrete advice.

As an experiment, I thought we could try having an open career questions thread on the Forum.

By posting a reply here, anyone can post a question about their career, without having to make a top level post, and anyone on the forum can write an answer.

If it works well, we could do it each month or so.

To get things going, some of the 80,000 Hours team will be available from Monday onwards to write quick answers to topics they have views on (in an individual capacity rather than representing our official view), though our hope is that others will get involved.

For those with questions, I could imagine those ranging from high-level to practical:

I’m especially keen to see questions from people who haven’t posted much before.

The answers to your questions will probably be more useful if you can share a bit of background, though feel free to skip if it'll prevent you from asking at all! You can also skip if you're asking a very general question.

Here’s a short template to provide background – feel free to pick whichever parts seem most useful as context:

If you want to do a longer version, you could use our worksheet.

Just please bear in mind this will all be public on the internet for the long term. Don’t post things you wouldn’t want future employers to see, unless using an anonymous account. Even being frank about the pros and cons of different jobs can easily look bad.

As a reminder, we have more resources to help you write out and clarify your plan here.

For those responding to questions, bear in mind this thread might attract people who are newer to the forum, and careers can be a personal subject, so try to keep it friendly.

I’m looking forward to your questions and seeing how the thread unfolds!

Update 21 Dec: Thank you everyone for the questions and responses! The 80k team won't be able to post much more until Jan, but we'll try to respond after that.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2021-01-11T18:30:04.268Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for all your questions and comments! This thread has now been up a while and is getting unwieldy, so the 80,000 Hours team won't be posting further on it. Thank you to everyone who contributed answers - I think that's meant that everyone has received some answer to their question. Apologies that we didn't manage to personally reply to all of them.

comment by asking_for_advice · 2020-12-10T19:20:50.464Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm a third year college student at a top US university studying math and computer science. I'm struggling to decide between pursuing a PhD in AI safety research or working at a quant firm/E2G. A third wildcard career path would be a data-informed policy role where I could use my quantitative skills to help policymakers, but I've struggled to find roles like this that are both high impact and technically interesting (would love some help with this!).

I will be working at a quant trading firm (one of Citadel,  Optiver,  etc.) next summer as a software engineer and I currently work in an AI research lab at school, so I'm well set to pursue both career paths. It's a question of which path is higher impact and will be the most rewarding for me. I'll try to list out some pros and cons of the PhD and E2G routes (ignoring data-driven policy roles for now because haven't found one of those jobs).

Quant Firm E2G Pros:

  • Potential for $1M+ donations within first 5-10 years
  • Great work life balance (<50 hours/week for the company I will be working at), perks, location, job security (again, specific to my company), and all around work environment
  • Guaranteed job offer; I've already passed the interview and finished all the prep work

Quant Firm E2G Cons:

  • Writing code long-term (20+ years) sounds incredibly draining
  • I know E2G is high impact but sometimes it doesn't feel that way; definitely feel like a sell out

AI PhD Pros:

  • Potentially super high impact, especially because I'm interested in reinforcement learning safety
  • Intellectually interesting; kind of a dream career

AI PhD Cons:

  • Success is not guaranteed: AI PhD programs are SUPER competitive. I would probably need to take a gap year and publish more papers before applying. Becoming a professor is even harder.
  • I love the idea of research and I have a lot of research experience, but the day-to-day work can be extremely frustrating; There's a very real risk of getting burnt out during my PhD
  • If I don't work in AI safety in particular, there's a risk that the work I do might have as many negative effects as positive effects 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on deciding between these roles as well as any ideas for the wildcard option that are worth exploring!

Replies from: AGB, RyanCarey, Michelle_Hutchinson, deluks917, evelynciara, anonymous_123, nikvetr, HStencil, Khorton
comment by AGB · 2020-12-14T00:33:10.902Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(Background: Have worked in trading since late 2013, with one ~18 month gap. Have also spoken to >5 people facing a decision similar to this one over the years. This is a set of points I often end up making. I'm moderately confident about each statement below but wouldn't be surprised if one of them is wrong.)

I think both of these paths are very 'spiky', in the sense that I think the top 10% has many times more impact (either via donations or direct work) than the median. From a pure altruistic perspective, I think you mostly want to maximise the chance of spiking. 

One of the best ways to maximise this is to be able to switch after you realise you aren't in that category; in trading I think you're likely to have a good sense of your appoximate path within 2-4 years, so in the likely even that you are not hitting the high end at that point you have an opportunity to switch, if your alternate allows you to switch (often but certainly not always the case). Similarly, I'd try to work out what flexibility you have on the AI PhD path; if you do in fact find the day-to-day frustrating and decide to quit in order to avoid burnout, what are your options? If you can switch either way, that's great and this largely ceases to be an important consideration.

On a related note, and echoing some others, 2-4 years undoubtedly sounds like a long time now but it's actually a pretty small fraction of your career. Don't feel like a 'bad' choice now will forever condemn you to an inferior path! Any choice that does actually lock you in this way is probably a bad choice for that reason alone, but again usually this feels like it is the case more than it is actually the case. 

Some people underestimate quant trading earnings at top-tier firms, because the firms are extremely cagey about them. FWIW, I think >$1m annual earnings within 5-10 years is more like the 40th-80th percentile case depending on firm, while the 'spike' case pushes into >$5m within their first decade.  That's for trading. Software engineer earnings at these firms I have a weaker sense of; they can either essentially match the traders or fall significantly behind (I don't currently know of a case where it runs ahead); this depends heavily on the specific firm.

Predicting what you're more likely to spike in advance is hard, and is going to be a question of personal fit, so difficult for us to answer, I just think that's the right question. That said, there are some things in your post that make me think AI is more likely to be your life's work:

  • Writing code long-term (20+ years) sounds incredibly draining
  • I know E2G is high impact but sometimes it doesn't feel that way; definitely feel like a sell out
  • Intellectually interesting; kind of a dream career

Sometimes people feel things like the above and assume everyone else feels the same way. As someone who has heard both pro-E2G and pro-AI versions of all of these points, the one thing I'm confident of is that this is not the case. As a community, there are worse ways we could coordinate this than having all the people who are more excited on a gut level about working at quant firms do that, and all the people who are more excited about working on AI do that. I do think there are more of the latter than the former, but that's ok; one person E2G-ing at that level (especially if they spike) can fund many other people doing direct work. 

The above is all written from a 'For the Greater Good' perspective. It sounds like a lot of what is pulling you towards quant work is that it's the safe, already-available, almost-certainly-going-to-work-out-well-for-you-personally option. This is a reasonable thing to pay attention to! Just how much attention depends on things like your general level of financial security, do you have or expect to have dependents or other major family committments, how wide/deep is your career path if a particular opportunity goes away, what kinds of backup (e.g. parents you could move in with) do you have, etc. Try not to assume things will work out ok, but equally try not to assume one bad call will end it all if you have layers of protection. This is incredibly variable by individual, and most EA advice is calibrated for young people who are pretty secure, don't have large external obligations, and have solid backup. This in turn strongly points to taking a higher-than-usual level of risk in your altruistically-motivated endeavours. If that's you, then great. If not, it might be worth some reflection about to what extent you can afford to, e.g. aim for the PhD and fail. 

comment by RyanCarey · 2020-12-11T20:37:24.837Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Anon,

I was in a similar situation to this with job offers from MIRI (research assistant) and a top quant trading firm (trading intern, with likely transition to full-time), four years ago.

I ended up taking the RA job, and not the internship. A few years later, I'm now a researcher at FHI, concurrently studying a stats PhD at Oxford.

I'm happy with what I decided, and I'd generally recommend people do the same, basically because I think there are enough multi-millionaire EAs to place talent at a large premium, relative to donations. Relative to you, I had a better background for trading, relative to academic AI - I played Poker and gambled successfully on political markets, but my education was in medicine and bioinformatics. So I think for someone like you, the case for a PhD would be stronger than for me.

That said, I do think it depends a lot on personal factors - how deeply interested in AI (safety) are you? How highly-ranked exactly are the quant firm, and the PhD where you end up getting an offer? And so on...

I'd be happy to provide more detailed public or private comments.

comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2020-12-11T10:39:32.995Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Congratulations on the quant trading firm offer! It sounds like right now you’re in a great overall position, and that you’re thinking things through really sensibly. A few thoughts: 

For examples of data drive policy roles, I wonder if you’d be interested in the type of research that the Center for Security and Emerging Technology does? 

With regard to earning to give, I’m sorry to hear that it doesn’t feel high impact. Do you think that might be better once you have money to donate, and are spending time carefully thinking through where that could do the most good? Or perhaps if you spent quite a bit of time chatting to other people earning to give, and so had more of the sense of being in a community doing that? If you haven’t yet, I wonder if it’s worth your chatting to some other people who have been earning to give for a while about how they’ve found it. Likewise talking to someone who has been a software engineer for a longish while about how they’ve found it over time sounds like it could be useful. 

On going into AI, I don’t know that I’d be worried about having negative effects if you don’t work in AI safety, because I’d expect if you didn’t go into AI safety there would be other roles in things like medical tech AI which would useful rather than neutral in expectation. On the other hand, it does sound kind of worrying to me for this path that you like the idea of research but don’t sound keen on the day-to-day. I think everyone finds research frustrating some of the time, so that seems totally fine, but I think if your overall sense is that you wouldn’t enjoy doing the research needed for a PhD, probably that wouldn’t be a great path for you. 

I’m guessing it’s pretty hard to turn down the quant firm offer, given that it’s a great job. If you decide you’re actually keen to see how you can do with publishing more in AI, I wonder if it’s worth asking them about pushing the offer for a while? They might be fine with you spending a few months or more publishing before coming to them. 

I imagine that right now this is feeling like a stark crossroads, where you have to go one direction or the other for life. That doesn’t sound right to me - I know various people who have worked at a hedge fund for a few years and then gone into AI safety. Likewise if you do an AI PhD and decide against research, you’ll be in a great position to earn to give afterwards. So to the extent you can think of this decision as just one step forward, and as a further test of what you might like to do over the longer term, I think that sounds like a more accurate framing and one which will take the pressure off. It seems useful to remember that you’re in a great position, even if things are a bit intimidating right now!

comment by sapphire (deluks917) · 2020-12-14T03:57:14.298Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

You should take the quant role imo. Optionality is valuable (though not infinitely so). Quant trading gives you vastly more optionality. If trading goes well but you leave the field after five years you will have still gained a large amount of experience and donated/saved a large amount of capital. It's not unrealistic to try for 500K donated and 500K+ saved in that timeframe, especially since firms think you are unusually talented. If you have five hundred thousand dollars, or more, saved you are no longer very constrained by finances. Five hundred thousand dollars is enough to stochastically save over a hundred lives. There are several high impact EA orgs with a budget of around a million dollars a year (Rethink Priorities comes to mind). If trading goes very well you could personally fund such an org. 

How are you going to feel if you decide to do the PHD and after five years you decide that it was not the best path?  You will have left approximately a million dollars and a huge amount of earning potential on the table. You could have been free to work for no compensation if you want. You would have been able to bankroll a medium sized project if you keep trading. 

There are a lot of ways to massively regret turning down the quant job. It is plausible that the situation is so dire that you need to drop other paths and work on AI safety right now.  But you need to be confident in a  very detailed world model to justify giving up so much optionality. There are a lot of theories on how to do the most good. Stay upstream. 

Replies from: richard_ngo
comment by richard_ngo · 2020-12-14T12:13:36.162Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

AI PhDs tend to be very well-compensated after graduating, so I don't think personal financial constraints should be a big concern on that path.

More generally, skill in AI is going to be upstream of basically everything pretty soon; purely in terms of skill optionality, this seems much more valuable than being a quant.

Replies from: AGB
comment by AGB · 2020-12-14T17:23:29.754Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

In the world where your second paragraph is true, I'd expect the quant firms will start or have already started using AI heavily, and so by working as a software engineer at one of those firms you can expect to be able to build skills in that area. So then it's a classic choice between 'learning about something via a PhD' versus 'learning about something via working on a practical application', which I generally think of as a YMMV question.

I'm curious if you expect the PhD to systematically have more optionality after accounting for that, if you weren't already.

Replies from: richard_ngo
comment by richard_ngo · 2020-12-14T21:01:49.977Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

So there are a few different sources of optionality from a PhD:
- Academic credentials
- Technical skills
- Research skills

Software engineer at a quant firm plausibly builds more general technical skills, but I expect many SWEs there work on infrastructure that has little to do with AI. I also don't have a good sense for how fast quant firms are switching over to deep learning - I assume they're on the leading edge, but maybe not all of them, or maybe they value interpretability too much to switch fully.

But I also think PhDs are pretty valuable for learning how to do innovative research at the frontiers of knowledge, and for the credentials. So it seems like one important question is: what's the optionality for? If it's for potentially switching to a different academic field, then PhD seems better. If it's for leading a research organisation, same.  Going into policy work, same. If it's for founding a startup, harder to tell; depends on whether it's an AI startup I guess.

Whereas I have more trouble picturing how a few years at a quant firm is helpful in switching to a different field, apart from the cash buffer. And I also had the impression that engineers at these places are usually compensated much worse than quants (although your earlier comment implies that this isn't always the case?).

Actually, one other thing is that I was implicitly thinking about UK PhDs. My concern with US PhDs is that they can be so long. Which makes me more optimistic about getting some external work experience first, to get a better perspective from which to make that commitment (which is what I did).

Replies from: AGB
comment by AGB · 2020-12-14T23:55:54.548Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That makes sense, thanks for the extra colour on PhDs.

Whereas I have more trouble picturing how a few years at a quant firm is helpful in switching to a different field, apart from the cash buffer.

I've heard variants on this a few times, so you aren't alone. To give some extra colour on what I think you're gaining from working at quant firms: Most of these firms still have a very start-up-like culture. That means that you get significant personal responsibility and significant personal choice about what you work on, within a generally supportive culture. In general this is valuable, but it means there isn't one universal answer to this question. Still, some candidate skills I think you'll get the opportunity to develop should you so choose.

  • Project management
  • People management
  • Hiring
  • Judgement (in the narrow 80k sense [EA · GW] of the term)

(This list is illustrative based on my own experience, rather than exhaustive. Some of the above will apply to the PhD as well, it's not intended as a comparison)

comment by BrownHairedEevee (evelynciara) · 2020-12-14T04:31:58.233Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Consider tech roles in government! Governments do a lot of high-impact work, especially in the areas that most EAs care about (global health and development, long-term risks), so working in government could allow you to work directly on these areas and build connections that may open the doors to higher-impact work. If you're a U.S. citizen, you can apply for the Civic Digital Fellowship (for students) or the Presidential Innovation Fellowship (for more seasoned technologists), both of which place technologists in the federal government.

comment by anonymous_123 · 2020-12-11T18:35:34.019Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hello! I am a math BS, CS MS w/ 8 years experience, am in Fintech doing AI and deep learning (not as a quant, but close), so hopefully I can shed some light for you :) To cut to the chase, I'd strongly consider the quant trading firm option, largely just because you have a great offer and shouldn't overlook that. (especially if you think the work-life balance will be good! That is a major downside to many trading jobs)

First, you can get 1000 opinions about a phD, but my personal opinion is to skip it. It does help lend some credibility, but sacrificing 5 years of career progression and salary is just such a high cost. I work with a lot of PhDs and I hold my own just fine.  

Second, I've been donating 10% of my income for about 5 years now, and it ABSOLUTELY DOES feel good. Especially if you are like me and like looking at numbers and can let go of not "seeing" the impact first hand. I have a family member who did peace corp, and I feel just as strong connection to  my impact as they do. I had the same hesitations you did, but I ultimately realized my desire to "feel" like I was doing good was more tied to a desire to "show off" on linked in that I was doing good based on my employer or title. Most friends and family don't know I E2G, and I'm fine with that. I'm still doing a hell of a lot of good, and I sleep fine at night. 

Third (not about PhD, but regarding quant vs policy), ask yourself: if you pick wrong, which switch will be easier. Few trade shops will hire someone with a non-technical policy background, even in AI. Many AI policy jobs would love to hire a highly technical person who has inside knowledge on how the financial industry works. 

Finally, don't underestimate the intellectual stimulation of a quant job. To an outsider, I stare at a stock market activity and python code all day. But I find it incredibly thought provoking. Our company has "journal clubs" and I find time to read ML articles and books. Obviously if you truly hate coding, then avoid it. But I still code daily, and it's not nearly as "draining" as I expected. Don't forget AI is hot stuff in fintech right now, so the two topics are not mutually exclusive.

Good luck!!

comment by nikvetr · 2020-12-11T19:33:04.665Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Working at a ritzy quant firm shouldn't impact your competitiveness for PhD programs too much (could even improve it), and if you're getting $1M+ / 5y E2G-worthy offers halfway through ugrad (and have already published!), you'll probably still be able to get comparable offers if you decide to e.g. master out. So in that regard, it probably doesn't matter too much which path you take, since neither preclude reinvention.

If it were me, I'd take the bird in hand and work in the quant role... but if I felt myself able to make more meaningful "direct" contributions, focus on not just E2G'ing but also achieving financial independence as soon as possible. PhD program stipends are quite a bit lower than industry pay (at my current school, CS students only make around ~$45k / y), so being able to supplement that income with proceeds from investments would free you from monetary concerns and let you focus your attentions on more valuable pursuits (e.g. you wouldn't have to waste time on unpleasant trivialities, like household chores, if you could instead hire a regular cleaning service + meal delivery. Hell, spend another year or two at the firm and get yourself a part-time personal assistant for the duration of the grad program to manage your emails for you haha). Focus on solving those claims on your time that can be most cheaply solved first, to give yourself greater opportunities to direct more valuable hours down the line.

comment by HStencil · 2020-12-11T20:43:12.890Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Regarding the data-driven policy path, my sense is that unfortunately, most policy work in the U.S. today is not that data-driven, though there's no doubt that that's in part attributable to human capital constraints. Two exceptions do come to mind, though:

  1. Macroeconomic stabilization policy (which is one of Open Philanthropy's priority areas) definitely fits the bill. Much of the work on this in the U.S. occurs in the research and statistics and forecasting groups of various branches of the Federal Reserve System (especially New York, the Board of Governors in D.C., Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco). These groups employ mathematical tools like DSGE and HANK models to predict the effects of various (mainly but not exclusively monetary) policy regimes on the macroeconomy. Staff economists working on this modeling regularly produce research that makes it onto the desks of members of the Federal Open Markets Committee and even gets cited in Committee meetings (where U.S. monetary policy is determined). To succeed on this path in the long-term you would need to get a PhD in economics, which probably has many of the same downsides as a PhD in computer science/AI, but the path might have other advantages, depending on your personal interests, skills, values, motivations, etc. One thing I would note is that it is probably easier to get into econ PhD programs with a math-CS bachelor’s than you would think (though still very competitive, etc.). The top U.S. economics programs expect an extensive background in pure math (real analysis, abstract algebra, etc.), which is more common among people who studied math in undergrad than among people who studied economics alone. A good friend of mine actually just started her PhD in economics at MIT after getting her bachelor’s in math and computer science and doing two years of research at the Fed. This is not a particularly unusual path. If you're interested and have any questions about it, feel free to dm me.
  2. At least until the gutting of the CDC under our current presidential administration, it employed research teams full of specialists in the epidemiology of infectious disease who make use of fairly sophisticated mathematical models in their work. I would consider this work to be highly quantitative/data-driven, and it's obviously pertinent to the mitigation of biorisks. To do it long-term, you would need a PhD in epidemiology (ideally) or a related field (biostatistics, computational biology, health data science, public health, etc.). These programs are also definitely easier to get into with your background than you would expect. They need people with strong technical skills, and no one leaves undergrad with a bachelor's in epidemiology. You would probably have to get some relevant domain experience before applying to an epi PhD program, though, likely either by working on the research staff at someplace like the Harvard Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics or by getting an MS in epidemiology first (you would have no trouble gaining admission to one of those programs with your background). One big advantage of epidemiology relative to macroeconomics and AI is that (my sense is) it's a much less competitive field (or at least it certainly was pre-pandemic), which probably has lots of benefits in terms of odds of success, risk of burnout, etc. Once again, feel free to dm me if this sounds interesting to you and you have any questions; I know people who have gone this route, as well.
comment by Kirsten (Khorton) · 2020-12-10T23:29:30.340Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's great that you have two very strong options! The answer probably comes down to your judgment on a few questions: a) What's the likelihood of a catastrophic AI accident in your lifetime? b) What's the likelihood your work could help prevent that? c) Where would you donate if you earn to give?

(I'm tempted to try to convince you to earn to give, because the opportunity you describe sounds excellent for you and for the world, and I'm pretty sceptical about AI research and excited about bednets! But ultimately you'll need to figure out your views on these things.)

comment by Christopher_Phenicie · 2020-12-13T03:48:03.550Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I want to first say thanks for making this thread! This has helped me set a deadline for myself to write down my thoughts and ask for some feedback. As described below, I’d love some feedback about my career plans, and also this draft post of notes about what it could mean to be an expert in AI hardware, which I wrote up while working on these plans.

For a little background on me, I’m currently a grad student working near the area of quantum computing hardware and I’m on track to get my PhD in summer 2022. I think my strengths are laboratory work in experimental physics. I find that I enjoy leadership roles, though I find it hard to gauge if I actually am skilled at these roles. (For more background see my resume). I’m also planning to do an internship in summer 2021. I’m hoping to figure out what could be particularly good uses of my time for the internship and my first couple roles after grad school. I currently have no constraints on location.

I think I am pretty cause neutral, but given my skill set some of the areas I’ve thought about focusing on are:

  • AI Hardware
  • AI Policy
  • AI Technical research
  • Earning to give (and continuing to work on my personal cause prioritization)
  • Atomically Precise Manufacturing (APM)

I talked with a few people about APM. My impression is that it’s not clear if anyone should be working on actually making this technology right now. However, if one were to do this anyway, one of the most promising approaches would be essentially biology work in academia, trying to start the subfield. This made me less interested in the area, since the low expected value doesn’t seem to merit trying to start a subfield that I have no experience in.

I think I would enjoy some earning to give roles, but I view this as a solid backup option after getting a feel for the impact I can have with direct work.

I looked into AI Safety research for a little while, but it’s not clear to me that it’s my comparative advantage (as more of a lab person) compared to the other people pursuing these roles. 

One idea I came across from the post “Some promising career ideas beyond 80,000 Hours' priority paths [EA · GW]” was AI Hardware. I think this does play more to my comparative advantage, and may let me work on the same problems. I spent some time taking notes on what it might mean to be an expert in AI Hardware, and I’m planning to make a forum post about this.

Part of the point of this comment is to welcome any and all comments on this draft post about what it means to be an expert in AI Hardware!

From this research, I’ve come up with the following plan:

  • Next month: Gain experience in one emerging AI Hardware platform (photonics) through an edX course recommended by someone in the field
  • Next summer: Expand my experience with real AI hardware doing an internship in summer 2021, prioritizing companies working on near-term hardware like Google, but any internship would be better than nothing.
  • Next year: Apply for the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship (for the positions starting in September 2022) to see how well suited I am to policy

These experiences will probably update my thoughts on my career significantly, but I’m currently most excited about two possible career paths

  • Plans A/B:  Work on AI hardware in industry or a national lab, but take “tour of duty” roles such as a program manager at IARPA. Alternatively, try for a career in something like AI Hardware policy (which was recommended as perhaps the less risky route in the 80k podcast with Danny Hernandez) at a place like CSET.  I’m hoping my experience with a AAAS STPF (including getting rejected) would help decide how far into policy to go.

And some backup career paths I’m considering

I would love some feedback about this plan. I think one major flaw is that almost all these careers are outside my area of expertise, and I’m not sure if I’m being detailed enough about what skills I lack and how to get them (though if you take an expansive view of what AI Hardware means, I think I would be a competitive candidate at a quantum computing company right after graduation). Also, if there are any other careers that seem like I should consider, I’d love to hear it!

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2021-01-09T16:21:16.903Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is a fantastic career plan! And thank you very much for your article on being an expert in hardware [EA · GW], that seemed like a really useful synthesis, and I imagine will be really valuable for others considering working in this area.

I don't have much to add because it seems like you're thinking all this through really carefully and have done a lot of research. A few thoughts:  

  • Application processes seem to me to have a lot of noise in them. So I wouldn't take a single rejection from AAAS as much evidence at all about you not being suited for policy.
  • There are a range of other policy options you might consider for testing this route, such as the Mirzayan Fellowship, which has the benefit of being just 12 weeks. Lots more eg Tech Congress and PMF described in this document
  • My impression is that it's easier to move from more to less technical roles than the reverse, which may point in favour of working for a year or two in industry before doing years in policy (although as a counter to that, some things like PMF are only an option up to ~2 years out of your degree)
  • AI Impacts might be another organisation to have on your radar for maybe doing a short project with to test non-technical work. 
comment by CHL · 2020-12-09T21:17:40.660Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What's a good rule of thumb for letting go of your Plan A? 

Over the past three years, I have submitted 60 applications and 200+ requests for volunteering to get a job working for an MP.  I was convinced that British politics was a strong option for me: I was extremely intrinsically motivated, and it remains a strong match for my skills.

Even the additional paid experience I eventually got in 2018 for a few months has had no impact on my ability to get an interview; of the job applications, I received just one interview, which I failed. Of the requests for volunteering, I got two offers of a work experience placement and managed to do one of them. 

I have conflicting feelings about this lack of success. During this time, I have had phases of doubting my  personal fit (modest background, few political contacts), convincing myself it's a bad option, and wanting to give up. But I then get a sudden surge of optimism: to try again, submit another application, pad my CV, until rejection slaps me back down. I feel it is too important to give up on, it's a strong match for my skills, and it seems strong for information value and career capital. 

Thoughts welcome! Thank you.

Replies from: Denise_Melchin, Michelle_Hutchinson, Benjamin_Todd, bdixon
comment by Denise_Melchin · 2020-12-10T10:37:09.177Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

First of all, you have shown an impressive amount of stamina! Well done.

My guess is that if you want to pursue this path, you should focus on getting more political contacts, for example get involved in party politics. I know a lot of people who worked for MPs (albeit in a different country) who got these roles via party political work.

Replies from: Benjamin_Todd, CHL
comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-12-12T12:35:55.271Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd agree. We have this old blog post based on 4 interviews with insiders in the UK:

And the first point is:

Net-work to get-work. Go to as many political and think tank events as you can. Talk to people. Ask advice. Make friends.

You might also consider options like working in the civil service or think tanks, which can lead to party politics later. Don't bet everything on the 'work for an MP' path, even though it is a common route.

comment by CHL · 2020-12-13T13:05:30.443Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for your kind words, and taking the time to give your thoughts.

Admittedly, I could be doing more networking. I made a few attempts to parlay a campaigning role for several candidates into parliamentary jobs for those candidates (they lost or directed me to official channels), met with former special advisers, current parliamentary staff through my own network as well as through cold emails and events, and cold-emailed MPs.

But I have done so in short bursts, and could do better in being more consistent over a sustained period. Hopefully this will be easier post-COVID.

Thanks again!

comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2020-12-12T10:19:30.139Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

First of all I want to echo Denise and Louis - great work on putting in so many applications, that must have been really tough! 

I think unfortunately there’s no clear rule of thumb for when to let go of your plan A, it depends a lot on your individual situation. For example people are very different in how unhappy the process of applying makes them, and also in how big a difference they feel there is between their plan A and their plan B. It does sound like you have quite a bit of evidence that it's going to be really hard to get to work for an MP in the near term, and also that the process of trying is taking its toll on you, which makes me think it could be worth starting to think a bit more about your other options and whether there are any of those you feel good enough about to start applying to.

I think you needn’t think about working on your plan B as necessarily precluding your plan A. You could, for example, take a pause on applying for jobs with MPS jobs and focus on getting a different role that you’d be happy doing long term, with the plan of once you’re settled in that doing some more skill building and doing another round of applying to work with MPs. Or you might apply for just a couple of the politics roles you think you’re most likely to get, and alongside that apply to other types of roles. 

You haven’t said anything about other options you’re considering. I wonder if there are other career paths that actually might be pretty appealing to you? For example if you were working in the civil service you'd still be an important part of the political process. 

If you haven’t yet, you might consider asking some of the people who turned you down for feedback on why you didn’t get further in the process. It’s not always easy for people to provide, but it seems like it would be really useful for you to know if you should actually take the lack of offers as evidence that it isn’t as good a match for your skills as you thought, or if there’s simply one particular area you need to work on, or just that you were unlucky. 

Replies from: CHL
comment by CHL · 2020-12-13T14:16:35.079Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Michelle! I find your framing of the process of applying taking its toll on me particularly useful.

You haven’t said anything about other options you’re considering. I wonder if there are other career paths that actually might be pretty appealing to you? For example if you were working in the civil service you'd still be an important part of the political process. 

Thank you for the suggestion. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm well-suited to the hierarchical, rigid culture of government. My parents and several of my close friends agree, and I was a bit underwhelmed when I spent a day shadowing a civil servant working in policy. Government is obviously a huge organisation, though. So I'm careful not to tar all policy roles in the civil service with the same brush.

Ultimately I care about working through political barriers to achieve policy change. MPs believe that they are not constrained by quality evidence in support of or in opposition to a policy. Rather, the bottlenecks (p.11) are that they lack the time to sift through the evidence, or the evidence contradicts the party line or their own ideology. Dislodging these bottlenecks could unlock so much value, and this problem seems to be a good fit for my strengths, if not my temperament.

Until now, I've been excelling in a marketing role in the private sector. So I need to consider whether I should push again on the civil service, or more unconventional roles that a) could make progress on the above or other means of improving government, b) make use of my professional experience, and c) are more suited to me ('do-er' personality, strong communication skills, do well in flat hierarchies and with uncertain projects). For several years now, I've also had a strong interest in starting a business, but (to me at least) this seems small fry compared to achieving policy change, improving how policy is made, or improving how government budgets are spent, as 80k has previously argued. would be really useful for you to know if you should actually take the lack of offers as evidence that it isn’t as good a match for your skills as you thought, or if there’s simply one particular area you need to work on, or just that you were unlucky. 

Thank you for the suggestion - I will definitely push for this more.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-12-12T12:49:58.962Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd agree with what Michelle says, though I also wanted to add some quick thoughts about:

What's a good rule of thumb for letting go of your Plan A?

One simple way to think about it is that ultimately you have a list of options, and your job is to find and pick the best one.

Your Plan A is your current best guess option. You should change it once you find an option that's better.

So, then the question becomes: have you gained new information that's sufficient to change your ranking of options? Or have you found a new option that's better than your current best guess?

That can be a difficult question. It's pretty common to make a lot of applications in an area like this and not get anywhere, so it might only be a small negative update about your long-term chances (especially if you consider Denise's comment below). So it could be reasonable to continue, though perhaps changing your approach – we'd normally encourage people to pursue more than one form of next step (i.e. apply to a wider range of common next steps in political careers, and then see which approach is working best).

Another good exercise could be to draw up a list of alternative longer-term paths, and see if any seem better (in terms of potential long-term impact, career capital, personal fit and satisfaction).

Replies from: CHL
comment by CHL · 2020-12-13T14:33:32.728Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, Ben. I'll be taking your suggestions on board! A small note:

It might only be a small negative update about your long-term chances.

I think this is highly likely. Several Cabinet Ministers and Shadow Cabinet Ministers were told at a young age that they were either not a good fit for their party or would never achieve ministerial office, or struggled to get their foot in the door.

Despite this, they persisted, and I would love EAs to embrace this attitude more. Currently it seems that people are shutting themselves off from long-term paths too early because they're not seeing near-term success or think they won't be among the best of the best at something they really care about.

comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-10T10:04:17.708Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's great that you've been so persistent! It seems like you're fairly set on politics - what is it that motivates you to work on that, and are there any other routes to do something similar?

comment by Matt_Lerner (mattlerner) · 2020-12-04T18:39:38.713Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

How harmful is a fragmented resume? People seem to believe this isn't much of a problem for early-career professionals, but I'm 30, and my longest tenure was for two and a half years (recently shorter). I like to leave for new and interesting opportunities when I find them, but I'm starting to wonder whether I should avoid good opportunities for the sake of appearing more reliable as a potential employee.

Replies from: Larks, Benjamin_Todd
comment by Larks · 2020-12-07T18:06:50.509Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think it depends a lot on industry. In the world of startups frequently changing jobs doesn't seem that unusual at all. In finance, on the other hand, I would be very suspicious of someone who moved from one hedge fund to another every two years.

It also depends a bit on the role. A recent graduate who joins an investment bank as an analyst is basically expected to leave after two years; but if a Director leaves after two years that is a sign that something was wrong. Working as a teacher for two years and then quitting looks bad, unless it was Teach for America, in which case it is perfectly normal.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-12-06T11:43:11.784Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Matt,

This is a common concern, though I think it's helpful to zoom out a bit – what employers most care about is that you can prove to them that you can solve the problems they want solved.

Insofar as that relates to your past experience (which is only one factor among many they'll look at), my impression[1] is that what matters is whether you can tell a good story about (i) how your past experience is relevant to their job and (ii) what steps have let you to wanting to work for them.

This is partly an exercise in communication. If your CV doesn't naturally lead to the job, you might want to spend more time talking with friends / advisors about how to connect your past experience to what they're looking for.

It depends even more on whether you had good reasons for changing, and whether you've built relevant career capital despite it.

I can't evaluate the latter from here, so I might throw the question back to you: do you think you've changed too often, or was each decision good?

I'm sympathetic to the idea that early career, a rule of thumb for exploration like "win, stick; lose, shift" makes sense (i.e. if a career path is going ahead of expectations, stick with it; and otherwise shift), and that can lead to lots of shifting early on if you get unlucky. However, you also need to balance that with staying long enough to learn skills and get achievements, which increase your career capital.

  1. *How to successfully apply to jobs isn't one of my areas of expertise, though I have experience as an employer and in marketing, and have read about it some. ↩︎

comment by PolicyPhDPoser · 2020-12-11T16:39:59.832Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm a first-year machine learning PhD student, and I'm wondering how best to spend my PhD to prepare for policy positions (as a US citizen, I'm especially looking at programs like TechCongress and AAAS). What skills should I develop, and what can I do to develop them? What topic areas should I become an expert in? Should I learn about subjects broadly or just zero in on my PhD topic? I'm also wondering how much overlap there is between work that would best improve my resume for policy and work that would increase my chances of landing in academia. Roughly, there's a spectrum of how to allocate my PhD resources with the following two extremes: on one, I can try to pursue traditional academic success at all costs (publish a lot, network heavily with academics); on the other, use the PhD funding to subsidize my work in other areas (e.g. policy research) and just do the bare minimum required to graduate by thesis.

More on my background/situation. My current PhD topic is fairness. I'm not particularly interested in value alignment or X-risk AI problems; I also don't feel like I'm well-equipped to research those topics. I'm in a UK program and so my PhD is quite a bit shorter, and I will graduate (or my funding runs out) in 2023/24. I have a generalist background/disposition, and I'm fortunate to be part of a team that also includes philosophers (lots of them), lawyers, and sociologists to stimulate those interests. My university used to have a better reputation for ML, but now it's declined a bit. It's still very well-regarded in philosophy. Given that situation, becoming traditionally well-regarded in just ML is going to be very difficult and unlikely but not impossible. Thus far, I've found that my interest in doing that has been flagging, since I worry a lot about the immediate implications of a lot of ML research on society. But I think I could buckle down if I found the right reasons for doing so.

comment by shicky44 · 2020-12-09T21:57:54.943Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm 36, live in the UK and I'm paid pretty well for my location as a software engineer specialising in testing (SDET), I'm in fintech at the moment but have tried other domains. I went to fintech because I worked in a healthcare company and although I enjoyed it, a lot of it felt like the same s***, so I figured I may as well get paid a slight premium and increase my earning to give.

Nearly ten years ago I discovered financial independence, I was working in London, my then-girlfriend (now wife) got sick and had to move home from university. I wasn't in love with my job so tried to get home quickly as well and as I was going to give up the route to riches I was previously going to take, I ended up googling and discovered MMM etc.  This also trashed my most effective earning to give model as contracting for banks at the time was particularly lucrative.

I took another job in tech but a slight sidestep in role, around this time I also read Cal Newport's So Good They Cannot Ignore You and used that as my work ethos. Chase learning, gain skills, make bank. It did kind of work, I'm well paid but the passion and enjoyment he claimed would develop, well it hasn't for me.

This has somewhat dejected me. I lack a north star, a purpose to my work and as a result, it's eating me up. I feel like what I do is only really useful to large corporations, so if I actually get to financial independence, all the effort was kind of a waste. For example, I look favourably upon data science as theoretically even if you retired, you could still mess with open data sets and help communities etc.

This lack of purpose or meaning in my work has grown in intensity since my son was born 6months ago. While looking around to help, I found some copy on a sale page that sums up how I'm feeling right now:

"x was a high achieving mom with 2 kids who had been promoted through multiple companies going to wherever her bosses asked her to. Eventually, she realized that she wasn’t happy in her role, but she also didn’t know what she wanted to be doing. The only thing she did know was that if she was going to be spending time at work away from her family, she had to love what she was doing.

we helped her intentionally clarify how she wanted to spend her time,what gave her purpose and what she couldn’t stop doing even if she tried."

Can anyone set me on a path toward solving this? Sometimes I get so wound up and ruminate on it, it can be quite agonising, despite being such a good problem to have. I honestly feel like it's the only piece missing from my life. Many say I should just be grateful to have a good job, I do agree, but I cannot frame it in a way that shuts up the rest of my brain from these thoughts/feelings around lacking a north star and a lack of purpose.

In the last few years I've made lists of options and have tested a few of the most realistic options like UX, Data Science, security work, teaching but through these experiments I don't really feel further forward.  Most have been interesting but none have called out to me that I must do that so I've just done a bunch of experiments that haven't ruled anything out but haven't hooked me in either.

Apologies for the word vomit, I'm looking at a structured career change programme right now but it feels indulgent and I expect will include a lot of work that I've already done.  

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson, AdviceSeeker, jackmalde, HStencil, Jakob_J, alex_sanders
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2020-12-10T19:02:59.364Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I’m sorry, that sounds like a really frustrating position to be in. From my standpoint, getting to financial independence itself sounds impressive and worth it, rather than a waste. But I see why it wouldn’t feel that way given how hard you need to work on the skills. While I really like ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’, I do wonder if it’s setting this crazy high target to say the work you do should be work you’d do whether you got paid or not. It feels like the ‘meaning’ we get out of work will often need to be a bit broader than that – for example being what Jack mentioned that the purpose is coming from being able to donate more than you would otherwise and thereby help others. I wonder if you might enjoy this person's take on how to find meaning in work?

I think what I’d take from what you’ve said and the above is that the other things you’ve been trying out sound pretty good, and that it could be good to think more about whether you could be happier doing any of them (for example, you mention data science as something that would be useful outside a corporate setting), and if so, going further into learning about or trying them. (By the way, on data science you might enjoy this podcast of ours.)

Personally, I found the Happiness Journal and the book Designing Your Life pretty useful for getting a better sense of my North Star, though you might not like that kind of thing!

comment by AdviceSeeker · 2020-12-10T00:47:23.283Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

^This. I have been battling with the exact same issue for the past few years. Thank you for putting the feelings into words so remarkably. Eagerly following this thread to see what other members have to share. 

Replies from: shicky44
comment by shicky44 · 2020-12-10T10:24:17.163Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Surprised to hear the above is put into words well, it felt like incoherent babble.  Glad to know I'm not alone and others here could potentially benefit as well.  It seems like this is a common problem, most likely without a common answer but its really frustrating to not even have a loose direction.

I guess the experiments above I considered my loose direction but I feel like I've done years of them without truly moving forward

comment by Jack Malde (jackmalde) · 2020-12-10T14:02:53.830Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sorry to hear about your struggles.

I'm actually strongly considering pursuing an earning-to-give route. I don't expect to be in love with an ETG job, but I do expect to derive significant purpose and meaning from it because I would be doing a lot of good by donating more money. I would also plan to have at least a little bit more money to personally spend (although who knows maybe I won't feel I need it). 

If I pursue ETG I plan to put quite a bit of personal effort into determining where I should donate, which I expect to be quite an interesting, intellectually-stimulating and rewarding exercise.  I also plan to share these thoughts with the EA community. I think I would identify as an 'ETG-er' and may even try to make a name for myself as someone who can advise others on where to give (I'm uncertain how well that might work out though).

Do you think that you may be able to pursue ETG and derive the meaning and purpose that I hope to? One really can do a tremendous amount of good through donating money and it sounds like you have good potential to do so.

comment by HStencil · 2020-12-10T19:24:26.818Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think a lot of the day-to-day feelings of fulfillment in high-impact jobs come from either: 1) being part of a workplace community of people who really believe in the value of the work, or 2) seeing first-hand the way in which your work directly helped someone. I don't really think the feelings of fulfillment typically come from the particular functional category of your role or the set of tasks that you perform during the workday, so I wonder how informative your experiments with data science, for instance, would be with respect to the question of identifying the thing that you feel you "must do," as you put it. If I had to guess, I'd speculate that the feeling you're looking for will be more specific to a particular organization or organizational mission than to the role you'd be filling for organizations generally.

Replies from: nerdy85
comment by nerdy85 · 2020-12-13T19:03:37.188Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This rings true to me. I've been struggling a lot with the same sentiments that shicky44 expressed in the original post. I'm 35 and live in the US working in data science/machine learning (recently promoted to team lead, but was doing hands-on technical work before that). The problem that I'm facing is exactly that I don't find my company's work compelling or the culture that exciting. I don't think the company  does anything to make the world better and so I have trouble getting excited about it. Sure, there are days where I feel like I accomplished things and enjoyed addressing a particular issue with my team, but the positive feeling tends to wear off quickly.

The question that I'm trying to work out for myself is: would I be satisfied if I found a new job where I can earn-to-give, but at least at a company where there is a strong community culture even if the work isn't directly impactful. Or, will I really only be happy in a job where the work is directly impactful. The second path feels trickier for me since my initial research on companies and jobs in this direction has suggested that I probably need a background in a field like economics or public policy. Is there a third way that I'm not considering? 

I'm glad that the 80000 Hours team started this thread as it's great to hear from others thinking about the same questions on a personal level.

comment by Jakob_J · 2020-12-14T13:07:18.292Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think lots of people can relate to this sentiment! 

I could recommend having a look at Escape the City which provides a list of career opportunities for mid-career professionals wanting more social impact in their work:

If you are interested in short or long term volunteering with your tech skills, I can recommend a number of organisations that provide ample opportunities for this in the UK:
"Tech For UK aims to enable people to transform British democracy through technology and digital media that impacts the systems not just the symptoms of its problems."
"We build digital tools to support everyone’s participation in UK democracy. Our services are trusted by organisations in government, charities and the media, and have reached millions of people since 2015."
"Mechanism Design for Social Good (MD4SG) is a multi-institutional initiative using techniques from algorithms, optimization, and mechanism design, along with insights from other disciplines, to improve access to opportunity for historically underserved and disadvantaged communities. Members of MD4SG include researchers from computer science, economics, operations research, public policy, sociology, humanistic studies, and other disciplines as well as domain experts working in non-profit organizations, municipalities, and companies."

comment by alex_sanders · 2020-12-11T03:25:14.333Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Out of curiosity, how long did you do your experiments in UX / Data Science / etc. for?   Maybe it would pay to try spending more time in these functions?   You could transition to data science and work for a year and half, then work for a year in UX for example (maybe do a bootcamp as a refresher / to build career capital).  Of course this is easier said than done - but I feel like it might take a long time before you can really assess how much a role aligns with your strengths, as it might take many months just to onboard to the role.   

I'm in my 20s working as a software engineer for a large US tech company and I hope to transition to some other roles for a few years if possible before committing to one role.  

Also, maybe it would be worth transitioning to a different company or team where you can feel that you work is having a greater impact on customers / on the world?   I feel like it can be a bit hard to feel your impact as a software engineer because usually you are usually not client facing.   But I imagine that your work might feel more impactful at a mission driven startup or if you are working as sales engineer and get to work with clients face to face periodically.  

comment by Lumpyproletariat · 2021-01-04T00:42:01.900Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I notice that the thread has gotten long and a lot of people's questions are being buried (one thing I intensely dislike about upvote-style forums is that it isn't trivial to scroll down to the end of the thread and see what's new ("Oh, but you can sort by new if you want to," one replies, and, sure, I guess, but unless everyone else with good opinions does too that doesn't exactly solve the problem, now does it?)). The buried questions don't seem less important than the ones posted first, and I wish I was competent to give expert advice apropos them/had a way to direct the community's gaze to them.

I have a question of my own--regarding changing my undergraduate major--but I'll wait for the January thread to ask it.

comment by jia (Jia) · 2020-12-05T07:47:13.996Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do people have online courses to recommend?

I have ~2 months off and am considering intro courses in stats and probability, game theory, or data science. I'm open to other recommendations, of course!

Replies from: Linch, Benjamin_Todd
comment by Linch · 2020-12-07T22:20:02.756Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This might be too elementary for you, but in college I benefited from Model Thinking by Scott Page. It's a breezy introduction to a long list of popular models used in the social and empirical sciences, and I think plausibly had a small effect on my general perspective of trying to see the world in terms of many simple models (vs eg "model-free" intuitions, or a single grand overarching model).  

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-12-06T12:03:33.855Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Jia,

There's a lot of options! Could you clarify which problem areas do you want to work on, and which longer-term career paths are you most interested in?

Replies from: Jia
comment by jia (Jia) · 2020-12-07T04:59:03.958Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Ben,

I'll be starting as an operations and research assistant at the Centre on Long-Term Risk in a few months, where I'll probably help out with AI governance topics related to multi-agent RL.

But I'm open to doing courses that are generally useful and engaging!

Replies from: Niel_Bowerman
comment by Niel_Bowerman · 2020-12-08T14:24:06.210Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Jia, I haven't done many online courses, but one that I did and enjoyed was the Coursera Deep Learning course with Andrew Ng.

I think if you will be working on multi-agent RL and haven't played around with deep learning models, you will likely find it helpful.  You code up a python model that gets increasingly complicated until it does things like attempting to identify a cat (if I'm remembering it correctly).  It's fairly 'hands on' but also somewhat accessible to people without a technical background.  

Friends of mine starting out at both CSET and OpenAI worked through it and found it helpful to get context as they moved into their new roles.  

Replies from: nikvetr
comment by nikvetr · 2020-12-09T02:51:15.585Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd second the Ng Coursera course -- very straightforward and easy to follow for those lacking technical backgrounds! Which may be a plus or a minus, depending on your desired rigor.

comment by JeremyR · 2020-12-09T15:22:18.955Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi all 

I'm wondering if folks have suggestions for what EA organizations and / or roles could best leverage the skill set of management consultants? There are quite a few of us interested in EA and it's a job with relatively high churn (plenty of folks open to opportunities!), but I'm not sure there's much of a "pipeline" from consulting to EA today. 

Back in the day - when I was already planning to enter the industry  - an 80,000 Hours quiz result suggested management consulting, and I've been doing the job which I've generally enjoyed for the last 5+ years. I've been earning to give, but would like to explore potential for direct work - just not sure where my experience / skills could best translate.

Here's my LinkedIn page and I'm happy to share a resume with detailed experience if useful. But, in short, I went to a top US university (no grad degree), jumped to a top management consulting firm, and have worked across most major industries (energy, healthcare, finance, retail, private equity, etc.) across a range of for-profit organizations.

For those at roughly my tenure who leave consulting for the private sector, the most likely next step is "middle management" (e.g., Director roles) in corporate strategy. In terms of concrete skills, I'd say my strengths are in verbal communications, managing varied stakeholders, operating in ambiguous environments / learning quickly, "soft" analysis (i.e., Excel), developing presentations, and coaching --> skills that I think most large corporations value but which aren't exactly differentiating or suggestive of particular roles within EA. I'm also not sure if there are many EA organizations big enough to have a "middle management" cohort (i.e., supervising teams, but not leading an organization).

I'm especially passionate about helping others think about their own giving and the financial side of maximizing donations / minimizing taxes. If I had my druthers, my ranked preferences within EA would probably be: meta-EA, direct global health / poverty work, and x-risks toward the bottom (uncouth, I know). 

Thanks in advance for any thoughts! 

Replies from: bdixon, Benjamin_Todd
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-10T10:12:18.235Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Jeremy! Myself and Joan Gass at CEA, and Markus Anderljung at FHI,  all use skills like the ones you mention above, from our consulting backgrounds, at non-profits. 

I sometimes look at this filter on the 80K job board and one example of a role you might like is this one. I also think that working in government is often a good thing to do, and so maybe there could be some US trade/aid organisations which you might find interesting, and also this talk. If you think that consulting means you can boost the productivity of companies and lead to economic growth overall, then that could be interesting.

Replies from: JeremyR
comment by JeremyR · 2020-12-11T01:37:18.936Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! I actually ran through the whole 80k job board a few weeks back, but I like your filters (and am seeing a few new roles already). I'll give the talk a listen (and the article a read); thanks for sharing!

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-12-12T13:27:43.998Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Jeremy,

Glad to hear things have gone well!

I'd say it's pretty common for people to switch from management consulting into work at EA orgs. Some recent examples: we recently hired Habiba Islam; GPI hired Sven Herrmann and Will Jefferson; and Joan Gas who became the Managing Director of CEA a year ago.

As you can see, the most common route is normally to work in management or operations, but it doesn't need to be restricted to that.

If you want to pursue the EA orgs path, then as well as applying to jobs on the job board, follow our standard advice here (e.g. meet people, get more involved in the community).

Just bear in mind that there aren't many positions per year, so even if you're a good fit, it might take some time to find something.

For this reason, it's probably best to pursue a couple of other good longer-term paths at the same time. Another common option for someone with your background would to do something in policy, or you could try to work in development.

With this strand in particular:

helping others think about their own giving and the financial side of maximizing donations / minimizing taxes

There is a need for this, and there's a bit of a philanthropy advisory community building up in London around Founder's Pledge, Veddis and Longview Philanthropy. I'm not sure there's yet something like that in the States you could get involved in. You might be able to start your own thing, especially after working elsewhere in EA or philanthropy for 1-2 years. (Example plan: work at a foundation in SF -> meet rich tech people -> start freelance consulting for them / maybe joining up with another community member.)

Either way, I'd definitely encourage you to think hard about which impactful longer-term paths might be most promising, and what those would imply about the best next steps. You already have a lot of general career capital, and big corporate middle management experience is not that relevant to working at smaller non-profits, so I doubt continuing in the corporate sector will be the optimal one, unless you find something really outstanding.

Replies from: Paige_Henchen, JeremyR
comment by Sunny1 (Paige_Henchen) · 2020-12-28T17:24:19.864Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I just wanted to reinforce the point Benjamin made above about getting involved in the EA community. For example, if you apply for a job at an EA organization, they may request references from the EA community in addition to the standard references from your last job. Do you already have strong references from credible people in the EA community? If not, it would be worthwhile to do more networking. You may also need to build up a track record of EA volunteer work, post on the EA forum, and so on to build up your own EA  track record.

Here's one way to think about this. Getting a job at an EA organization can be like getting a job in the film industry. You're trying to break into a "glamorous" industry. That is, some people consider these jobs "dream jobs" - they have an extremely compelling "X factor" that has nothing to do with how much the job pays. (In EA, the 'glamour' factor is the ability to have a really high-impact career, which is the central life goal of many EAs.) So you may need to network, volunteer for a while, etc. in order to break in. 

Replies from: tamgent, Khorton
comment by tamgent · 2020-12-30T21:03:05.863Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

[This comment isn't a reply to your main point, just about the 'glamour factor' that your film analogy is predicated on, sorry]

I think that the majority of people who believe working at an EA org is the highest impact thing they could do are probably wrong.

1) if you work at an EA org you probably have skills that are very useful in a variety of other fields/industries. The ceiling on these impact opportunities is higher, as it uses more of your own creativity/initiative at a macro level (e.g. the level of deciding about where to work)
2) if 1) is not true, it's probably because you specialise in meta/EA/movement related matters, that don't transfer well outside. In this case you might be able to make more impact in EA orgs. But this is not the case for most people.

I think it's different for people starting new EA orgs, or joining very early-stage ones - that does seem to have a high ceiling on potential impact and is worth a shot for anyone doing it. 

comment by Kirsten (Khorton) · 2020-12-30T01:14:52.857Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is very accurate but a little sad to me.

comment by JeremyR · 2020-12-17T02:20:33.616Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the thoughtful and detailed reply Ben!

I'm not the most risk-seeking, so I think I'll need to reflect on the trade-off of taking a more indirect route in the hopes of landing an EA role while giving up the "capital" I'm told I have for my first role post-consulting. Will mull over what you've shared!

comment by marswalker (Will Kirkpatrick) · 2020-12-04T21:37:43.993Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'll throw myself out there!

I've always thought of myself as most likely a Earn to give type person, but I'm looking at starting college in the next year or so and I realized that I'm not a bad  candidate for some really important sounding colleges. (I.E. I imagine Oxford is a long shot, but it's not unimaginable.)

EA seems to be talent constrained in a lot of ways, so if I get into a good college. Should I go direct work? And if so, what degree is most applicable? 

Of note: I'm not turned off by the relative hardness of the degree to earn. So stick me in whatever hellish degree program turns out the best people for the job!

Previous experience:

2 years college with bad grades (I didn't like it)

6 years naval nuclear experience as a reactor operator. 

Replies from: Benjamin_Todd, saulius, james_aung
comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-12-06T12:02:46.535Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Will,

James is asking a good question below, but I'm going to dive into a hot take :)

If you're about to start university, I'm wondering if you might be narrowing down too early. My normal advice for someone entering college for figuring out their career would be something like:

  1. Draw up a long list of potential longer-term options.
  2. See if you can 'try out' all of these paths while there, and right after.

You can consider all the following ways to try out potential paths, which also give you useful career capital:

  1. Doing 1-2 internships.
  2. Doing a research project as part of your studies or during the summer.
  3. Going to lots of talks from people in different areas.
  4. Getting involved in relevant student societies (e.g. student newspaper for the media)
  5. Doing side projects & self-study in free time (e.g. building a website, learning to program)
  6. Near the end, you can apply to jobs in several categories as well as graduate school, and see where you get the best offers.
  7. And even after college, you can probably then try something and switch again if it's not working.

So, going in, you don't need to have very definite plans. Besides being able to explore several paths within earning to give, I'd also encourage you to consider exploring some outside. As a starting point, some broad categories we often cover are: government and policy options, working at social impact organisations in your top cause areas (not just EA orgs), and graduate study (potentially leading into working at research organisations or as a researcher). Try to generate at least a couple of ideas within each of these.

Which subject should you study? A big factor should be personal fit – one factor there would be whether you'll be able to get good grades in moderate time (since you can use that time to do the steps above and also to socialise - and many meet their lifetime friends and partner at university). Besides that, you could consider which subject will (i) be most helpful to the longer-term options you're interested in and (ii) most keep your options open. If in doubt, applied quantitative subjects (e.g. economics and statistics) often do well on this analysis.

There's a bunch more rough thoughts here.

Replies from: Will Kirkpatrick
comment by marswalker (Will Kirkpatrick) · 2020-12-09T05:02:29.975Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree with you whole heartedly! I definitely feel the pressure to narrow down and it's hard to keep my "eye on the prize" so to speak. 

I try to remind myself that I'm here to make "this" better, and it doesn't matter how I do it. So I've been trying to diversify my overall look at the world. 

I like the list of ideas, I hadn't considered doing an internship or research project, it's not something I'm very familiar with, so I'll have to put a little more thought into it! 

I definitely need to sit down and read everything 80K hours has put out, it's pretty good advice (career and life!)

I'm kind of overwhelmed by the number of options I have, so I'll have to put a lot of thought into it! Luckily for me I've got another year between now and when I have to start really making choices. A little time is better than none! 

comment by saulius · 2020-12-09T10:57:23.992Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

You seem to assume that if (and only if) you do well in a good college, then you will almost certainly be good at direct work. I'm not convinced that there necessarily is that much of a correlation because these things are so very different. I myself did quite badly in a mediocre university but people seem to think that I have been doing well working as a researcher at an EA organization.

comment by james (james_aung) · 2020-12-06T09:20:13.731Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Will! Would you be able to say anything more about why you didn't like the 2 years of college that you did? What sort of college degrees are you looking into right now? :)

Replies from: Will Kirkpatrick
comment by marswalker (Will Kirkpatrick) · 2020-12-09T04:45:19.035Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

 I was one of those kids who was told they were smart and didn't have to do much in high-school. As a result I got hit pretty hard in the face by the requirement of actually trying in college.  Combine this with the fact that I didn't do well away from a support network and you have a pretty bad downward spiral. I eventually recovered, but boy was it a rough couple of years!

Right now I'm looking at either technical work or more general purpose studying: 

The difference between those is a kind of along the Engineering/computer science or Economics/Business divide.

I'm currently thinking that because I already have a background in engineering type work that maybe getting an economics/buisness degree to round myself out would be a good choice. 

comment by UndergradSeekingAdvice · 2020-12-21T16:19:35.726Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi there! I am a freshman undergraduate finishing my first semester of college at a local US state university. I’m majoring in economics and statistics. Although I’m not sure what career path I’ll take just yet, I can see myself doing global priorities research or AI policy research down the line. I could also see myself working for the US federal government or at a think tank. I am considering data science as another option because of the career capital and the flexibility to work at many different places. The long-term plan is work on a top global issue, either directly or in a supporting role.

The question I’m grappling with is: Should I transfer to a more elite university to improve my career prospects?

The way I see it, going to a more elite university could provide the following benefits:

  • An environment surrounded by smart, motivated peers
  • Good connections
  • More research opportunities
  • Signaling benefit to having a degree from an elite college

However, there are some possible downsides as well:

  • Largely losing the friends I made in my first semester of college, plus the friends at my college I knew from before
  • I would be at a city far away from home
  • It will likely cost 1.5x to 3x more than the college I’m at now

Other pertinent information:

  • Economists Dale and Krueger find that “students who attended more selective colleges do not earn more than other students who were accepted and rejected by comparable schools but attended less selective colleges.” Assuming that earnings is a decent proxy for career success, it could mean that going to an elite college wouldn’t affect my career prospects very much.
  • In my senior year of high school, I applied to four different top 20 colleges and was not accepted by any of them. At the time, I didn’t care too much about university prestige so I didn’t make much effort to apply to many highly ranked schools. However, I do know a friend at my school who was pretty comparable to me academically (top 5 percent of my high school class) and got into a top 30 university. However, they applied to a lot more schools than I did, so that probably increased their odds of getting into a top school.
  • I currently have a 3.9 GPA. However, I only took three classes this semester, and this is only from one semester of college.
  • Many of the Ivy League and Ivy League-like schools have very low transfer acceptance rates (0-10 percent). However, there are other universities, like Vanderbilt and Emory, which have higher acceptance rates for transfers than first-year students (20-30 percent).

Any advice or guidance would be greatly appreciated!

Replies from: HStencil
comment by HStencil · 2020-12-21T23:35:34.915Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think this is a really hard question, and the right answer to it likely depends to a very significant degree on precisely what you’re likely to want to do professionally in the near and medium-term. I recently graduated from a top U.S. university, and my sense is that the two most significant benefits I reaped from where I went to school were:

  1. Having that name brand on my resume definitely opened doors for me when applying for jobs during my senior year. I’m actually fairly confident that I would not have gotten my first job out of college had I gone to a less prestigious school, though I think this only really applies to positions at a fairly narrow set of financial services firms and consulting firms, as well as in certain corners of academic research.
  2. I think I personally benefited from a significant peer effect. My specific social circle pushed me to challenge myself academically more than I likely otherwise would have (in ways that probably hurt my GPA but served me well all things considered). That said, I know that the academic research on peer effects in education is mixed to say the least, so I’d be hesitant to extrapolate much from my own experience.

I’m not sure how to weigh the importance of the first of those considerations. On the one hand, your first job is just that: your first job. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about where you’ll end up at age 35. On the other hand, I do feel like I have observed this phenomenon of smart people graduating from relatively unknown universities and really struggling to find interesting work during their first several years out of college and then eventually resigning themselves to getting a master’s degree from a more well-known school (sometimes in a field where the educational benefit of the degree is relatively low) just so that they can get in the door to interview for jobs in their field of choice. This obviously comes at a significant cost, both in terms of time and—often but not always—in terms of money. That said, in some fields, you just do need a master’s to get in the door for a lot of roles, no matter where you went to undergrad or what you did while you were there, and maybe that’s all that’s really behind this.

Another thing potentially worth noting is that, in my experience, it seems as if U.S. research universities are most usefully divisible into three categories with respect to their undergraduate job placement: universities that “high-prestige” employers are unlikely to have heard of, universities that “high-prestige” employers are likely to have heard of and have vaguely positive associations with, and finally, the set of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, and Stanford (these are distinguished not only by their name brands but also by the extent of their funding and support for undergraduate research and internships, the robustness of their undergraduate advising, and other more “experiential” factors). There are certainly exceptions to this breakdown (the financial services and consulting firms mentioned above definitely differentiate between Penn and Michigan), but by and large, my sense has been that controlling for “ability,” the difference in early-career outcomes between a Harvard graduate and a Penn graduate is significantly larger than the difference in early-career outcomes between a Penn graduate and a Michigan graduate (note: the specific schools chosen as examples within each cohort here are completely arbitrary). Accordingly, I don’t think that very many people generally have a strong professional reason to transfer from UCLA to Brown or from the University of Virginia to Dartmouth, etc. However, I buy that those at lesser-known schools may, in many circumstances, have a strong professional reason to transfer to their flagship state school.

Other good reasons to transfer, I think, include transferring for the purpose of getting to a particular city where you know you want to work when you graduate, with an eye toward spending a portion of the remainder of your time in college networking or interning in your field of choice. In particular, I think that if you want to work in U.S. (national) policy after graduation, transferring to a school in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area can be hugely beneficial. The same goes for financial services in the New York City Metropolitan Area, entertainment in Los Angeles, and (perhaps, though I am less sure about this) tech in the San Francisco Bay Area. In your case, it might be worthwhile to submit a transfer application to Georgetown with the aim of trying to forge some connections at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (or perhaps the Center for Global Health Science and Security if you are interested in biosecurity policy), both of which are housed there. One other very strong reason to transfer, it seems to me, would be if you wanted to work on AI, but your current school didn’t have a computer science department, like a local state school near where I grew up. I assume from your post that that isn’t your situation, though.

Finally, I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of mental health considerations, to the extent that those may be at all relevant to your choice. Mental health during college can have a huge impact on GPA, and while where you go to undergrad will only really be a factor in determining your grad school prospects for a relatively narrow set of programs (mainly, I think, via the way it affects the kinds of research jobs you can get during and post-college), GPA is a huge determinant of grad school admissions across basically every field, so that is important to bear in mind. The transfer experience, from what I have heard, is not always easy, especially, I imagine, in academic environments that are already very high-pressure.

If you’d like to talk through this at greater length, feel free to DM me. To the extent that my perspective might be useful, I’d be more than happy to offer it, and if you’d just like someone to bounce ideas off of, I’d be happy to fill that role, as well.

Replies from: UndergradSeekingAdvice
comment by UndergradSeekingAdvice · 2020-12-22T23:12:20.486Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for the thoughtful response!

After reading your comment, I’ve updated towards staying at my current school for the following reasons:

  • While I can see myself having a career in academic research, I’m not super confident that’s the direction I want for my career just yet. I also don’t really see myself entering consulting or finance. Outside of those fields, I’m not sure how much early-career benefit there is to having a brand name degree. There probably is some benefit, but it may not be as pronounced as in consulting or finance.
  • I think that mental health considerations are very important and I’m glad you pointed that out. I didn’t put much weight to that initially and I can see how transferring could add a lot of stress and potentially hurt GPA.

I’m not sure how important peer effects are compared to other factors, but I get what you mean. In high school I had a good group of friends that challenged me academically. So far in college I haven’t had that kind of challenge from my friends, but I am just in my freshman year so that could change as I meet other people. Most of my academic motivation nowadays comes from myself and is less dependent on a healthy competition between me and my friends. I am in the school’s honors college as well, and while the honors students are more academically motivated, for me the challenge from my peers doesn’t feel the same as it did in high school. 

I will probably get a master’s degree after finishing my undergrad, though I’m not yet sure what field it’ll be in. I think I can aim for a more well-known school once I get my master's. In terms of location, I’m not set on any particular city yet, though if I had to guess where I’ll eventually end up it would be somewhere on the East Coast or West Coast. I think this is mainly because my career path is not super solid right now and I’m mostly exploring different career paths. In terms of mental health, I can definitely see how a transfer could impact GPA negatively. Transferring could hurt my grad school admission chances if it lowers my GPA.

Overall, while it looks like there are early-career benefits to attending a top university, at least for me it may not be worth the costs in terms of increased financial cost, added stress, losing friends, and time and energy taken by transferring schools.

Replies from: HStencil
comment by HStencil · 2020-12-23T05:56:24.676Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That seems like a sound line of reasoning to me — best of luck with the rest of your degree!

comment by Jack Malde (jackmalde) · 2020-12-15T13:00:34.093Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm considering pursuing an earning-to-give path and would appreciate if anyone has any advice.

My short bio is:

  • Undergrad in Economics at Cambridge University
  • 3 years in management consulting at PwC (more operations/tech than strategy so was decent pay but nothing special)
  • Masters in Economics at UCL
  • A year and a few months at an economics consultancy (a small, niche one that works in cost-benefit analysis and wellbeing - doesn't have high pay). This is where I am now.

One obvious path is to go to a more established economics consultancy that pays well e.g. one of those that works in the competition/litigation space. I'm pretty well-aware of options in this area and am looking into it. There is also strategy consulting which I am also well-aware of. I haven't ruled strategy consulting out, but am slightly less keen on it.

What I'm less in the know about are other ETG options, particularly those in finance. From the little research I've done it seems that it is quite difficult to break into finance from the outside, especially if (like me) you don't really have any evidence of an interest in finance. I think I may be a decent fit for it though and of course one can earn very good money.

Can anyone advise on high-paying routes that I may realistically be able to break into at this stage in my career? With regards to finance, will it require a great deal of activity on my part to convince employers that I am interested e.g. by starting to invest my own money and building a portfolio? I appreciate that ETG career questions are generally thought to be easier to independently find the answers to than non-ETG career questions, but I would still appreciate any advice. Quick note - I am fairly certain that my maths skills aren't quite good enough for quant trading.

Replies from: bdixon, bdixon
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T18:00:35.630Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Also have you seen this

comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T17:50:35.287Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Jack! I worked in consulting at EY for four years before joining CEA in operations, and you might find a role in management/leadership/operations interesting. You might find a direct role that's more fun than ETG (I think I did!)

I don't really know anything about the best ETG routes, but one that strikes me that could be big business at the moment is insolvency and restructuring - lots of organisations will be unfortunately going through that so there could be quite  a few roles. 

Also a few friends of mine who were at PwC worked in deals/valuations and then left to get high-paying jobs doing (I think) the same thing at smaller  places where the partners took less of the margin. Maybe that could be an option.

Replies from: jackmalde
comment by Jack Malde (jackmalde) · 2020-12-15T21:28:43.879Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Louis. I am continuing to keep a look out for good direct roles as well. I actually did the economics masters with a hope to move away from management-type roles, but I don't want to take them off the table entirely.

Unfortunately I just wasn't into what I was doing at PwC (I was doing tech strategy after the grad scheme) and I don't want to do that elsewhere. The money wasn't really that  good anyway. Something like deals/valuations seems OK, but it would be a big change for something that I don't think is as much money as top econ consulting / finance roles. I quite like economics so I think econ consulting is a good option for me, but I also don't want to rule out finance which is the area I'm most clueless about at the moment.

comment by AMMA112 · 2020-12-12T20:58:00.184Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am 28 years old and starting a joint MPP-MBA at a top U.S. school in the fall. I will be graduating with no debt thanks to financial aid and scholarships, and I don't intend to waste my time in finance or consulting (earning to give doesn't quite suit me). 

I was in part motivated to pursue the joint degree by the EA movement and's problem profile on "improving institutional decision making." Although I am interested in working in social and public sector consulting (specifically firms like Behavioral Insights Team). I'm curious what other career paths or specializations you would suggest. 

 I have previous experience in entrepreneurship, consulting, and data analytics.  Would like to be in NYC, but am open to elsewhere. 

I left out a lot-- but happy to add details where needed.

Many thanks! 

(Bonus question: I will be free this spring and summer for an internship prior to graduate school. Would love to hear ideas on what kind of experiences I should be looking into.)

Replies from: bdixon, jared_m
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T17:43:12.022Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That sounds like a  huge range of options. With an MPP-MBA you might do well in policy. Are there any government or related roles you think you'd be interested in? And is there a particular area you'd like to work in? E.g. if you were more passionate about animal welfare than nuclear security, that would suggest some pretty different career routes. 

comment by jared_m · 2021-01-02T17:15:32.661Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If you DM me, I'd be happy to set up a quick Google Hangout to discuss a few internship options!

To Louis's point, if you're interested in climate or animal welfare issues, I think joining an alternative protein startup — Nature's Fynd, or others — in a pre-MBA  intern role or post-MBA full-time role would be a great step. Even if you aren't planning to ETG via a non-EA career, there's a good chance you'd earn attractive compensation between salary and a (potential) exit that could make high-impact but perhaps less financially stable subsequent EA career paths viable for you.

Knowing many PMF alumni who went on to high-impact policy roles, the PMF is also a great option for MPP and/or MBA students looking to begin policy careers.

comment by k8k7k6k5 · 2020-12-09T15:15:36.884Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If you're in your mid-twenties, and making solid progress on a professional career path that may (or may not) give you the potential to have some positive impact later on in your career, should you stick on that path or jump off and try to start something new that may enable you to have an impact sooner?

I'm 27 years old and about to become a barrister in the UK, having studied physics, chemistry and philosophy at a very good university before converting to law. I am not interested in big money commercial law, but am going into employment law/human rights/public law/judicial review. I know that being a lawyer is generally seen as a terrible EA choice (and rightly so - there is an unbelievable amount of wasteful paper pushing) but I also know that successful lawyers in the later stages of their career are in high demand for positions that can have a lot of impact. For instance, top lawyers are regularly sought after to be execs and non-execs on boards; many enter politics; some become influential political advisors; and some become highly sought-after advisors to NGOs, companies, charities, and educational institutions. 

I feel I'm now approaching my last chance to jump off the professional treadmill. If I continue to the Bar, my expectation is that I will still be there in my early forties. The large majority of good barristers don't leave the Bar before then and there's no reason for me to think that I'm that different from them. 

So, my question is: should I stick at my current job or not? 

  • On the one hand: I'm good at my job and really enjoy it; it pays me enough that I can donate a fair amount to charity along EA principles (though not as much as if I went into commercial law); I have a small but consistent positive impact by helping my clients that makes me feel good; and there is the potential to have a much bigger impact later in my career. 
  • On the other hand, I feel like I will be wasting the next 15 years of my life crawling along this incredibly stressful, competitive career path, having very little impact. There is of course no guarantee that  I will be a top barrister, or that I will be able to get these impactful roles even if I am a top barrister. The majority of lawyers don't; they simply earn money until they retire. Most importantly, I feel that there is much more immediately impactful work that I could be doing - as a lawyer with a first-rate undergraduate science and philosophy background, I could make a good AI ethicist. Or I could campaign as an advocate for human and environmental rights. Or I could enter politics, either by working for the UK civil service or by trying for an elected position. But of course, there is no guarantee that I would be any good in those roles, that I would have any significant impact later on in my career, or that I would enjoy them. And, at 27, I feel I'm slightly too old to be entering a completely new field afresh.

I hope that provides some food for thought. Any advice and thoughts are most welcome.

Replies from: bdixon, tamgent, shicky44
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-16T22:54:26.304Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think staying where you are seems like a good option. There seems to be an assumption that just because you stay in the same job for the next few years you'll automatically be there for the next 15 - is that really true? Also maybe you could make a public commitment to leave after X years, or donate your income above a certain level to avoid getting lured in by the money side of it. 

comment by tamgent · 2021-01-01T14:24:11.953Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi there, I would recommend talking to people who have done both paths and who share your higher-level goals and values.

If you haven't already, check out - maybe someone there would be worth talking to.

There is also an ex-barrister career advising at 80K, Habiba Islam.

Finally, I'm happy to tell you about what the lawyers do at my department in the civil service. If you're interested, DM me. 

comment by shicky44 · 2020-12-10T11:22:34.779Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What sticks out to me is that you're good at your job and you really enjoy it.  Under those circumstances, I see no need to change.  However, you do mention wasting 15 years of your life, if you enjoy it, I don't understand this line.

In terms of impact, is this driven by comparison to someone you know?  Does it seem like you're creating a problem unless this has been organically eating you up for a bit?  With that said, is it possible through networking you could get access to the board level roles/work, now?  If it's just for this endgame, it seems prudent to test this as early as possible.

Your musings on AI ethicist strike me as navel-gazing, you could be right or wrong, the only way to know is to trial some of these options to hopefully learn more.

comment by coolguy4321 · 2020-12-16T06:47:05.357Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm a senior in college and recently accepted an offer to be a quant trader. I feel unprepared and was wondering what skills are the most important to be successful, and which resources I can use to learn these. For background, I am an Econ major with little coding skills. Should I dedicate more time to studying financial markets or practicing coding, and if coding, which languages should I target?

Replies from: rossry
comment by Ross Rheingans-Yoo (rossry) · 2020-12-16T11:55:42.025Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(I'm a trader at a NY-based quant firm, and work on education and training for new traders, among other things.)

I'm nearly certain that your hiring manager (or anyone involved in hiring you) would be happy to receive literally this question from you, and would have advice specifically tailored to the firm you're joining.

The firm has very a strong interest in your success (likely more so than anyone you've interacted with in college), and they've already already committed to spending substantial resources to helping you prepare for a successful career as a trader. Answering questions like this one (even before you've "officially" started) is literally (part of) someone's job.

(I'm declining to answer the actual question not to be unfriendly, but because I think the folks at your future employer will have more accurate answers than I can give.)

comment by Denise_Melchin · 2020-12-12T17:18:39.344Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I just wanted to thank you for starting this thread Ben. I have recently been thinking about how useful it would be to have a more casual EA space to discuss how to have an impact in you career than the options we currently have, and this thread seems like a great step in that direction.

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2020-12-12T17:53:35.185Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Really glad to hear it seems useful!

comment by Zedtho · 2020-12-09T17:33:52.022Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey there, new to the forum!

I'm leaving highschool next year here and am wondering about what to study at uni to have a higher impact. For context, I live (and would like to stay for the foreseeing future) near Zurich Switzerland. I highly enjoy math and physics (though anything that's quite analytical is pretty fun) , but also program a bit in my free time for fun. As such, I wanted to study mathematics and perhaps go into mathematical physics, but I am aware it is not as impactful as is perhaps possible. AI risk seems like a very interesting topic, but most research seems to happen in the US - and requires a degree in informatics, something I'm not too sure yet whether it is my cup of tea (perhaps I'm a bit too much of an ivory tower math enthusiast ^^). In any case, I highly enjoy most things that are very 'intellectually' stimulating and also difficult.

Would anyone have any recommendations for someone in this state of life - perhaps in terms of study choices or where to go from here? Thanks a lot in advance and looking forward to snooping around on the forum!

Replies from: Max_Daniel, shicky44
comment by Max_Daniel · 2020-12-10T11:33:42.910Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey, great that you're thinking about this at this stage.

I hope that people with more experience in e.g. AI risk work will chime in, but here are a few quick thoughts from someone who did a bachelor's and master's in maths, has done research related to existential risk, and now does project management for an organization doing such research.

  • I think either of maths, physics, or computer science can in principle be very solid degree choices. I could easily see it being the case that the decisive factor for you could be which you feel most interested in right now, or which universities you can get into for these different disciplines.
  • Picking up the last point, I think the choice of university could easily be more important than the choice of subject. You say you want to stay near Zurich, but perhaps there are different universities you could reach from there (e.g. I think Zurich itself has at least two?). On the other hand, don't sweat it. I think that especially in quantitative subjects and at the undergraduate level, university prestige is less important, and at least in the German-speaking area there aren't actually huge differences in the quality of education that are correlated with university prestige.
    • However, this will still be a significant factor, especially in some careers.
  • Similarly, what you do within your degree can easily be more important than its subject. I.e. which courses do you take, which topic do you write your thesis in, etc. In particular, if you're interested in AI risk, there is a lot of advice available on what to prioritize within your degree (see e.g. here + links therein).
  • Finally, what you do outside of your degree can easily be more important than its subject. For example, deep learning - an area highly relevant to AI risk - has very low barriers to entry compared to most areas of maths or physics. It could be good to find out early if you're interested in and good at machine learning, for instance by taking online courses such as this one or working through OpenAI's "Spinning Up" materials. This stuff really doesn't require much prior knowledge; it could be accessible to you even know, or else after the first 1-2 years of study.
  • I don't think that research on AI risk requires a degree in computer science. There are many mathematicians and physicists doing technical AI safety research, and more broadly for reducing AI risk we'll need social scientists, law scholars [EA · GW], policy advisors, and generally a multitude of people with a variety of expertise [EA · GW].
    • Yes, much (though not all) research on technical AI safety involves machine learning. For this, you'll need programming and software engineering skills, and you learn those in a computer science degree. However, you can also learn them in other degrees, or even fairly easily pick them up on the side. In addition, even the programming aspect of machine learning is overall importantly different from traditional programming.
    • On the other hand, for basically all technical AI safety research you'll need maths. You may be able to learn this better in a maths or physics than a CS degree; generally it's easier to move from a more abstract and theoretical background to more applied work than the other way around, so maths may leave most options open.
    • Yes, in maths or physics you'll learn many things that aren't very relevant to the AI risk work you may end up doing, but that's true for computer science as well. E.g. there are probably at most a few niches for how to apply courses on computability theory or databases (both typical CS subjects) to AI. On the other hand, I struggled to think of areas of physics that are clearly totally irrelevant to all AI risk work!
  • Some of the above points apply less if you can access undergraduate degrees that focus specifically on e.g. machine learning. But even then, note that it's very possible to move later from maths or physics to machine learning, but harder the other way around.
  • I've talked a lot about AI risk because you mentioned it, but I wouldn't narrow down on AI risk too quickly. Quantitative degrees leave open a lot of options including, for instance, global priorities research [EA · GW] or some of the less explored paths mentioned here [EA · GW] and here [EA · GW]. Examples of mathematicians who've later done great EA-relevant work that's neither in academic mathematics nor AI risk include Owen Cotton-Barratt and David Roodman.
  • Talking to students doing the degrees you're considering at the universities you're considering can be a good source of information about how the degree is actually like and similar things.
Replies from: RyanCarey, Benjamin_Todd, Zedtho
comment by RyanCarey · 2020-12-28T06:41:47.680Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm currently studying a statistics PhD while researching AI safety, after a bioinformatics msc and medical undergrad. I agree with some parts of this, but would contest others.

I agree that:

  • What you do within a major can matter more than which major you choose
  • It's easier to move from math and physics to CS.

But it's still easier to move from CS to CS, than from physics or pure math. And CS is where a decent majority of AI safety work is done. The second-most prevalent subject is statistics, due to its containing statistical learning (aka machine learning) and causal inference, although these are areas of research that are equally performed in a CS department. So if impact was the only concern, starting with CS would still be my advice, followed by statistics.

comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-12-12T13:52:46.702Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd agree with the above. I also wanted to check you've seen our generic advice here – it's a pretty rough article, so many people haven't seen it:

comment by Zedtho · 2020-12-10T20:15:58.964Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey there!


First of all, I want to thank you for this extremely extensive and well-thought out message, this is extremely helpful, thank you very much! As for the university, with the degree that I will have the ETH Zurich makes most sense, which is the furthest one can go in the country unfortunately. 

Ahh yes the Andrew Ng course is great, I'm still on it but that's a great idea, and I'll check out the  OpenAI course as well! 

I also want to thank you a lot for your thoughts on degree choice (also in the context of AI safety), that was my first priority to figure out - and your thoughts on that were very helpful. 

The note on global priorities research was also really interesting! That was actually a really good point, for some reason I had written GPR off in my mind, but it is actually a great idea. Perhaps the proximity to Geneva and EU citizenship may be useful in that regard


I've only just started digging into this post because it is so rich, so I will definitely be checking out more!

Replies from: lennart
comment by lennart · 2020-12-25T10:54:02.807Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Also happy to help on a more local level:

If you're not already in contact with EA Zürich, just sent us a mail and we will get back to you:

comment by shicky44 · 2020-12-10T11:13:12.973Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

which path sounds the most interesting to you right now?  From what you've written, the impression I get is that you want to do mathematics.  Sounds like you're plenty smart and will succeed in whatever you put your mind to!

Replies from: Zedtho
comment by Zedtho · 2020-12-10T20:24:02.943Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks a lot for the encouragement! You'd certainly be right with that haha, but I am gladly willing to guide my degree choice along different lines for it to be more effective.  Perhaps I subscribe a bit too much too 'tabula rasa' thinking haha but I've tended to get passionate about whatever I spend a lot of time on.

comment by Nick_Appleby · 2020-12-08T21:27:49.757Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi there. I'm a marketing strategist based in Australia with some career capital built from working with the US teams for tech clients like Google, Cisco and LinkedIn. I'm now considering a career change to work more in policy or research, either with regard to emerging technologies or security and international relations. A couple of questions I've been wrestling with:

a) At 31 years old, would I be better off focusing on working at an impactful organisation using the marketing/outreach skills I have rather than going into policy/research? What is the EA community's definition of mid or late career, and how does this affect advice around career change?

b) To progress down this path I will need to earn a postgraduate degree at some point. Would it be better to go study now? Or to attempt to work in the field using my existing skills first, and then study to transfer into policy/research later?

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson, bdixon, Yanni Kyriacos
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2020-12-12T17:47:35.036Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Nick! 

a) 31 still seems pretty early in your career to me - presumably you expect to work 30 or 40 more years. So making sure you’re in a role you feel happy in sounds worth it even if it means some transition costs. I’d also expect you to have built up skills which are transferable to policy and even research: To do impactful research it seems important to keep in mind who will actually end up using the research and how. So transitioning at this point sounds fine to me. Having said that, working in marketing/outreach at impactful organisations also sounds like a great option if you feel good about it. 

b) Doing a degree seems fairly expensive in both time and money, so I could imagine it being better to try to do some work in the field before committing to a degree. That way you can find out whether you actually do enjoy working in the area, and what direction you might want to go in (hence what degree would make most sense for you). Either sound like reasonable options though. There are a few more considerations about when to do grad school in this article

comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-10T10:02:34.689Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

On a) I think it depends on how well suited you are to the role and on b) Have you tried applying for roles in emerging technologies or security? This could be a cheap test to see if you might like working there, and whether you'd actually need to do further study.

comment by Yanni Kyriacos · 2020-12-16T23:05:15.059Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Nick,

I am also a marketing strategist, in Sydney and have spent a bit of time thinking about how to make my career more ‘effective’ (I had 80k coaching, Effective Animal Advocacy coaching, plenty more 1:1 chats/brainstorms). Anyway,  I’m happy to have a chat if you like - HMU @



comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2022-01-18T18:24:23.483Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This was popular, but I'm not sure how useful people found it, and it took a lot of time. I hoped it might become an ongoing feature, but I couldn't find someone able to and willing to run it on an ongoing basis.

comment by Neill ( · 2020-12-23T12:32:59.517Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi, many thanks for the opportunity to contribute. 

I am very much in the earn to give camp. 

My approach has been to get myself and my family financially sound before I start to give. This means I will give more in the long run as I am not paying interest on any debt. 

 I will be giving to the highest impact charity [whatever EA suggests at the time], this helps me free my mind to concentrate on earning as I don't have to spend time on the decision. 

I am fortunate in finally being financially sound as we purchase our first family home and pay off debt other than the mortgage, and our youngest child will be out of nursery soon.  

My quandary is whether to ask my current employer about taking a sabbatical year out and complete a MBA. The two main financial benefits will be that I will have a larger career safety net (I have 10+ years of experience as a senior manager)  and I am more likely, statistically, to have greater earnings over my career by having the MBA, so I could give more.  It also fits with my current responsibilities and will contribute well to my role.   

My question is are there any other negatives I am not considering in taking a sabbatical and completing the MBA?

PS, I have considered a EMBA where I would work and study, but at the moment we have a young family and I want to spend as much time with them as possible. 

Thanks in advance. 


Replies from: rsturrock
comment by rsturrock · 2020-12-26T21:16:44.279Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A few things I'd think about  re: MBAs from my own observations (friends who've done them etc):

  1. How high are your earnings currently relative to market / what MBAs are getting? You're more experienced  than I'd say most  of the people I know who got MBAs are - will you be able to find a job that increases your earnings a lot (eg. if you are already in strategy consulting this seems unlikely)
  2. What personal sacrifices will you make in a new higher earning job (ie if you switch  to IB or consulting will you be okay with the hours / be able to earn the higher salary for long enough to justify your investment)?

My take on this is an MBA is a ~200k direct investment. Plus you are potentially missing out  on opportunities in your current job to progress (ie will you miss out  on a promotion opportunity?). I'd say you'd probably want to expect ~350k extra earnings out of the MBA to justify opportunity cost + time cost of  money. From your post it sounds like this MBA will help you in role though - so that might be an overestimate. 

Additionally if you haven't read about  Financial Independance  (FIRE) that might be a good thing  for you to look into as  it would: 1) help you meet your goal of providing financially for your family sooner 2) potentially increase your ability to give for a fixed amount of income. 

comment by BlahBlaw · 2020-12-15T00:23:15.369Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am a young college grad from the U.S. with a background in working with children and in domestic violence/mental health fields. As a result of my own personal experiences and traumas, I am compelled to go into public interest law or social work.

My strengths are working with children or adults one-on-one. I feel guilty and concerned about this; I worry my skills are not conducive to truly helping the greater good. Further, if I become a public interest attorney or a social worker, how much impact is that truly going to have? At this point, I am pretty sure I want to go to law school and eventually work in child welfare/human rights policy. This would translate to a focus on improving institutional decision making and increasing resilience among various populations. I just don't know how to evaluate  career paths in a way that is realistic, not perfectionist, and conducive to my personal skills yet open to future growth and learning. I've read the 80000 Hours website so many times I can't count but still seem a bit lost. Any suggestions for a young person ready to set out on a career path?

Replies from: Khorton
comment by Kirsten (Khorton) · 2020-12-17T09:16:56.430Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

no suggestions, just a few thoughts:

  1. you do NOT need to feel guilty for being skilled at working one on one with people from traumatized backgrounds! it's a good thing!
  2. there's nothing stopping you from developing other skills as well - you're young and have so many options
  3. I can tell you're both very passionate about helping people one to one and making a big difference in the world and you're feeling like there's no way to do both. That sounds really stressful.
  4. it's okay to make career decisions partially or fully based on factors other than EA. you have more than one goal and that's fine: [EA · GW]
comment by Anafromthesouth · 2020-12-11T21:34:43.265Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hello! So happy to find out about this. My story: I just turned 33. I have a licentiate degree in Psychology (5 years), a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience and currently on a Masters degree program in Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development. I love doing research, data science and statistics, though the only experience I have in these topics is the one from my PhD. Right after that, triggered by the loss of my partner, I decided to go sailing for some years to get to learn about unique communities living in nature. That was followed by maternity, and in the end I have (with some reconnection here and there) 5 years of no record of publications or research experience. 

On the other hand, even if I was in love with my PhD project (what happens when languages get in contact, in the brain) I always felt that my energy and resources had to go to directly helping improve the current situation in the world. Otherwise, I feel anything I do has no meaning. 

I would love to be  part of a team (as a job) whose aim is exactly this one, doing research on any kind of priority impact, I don't care what, all of them are important. I know I have very little experience and at this time I can't afford a volunteering job. I have been applying for jobs I love for a year, but I haven't been successful. What do you guys think I could do to get the skills I need? My thoughts are getting more courses on Data Science and Statistics (numbers, networks and connections is what I like the best) or trying to apply to a PhD fellowship on  Network Science. Still, it feels like I'd have a collection of degrees and no experience, so still not attractive to work on EA organisations. 

Thank you so much for reading!

Replies from: Denise_Melchin
comment by Denise_Melchin · 2020-12-17T22:27:50.572Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Ana,

It's great to hear you are so passionate about learning and doing research! My best guess would be that you should focus on getting some real world job experience for a year or so. While you may not have as much statistical knowledge yet as you might want, I suspect it is better for you to learn them in a supportive 'real work' environment than on your own. Given that you have a PhD and soon two Master's (impressive!) I expect employers will trust they can train you up in the skills you need, so you don't have to learn them outside of a job first.

Something employers will often want to see is some evidence that you can solve their problems outside of a research/academic context. I expect it will be a lot easier for you to find a role you are really passionate about once you have some job experience, even if that means doing something that is not your dream job yet in the meantime.

Good luck!

Replies from: Anafromthesouth
comment by Anafromthesouth · 2020-12-30T13:26:30.261Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you so much, Denise.  Learning while working is what I think is best for me now, in order to put my hands to work on important issues. However, I haven't been successful in getting a job after almost a year of applying. That is why I was wondering whether I am not applying to the right jobs or I am not skilful enough for any job in the area of EA. Of course I always go for entry level jobs and internships.  What I guess are jobs I could do are the ones related to: 

data science for environmental, social and animal purposes

environmental and social impact assessment  (impact assessment in general)

mental health and support in communities in need, minorities, etc.

Any other ideas? 

Thank you!

Replies from: Khorton
comment by Kirsten (Khorton) · 2020-12-30T16:00:12.868Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If you haven't been successful after a year of applying it's definitely time to change tactics. Some of the following might be things to try, but you'll know your situation best:

-get your CV reviewed by friends

-get your CV professionally reviewed

-have friends review your cover letter

-practice interviews with a work coach or friend

-apply to less competitive jobs

-try to get jobs through networking (eg that you've been recommended to)

-try to get jobs through unpaid work (eg volunteer to do an impact assessment for a charity for free, if it goes well ask them if they'd like to hire you for future projects)

comment by edwards · 2020-12-11T15:03:21.073Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi everyone! Like many others, I'm interested in exploring whether I'd be a good fit for an EA-connected org and would appreciate any help towards an answer.

I'm 35, finished a top physics PhD program in 2014 and have been freelancing as a data scientist since then. Most of my clients have been in finance and health, but about 10% of my work has been in international development. I've largely been a generalist, emphasizing fast and accurate-enough solutions to diverse problems.

(1) Are there any career paths outside of the 'researcher' (research analyst, postdoc, etc.) track I should keep an eye out for? For example, are quantitative problem-solving skills enough of an asset in monitoring-and-evaluation roles to offset a lack of specific experience? (I applied for a few and didn't hear back, so probably not, but it might have been bad luck.)

(2) If anyone wants a sounding board about data issues at their current org I always enjoy talking to people about their problems. I'm especially interested in opportunities to improve the ecosystem around activity/individual-level data  -- this is less about being fancy, and more about frequently discovering that my aggregates are wrong because of upstream issues -- but really, no problem is too weird.

Thanks in advance! 

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2020-12-19T18:43:31.502Z · EA(p) · GW(p)


You might be interested in our podcast on using data science to end poverty, where we interview a data scientist at Berkeley's Center for Effective Global Action. In a similar vein to CEGA, you could check out J-PAL

I imagine that a few relevant things here might be: 

  • Do you want to be directly applying your data science skill set, or are you happy to have a more general role? I imagine that small organisations won't have enough work of the specific type for which your skill set will be most useful for you to do that full time. So it might open your options more if you were happy to do more generalist work. 
  • Your quant problem solving background might be an indication that you'd be good at some more qualitative roles, but it will be a bit harder for people to know exactly how indicative, and if someone hasn't hired a data scientist before they may not know how to interpret your background. That likely means you'd have to apply to more positions in order to have a chance of getting one, because it increases noise in the application process. 

I imagine it could be hard for organisations to really know what you'd be able to help with for the (very kind!) offer above. One option could be suggesting a specific project to an organisation that you think would be useful for them. We've got a bit of advice on how you might do that. You might also check out this site, which tries to match volunteers with projects. 

Replies from: edwards
comment by edwards · 2020-12-19T21:12:36.505Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, that is good advice. 

Your first point is definitely true. There are a lot of smaller nonprofits that could use 0.2 data scientists or 0.4 software engineers, but can't hire them in fractional quantities without all of the additional hassles associated with contractors. 

I have a project and a (short) list of organizations I would like to pitch. Originally the list was 'a couple of organizations I have worked with before, maybe 25% one of them will say yes or refer me somewhere useful', but I like your advice to be more proactive -- cold-emailing people is intimidating but not actually that costly or intrusive. 

(At least that is what I think "Spend a weekend putting together a solution to these problems, and send them to a couple of people at the company with an invitation to talk more" is suggesting.) 

I have some stupid questions about this: 

 My instinct is to contact someone with the minimum seniority to implement my project -- but that still means someone with hiring authority -- job titles like Program Manager, Assistant Director, or Director. Does that sound right to you? 

I'm also inclined to to prefer using an individual public email address if it exists. Usually it doesn't. My guess would be that unsolicited LinkedIn messages will go to spam, but maybe I should send them anyway? Along those lines Twitter is semiprofessional these days but probably kind of sketchy and I'm not on it. Should I just prioritize people with public emails? The only other thing I can think of is organizations with 'slush' emails for general jobseeker inquiries, etc. Am I thinking about this wrong? 

Thanks for your help! 

comment by brad_ea · 2020-12-09T19:45:44.790Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

How can I leverage a tech sales background for EA? I'm early in my career (age 25) and going to be located in Texas for at least the next 1-2 years. Long-term I think institutional decision making, geopolitics and clean energy are core issues for me, and I would like to get involved in politics/policy. I only have a BA in Economics and Philosophy from an unremarkable (unless you care about football) state school.

I wonder how important it might be to go back to school for either law school or research (MA/PhD) as a possible next move. I'm not particularly excited about the idea of not having substantial income for 3-6 years.

Replies from: Michael_S, Khorton, MarisaJurczyk
comment by Michael_S · 2020-12-28T03:28:16.374Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey; I work in US politics (in Data Analytics for the Democratic Party). Would love to chat if you think it would be useful for you.

comment by Kirsten (Khorton) · 2020-12-10T23:34:26.153Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Getting really good at sales can be valuable in a lot of careers, including the political world. Have you talked to any EAs from DC? I bet they have a Facebook group

comment by Marisa (MarisaJurczyk) · 2020-12-14T03:02:21.253Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would definitely look into lobbying as a career route! That seems like a high-impact use of sales skills

Also, if you want to get involved in policy directly (rather than via research), an MPP or MPA might be a better fit for you rather than an MA/PhD. 

comment by Manuel_Allgaier · 2021-02-10T09:43:56.484Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great initiative! 

> If it works well, we could do it each month or so.

Are you planning to do this again? If so, when? I think it would be great if you did. 

If you don't have time, let us know too, then other EA career coaches / mentors could take over (such as CEA community building grantees like me, EA coaches, WANBAM mentors etc.). Maybe those folks would join anyway if you coordinate the date with us beforehand. I do think it would be much  better with your contributions, though. 

comment by DB28 · 2021-01-04T18:45:15.642Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm a UK civil servant working in the Covid-19 Vaccines Taskforce Strategy team where I have worked on selecting the vaccines in the UK's portfolio, writing papers and reports on their clinical and manufacturing progress and securing funding for important studies. I do not have a scientific background so this has meant working closely with expert advisors and picking up technical knowledge quickly. I have 2 years' experience in policy in the civil service and one year prior to that in strategy consulting. My current role is a good fit for me and I have had a 'multiplier'effect in saving the time of high impact people (including the most senior decision makers). I have a strong academic background and went to a top university for my undergrad (Arts/Humanities degree).

I am not attached to any particular problem area and want to focus on career capital. I particularly want to capitalise on my current title and experience in the Vaccines Taskforce while it is recent enough to remain impressive. Depending on where we are with the pandemic in the UK, it will likely be time for me to move on in 3-6 months. Some of the general options I'm considering are:

  • Staying in the civil service
  •  Doing a Master's and going into a think tank/NGO/foundation
  • Looking into public sector consulting
  • Looking at private sector roles with an ESG emphasis

In terms of Master's, something like a combined MBA+MPA/MPP sounds amazing (although the price and time commitment are eye-watering). I want to pick up specific skills e.g. research software, economics and statistics that would be valuable to employers (particularly think tanks). 

Do you have any tips on where I should focus my research on jobs and Master's for maximising early career capital?

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2021-01-11T18:10:56.280Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That sounds like a great position to be in! I think it's a little difficult for me to say anything very useful at this level of generality, so you might want to apply for advising

I would guess it will depend quite a bit on what civil service roles are open to you at the point where you might switch, as to whether staying is the right decision. You might want to chat to HIPE about which roles seem to be particularly good opportunities. 

I would guess it would be useful for you to get a better sense of where you ultimately want to end up, in order to be able to target your career capital some rather than keeping it fully general. There's some discussion of you might do this in our career planning article

Replies from: DB28
comment by DB28 · 2021-01-25T12:49:01.937Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you Michelle! This article is really helpful and one I hadn't found.

comment by TurtleGrom · 2020-12-17T23:50:12.438Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A little late to the part but maybe I can still get some insight. I’m 27 and have been working for humanitarian programs in the Middle East since graduating with a BA in international economics from a good school. While I’m working in the non-profit sector, and super fortunate to have had the roles I’ve had at such a young age, the nature of the conflict/disaster work doesn’t feel EA effective and I want to take the skills I’ve gained and move on to something new and more impactful. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge of the international humanitarian world, project management and evaluation skills, conflict and economic analysis, Arabic language ability, and survey and research design. And a pretty significant passion for wanting to figure out and support what actually works, get rid of what doesn’t.

Part of me is missing school and considering a masters or PhD. I don’t feel like I’m learning significant new skills here any more and I have so many other interests I want to study and build networks within (psychology, cognitive science, philosophy...). While that sounds the most exciting and motivating, the more practical part of me thinks maybe I should embrace the opportunities I’ve been given and continue on here with my health salary, earn to give, work my way up in my org, and try to push the work toward more effective programming.

If I go back to school and shift course, what subject/program should I pursue? Or does staying make the most sense?

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2020-12-19T18:30:24.150Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think whether it makes sense for you to go back to school and if so what subject seem like big questions and I feel hesitant commenting with little context. But a few thoughts: 

Given your background, you might be interested in this project on effective peace studies

You might be interested in our content on reducing great power conflict  and promising policy careers. If you're considering going into policy, the UK fast stream is a good option (if you're British - sorry if that's not the case!)

In addition to the subjects you listed that you could study, building on your Economics could be good to consider.  

comment by OmariZi · 2020-12-10T12:05:55.508Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi, I posted this question on the subreddit recently ( ), but would like to see if there are any fresh perspectives here: 

Quick profile of me: I’m a 31-year-old British translator (working languages French, German and Spanish, plus beginner’s Mandarin) working for a language learning app. Have been interested in EA for ~8 years but always been daunted by the prospects of changing careers and not sure what I would be best suited to. I quite enjoy my job but don't think the company has a particular positive impact on the world.

I had a short, general EA careers advice call a couple of months ago and have since been trying to research jobs which would make use of my language skills first and foremost. For now, I’ve slightly changed my thinking from “I’d probably have to learn new skills in order to find an effective career” to “perhaps I can apply my specific skills as a translator somewhere more effective”.

So far, from looking at job boards and so on, my impression is that my language skills could come in useful in quite a lot of roles, but roles which focus primarily on language skills are going to be extremely rare or hard to find. I see language abilities (mostly just in English, occasionally in foreign languages) mentioned or implied in role descriptions such as copywriters, customer service, operational support, marketing / communications.

I wonder if I’m missing anything. Can anyone think of better applications of language skills than what I’ve mentioned above? (Foreign policy stuff was suggested to me on the Reddit thread.)

The discussion on another comment here about trying to do more networking and chatting to people, rather than limiting myself to jobs which are advertised on job boards, also seems relevant to me; and someone commented on Reddit that I might also try emailing various organizations I'm interested in asking if they have a need for a translator. My main stumbling block in that regard currently is that I don't have strong opinions about cause prioritisation or specific areas that I want to work in, so feel like I don't know where to start. When I look at lists of problem areas, they strike me as all very important. Do you think getting a clearer answer to that question for myself is an important step for me?

Also, I wonder if I’m limiting myself by mainly looking at English-language organisations and job boards. Perhaps I need to find the equivalent resources (to 80k, Animal Advocacy Careers, things like that) in French/German/Spanish-speaking places and look at those, since they are probably more likely to value linguists with English as a native language. (I have found some initial resources in French, though they are fairly limited.)

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2020-12-12T18:33:41.221Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I’m sorry to hear you’ve been finding this tough. Career choice is really daunting, particularly if you think you might need to make a fairly big shift in the kind of work you do. 

Foreign service roles sound sensible as both being high impact and requiring language skills. I wonder whether working for intergovernmental organisations like the UN or NATO might also be a good option. There doesn’t seem to have been much focus on those kinds of roles in effective altruism, but they seem really important for improving global governance. 

Your idea of looking at job boards etc in other languages sounds sensible to me. It might be worth reaching out to some of the people doing community building in France or Germany [EA · GW]for suggestions. 

As to how important it is for you to get a better sense of what problems you think are most pressing: This generally seems pretty important to do earlier rather than later to me, because you can have so much more impact working on some problems than others. In your case, it also sounds as if it would be useful to get a focus for which types of organisations to start reaching out to and getting experience at. On the other hand, I also think it would be reasonable to decide that you’re unlikely to make headway at this, and it seems better to actually have a go at applying for some roles rather than spending more time agonising over whether there are even better ones to go for. You might find our career planning resources useful for thinking this through. 

Doing more networking and chatting to people sounds great. You could consider going to an EA Global conference. You might also want to think about how you can reach out to organisations and quickly show them how you can provide value to them, perhaps by designing your own internship

comment by 2Stubbrn2AI · 2020-12-10T00:13:48.569Z · EA(p) · GW(p)


I currently work in the US (U.S. Citizen) for a large biotech product company called Thermofisher Scientific. I do lab services as a contractor for another biotech company which involves shipping/receiving samples for researchers, managing inventories, preparing and delivering media for researchers, and monitoring and coordinating maintenance and repairs of equipment. I have been working at the position for two years now and plan to stay in the company for at least another three years so that my 401K becomes fully vested.

In terms of maximizing positive impact in the world, I see two possibilities.

  1. I can move up the corporate ladder and make as much money as I possibly can so that I can donate it to effective charities (my company will also match donations to some effective charities including Helen Keller International and Against Malaria Foundation).
  2. Get good at managing and operations so that I can transfer to a good non-profit organization.

I don’t need to focus on any particular problem area, but biorisk, global health problems, solving poverty via GiveDirectly, and climate change are causes that I gravitate towards. Should I default to option 1 or consider option 2?

Also, are there any companies as an American I should look into working for in the future to maximize my income or add more value to one of the cause areas I mentioned?

Replies from: bdixon, MarisaJurczyk
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-10T10:23:30.334Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

My rough guess is that option 2 would be more fun and since a lot of these areas have quite a lot of funding, maybe it'd be more your comparative advantage. You mention general management and operations, but I wonder if you have any health/lab-specific knowledge that could be used to work in these areas. I guess Covid has changed this a bit but my guess is that pandemic preparedness, especially in the developing world, is still terribly neglected.

Replies from: 2Stubbrn2AI, 2Stubbrn2AI
comment by 2Stubbrn2AI · 2020-12-13T21:26:12.589Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Should I think about getting an advanced degree in public health?

comment by 2Stubbrn2AI · 2020-12-10T14:53:41.003Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Believe me! I am aleady thinking about the next pandemic and its possibility of originating from farms in the US! Dr. Michael Greger discusses that conclusion bases on his public health research in his book How to Survive a Pandemic. I’m not opposed to working in international settings, though.

I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology I obtained in 2013. My work has been shipping/receiving and administrative in nature since then. Only in the past two years have I started doing some lab work to support researchers.

I appreciate you taking time out of your day to reply to my post.

comment by Marisa (MarisaJurczyk) · 2020-12-14T02:58:19.942Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(Context: I work in operations at an EA org.)

I think #1 sounds like a good bet. At this point, I get the sense that EA has more aspiring operations and management people than it can handle, so funding organizations so that more qualified people can be employed and make an impact sounds high-impact. Of course that could change in 5+ years, but I wouldn't count on it, and your current role seems like it might lend itself to gaining useful skills for ops anyway. 

#2 isn't bad either if the opportunity comes up, but if you enjoy your work and don't mind earning to give, I think you have a really big opportunity for counterfactual impact in option #1.

comment by alex_sanders · 2020-12-11T03:54:41.921Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Any thoughts for trying out jobs post-university?

I'm a 23 year old software engineer at a large tech company working out of NYC.  I've thought of the following ways to try out jobs:

  1. Rotational programs  - Some tech companies offer programs where you can rotate roles every 6 months, like this one. But I've pretty much applied to all of them.
  2. Full-time jobs - I could work full-time as a PM, UX Designer, university researcher etc. but this would probably require a 1-2yr commitment per job
  3. Startup cofounder - As a cofounder I'd gain exposure to a lot of skills - sales, product, engineering etc. but I feel that I'd get such a small exposure to each function that it wouldn't really be useful

Any other ideas or thoughts?
I'm trying to figure out what sort of work I'm best at (which I imagine is where I'll have the most impact).

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson, Khorton
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2020-12-12T18:45:58.878Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think I'd expect you to be able to get quite a bit of information on roles without having to actually do them full time. I'd expect, for example, the level of information you get from doing some sales at a startup to give you pretty good information about whether you like sales. That's definitely not going to be fully generalisable - sales for a startup will look different than for an established company, and things like the culture of the company you work for will make a huge difference. But taking a sales job to try it out will similarly not be fully generalisable. 

One way of thinking about how to learn about different roles is to try to build a ladder of cheap tests - starting with things like reading a bit about a role, then trying to talk to people doing that role, then perhaps doing a short project. Ways of testing things that don't go all the way to getting a role could include: doing a course, volunteering for a charity (there are usually ways of finding charities in your local area looking for volunteers, along the lines of this one for Oxford) or doing an internship (sometimes these are pretty short, so you might be able to take a couple of weeks holiday from work to do one). 

Replies from: alex_sanders, rsturrock
comment by alex_sanders · 2021-12-18T23:36:48.212Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for your response!   My concern is that cheap tests that only last a few weeks or months, will not provide accurate information about how good one is at a role.   I've been a software engineer almost two years now.   If I were to have only worked as a software engineer for six months and stopped and reflected on whether I had the potential to get very good at the role, I might have concluded that I had little potential based on my performance.   But now on month 19, I think my prospects are quite good.   There was  a really long onboarding and skill-building period that had to be done before I could really start contributing and determining how good I could get.   While there might be shorter onboarding periods in other jobs that are more oriented around soft skills - e.g. sales, consulting, marketing, etc., I imagine it will still take a long time to be sufficiently onboarded to be able to assess one's potential. 

However,  maybe there is a happy middle ground between the extremes of working on a role for 2 years and doing a small project for a few months.   I think the charity option is interesting - one could work for a charity in a role for a year or more to see if they'd be good at the skills involved in the role.  Probably a lot of roles - e.g. sales, marketing, accounting can be tested out this way.   But some roles like product management seem to be particularly hard to find in the volunteering space.  I've scoured Google for "volunteer product management" positions and only found 3 that seemed to be open to applications.  I interviewed for one of the three and it turned out be more of a project management role, where the volunteer had little agency/ownership.   

That said, maybe it's the case that the vast majority of skills can be  tested in volunteer roles. While it may be hard to find a volunteer product management position, it probably would be pretty feasible for a capable person to find roles that involved customer research, project management, web/mobile analytics, marketing, etc. at volunteer orgs, so one could potentially test out all the component skills used in product management separately.   In practice though, testing all these skills might be very difficult. 

comment by rsturrock · 2020-12-27T01:42:11.418Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Edit: Found the right link for ladder of cheap tests lower  down!

comment by Kirsten (Khorton) · 2020-12-11T09:46:47.384Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

How many jobs are you looking at trying out? I think if you're trying all the rotations in your company, that should give you a lot of information which you can then use to make slightly more focused decisions for your next step.

I'd push back a little on the idea that the work you're best at is definitely where you'll have the most impact. I agree with you that's probably true, but I'd recommend thinking about what cause you'd like to work on before you decide exactly what kind of job you'd like to do.

comment by Oliver Sourbut · 2020-12-10T15:45:35.250Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm trying to choose between doubling down on skills in software engineering or branching out with the goal of working on AI safety longer term. I get the impression that a lot of people are in a similar position.

For me, my undergrad was an unusual mix of things but included Maths, Music (!) and Computer Science. I got good grades and I think there's a reasonable chance of my getting into a university like Oxford, Cambridge or Imperial to study a Masters and perhaps subsequently a PhD in Computer Science/AI.

Currently I'm paid well and developing a fair amount of expertise as a software engineer. I've been at it for ~4 years and gained a fair amount of respect and responsibility; most likely on the cusp of a 'senior' promotion within months. Sticking at the engineering, I might be able to give £10s of thousands/year or more, perhaps sustained over a few decades, and there's also a chance I could find myself doing impactful direct work or being in a position to influence the direction of large forces in tech.

On the other hand, from the work I've done and investigations in my own time I think my temperament and working style suit research, but I've little direct evidence of that so far and I'd need to prove that to myself and others. I'm thinking of a Masters as being a great way to do that. I've enjoyed several recommended online courses in ML and statsy things as well as a little tinkering on toy projects. On this evidence my capacities appear to align well with applying and implementing machine learning but I think research and policy have higher leverage over future flourishing.

Is applying for Masters courses in AI/ML is a sensible next exploration? One catch is that some of my current compensation is in equity which vests over time, meaning making a change would sacrifice some earnings.

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson, anonymous_123
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2020-12-12T19:14:40.270Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That sounds like a great position to be in! This seems like a tough call because both options look high impact in expectation. On the plus side, that means that either decision is a reasonable one to make. 

Based on what you’ve said about the online courses and projects you’ve done, it sounds right to me that doing a Masters is the natural next step for testing out whether you’re a good fit for research. Anonymous_123’s suggestion of asking your employer about taking a year out to do a Masters sounds like a great plan. I also agree with them that waiting for the promotion sounds worth it. 

You don’t seem to mention working on AI safety as a software engineer (for example in a role like this), or transitioning to ML engineering to work on safety (though maybe that’s what you were thinking about with ‘impactful direct work’. You could perhaps reach out to effective altruists who had done AI safety engineering such as Richard Ngo [EA · GW] to get a better sense of how to compare the value of that with research and policy. I guess I tentatively agree that if you’re a great fit for research that would likely be more impactful, but it seems worth looking into.

Replies from: Oliver Sourbut
comment by Oliver Sourbut · 2020-12-16T21:24:30.556Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I welcome the reinforcement that a) it is indeed a tough call and b) I'm sane and they're good options! Thank you for the encouragement, and the advice.

I remain fuzzy on what shape 'impactful direct work' could take, and I'm not sure to what degree keeping my mind 'open' in that sense is rational (the better to capture emergent opportunities) vs merely comforting (specifying a path is scary and procastinating is emotionally safer)! I acknowledge that my tentative principal goal besides donations, if I continue engineering growth, is indeed working on safety. The MIRI job link is interesting. I'd be pleased and proud to work in that sort of role (though I'm likely to remain in the UK at least for the near future).

Thank you for the suggestion to talk to Richard or others. I've gathered a few accounts from friends I know well who have gone into further degrees in other disciplines, and I expect it would be useful to complement that with evidence from others to help better predict personal fit. I wouldn't know whom to talk to about impact on a long-term engineering track.

comment by anonymous_123 · 2020-12-11T20:42:47.627Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Oliver, this is a tough call. I would hold out for the promotion and vesting if it's only a couple years. Personally, I did a MS in CS/ML part time while working. It was a little brutal at times, took almost 4 years, and limited my choice of schools. But it was very good for my career, since I didn't have to sacrifice any job progression time. It's not the right choice for everyone (I don't have kids, so more flexibility), but it's one option.

I will say that while a year or two to wait for a promotion/vesting might seem like a lot, it will fly by, and you will be in a very strong position from there. If you are donating and enjoying your job in the meantime, all the better!

If possible, I wonder if you could negotiate a 1.5-2 year break from your company to go for the MS, pause the vesting (rather than lose it), and come back in at the senior position. This would be the best of both worlds if you could swing it, I've definitely heard stories like that. If you get into a top school, you could have good leverage because it looks good for your company. I've even known people to swing the deal so that the company pays the tuition with a 2 year commitment after. If after a year you love research, back out of the deal and continue for the PhD. 

Sounds like you are in a good position right now for all the reasons you state, so be careful before throwing that away, you could always get unlucky and find yourself simply starting over at a new company after getting the degree.

Good luck!

Replies from: anonymous_123
comment by anonymous_123 · 2020-12-11T20:51:03.994Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Oh, and regarding the degree itself... I liked my MS CS program for the most part. The cost of tuition is becoming a tougher sell with all the cheap options to learn online. Hour-for-hour, you could probably get a better education by reading articles and practicing skills, because you can learn exactly what you want, and classes are not quite as cutting edge as podcasts/articles/meetups/etc.. For example my neural nets class taught theory but no practical skills like tensorflow/keras/pytorch, which really annoyed me. But the structure does help you stay focused and organized for multiple years. Mine was online, so I can't speak to the value of networking. The value of the degree on the resume is definitely real, but only a little better than 2 years of experience, and probably not much better than a promotion. I can't speak directly to a PhD, but I was on the fence, skipped it, and definitely do not regret my decision.

Replies from: Oliver Sourbut
comment by Oliver Sourbut · 2020-12-16T21:26:10.410Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I really appreciate these data points! Actually it's interesting you mention the networking aspect - one of the factors that would push me towards more higher education is the (real or imagined?) networking opportunities. Though I get on very well with most people I work or study with, I'm not an instinctive 'networker' and I think for me, improving that could be a factor with relatively high marginal return.

As for learning practical skills... I'd hope to get some from a higher degree but if that were all I wanted I might indeed stick to Coursera and the like! It's the research aspect I'd really like to explore my fit for.

Trying to negotiate a break with the company had crossed my mind but sounds hard. Thanks for the nudge and anecdata about that possibility. It would be a big win if possible!

I'm really glad to hear that your path has been working out without regret. I hope that continues. :)

comment by Odin · 2020-12-09T18:20:45.276Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi there - I'm currently doing my Masters in psychology at St Andrews and I'm starting to apply to PhD-positions this month. My current research topic is on rational decision-making. I want to, if possible, do a project in psychology that could have an impact on some of the goals of EA and the 80k team. Does anybody know any psychologists at the moment who are focusing their research in areas that could be influential in this area, or are there any research areas in general that you suggest I might look into?

I'm particularly interested in something that's cross-disciplinary - philosophy; behavioural economics; neuroscience are all good candidates.

Replies from: PhilippSchoenegger, bdixon
comment by PhilippSchoenegger · 2020-12-11T13:16:38.401Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Odin,

I'm a PhD student at St Andrews in philosophy and experimental/behavioural economics, running several studies/projects in experimental research relating to EA/long-termism. Happy to chat, just send me an email and we can set something up:

comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-10T10:17:52.645Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yep - Lucius Caviola and Stefan Schubert, and also Joshua Greene at Harvard. Lucius and Stefan have a bunch of their videos on YouTube. Also have you considered applying to GPI?

comment by timwhite · 2021-03-19T09:30:23.624Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi there,  new forum member here! I read through some of the thread here and gt inspired to post something myself. I’m not sure if it’s open or if people are answering but I thought I might as well post.

 I’m currently a medical student (first term) and I’m going to drop out in the coming weeks and start fresh on a new degree this autumn.

I’m considering studying Engineering Mathematics at KTH or Chalmers, which is a 3 year Bachelor’s degree with a focus on maths (almost 50% of the program) and programming (almost 20% of the program), with some additional engineering courses. My aim after that is to pursue a Master’s degree in Machine Learning or Data Science and AI. I’m very open to options in terms of what to study but this degree seems to fit the criteria of what I want from my career and what I’d enjoy most.

My main goals post-graduation would be to either work on AI safety in either technical research or policy, earning to give as a Quant at a trading firm, or doing a Machine Learning Ph.D. I’ll have to explore personal fit during my time at university as I really don’t know where I’ll fit the best, though Quant Trading seems like something I would really enjoy. I should also mention I’m pretty agnostic right now as to which priority area to focus on and am more focused on exploring, building career capital, and a financial runway. Therefore, I’m not ruling out working on any other priority path that I could have a better fit for working on.

Backup options include any jobs that’ll give me career capital to transition to a career in my top options. Both these universities are equally highly regarded to employers in Sweden so I think there won’t be any issues with getting a good job here.

The main problem I’m having is deciding which university to go to, mainly because KTH is higher ranked internationally and a lot of my ideal career paths seem to be abroad, notably quant trading. Yet, it’s “easier” for me to study at Chalmers due to it being close to my hometown and I already have a small social network there and it’s easier to find good housing. Therefore, I really want to understand how important school ranking is for my top options, AI safety work or a career in quant trading. If international ranking is important, meaning that if a degree from KTH almost certainly opens doors that Chalmers doesn’t and offers other significant advantages, I’m definitely willing to go there. Regarding Ph.D. options at either university, I’m not sure if it matters where I do undergraduate and graduate studies.

To anyone who has experience in quant trading, does my choice of university matter a lot for most firms? I know they look for “top university” students and graduates but that seems rather vague to me.

comment by rsturrock · 2020-12-27T01:50:48.895Z · EA(p) · GW(p)


I'm currently an early career, high income earner (tech company, non-engineering role) with a lot of interest in EA / long-termism and policy in general (my first job was in financial stability policy at a central bank). Currently my involvement in EA has been just through earning to give / evangelism to others within the companies I've worked for. 

I'm trying to figure out next steps in my career, and in particular looking for ways to try out career avenues that do good more directly (through volunteering or - if I were to make a bigger leap - something like the RSP at FHI). 

Relevant background info: Masters (with Distinction) in Economics from Oxford. General skillset: data analysis, policy, statistics, finance. Canadian citizenship, currently working in the US. Generally a people person / good at working in teams. Pretty frugal (saved ~70% of after-tax income before charitable giving despite HCL city rent) and interested in financial independence. 

Other factors: General desire to move closer to  family in the next 5 years (Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria area). Likely having kids in the next couple of years. 

Possible career options: 

  • Remain in tech / earning to give: enables donations of ~$250k - $1M over  10 years (spouses' income is very spiky, my income growth uncertain)
    • Pros: I like my colleagues, work is fairly interesting, provides a good environment / stability for starting a family, highest potential for earning to give. 
    • Cons: Work feels a bit meaningless and disconnected from my values. Likely a bit far from my family. 
  • Move home / into provincial policy: 
    • Pros: Likely more personally fulfilling, some opportunity for direct impact, good environment / stability, near family.
    • Cons: Lower ability to earn to give. Likely lower  impact vs policy jobs in US or Canadian federal  government. 
  • Direct work in EA organization / Research scholars program at FHI:
    • Pros: Work most closely aligned with my values / opportunity to explore how I could directly have a high impact. Work more closely aligned to other career avenues I like (policy work). 
    • Cons: Lower earning to give potential, likely to be further from family / support. In the case of RSP highly uncertain whether I could get in (though this is obviously not a reason not to apply). 

As I mentioned above I’m interested both in ideas for what career I could pursue, but also ways to figure out whether / what EA route might make sense (though volunteering, projects, etc). 

Paths I think I may be best suited to: EA community building, research about why people give / how to increase what people give, operations in an EA organization. 

Ideas welcome!

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson, Khorton
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2021-01-11T18:17:59.337Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It sounds like you have some great options. 

I basically agree with your assessment that provincial policy over the longterm doesn't sound that impactful. On the other hand, it's important to be in a role that seems sustainable for you. I would have expected that Seattle was a good place for earning to give in tech, which was one of the places you mentioned was near family - does that sound appealing in the longer term? It could be worth chatting to other EAs in finance about they've found earning to give over the longer term - whether their sense of its meaningfulness has increased/decreased over time for example, and how your feeling on it now compares to theirs. 

Applying to a few things like RSP sounds like a good option for impact, though I'm not sure how many of these kinds of roles are likely to be able to be done remotely in the long run. Perhaps Rethink Priorities would be good option though - I think they've always been remote. 

These are fairly high level thoughts - it might be useful for you to chat to our team in more detail. 

comment by Kirsten (Khorton) · 2020-12-28T00:45:36.340Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm also a Canadian with a policy background, although I've never worked on policy IN Canada. If you end up seriously looking into that path please send me a message or post in the Canadian EA Facebook group - I'd be really interested to hear what you find out!

comment by NoteworthyTrain · 2020-12-26T17:04:32.626Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's been great to see and read through this thread. Any thoughts on my own situation would be especially appreciated.

I'm in my final year of PPE at Oxford with a focus on the more technical/quantitative parts of economics. I consider myself quite entrepreneurial and have for some time wanted to do something in that vein - broadly considered, to include e.g. charity entrepreneurship.

After reading a book over the summer that challenged my perspectives, I am considering a broader range of issues and careers than before (brain dump from then here: [EA · GW] ). That post was just about development, but I'm also thinking more about longtermism and the other causes it suggests. It seems that to maximise my impact I should affect EA-meta or policy in some way. 

Affecting policy seems challenging because I'm not confident of my personal fit in academia or government bureaucracies. One of my new interests is in combining policy/'systemic' change with an entrepreneurial approach, so any suggestions here would be welcome. I'm motivated and willing to work hard; enjoy learning new things; and would like to do work that combines high impact, intensity, some level of intellectual challenge, and fairly fast feedback loops. I'm still unsure about my cause prioritisation.  I like quantitative subjects and am mathematically competent but don't think my comparative advantage lies in (purely) quantitative work. 

Since I have more questions than I can answer now, while focused on my end-of-degree exams, I plan to take some time (9-12 months) after graduation to explore certain key questions and areas via independent study and internships/volunteering. I've got a full-time job offer at quite a prestigious strategy consulting firm, which it is very likely that I can defer until after that.

I want to use these 9-12 months as best I can and would like to hear anyone's thoughts on how to do this. These could include:

  • Any lessons learned from your own experience of taking some time out to figure out plans
  • Advice you would give yourself if you were about to enter my shoes
  • Specific areas or questions you would recommend investigating / opportunities for internships (I am happy to send my CV by direct message)

Things I'm already going to do:

  • Planning beforehand roughly what I want to do and achieve (already started)
  • Time-boxing with hard limits & using accountability systems with friends
  • Making documents / presentations of my thought process to crystallise thoughts and make sure I land on at least some conclusions in time

Please also let me know if you'd be willing to chat about all this around June-time, when I'm figuring out plans for the time out more concretely :)

Thank you very much!

Replies from: HStencil, Jan-WillemvanPutten
comment by HStencil · 2020-12-26T17:39:09.231Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It sounds based on your description that a fairly straightforward step would be for you to try to set up calls with 1) someone on the Charity Entrepreneurship leadership team, and 2) some of the founders of their incubated charities. This would help you to evaluate whether it would be a good idea for you to apply to the CE program at some point, as well as to refine your sense of which aspects of entrepreneurship you’re particularly suited to (so that if entrepreneurship doesn’t work out—maybe you discover other aspects of it that seem less appealing—you’ll be able to look for the bits you care for in positions with more established organizations). If you came out of those calls convinced that you might want to apply to Charity Entrepreneurship down the road, it seems to me that a logical next step would be to start reading up on potential causes and interventions that you might want your charity to pursue. You could also, I’m sure, do volunteer work for existing, newly launched CE charities, where given that most of them only have two staff, you’d probably be given a fair amount of responsibility and would be able to develop useful insights into the entrepreneurial process. For you, the value of information from doing that seems like it might be quite high.

Replies from: NoteworthyTrain
comment by NoteworthyTrain · 2020-12-26T17:55:57.095Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you very much for these suggestions.

I'm not convinced charity entrepreneurship is for me, partly because I'm unsure whether it's the most impactful thing I could do, but I think it would be great to get a better understanding of what they are doing.

The idea of volunteering with a newly launched CE charity is a very good one and not something I had thought of. Thank you!

Replies from: HStencil
comment by HStencil · 2020-12-26T22:36:30.846Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Happy to help! Another thing that strikes me is that in my experience (which is in the U.S.), running an academic research team at a university (i.e., being the principal investigator on the team's grants) seems to have a lot in common with running a startup (you have a lot of autonomy/flexibility in how you spend your time; your efficacy is largely determined by how good you are at coordinating other people's efforts and setting their priorities for them; you spend a lot of time coordinating with external stakeholders and pitching your value-add; you have authority over your organization's general direction; etc.). This seems relevant because I think a lot of the top university economics research groups in the U.S. have a pretty substantial impact on policy (e.g., consider Opportunity Insights), and the same may well be true in the U.K. It seems to me that other avenues toward impacting policy (e.g., working in the government or for major, established advocacy organizations) are considerably less entrepreneurial in nature. Of course, you could also found your own advocacy organization to push for policy change, but 1) I think it's generally easier to get funding for research than for work along these lines (especially as a newcomer), in part because the advocacy space is already so crowded, and 2) founding an advocacy organization seems like the kind of thing one might do through Charity Entrepreneurship, which you seem less excited about. If you're mainly attracted to entrepreneurship by tight feedback loops, however, academia is probably the wrong way to go, as it definitely does not have those.

Replies from: NoteworthyTrain
comment by NoteworthyTrain · 2020-12-26T23:01:11.458Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for this idea. I should definitely think more about leading a research team.

I really don't mean to say that I'm unenthusiastic about Charity Entrepreneurship; I'm just currently unsure whether it's the very best thing to do. There are a lot of things that would very much appeal to me about CE, so I want to be sure not to jump into it too fast. (I think a lot depends on one's moral position about the importance and tractability of shaping the long-term future, and this is something that I'm planning to spend time reading and thinking about during my time out.) 

Replies from: HStencil
comment by HStencil · 2020-12-27T01:17:24.028Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That makes perfect sense! I agree that CE probably isn't the best fit for people most interested in doing EA work to mitigate existential risks. Feel free to shoot me a DM if you'd ever like to talk any of this through at greater length, but otherwise, it seems to me like you're approaching these decisions in a very sensible way.

comment by Jan-WillemvanPutten · 2021-01-06T07:21:00.481Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi there,

I am a former management / strategy consultant (3 years) and currently entrepreneur (4 years now) of which the last year in the EA space (leading EA Netherlands) . I think we have a very similar profile

Happy to talk to you in June, I will send you my email in a pm!

Replies from: NoteworthyTrain
comment by NoteworthyTrain · 2021-01-06T11:39:47.955Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sounds great! Thank you very much :)

comment by advice_needed321 · 2020-12-20T18:38:02.561Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

EA Careers in Germany


Hi everyone,

I just finished my master in business administration and engineering at a top university in Germany. I like to think about myself to have an entrepreneurial mindset, and to be good at data analytics and programming.  In the long run however, I’d prefer to transition to more managing roles instead of doing engineering tasks.


I‘ve been reading the career guide by 80k for a couple of years now over and over again, but have gotten more confused what to do the closer I get to applying for a job (which is the very thing I’m doing now).

My problem is that I don’t know how to apply the advice given on career paths in Germany.

The 80k job board shows only a few job offerings (in Germany) in science, which isn’t a thing I think I’m exceptionally good at.


I‘m not really focused on a specific cause area, so I‘d be curious about any career paths in Germany from the EA spectrum. Remote work unfortunately doesn’t give me much joy, though I haven’t yet worked in a „remote first“ team.


And finally: earning to give. I’m willing to do earning to give as well, but I‘ve yet got to do the research on what’s the highest earning career path in Germany for someone with my background. Any advice on this is also highly welcomed!

Replies from: CharlotteSiegmann
comment by Charlotte (CharlotteSiegmann) · 2020-12-20T18:56:09.019Z · EA(p) · GW(p)



I am german, lead an EA group in the UK, and do EA career coaching there. I am personally interested in the policy side but I am happy to talk with you through your cause prioritisation and think about good jobs in Germany. If you are interested, pm me :)

comment by Denise_Melchin · 2020-12-17T18:57:56.183Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is not only relevant to my career, but I asked a couple of questions here [EA · GW] about the impact of UK civil service careers.

comment by Daniel Unruh · 2020-12-15T16:41:32.248Z · EA(p) · GW(p)


I am 23 years old and a German engineer student and currently located at the lake of Constance in Germany. I have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and mechatronics, and I am currently doing my master’s degree in Mechatronics since September 2020. 

Earlier this year I found out about effective altruism through a news article and started reading the key articles about effective altruism and the career guide from 80,000hours. I always wanted to do something good with my career, so in the beginning of my studies I wanted to focus more on renewable energies because of climate change. But my interests where always more into subjects like robotics or software engineering. After reading a lot about AI and AI safety, I decided to study mechatronics in my master’s degree and besides mechatronic subjects I chose subjects like machine learning and deep learning in addition in my current studies. But now I do not exactly know if AI safety is the right path for me. First, I assume that a path as a research engineer is not a good personal fit for me. I think so, because I have done my bachelor thesis at Fraunhofer Institute about robotics connected with AI and the daily work of writing my thesis was very hard for me. Also, as a future research engineer in AI I assume that I should study pure computer science instead of mechatronics. I mechatronics we learn the mechanical and electrical part of engineering in addition to computer science.  I am also not keen about the idea of living in a different country than Germany for the whole purpose of becoming a research engineer for AI safety to have a big positive impact. So, another plan would be to do something with AI safety in policy, but I find I difficult with my background as a mechatronics engineer to find a job in this area, especially in Germany. 

All in all, I feel a bit lost now and I do not know if my current studies of mechatronics are the right path for me or if I should change to other subjects like computer science. In addition, I wonder if there are opportunities or paths for engineers of mechatronics If they could help as engineers for a pressing problem like AI safety, climate change or also other problems. Maybe someone knows a person who is also an effective altruist and engineer and could share their point of view with me or could give me some advice.

This is my first post here and my first contact with Effective altruists, so I am very keen to hear a response! 

Replies from: bdixon
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T17:53:30.706Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Daniel, 

Great to hear from you. Here are some of my own thoughts (not official in any way at all, and people in the community have all sorts of different views). I share your interest in AI safety and climate change. Is there an AI safety community in Germany? If not people thinking about AGI, there's probably some big universities working on near-term control problems that could be interesting. It might be good to meet some other people working in the area. 

Also if you're interested in climate and AI, this a huge field of people working on everything from forecasting to flood prediction to increasing crop yields - have you tried applying for any jobs in that space?

Replies from: Daniel Unruh
comment by Daniel Unruh · 2020-12-21T07:54:12.372Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks a lot for the comment Louis! 

I'am not sure if there is a AI safety community in Germany, but due to this post I got messages from some Germans who are currently on an AI safety path so luckily they can help me to get in contact with the german AI community. 

Thanks a lot for the suggestion about the connection between AI and climate, I was not aware of this work area and will inform myself more about this!

comment by jack_hopkins · 2020-12-14T22:40:14.772Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

My question is: as a worker experiencing job churn, what’s the point when I should consider whether I ought to more deeply change my career path?

This job churn extends pre-Covid (though it has continued now as well). 

The issue is: I have several examples where a coworker of a similar background & skillset got a long-term position, while my contract wasn’t renewed  (the longest job was 2 years). I enjoyed my time at each of these places, and didn’t cause any issues from what I can tell. I seemed to do my work well. 

Since your best bet to improve yourself is hearing feedback, I’ve always politely asked “what I could improve upon” each time my supervisor told me I wouldn’t be renewed. Every time, their feedback has been vague. This has all felt quite odd, like I don’t know what I’m doing wrong— when I can point to clear accomplishments in my work.

These jobs ranged from policy analysis at the government, to journalist roles, to being a project coordinator at NPOs. 

Is there a point where I should go back to uni and study something with more job stability?

Replies from: bdixon
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T17:47:23.172Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That's a tricky one, sorry to hear it. It could just be random chance - plenty of jobs have churn, and I think a surprising amount of doing well in jobs is getting along with other people. I wonder if you had any managers, colleagues, or friends who you think might have any specific feedback? On the other hand, this could just be chance. 

Replies from: jack_hopkins
comment by jack_hopkins · 2020-12-16T16:51:22.245Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for your thoughts Louis!  I've thought it might somehow be chance, but the last thing I want is to lull myself into that complacency— I figure there must be something more going on. 

I can't recall any instance of fights or "drama" of any sort, or of missing major deadlines or any other big mistakes. I'm very tension-averse so I'm motivated to either amicably resolve an issue or let it slide if it isn't worth the trouble. 

Perhaps I should get in the habit of asking managers/colleagues for feedback before I find out I'm not getting renewed— maybe they'd be more willing then to share what mysterious issues I clearly must be having.

Replies from: Khorton
comment by Kirsten (Khorton) · 2020-12-17T09:19:16.666Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Framing feedback as "asking for advice" can often make people more comfortable with giving feedback as well

comment by Hervé Brötchen · 2020-12-10T15:46:40.658Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hello everyone, I'm rather new to this space but I'm finding the ideas of the EA memeplex very fascinating! I'll probably be starting college in one of the more "hard" physics-based engineering field (electrical, mechanical, chemical) sometime next year. 

I just wanted to ask for ideas about research / development of which actual technologies would:

  1. Be very helpful for directly adressing EA related problems
    1. So nothing general purpose such as new materials
  2. Not accidentally contribute to making the problems worse
    1. So nothing that might become dangerous in the future such as nanotech 

(I've not really found much relating to this on the 80KH website)


It seems the overlap there is probably very small. Here are some I've come up with:

  • Better green energy sources to make solving climate change cheaper
  • Battery technology to improve intermittent solar and wind energy
  • Cultured meat / plant-based substitutes to make factory farms obsolete (and cultured animal products generally)
    • Here I'm talking about designing bioreactors and generally making production efficient / scalable
  • Better hardware for AI?

What could be some good fields that might be missing from this list?

Also, am I right in avoiding potentially dangerous fields such as nanotechnology? Or would those be even more important to get into just to shape development positively?

Replies from: tae, alexrjl, Christopher_Phenicie
comment by tae · 2020-12-14T00:51:35.741Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Here's a compilation of ideas from 2015 called "What Can A Technologist Do About Climate Change?":

comment by alexrjl · 2020-12-10T17:14:44.917Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

For fusion to take off, nuclear engineering is gong to need to become much bigger than it is now. ChemEng for clean meat if you care about animals seems like a good shout as well. EE could be interesting if you want to work on AI but improving AI capability is not necessarily positive, in the worst case scenario you shorten timelines but do nothing for alignment.

I think personal fit matters here though, not just with what cause area you're interested in but with what degree you do. Doing well in a quant degree that you're good at and interested in (which means you'll put more time into doing well) will give you lots of useful skills and signalling value, leaving many strong options on the table.

comment by Christopher_Phenicie · 2020-12-13T04:43:16.539Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Hervé, glad to see another engineer here! I was a physics undergrad and I'm working near the area of quantum computing hardware now. I agree that there's not a lot of advice for engineers on 80k, though it may be good to peruse this page (which mentions engineering as well as some other related areas) . A few comments about this:

one of the more "hard" physics-based engineering field (electrical, mechanical, chemical) 

I think one area I might add to the list of "hard" physics based engineering is certain types of bioengineering/biophysics. You mention a couple areas that I think could fit nicely into this category (nanotechnology and clean meat, and probably alternative energy). If you haven't listened already, I think the 80k podcast with Marie Gibbons lists some of the technical skills needed for clean meat, which seem to all be highly transferable to other exciting (if less EA) technical jobs (I can't remember if it's in this episode, but I think one 80k podcast mentions that the tissue engineering of clean meat could also be transferred to human tissue engineering for anti-aging.)  I think some other directions you could take bioengineering is biorisks like pandemics. This is definitely less physics and more biology/public health, but certainly very EA. This brings up another point:

Be very helpful for directly addressing EA related problems

If this is what gets you excited I think it would be helpful to list out a couple precisely defined careers you are interested in and think if you're choosing the right major for that. I picked my current path before hearing about EA, and I've found it really challenging to figure out how to use my skills to do good. (See my top-level comment for what I've been thinking about).

Better hardware for AI?

I think this is very interesting and would love to chat more (also seem my top-level comment). However, if you are interested in working on AI I think it would be helpful to really give software an honest chance, since I think it's much more clear that you're directly working on solving the problem from that approach. (I echo alexrjl's comment that it's not necessarily positive)

Also, am I right in avoiding potentially dangerous fields such as nanotechnology? Or would those be even more important to get into just to shape development positively?

I'm reading nanotechnology in this context in the Eric Drexler sense, related to the idea of atomically precise manufacturing (APM). As best I can tell, there's no consensus about whether it's worth it to go into APM , but if you're just starting college I think there's no harm in trying to get some research in similar fields to help come to your own conclusions. I think the research skills are transferable to lots of other exciting areas, too. There are a few people in EA who have thought about this, though I think little is written publicly except this Open Phil post and talks from Eric Drexler on YouTube. 

Really glad you posted this! I'm happy to talk more about any of this, you can DM me on the forum or schedule a time to meet here if you'd like:

Replies from: Denkenberger
comment by Denkenberger · 2020-12-15T07:56:02.262Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Another option for engineering is work on alternative foods for catastrophes - there are many engineering projects listed here.  You could volunteer/intern at ALLFED even as an undergrad.

Replies from: Christopher_Phenicie
comment by Christopher_Phenicie · 2020-12-16T03:14:56.035Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is a cool list, thanks for compiling it! For ease of others viewing, I'll just list a couple that seemed most in the direction of the "hard" physics-based engineering as stated in the original comment:

"7. Open source leaf grinder for leaf protein extract from tree/crop leaves. Leaf protein has been produced at the household and industrial scale. - (S)

10. Work out how to recover industry as quickly as possible, e.g. focusing on making replacement parts destroyed by EMP (and estimate time of recovery). - (E)

16. Quantify the impact on energy/electricity production of nuclear winter, particularly solar, wind, and hydroelectricity. – (S)

25. Develop open source wood chipper. - (S)

27. Develop an open source shortwave (HAM) radio system (two way or just receiver). - (E)"

comment by raio · 2020-12-10T15:40:33.129Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm in my early 20s with an undergraduate degree in Linguistics . I picked that as my major because for a brief period I thought I wanted to be an actual academic linguist--but as I learned more about the field and that part of academia, I realized it didn't appeal to me, and on top of that it has low impact. I enjoyed the STEM related parts of Linguistics the most in college (neurolinguistics, mathematical linguistics, computational, etc.), but my training in those areas was haphazard and not at the level I'd need to get a job in those fields. My instinct now would be to pivot into something quantitative, but I lack the skills. I'm wondering if I should attempt to self-teach in these areas (which might be difficult, given that I work) to build career capital, or if it would be worth taking on debt to do a higher degree in a field like engineering? I'm wary of doing another few years of school without a very specific aim in mind. 

Replies from: David Mears, Andy_Schultz, Helene Kortschak, Helene Kortschak
comment by David Mears · 2021-01-01T17:16:30.340Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm yet another person who pivoted from having a linguistics degree to doing software development as a job - a relatively common path. (In between I tried to be a musician.) The transition was relatively easy: I did a 4-month bootcamp (Makers, London) in 2019. I think it's much easier to go the bootcamp route than the self-teaching route (assuming the bootcamp is good quality), because it's full-time, focuses on practical skills, and is verifiable by employers. (Also, they had a careers coach, and a money-back-if-you-don't-get-a-job guarantee, both of which helped.) It was much easier to be accepted onto a bootcamp than I originally assumed (I thought I'd have to spend months to years preparing for it, but that was totally wrong - just had to complete an online course).

comment by Andy_Schultz · 2020-12-24T20:31:17.255Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi, I did a minor in linguistics and enjoyed it. I also considered becoming an academic linguist but decided against it like you.

In case you haven't seen it, 80,000 Hours has some advice on how to try out software engineering at The "Next steps" section has a good summary on some options.

comment by Helene Kortschak · 2020-12-11T15:18:39.265Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Maybe my perspective is of help to you: I have a Master's in teaching English and Spanish as a second language (somehow related to Linguistics I guess - at least I had several linguistics courses during my studies) but decided to shift my career to become a ML Engineer/Data Scientist. Given your interests in the quantitative parts of Linguistics and Computational Linguistics, this might be a potential career path for you as well? During my job search in the ML/DS field I've come across some positions as Computational Linguists and Machine Translation Engineer positions - and some of them do not require a very heavy tech background. Regarding self-teaching: I did 11 months of learning Python/basics of Data Science and Machine Learning on the side (ca. 30 min per day) and then 5 months of full-time learning, but I suppose you could get a job/internship in the field with fewer months of self-teaching than I did. Hope this is somehow helpful to you - and I'm happy to answer any questions you may have!

comment by Helene Kortschak · 2020-12-11T15:12:13.866Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Maybe my perspective is of help to you: I have a Master's in teaching English and Spanish as a second language (somehow related to Linguistics I guess - at least I had several linguistics courses during my studies) but decided to shift my career to become a ML Engineer/Data Scientist (in order to gain career capital and EoG). Given your interests in the quantitative parts of Linguistics and Computational Linguistics, this might be a potential career path for you as well? During my job search in the ML/DS field I've come across some positions as Computational Linguists and Machine Translation Engineer positions - and some of them do not require a very heavy tech background. Regarding self-teaching: I did 11 months of learning Python/basics of Data Science and Machine Learning on the side (ca. 30 min per day) and then 5 months of full-time learning, but I suppose you could get a job/internship in the field with fewer months of self-teaching than I did. 
Hope this is somehow helpful to you - and I'm happy to answer any questions you may have!

comment by LouTru · 2020-12-09T17:37:25.121Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi everyone,

Firstly, thanks to 80,000 hours for your inspiring work!

I'm writing to seek some advice on making a career change.

Currently, I'm a teacher of English as a foreign language and while I enjoy learning about and working with people of others cultures, sharing knowledge and helping students I feel I need a greater intellectual challenge, to develop new profesional skills and I feel that my efforts are not as fruitful as I'd like.

I'm considering returning to study after 8 years and doing a post-grad. My educatiom background is a BA in Hispanic Studies and I'm drawn to an MSc in International Development.

The questions I'd like to ask are:

  1. does this seem like an effective transition into a new and more impactful career?
  2. what skills should I learn and/or what experience should I try to gain in the meantime?
  3. should I focus first on finding more fulfilling roles within my organisation, which has some affiliations with charities such as UNICEF?

Thanks for reading!

Replies from: Michelle_Hutchinson
comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2021-01-11T18:28:28.094Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Finding roles for skilling up within your organisation sounds like a good idea to me - that seems quicker and cheaper to try out than doing a whole new degree. Longer term, an MSc in ID does sound like an impactful degree. The jobs it leads to could be fairly competitive though - you might like to look carefully at what jobs you'd be aiming for afterwards, and try to get some sense of whether you'd be likely to get them if you had the degree (eg by reaching out to the organisation). You might also like to do some related MOOCs, to give you a good sense of how much you'd actually enjoy the MSc. 

comment by AdviceSeeker · 2020-12-07T20:57:55.929Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Going off of Will's question earlier, I would like to know if you have any advice on exploring various career paths if I have already finished my undergraduate education.  


I graduated this year from a top US school and am currently a Software Engineer at a top investment bank in the US. While the work/life balance has been pretty good, and I have been able to help my family financially, I am not sure if I would like to stay a Software Engineer in the long term. I suppose I enjoy working on hands-on + big picture problems more, but please feel free to give me a reality check if I am missing something. I am worried that I haven't spent enough time exploring my opportunities before deciding on Software Engineering. I fear that if I don't find a career that aligns with my skills and interests early in my career, it might become more challenging for me to switch later.


Some options I have been considering:

1) Getting an MBA/MPA in the future and then going into entrepreneurship or product management at a tech company (Worries and Roadblocks: incurring student debt- got a full-ride for undergrad, mediocre GPA (~3.6), lack of impressive extra-curricular experiences). Lower risk option: Explore starting an entrepreneurial venture as a side project while keeping my full-time Software Engineering job.  

2) Trying to find a policy role in the government of a South Asian country (originally from there, but also a US permanent resident). (Worries and Roadblocks: corruption, sexism, negligible pay)

3) Continue to work in the US, but invest in/be involved part-time with non-governmental projects addressing issues that I care about (e.g., improving access to education in females/minorities/underserved communities in the South Asian country mentioned above). (Worries and Roadblocks: not sure if I will start getting dissatisfied with my current line of work if I don't take the opportunity to explore alternatives)



1) I would like to stay at my current job for a year or so more at least, primarily to address some family financial obligations. Would you suggest that I continue to remain in the current company/software engineering industry for longer? Why or why not?

2) What useful career capital/skills should I focus on building now, and any advice on how to build them?

3) Any other career paths that I should consider given my background and interests? 

Replies from: bdixon, Michelle_Hutchinson, HStencil, Sindy_Li, tamgent
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-10T10:13:20.715Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would say don't get an MBA unless you are really really sure, as they are mega-expensive and I think marketed very broadly to people who often don't benefit from them

comment by Michelle_Hutchinson · 2020-12-08T20:05:10.779Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Congratulations on being a software engineer at a top investment bank! That sounds like a great graduate job. 

Staying there for another year or two sounds good. I'd guess you wouldn't want to stay for less than ~1.5 years, so that it’s clear the job went fine. 

From the sounds of things, I’d guess it would be particularly useful for you to focus on learning more about what kind of role you might be suited to long term, since it sounds as if you’re considering some very different options. I’d start by reading about what the day to day of the various roles are like to get a sense of how well they’d suit you, and then reach out to people doing them to actually have conversations about them. If you haven’t come across it, you might find our section on making a ladder of cheap tests useful. When you’ve gotten a better sense of which you seem best suited for, doing one of the projects you suggested alongside your job sounds good to me. It seems like an entrepreneurial side project would teach you more about how you feel about startups, while charitable projects aimed at underserved communities in South Asia would teach you more about how you’d feel about moving there and about how interacting with government officials there feels.

One option you didn’t mention was being a software engineer for an organisation whose mission you believe in. That seems like a natural transition between your current role and one which you think has more impact. I don’t feel I have a good sense of the extent to which you enjoy software engineering, but it sounds like you might be more on board with it if you agreed with the big picture of what the organisation you were working for was doing. 

Replies from: AdviceSeeker
comment by AdviceSeeker · 2020-12-10T00:31:43.203Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Michelle, Sindirella, HStencil, tamgent,   

Thank you immensely for taking the time to respond to my post! The advice on staying at my current job for the next couple years while exploring other options makes sense. The links you have shared have been particularly useful and I am now starting to read up on some of the associated articles/opportunities as well. I had no idea Princeton offered full financial support for their MPA students! 

Although I would say I am an okay Software Engineer and I was lucky to be matched with a pretty great/supportive team, I think shicky44 - another member who also made a post on this thread - pretty much nailed how I feel about my job. I was considering Product Management/Entrepreneurship as possibilities because I believe there are opportunities to do pretty impactful stuff using tech,  but I am not sure if my strengths are perfectly aligned with those tracks either. I suppose I have quite a bit of exploration to do, while also making sure to try building skills useful in the aforementioned areas to see if my strengths do end up aligning with those tracks after all. 

Do you happen to have any advice on how to reach out to potential mentors in other industries/roles for conversations (perhaps even getting a chance to shadow them or doing mini projects for them as well to get a better feel for the roles)?  In light of the additional information I included above, are there any particular types of career capital that I should focus on building? 

comment by HStencil · 2020-12-09T02:35:21.453Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I may be missing or misunderstanding something, but it seems like your worries/roadblocks about your option 1 all pertain specifically to the MBA/MPA component. If that is the case, and you think you really might want to work in tech, I'd encourage you to consider trying to transition directly to a tech company without first getting another degree. Anecdotally, my sense is that MBAs and MPAs are useful mainly for networking and allowing you to command a higher starting salary in many roles, not for what you learn during the degree (though this depends somewhat on your prior academic and professional background, as well as on the specific program you're enrolled in, of course). 

I imagine that the main reason you've been considering getting an MBA or an MPA is because you have a sense that you need it to make a significant career shift. I'm not so sure. I don't know how easy it is to spend two years as a software engineer at a tech company (instead of spending those two years in grad school) and then transition into a product management role, but I imagine that particularly at smaller or medium-sized tech companies, this must be a thing that happens. And even if I'm wrong about that, I know people who went straight from coding roles at professional services firms to product manager-track positions (e.g. product data analyst) at medium-sized tech companies (admittedly, outside of Silicon Valley). I imagine these people will become product managers faster this way than they would have if they'd gotten an MBA in the middle. Finally, regarding going into debt for an MPA, you should consider applying to Princeton's program; it's free to everyone who is admitted!

comment by Sindy_Li · 2020-12-09T00:48:02.156Z · EA(p) · GW(p)


Staying in your current job for a bit to help your family (as well as build a bit of runway) makes a lot of sense.

Re future career paths:

  • If you are interested in getting into policy in your home country: I'm not sure which South Asian country you're from, if it's India, I've seen some IAS officers getting degrees from top US policy schools. Having such talents joining the civil service sounds like it could have really positive impact, but I'm not sure if working there will be frustrating. It's probably good to talk to people who have worked there.
    • Another idea is to get into a non-profit that works in your home country. E.g. I work at IDinsight and in our India office there are a few Indian nationals with degrees from top US policy schools. They work on engagements with governments, foundations and non-profits in India. Having local connections and context seems to really help with this type of work. Some other options including CHAI and Evidence Action. Also there are a number of EA non-profits working in India, like Fortify Health and Suvita. (Probably more in the animal welfare space if you're interested.)
  • Doing tech work for socially impactful orgs could be a good path too, e.g.:

Overall, as long as you are not sick of your current job, as it has a good work life balance it seems like a good place to be while you learn about different options (and gives you some financial security). So you're in a good place to explore!

comment by tamgent · 2020-12-08T10:45:30.868Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

To your third question, maybe check out public interest technology - some resources here: 

comment by prescottstreet · 2020-12-07T09:16:40.991Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Does anyone have thoughts about networking-to-find-referrals compared to applying-for-jobs-without-a-contact as strategies for EA job seekers? 

In general I have had much worse luck with just-applying in the nonprofit sector as compared to the corporate one. I could imagine this being amplified in EA because of the large number of applicants, or moderately better because of some stated commitments to transparency and considering a wide range of backgrounds. 


Replies from: Benjamin_Todd
comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-12-07T11:38:42.583Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi there,

I'd say make networking your main focus.

The main reason is I think it's just a better strategy in general for getting good jobs (e.g. because lots of the best positions are never advertised or even created until the right person is found).

I think it's then especially important for smaller and newer organisations, which is what predominates in EA. This is because small/new organisations are less likely to have lots of standardised roles (the kinds that are easiest to run broad recruitment rounds for), and are less likely to have had the resources to set up a big open recruitment round (which tend to have lower returns per hour than recruiting via referrals).

Another factor is that many organisations in EA want to hire people who really care about EA, and the easiest way to do this is to hire from the community, rather than try to figure it out in an interview.

Also just double checking you've seen this, which is a bit out of date but I still think is useful:

comment by aogara (Aidan O'Gara) · 2022-03-14T08:15:13.032Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Ben! Really appreciate all your engagement with the EA community here on the Forum. Don't mean to overstep on your time, but I've written up some thoughts about a career path to improve existential safety that 80,000 Hours reviewed back in 2016 (nuclear weapons security) and I would be very interested in any feedback from you or others on the 80,000 Hours team! Here's the link [EA · GW] :)


comment by charan · 2020-12-14T17:06:46.411Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hello, I am a final-year European languages student at a top 15 UK university. I am particularly interested in ethical AI and global governance. At the moment, the most likely career path is consulting at a global professional services firm – I hope that through this I will be able to learn more about how to make technological innovation more democratic and equitable. 

I plan to get involved in policy on a voluntary basis. Within the next 5 years I would love to do a masters degree in technology ethics or international relations, but the top UK masters programmes are both extremely competitive (E.G. international relations at LSE, Oxford Internet Institute) and expensive. Therefore, I plan to gain relevant professional experience first and wait to see exactly what career I want to pursue before considering a masters. 

Long term, I aspire to work in tech/innovation policy or political risk research. I believe that consulting (especially risk or tech-focused) could also generate excellent career capital. I would prefer to be UK-based, but working in the EU would also be an option. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this as well as any other ideas that you think may be worth exploring!

Replies from: alexrjl
comment by alexrjl · 2020-12-14T22:12:50.769Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd have thought the civil service with a view to either ending up in foreign policy or, potentially (though you wouldn't be able to talk about it) military intelligence might be reasonable goals for someone with modern languages who's also generally bright. If were interested in going down the civil service route, there are several EAs who I'd be happy to put you in touch with (though some are on the forum and may comment. The fast stream seems like a decent first step though, and would probably lead to quicker career progression than consulting first, though less flexibility, especially to pivot into E2G.

comment by navika_cookie · 2020-12-10T17:05:50.354Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi All!

I'm Navika and I'm currently 20 years old and am in my Freshman year of college in America (currently undecided)

I always thought I wanted to be an engineer, but recently felt that my skills aren't purely technical. I found an assignment in college is  exactly what I want to do: 

-Address a global challenge

-Create a profile of the problem - who it impacts, who are the stakeholders, does each group have conflicting needs etc. 

-Design a solution - state intent, delineate observations and concepts one is building upon, 

-Iterate on the solution, seek feedback, implement a working solution. 

I want to do this for a variety of global challenges, and ultimately end up working directly with Elon Musk. 

Each of his companies is built around addressing a specific global problem. 

Who does this kind of work in real life? People at my college said its mostly entrepreneurs. I see 80,000 hours essentially does a version of this related to careers- I'd love if I could talk to one of the people on the team and see if I could conduct research for 80,000 hours.

What should I study? I am a very interdisciplinary person. 

Someone told me that it is engineers, lawyers and doctors that solve the toughest problems, so I was thinking it might be better to study engineering. However I do not want to be in the technical details, executing on someone else's vision, I'd rather create the vision and then oversee its implementation. 

Thanks in advance for any replies!

Replies from: oagr
comment by Ozzie Gooen (oagr) · 2020-12-11T00:32:12.335Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I've been in tech for a while. That sounds a lot like management / "product management", or "intrapreneurs". 

If you want to be in charge of big projects at a tech-oriented venture, having a technical background can be really useful. You might also just want to look at the backgrounds of top managers at Elon Musk companies. Most tech CEOs and managers I know of have majored in either software engineering or some hard science.

Hypothetically there could be some other major more focused on tech management than tech implementation, but in practice I don't know of one. It's really hard to teach management and often expected that those skills are ones you'll pick up later. 

I myself studied general engineering in college, but spent a fair amount of time on entrepreneurship and learning a variety of other things. Recently I've been more interested in history and philosophy. There's a lot of need and demand for good interdisciplinary people. But I'm happy I focused on math/science/engineering in college; those things seem much more challenging and useful to learn in a formal setting. I'd also recommend reading a lot of  Hacker News / Paul Graham / entrepreneurship literature; that's often the best stuff on understanding how to make big things happen, but it's not taught well in school.

Also, I really wouldn't suggest getting too focused on Elon Musk or any other one person in particular.  Often the most exciting things are small new ones by new founders. Also, hopefully in the next 5 to 20 years there will be many other great projects.

comment by navika_cookie · 2020-12-10T15:59:25.007Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi All!

I'm Navika and I'm currently 20 years old and am in my Freshman year of college in America (currently undecided)

I always thought I wanted to be an engineer, but recently felt that my skills aren't purely technical. I found an assignment in college is  exactly what I want to do: 

-Address a global challenge

-Create a profile of the problem - who it impacts, who are the stakeholders, does each group have conflicting needs etc. 

-Design a solution - state intent, delineate observations and concepts one is building upon, 

-Iterate on the solution, seek feedback, implement a working solution. 

I want to do this for a variety of global challenges, and ultimately end up working directly with Elon Musk. 

Each of his companies is built around addressing a specific global problem. 

Who does this kind of work in real life? People at my college said its mostly entrepreneurs. I see 80,000 hours essentially does a version of this related to careers- I'd love if I could talk to one of the people on the team and see if I could conduct research for 80,000 hours.

What should I study? I am a very interdisciplinary person. 

Someone told me that it is engineers, lawyers and doctors that solve the toughest problems, so I was thinking it might be better to study engineering. However I do not want to be in the technical details, executing on someone else's vision, I'd rather create the vision and then oversee its implementation. 

Thanks in advance for any replies!

Replies from: anonymous_123, Ardenlk, Oliver Sourbut
comment by anonymous_123 · 2020-12-11T20:19:00.465Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree with Oliver. This is a tricky question, and the path might be narrow. I was a management consultant and am now a data scientist (basically a software engineer). From your project description, I also immediately thought of management consulting. However, it can be difficult to gain technical consulting credibility without technical skills. In fact, I've read that  Elon Musk  hates consultants, presumably for this reason. I've applied for jobs managing technical projects, and I'm ALWAYS asked about my technical skills. Presumably Musk also likes people who aren't afraid to get get their hands dirty and in the weeds. 

I'd ask, what do you like about Musk's companies? If it's that they are building things and solving tough challenges, keep an open mind about engineering. There are many types of 'technical skills', and you might find something you like. Remember, Musk, Gates, Bezos, and even Steve Jobs got their start by trying to solve a specific problem and diving deep into the technical details. 

If it's just the global impact of Musk's accomplishments that attracts you, then maybe something 'softer' like an MBA (to go for management consulting, or to be an entrepreneur), or studying a specific field of public policy could be a good option.  But beware, unless you can get into Harvard Business School, those types of jobs are generally more competitive, less numerous and pay less than engineering ones. 

And most entrepreneurs fail. Sorry to be a buzzkill, but don't overlook this fact. It's difficult to 'create a vision and oversee its implementation' if you have no money and no one to help you implement. As Oliver mentioned, getting a few years experience under your belt first can be a great way to position yourself for entrepreneurship down the road (and make sure you actually like your chosen field). 

Like Oliver, I love software engineering (I'm in machine learning/AI), even though I originally wanted to do something more in 'policy'. A good software engineer can absolutely help guide the vision of a project. In fact, the ability to see the bigger picture will help you stand out among your peers who just write code and don't ask questions. Presumably other fields of engineering are similar. 

Good luck!

comment by Ardenlk · 2020-12-13T00:03:58.367Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree with what the others below have written, but wanted to just add:

If you aim for entrepreneurship, which it sounds like you might want to, I think it makes sense to stay open to the possibility that in addition to building companies that could also mean things like running big projects within existing companies, starting a nonprofit, running a big project in a nonprofit, or even running a project in a govnerment agency if you can find one with enough flexibility.

comment by Oliver Sourbut · 2020-12-11T08:30:40.958Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

As an engineer (software) myself for a few years, I can encourage you that is rewarding, challenging, and in the right position you can have quite a bit of autonomy to drive decision-making and execute on your own vision. Depending on the role and organisation, it can be far from merely technical; the outline you give of the college project sounds exactly like engineering to me!

That said, there are few or no places where engineers are completely unconstrained. But there are routes from engineering into more 'overseeing'-type roles, e.g. architect, tech director, technical project manager. A lot of those people do much better if they have solid engineering experience of their own first.

Some different thoughts on which I have much less or no experience but seem relevant:

  • management consulting. Have you heard of that? I think they solve hard problems and have some room for vision.
  • entrepreneurs obviously have an opportunity to create and oversee a vision. I gather that a lot of the time it helps to have related experience in the relevant industry/field beforehand
comment by mrp2 · 2020-12-10T14:37:05.870Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi all,

I've  jumped career paths a few times since graduating from a top US undergrad program (major: economics) with average grades. I did management consulting for 1.5 years (didn't like it), data analysis at a small-ish tech company for 1.5 years (liked it but got laid off when the company restructured), and for the past few years have been pursuing a moonshot career in comedy while holding a minimally taxing day job (executive assistant).

I've now decided to quit comedy and am considering grad school. Since I enjoyed my time as a data analyst, I think grad studies that would lead to a career in data science, aiming to use these skills at an organization or in a sector of US government aligned with EA goals, might make sense. I never did  research in undergrad, so it's a real unknown for me and might be a nice option to keep open with my choice of program.

The options I'm considering are:

  1. Master's in Data Science/Business Analytics, though I'm wary of how short a track record these programs have at this point
  2. Master's in Statistics; I've never loved math classes but I've done well in them and stats was by far my favorite math course in high school
  3. MBA; I understand this doesn't align with my goals, but my entire family has one, so it's hard to ignore the potential nature/nurture overlap
  4. Post-Bac program to prepare for a Master's in Computer Science; I did a little comp sci in undergrad and enjoyed it
  5. Master's in Economics; while this was my undergrad area of study,  I don't see myself going for a PhD at this point and am skeptical of the exit opps after a master's

The only other piece of context is that I was fortunate to get a perfect score on the GRE. I'm not sure how far that goes with each of these programs, especially given my nontraditional path, but I hope it could help.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you may have!

Replies from: HStencil
comment by HStencil · 2020-12-10T17:57:20.779Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If you're committed to using data science to address public policy questions in the U.S. (either in government or a think tank-type organization), I suspect you'd be best-served by a program like one of these:  

Replies from: MarisaJurczyk, mrp2
comment by Marisa (MarisaJurczyk) · 2020-12-14T03:08:45.315Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Agree with these. I'll also throw in Carnegie Mellon's Public Policy and Data Analytics program.

McCourt, Harris, and Heinz (at CMU) are essentially the top three schools offering this track from what I can tell. 

Replies from: mrp2
comment by mrp2 · 2020-12-21T01:53:22.181Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks as well. These programs were not on my radar at all, and I appreciate you and HStencil flagging the most prominent ones.

comment by mrp2 · 2020-12-10T20:47:32.598Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you!

comment by OmariZi · 2020-12-10T11:53:14.424Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Following, as I'm also a linguist about to post a question!

comment by brad_ea · 2020-12-09T19:46:21.372Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

How can I leverage a tech sales background for EA? I'm early in my career (age 25) and going to be located in Texas for at least the next 1-2 years. Long-term I think institutional decision making, geopolitics and clean energy are core issues for me, and I would like to get involved in politics/policy. I only have a BA in Economics and Philosophy from an unremarkable (unless you care about football) state school.

I wonder how important it might be to go back to school for either law school or research (MA/PhD) as a possible next move. I'm not particularly excited about the idea of not having substantial income for 3-6 years.

Replies from: Benjamin_Todd, bdixon
comment by Benjamin_Todd · 2020-12-23T22:54:11.347Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Brad,

Just a very quick comment: if you'd like to get involved in politics/policy, the standard route is to try to network your way directly into a job as staffer, on a political campaign, in the exec branch or at a think tank - though this often takes a few years (and is easier if in DC), so in the meantime people normally focus on building up relevant credentials and experience.

In the second category, grad school is seen as useful step, especially if you want to be more on the technocrat side rather than party politics side of things.

Note that an MPP or Masters in another relevant subject (e.g. Economics) is enough for most positions, and that only takes 1-2 years, rather than 3-6. (PhDs are only needed if you want to be a technical expert or researcher.) It could be at least worth applying to see if you can get into a top ~5 MPP programme, or having that as a goal to potentially work towards.

A little more info here and in the links:

comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T17:35:12.446Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Have you tried applying for any roles in clean energy? It's an absolutely booming sector, especially if Biden gets the US to rejoin and more things start happening in the US. 

comment by william_p · 2020-12-09T18:30:15.458Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I first learned about effective altruism about three years ago, when I went into software engineering through a coding boot camp to go into social entrepreneurship. My software engineering career has gone better than I expected so far. I have worked as a software engineer for nearly 3 years, and I am starting at a FAANG company soon. 

My question is, I initially went into tech for the opportunity to create a social enterprise, but, given my current situation, it may make more sense to earn to give. I  am interested in health tech specifically, and I have been taking pre-medical classes over the last year in case I decide to apply to medical school or bioinformatics program. 

I know that in general, 80000 hours does not usually recommend medical careers, but, I am thinking I would be able to use my skills in tech with medicine to work in health tech policy or in a health tech social enterprise. I also have been drawn to medicine since college and would love the opportunity to do clinical work with patients (which only a career in medicine offers). I worked at non-profits abroad for a year and was really impressed both with medical social enterprises and the work the CDC was doing.

I am planning on spending at least 18 months or so working at FAANG, but I want to prepare myself for my long term plans afterwards. What does the forum think of the following options?

  1. Stay at FAANG long-term to earn to give
  2. Apply for a  joint MD/MS in bioinformatics in 2-3 years
  3. Apply for software engineering positions at health tech based companies in 2-3 years
  4. Apply to tech entrepreneurship accelerators in 2-3 years and start a health tech social enterprise or non-profit

Thanks so much!

Replies from: shicky44, tamgent
comment by shicky44 · 2020-12-10T11:09:41.695Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

wow, impressive to go from coding bootcamp to FAANG in that period of time!  Did you get a degree or any relevant experience beforehand?  What tech stack do you work in and how did you manage that trajectory?

I would certainly give FAANG a try to see if you like it, as you mention it unlocks an impressive earning to give model.  I'd make a shortlist of health tech based companies you're interested in and begin networking now, I imagine you could worst case help out in some way to help with testing the field out while proving competence.

Option 4, you need a strong idea you need to get out in the world first.

For option 2 I'm bias as I know some bioinformatics PhDs who I work with in tech, seems it didn't work out for them as a path.  Again I think you need clearer ideas here in terms of what you want to do and ensure it REQUIRES the MD/MS in bioinformatics.

In short, option 1 is the easiest to rule out as you're going to be working there.  I wouldn't worry about long-term yet and just focus if you enjoy the work in the present

comment by tamgent · 2021-01-01T14:04:20.455Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A bit of an out-there suggestion but what about combining parts of 1, 3, and 4? I'm imagining a health tech social enterprise like initiative from within a FAANG company that interfaces with health policy/academics. The main advantage would be from the scale of compute and people who know how to use that infrastructure coming together with the people understand the biggest problems in the field well (who are usually not working in the FAANG company).  My inspiration for this is the Google Earth Engine (GEE) team, which was pioneered by one individual, but is closely integrating/interfacing with researchers and industry professionals in remote sensing and helping them solve problems that could not have been so easily solved before. I think if it wasn't for the individual who founded GEE, so many great projects would not have been possible. I think this would be challenging (you'd be carving out an untrodden path) but have a high impact ceiling in the tails.

comment by 2Stubbrn2AI · 2020-12-09T17:00:19.451Z · EA(p) · GW(p)


I currently work in the US (U.S. Citizen) for a large biotech product company called Thermofisher Scientific. I do lab services as a contractor for another biotech company which involves shipping/receiving samples for researchers, managing inventories, preparing and delivering media for researchers, and monitoring and coordinating maintenance and repairs of equipment. I have been working at the position for two years now and plan to stay in the company for at least another three years so that my 401K becomes fully vested.

In terms of maximizing positive impact in the world, I see two possibilities.

  1. I can move up the corporate ladder and make as much money as I possibly can so that I can donate it to effective charities (my company will also match donations to some effective charities including Helen Keller International and Against Malaria Foundation).
  2. Get good at managing and operations so that I can transfer to a good non-profit organization.

I don’t need to focus on any particular problem area, but biorisk, global health problems, solving poverty via GiveDirectly, and climate change are causes that I gravitate towards. Should I default to option 1 or consider option 2?

Also, are there any companies as an American I should look into working for in the future to maximize my income or add more value to one of the cause areas I mentioned?

Replies from: bdixon
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T17:56:52.281Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't think anyone can give you a direct answer - it'll depend on your own personal circumstances, but if you've got savings then I can vouch that option 2 could be good. Have you tried applying for any jobs in that space? 

Replies from: bdixon
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T17:57:16.825Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Some jobs here

comment by yix · 2020-12-09T16:03:41.216Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Background: I'm 29 years old and I have 5 years of experience in a tech company. The benefits and pay there were amazing, and they were working for the greater good. I would have stayed if I had a choice but I was laid off due to covid. I now have two job offers. 

One company is an internationally recognised corporate company that matches my previous pay (6 figures) + benefits (wellness $, 13th month bonus, dental/vision/physical therapy/psychotherapy insurance). The role focuses on analysing consumerism behaviour in the media sector and providing recommendations/changes in product based on consumer feedback. If I join the company, I’ll get to work with people who have been in the industry for 15+ years and perhaps be able to transfer to different departments and move countries through the company. The experience and exposure will be great. 

The other is a local start up that just completed series B funding focused in health care - specifically geriatric care. I’m taking a huge pay cut (about 45% pay cut in total) and a benefit cut (none of the above insurance - only basic doctor’s visit reimbursement). I’m getting equity but not sure how much value I should put on that as they’re nowhere near thinking about IPO.

While I’m sure I’ll learn a lot by being in corporate, I’m just not passionate about being in a consumerism industry. The package and international name is extremely attractive though. I thought a bit about it and the training that I'll get in corporate as well as the exposure will be helpful for developing an analytical and strategic mindset. In the long run, perhaps this could help me live out effective altruism more effectively as I would have gained skills to do so. The startup aligns with my values as they are doing work to help their immediate community. I have great vibes from the office and my would-be team members and managers. I’ll have the chance to draw from my previous experience and build processes and workflows from scratch as well as help the company expand into other countries in Asia. More importantly, they’re trying to solve a problem in Asia as the aging population increases.

My concern is if I take the job at the startup, I will feel stagnant after I set up all the processes. For personal growth, perhaps taking the job at the international company would be more appropriate. Long term career planning is tough!

I'd love to hear thoughts from this group. Thank you!

Replies from: bdixon
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T17:30:48.770Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

They seem like fairly different job offers - are there any other things you might prefer to do? This should depend on how much runway you have and how much income you think you need, but of those two roles it sounds like you're more interested in the health care one ("I'm just not passionate about being in a consumerism industry") and you might learn a lot there. Also if after two years you get bored, then you could always move on, and your role might be quite different if they go through an IPO. 

comment by aslickstick · 2020-12-09T14:42:29.229Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am currently a software engineer and have been out of school for 1.5 years. I want to eventually work on AI safety as a researcher. So to achieve this I plan to get into a grad school first. 

My grades aren't stellar and I lack research experience. This is due to my youthful immaturity back in college. Since college, I am spending significant time learning about the AI safety field (reading papers, writing articles, experiments with code etc.)

What else can I do to best improve my profile as a grad school applicant?

Replies from: HStencil
comment by HStencil · 2020-12-09T15:34:23.638Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don’t know anything about the norms and expectations in CS, but in my field (a quantitative social science), it is basically impossible to get into PhD programs without research experience of some kind, and you would likely be advised, first and foremost, to seek a master’s as preparation, and if it went well, apply to PhD programs thereafter. The master’s programs that would be recommended would be designed for people interested in transitioning from industry to academia, and someone like you would probably have a good shot at getting in. They can be expensive, though. If you wanted to avoid that, you would need to come up with some other way of demonstrating research acumen. This could mean transitioning into an academic research staff role somewhere, which (in my field, though maybe not yours) would help your odds of admission a ton. It could also mean reconnecting with an old college professor about your interests and aspirations and seeing if they’d be willing to work on a paper with you (I know someone who did this successfully; the professor likely agreed to it because she judged that my friend’s work had a high chance of being published). Finally, you could just try to write a publishable research paper on your own. In my field, this seems to me like it would be very hard to do, especially without prior research experience, but even if it didn’t turn into a publication, if the paper were solid, you could submit it as a supplemental writing sample with your applications, and it would likely help to compensate for weaknesses in your research background (for what it’s worth on this point, a friend-of-a-friend of mine was a music conservatory student who was admitted to a philosophy doctoral program after self-studying philosophy entirely on her own).

Replies from: aslickstick
comment by aslickstick · 2020-12-11T16:06:49.888Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you very much for the detailed response. I do want to get into a masters program first so that I can gain some research experience. 

So, the bottom line is that I need some research experience before I can get into any PhD program. I either do that by going for masters or working as a research staff at some lab or my alma mater.

This helped. Thank you once again.

Replies from: HStencil
comment by HStencil · 2020-12-11T20:49:34.007Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Glad to hear it helped! Of course, usual caveats apply about the possibility that your field is quite different from mine, so I wouldn't stop looking for advice here, but hopefully, this gives you a decent starting point!

comment by · 2020-12-09T14:31:55.013Z · EA(p) · GW(p)


About Me: I am the author of a new book about Consciousness. It details a new theory of Consciousness and intended to solve the mind-body problem and the meta-problem of consciousness. My book could be found here -

Academically I do not have a degree as I dropped out of a course in engineering after completing two out of 4 years. 

The Problem: I have been rejected by universities when I applied for Masters in Philosophy and also when I applied for 'Phd by publication' (using my book as a thesis) because I do not hold a bachelor's degree. 

I am very keen to enter academia after having spent 8 years in doing independent research in the field of Consciousness. 

What would you suggest me to do?

Should I take up a bachelor's degree?

Or wait to see if any universities could treat me as a exception, given the high quality book that I have produced?

Or there is an alternative option I am unaware of?


Thank you so much.

Replies from: Monica, bdixon
comment by Monica · 2020-12-09T16:50:27.090Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this is fair or good, but I do think there is extraordinary degree bias in academia to the point that it is almost impossible to get a position without a PhD, let alone a bachelors degree. There are some who have managed (Derek Parfit, I believe, had a bachelor's degree but not  PhD), but they are the rare exception. If you don't want to go to school for a long time, I recommend finding an alternative outlet to academia. Maybe you could get a day job that supports you while continuing to publish independently and working to grow an independent readership? Or work as a research assistant? Or apply to non-academic organizations like non-profits or think tanks that might be more flexible about degrees than academia? Perhaps a specific option would be animal-welfare organizations that are interested in the subjective experience of animals such as sentience politics. Or go into an adjacent field that might also be interesting and high impact? But I think the only people who go into academia sans degrees are the very very top of their field, and even then it's rare. 

With that said, it doesn't hurt to try to apply again for a masters again now that you have a book published just in case, as long as you are working on a back up plan in the mean time.

comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T18:27:04.896Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It sounds like if you've been rejected from studying masters courses then that's useful feedback. Even for people who have done well on those courses, I think there are many more applicants than places to work in philosophy. 

And if you're already trying to overcome really steep odds, by working in academia with eight years working independently, then this might not be the area you're best suited to. 

I don't know about it but there could be work in neuroscience or psychology that you might find interesting. 

comment by SoniaAlbrecht · 2021-02-02T20:10:51.597Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm a 3rd year undergraduate double majoring in electrical engineering and economics at University of California Davis. I have a 3.7 University of California Davis GPA. After looking through EA articles,  I've decided to get a PhD in economics after graduation so I can be a development economist for an influential think tank or global development organization.  I do need to continue living in the United States, although plenty of travel is fine. 

Is there any preparation I should be doing for a career in development economics without going into academia beyond the standard career advice for getting into an economics PhD program?

What are some good schools for development economics?

Replies from: geoffreyyip
comment by geoffrey (geoffreyyip) · 2021-02-03T02:08:44.491Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Sonia, this was a path I previously considered. Hopefully someone else with actual experience will chime in. In the meantime, here's some armchair thoughts in no particular order.

If you haven't already, check out Chris Blattman's blog: He's a professor at UChicago who posted a lot on academia, policy, and economics. Highly recommend the articles linked on the sidebar.

If you're targeting a PhD, your school's ranking probably trumps everything else. And rankings tend to be consistent across sub-disciplines. There are some outliers -- I believe there's a University of California school that's high up in agricultural economics -- but generally speaking, the top 10 are always going to be Ivy Leagues.

You could try to aim for a specific advisor (Esther Duflo at MIT, or Dani Rodrik at Harvard), but I'm not sure how much control you have over that.

For networking purposes, you might find studying in DC/NYC/Boston helpful. Most US IDev jobs are in these three places (Boston is much smaller in presence, but it's also growing b/c of  J-PAL). The faculty in these locations may have more IDev connections. Plus you can pop into a think tank event on occasion

I'd only use this as a tiebreaker though. A top 20 school in the middle of nowhere is probably better for your career than a rank 50-80 school in DC. (Assuming you're pursuing a PhD, and a research-oriented path)

comment by Rakeen Tanvir (rakeentanvir) · 2020-12-18T00:19:40.068Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What are the most feasible or related EA career options to consider for a person who has spent their career so far doing sales and business development, mostly for software products and services? 

Here are some ideas from the forum:

  1. Lobby or get a policy degree ( brad_ea's comment and associated subcomments [EA(p) · GW(p)]).
  2. Grow the EA community of marketing and sales professionals (DavidNash's reply to ColinBested [EA · GW]).
  3. Do marketing or sales for alternative meat companies (awhitney responding to ColinBested [EA · GW]).
  4. [Your general suggestion here.]
Replies from: vaidehi_agarwalla
comment by Vaidehi Agarwalla (vaidehi_agarwalla) · 2020-12-18T05:29:28.451Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
  • +1 to growing the professionals community! One slight issue might be if there aren't obvious jobs/paths for people to take, if they are looking to do career changes vs just earning to give, so maybe also figuring out what promising things there are could be useful!
  • Awareness raising/Fundraising for EA-aligned organisations (e.g. Directory of Philanthropy/Gifts Officer)
    • Animal Advocacy Careers has a skills profile which may be helpful (and talking to people to figure out how transferable the skills are)
  • Working on improving EA messaging/communication in general
  • Earning to give 

But for your career in particular, I think it really depends on if you have a strong cause preference, because the bottlenecks for each cause are pretty different.  

comment by tae · 2020-12-14T00:43:22.752Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi! Thanks for this new way to get career advice.

I'd greatly appreciate ideas for where my skill set could be most useful.

My dream job would be some sort of research role at the intersection of philosophy, math, computer science, and religious studies. Lately, I've been curious about the risks of demographic shift toward religious fundamentalists.

What steps could I take toward a role like this? Where can I find EAs interested in the future religious landscape? Has there already been discussion in EA circles about the demographic shift toward fundamentalism?

As soon as I can, I plan to do some internet research and write up preliminary thoughts on risks from fundamentalism. I'll also work on getting more involved in the Christian and Buddhist EA communities. Beyond that, though, what can I do?


Here's my background:

I expect to graduate this June from a US public research university with a major in Philosophy, a minor in Math, and a minor in Computer Science. I completed a few semi-prestigious tech research internships, spent a semester studying at a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, and am writing my thesis on the spiritual paths of Mahayana Buddhism and Orthodox Christianity.

I have a strong grasp of an unusually wide variety of philosophies and religions. It brings me endless enjoyment to understand where people are coming from. I've won a couple philosophical writing awards.

As for math and computer science, I'm your run-of-the-mill strong student. I excel at proofs and logic, but I don't enjoy programming much. I'd love to learn more math—a minor doesn't feel like enough!

Replies from: bdixon
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T17:45:45.080Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think this is an interesting area of research - I'm not aware of much writing by EAs, but bear in mind the EA community is pretty small compared to the total number of people researching this and related fields across the world - you might find some other organisations or researchers who've looked into this more.

comment by anoni · 2020-12-11T20:24:46.101Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

These are doubts I have been accumulating, I started writing the list of questions and it's huge. Sorry. Please feel free to answer only one or just link a resource.



23. Signal processing engineer. In prestigious AI master in Paris. I have published and worked with AI applied to energy.


despair for not being able to make a significant difference, intensely considering the idea of starting companies that change the world (vs PhD), worried about how to find interested and capable people outside developed countries, looking for a tutor.


1 - what does the community think about starting a company? I find that companies can scale, be self-sustainable and be a great force for good. However, I haven't seen a lot written on this. Do you see profit and doing good as incompatible? 

2 - related to last question. What about the general idea of starting a company in a market X and competing by reducing the profit margin? Isn't that good for humanity? I imagine things like food, shelter or transport being cheaper.

3 - I am very afraid of the opportunity cost of taking a PhD path. I like my area (AI), but I don't see  myself developing any huge breakthrough. I'm thinking about breakthroughs as information theory, or alexnet moments. I think we don't really know yet what AI will be like, so I don't think there are well posed questions in AI safety (a lot of work is assuming RL=AGI). In the other hand, maybe I can create cool things outside or cultivate abilities that are very important (human relations). What's your take in this opposition?

4- Where can I find a tutor? I wish I had one when I was a teenager. I find most researchers are happy with contributing a little bit to a very specific area of science. Is that all we can do? All my potential tutors are on the academic world and/or don't think a lot about making a BIG difference.

5- What do you think about "slow motion multitasking"? I saw the concept in a ted talk, is the opposite of specializing, but promises better results in the long term.

6-I'm from south america (SA), although doing my masters in Paris at the moment. Is not very easy to find very capable people interested in making good I can work together with in my home country. What do you recommend to gather such a team?

7-Living in Paris was mindblowing. The difference vs SA is subtle and not that obvious, but huge. Why aren't we working more outside the developed work? I find there is a bias in tech and research towards the tech wealthy people will use.

8- How do you personally manage the feeling of despair when realizing the we (as individuals) can not change the world?

9-Does the community support capitalism and/or free markets? If not, do you have an alternative in mind? This could permeate the given advice. To which extent?

Replies from: bdixon
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T17:40:02.470Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Different people in the community will have different views, but my own take is that the capitalism and markets can be great for growth and improving productive capacity but you want to make sure that the benefits are spread throughout society (see the book Why Nations Fail). 

I'm sorry to hear that you're feeling overwhelmed by things. I've felt the same way at time. It's important to look after yourself, take time off, and connect with other people. For me, I love watching the Simpsons, going for runs with my friends, and drinking coffee!

My own take on this is that the world is big and messy, and there are lot of bad things we each as individuals have to accept we can't control. But if you can find a niche doing something which hits the sweet spot of being both enjoyable and improving the world, then you can have a pretty good time! 

I suspect you might be able to find lots of ways to use AI to make things better - I've seen some great work in improving agricultural production using machine learning which seems pretty good. And I'm sure there are lots of businesses and charities that would be interested in someone with your skillset. 

Replies from: anoni
comment by anoni · 2020-12-23T20:14:27.718Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Dear Louis,

Thank you for your kind reply. Luckily, I have read the book Why Nations Fail some time ago, the idea that political and economic inclusion prevents stagnation and is better in the long run is appealing.  After reading that, I became integrating institutions in my views.

You made me realize that the question "what's enough for one's ambitions?" does not have a clear answer. Balancing fun, well-being and impact seems the right way to go. However, it is sometimes hard to accept that (by definition) there is always an impact level we won't ever reach.

Coming back to institutions.  Do you think I should aim to create them or to help them as an employee?

Replies from: bdixon
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-24T23:06:19.142Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

No idea - I think it most depends on the specifics of your situation. On average I think people who start organisations later in their life using their experience and contacts are likely to be more successful.  

comment by Anafromthesouth · 2020-12-11T11:36:06.848Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hello! So happy to find out about this. My story: I just turned 33. I have a licentiate degree in Psychology (5 years), a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience and currently on a Masters degree program in Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development. I love doing research, data science and statistics, though the only experience I have in these topics is the one from my PhD. Right after that, triggered by the loss of my partner, I decided to go sailing for some years to get to learn about unique communities living in nature. That was followed by maternity, and in the end I have (with some reconnection here and there) 5 years of no record of publications or research experience. 

On the other hand, even if I was in love with my PhD project (what happens when languages get in contact, in the brain) I always felt that my energy and resources had to go to directly helping improve the current situation in the world. Otherwise, I feel anything I do has no meaning. 

I would love to be  part of a team (as a job) whose aim is exactly this one, doing research on any kind of priority impact, I don't care what, all of them are important. I know I have very little experience and at this time I can't afford a volunteering job. I have been applying for jobs I love for a year, but I haven't been successful. What do you guys think I could do to get the skills I need? My thoughts are getting more courses on Data Science and Statistics (numbers, networks and connections is what I like the best) or trying to apply to a PhD fellowship on  Network Science. Still, it feels like I'd have a collection of degrees and no experience, so still not attractive to work on EA organisations. 

Thank you so much for reading!

Replies from: Ardenlk
comment by Ardenlk · 2020-12-13T00:12:11.134Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Anafromthesouth,

This is just an idea, but I wonder if you could use your data science and statistics skills to help nonprofits or foundations working on important issues (including outside the EA community) better evaluate their impact or otherwise make more informed choices. (If those skills need sharpening, taking courses seems sensible.) From the name it sounds like this could dovetail with your work in your masters', but I don't actually know anything about that kind of programme.

I guess it sounds to me like going back to academic stuff isn't what you want to do, and it would probably be a bit tough with the 5 year publication gap (though I don't know if that's as much of a thing in neurosciene as in other disciplines), and doesn't work as well with your master's -- so if it were me I think I'd try to double down on the stats and data science stuff.

Replies from: Anafromthesouth
comment by Anafromthesouth · 2020-12-29T14:30:32.867Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you, Ardenlk!

Yes, that is exactly what I think I could be helping with. And I will surely keep on training my programming and stats skills. However, I do feel I need work experience and right now it is getting hard to find a job. I believe I am not applying to the right positions or that my profile is too confusing due to the different topics I have put energy to. 

I may just focus on the data science skills for a while and when I get more practice I start applying again. 

Thanks for your feedback, again :)

comment by LouTru · 2020-12-09T17:06:22.386Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi everyone,

Thanks for the inspiration 80,000 hours!

I'm currently a teacher of English as a foreign language and while I enjoy working with and learning about people of different cultures, imparting knowledge and the element of doing something meaningful, I feel I need a greater intellectual challenge and a job that allows me to make a difference on a larger scale.

My education background is in humanities /arts ( BA in Hispanic studies).

I'm drawn now to post-graduate study, after 8 years of working, and think that International Development could be an effective path for me to utilise my laguage skills, experience int he education sector, keen interest in global health whilst also gaining new skills in research, project management etc.

My questions to the community are:

  1. Do you think this is an effective career transition based on my previous knowledge and experience?

2)what skills should I focus on developing and /or what experience should I try to gain in the meantime?

  1. should I try to find more fulfilling roles within my organisation first (they are have some affiliations with charities such as UNICEF)?

Thank you for taking the time to read this far! Any suggestions would be greatly received.

Replies from: bdixon
comment by Ben (bdixon) · 2020-12-15T17:33:57.000Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sounds interesting! I'd say it's worth doing the easy and reversible things first (e.g. trying out stuff within your company), and maybe put in a few applications to jobs like these. You could study international development, but you might get some job offers without needing the masters course. You can always apply to some masters' courses anyway and see what happens. 

comment by nikvetr · 2020-12-09T02:46:42.768Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(removed for privacy + inappropriateness)

Replies from: HStencil, Ben_West
comment by HStencil · 2020-12-09T02:58:43.430Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It sounds like you're doing some awesome work, and these are great questions, but I very seriously doubt you will be able to get good answers to them from anyone without domain expertise in your field, so this may not be best place to look. I personally have some very cursory exposure to biostatistics and health data science (definitely less than you), but I imagine I have significantly more familiarity with the area, especially in the U.S., than most people on the EA Forum, and I have zero clue about the answers to your questions.

Replies from: nikvetr
comment by nikvetr · 2020-12-10T19:27:18.757Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Maybe so! Might just be the career questions are a bit too targeted (partner also has had trouble getting advice on how to best leverage her tissue engineering / veterinary background to best serve animal welfare, e.g. working directly with researchers using animal models vs. developing in vitro meat in a more wet bench role). Was just curious to get an outside view, especially from a more "value-aligned" group than might be found in your typical career center or through existing mentors etc. Thank you for your response! 

comment by Ben_West · 2020-12-16T19:29:27.138Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

My experience with bioinformatics is almost exclusively on the industry side, and more the informatics than the bio. With that caveat, a few thoughts:

should I prioritize developing skills that will make me more employable and E2G (e.g. develop and apply sexy, ad hoc methods to rich-person illnesses in a more mainstream bioinformatics-y role)

My experience is that the highest earning positions are not "sexy" (in the way I think you are using the term). I recall one conference I attended in which the speaker was describing some advanced predictive algorithm, and a doctor in the back raised their hand and said "this is all nice but I can't even generate a list of my diabetic patients so could you start with that please?"

This might also address your question "how easy is it to, say, break into industry data science for anthropology graduates with experience in computational stats methods development?" – I think it depends very much on what you mean by "data science". A lot of the most successful bioinformatics companies' products are quite mundane by academic standards: alerting clinicians to well-known drug-drug interactions, identifying patients based on well validated reference ranges for lab tests, etc. My impression is that getting a position at one of these places is approximately similar to getting any other programming job. If you are looking for something more academic though, the requirements are different.

focus more on greater blights afflicting larger numbers of human and non-human animals (say, to understand differential responses to tropical diseases, or maybe variation in the human aging process, or pivot to food science and work on cultured meat or something, as well as work on more interpretable methods)

A problem I suspect you will run into is that methods development requires (often quite large) data sets. I get the sense from your brief bio that you aren't interested in doing any wet lab work, meaning that if you were to work on, say, cultured meat, you would need a data set from some collaborator.

If I were you, I might try to resolve this first. I know GFI has an academic network you can join and you could message people there about the existence of data sets.

Also, you might be interested in OpenPhil's early career GCBR funding. Even if you don't need funding, they might be able to connect you with useful collaborators.

comment by anoni · 2020-12-11T20:26:16.400Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

These are doubts I have been accumulating, I started writing the list of questions and it's huge. Sorry. Please feel free to answer only one or just link a resource.


23. Signal processing engineer. In prestigious AI master in Paris. I have published and worked with AI applied to energy.


despair for not being able to make a significant difference, intensely considering the idea of starting companies that change the world (vs PhD), worried about how to find interested and capable people outside developed countries, looking for a tutor.


what does the community think about starting a company? I find that companies can scale, be self-sustainable and be a great force for good. However, I haven't seen a lot written on this. Do you see profit and doing good as incompatible? 

related to last question. What about the general idea of starting a company in a market X and competing by reducing the profit margin? Isn't that good for humanity? I imagine things like food, shelter or transport being cheaper.

I am very afraid of the opportunity cost of taking a PhD path. I like my area (AI), but I don't see  myself developing any huge breakthrough. I'm thinking about breakthroughs as information theory, or alexnet moments. I think we don't really know yet what AI will be like, so I don't think there are well posed questions in AI safety (a lot of work is assuming RL=AGI). In the other hand, maybe I can create cool things outside or cultivate abilities that are very important (human relations). What's your take in this opposition?

Where can I find a tutor? I wish I had one when I was a teenager. I find most researchers are happy with contributing a little bit to a very specific area of science. Is that all we can do? All my potential tutors are on the academic world and/or don't think a lot about making a BIG difference.

What do you think about "slow motion multitasking"? I saw the concept in a ted talk, is the opposite of specializing, but promises better results in the long term.

I'm from south america (SA), although doing my masters in Paris at the moment. Is not very easy to find very capable people interested in making good I can work together with in my home country. What do you recommend to gather such a team?

Living in Paris was mindblowing. The difference vs SA is subtle and not that obvious, but huge. Why aren't we working more outside the developed work? I find there is a bias in tech and research towards the tech wealthy people will use.

How do you personally manage the feeling of despair when realizing the we (as individuals) can not change the world?

Does the community support capitalism and/or free markets? If not, do you have an alternative in mind? This could permeate the given advice. To which extent?

comment by So-Low Growth · 2020-12-06T20:29:30.789Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I had an offer to do LSE's MSc Econometrics and Mathematical Economics, which is well known to place into top PhD programmes, and is incredibly competitive). However, I can't afford the £40k fees + living, coming from more humble financial background than most EAs. I've tried to submit grant applications (i.e. LTTF: rationale being that if LSE and my letter writers thought I could make it in academia, LTTF may concur) but have been rejected. The poor UK post-grad loan system means that it's not enough to cover the fees. I'm also unable to get private loans.

My options are now to do a PhD at a lower ranked school. However, EA often says that if you're going to do a PhD, it's best to do it at the best possible school due to the hierarchical nature of academia. Can you recommend grants/individuals that may consider giving me a grant (I would even get a loan if I could...)? Is it still worthwhile to pursue a PhD at a lower ranked school in Econ, given that I theoretically could have gone to an elite school if I had access to better finance?