Posts

Why I find longtermism hard, and what keeps me motivated 2021-02-22T23:01:47.312Z
80,000 Hours one-on-one team plans, plus projects we’d like to see 2021-02-09T19:57:52.643Z
Possible gaps in the EA community 2021-01-23T18:56:51.373Z
Training Bottlenecks in EA (professional skills) 2021-01-17T19:29:50.197Z
10 Habits I recommend (2020) 2021-01-02T17:15:47.320Z
10 things I bought and recommend (2020) 2020-12-30T14:47:45.353Z
Parenting: Things I wish I could tell my past self 2020-09-12T14:22:01.038Z
Asking for advice 2020-09-05T10:29:12.499Z
I'm Michelle Hutchinson, head of advising at 80,000 Hours, AMA 2019-12-04T10:53:43.030Z
Keeping Absolutes in Mind 2018-10-21T22:40:49.160Z
Making Organisations More Welcoming 2018-09-12T21:52:52.530Z
Good news that matters 2018-08-27T05:38:06.870Z
New releases: Global Priorities Institute research agenda and posts we’re hiring for 2017-12-14T14:57:22.838Z
Why Poverty? 2016-04-24T21:25:53.942Z
Giving What We Can is Cause Neutral 2016-04-22T12:54:14.312Z
Review of Giving What We Can staff retreat 2016-03-21T16:31:02.923Z
Giving What We Can's 6 monthly update 2016-02-09T20:19:08.574Z
Finding more effective causes 2016-01-01T22:54:53.607Z
Why do effective altruists support the causes we do? 2015-12-30T17:51:59.470Z
Giving What We Can needs your help this Christmas! 2015-12-07T23:24:53.359Z
Updates from Giving What We Can 2015-11-27T15:04:48.219Z
Giving What We Can needs your support — only 5 days left to close our funding gap 2015-06-25T16:26:31.611Z
Giving What We Can needs your help! 2015-05-26T22:11:33.646Z
Please support Giving What We Can this Spring 2015-04-24T18:22:16.230Z
The role of time in comparing diverse benefits 2015-04-13T20:18:52.049Z
Why I Give 2015-01-25T13:51:48.885Z
Supportive scepticism in practice 2015-01-15T16:35:57.403Z
Should Giving What We Can change its Pledge? 2014-10-22T16:40:35.480Z

Comments

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Why EA groups should not use “Effective Altruism” in their name. · 2021-02-24T09:52:04.614Z · EA · GW

I love the specificity of your 'How to pick a name' section. I imagine that will be really useful in helping people follow through finding a good name.

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Join our collaboration for high quality EA outreach events (OFTW + GWWC + EA Community) · 2021-02-24T09:49:39.875Z · EA · GW

This sounds like a great idea! 

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 80,000 Hours one-on-one team plans, plus projects we’d like to see · 2021-02-14T16:52:28.627Z · EA · GW

Thanks for this feedback! It's really useful to know that this would make it easier to put yourself out there. We're in the process of changing the application form to connect better with our career planning process, to hopefully make filling it out a commitment mechanism for getting started on making a career plan (since doing so is often aversive). As part of that, we aim to send people a google doc of the relevant answers in a readily shareable format and encourage people to send it to friends and others whose judgement they trust.

I also find it pretty scary to email people out of the blue, even if I know them, particularly to ask them for something. But my hope is that if someone already has a doc they want comments on, and it's been explicitly suggested they send that to friends, it will make it a bit easier to ask for this kind of help. Increasing the extent to which people do that seems good to me, since my impression is that although people find it hard to reach out, most people would actually be happy to give their friends comments on something like this!

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 80,000 Hours one-on-one team plans, plus projects we’d like to see · 2021-02-12T18:58:56.309Z · EA · GW

It is extremely upsetting for people to apply and get turned down, especially if they found 80k materials at some emotional time (releasing they are not satisfied with their current job or studies). It is very hard to not interpret this as "you are not good enough".

I am so sad that we are causing this. It is really tough to make yourself vulnerable to strangers and reach out for help, only to have your request rebuffed. That’s particularly hard when it feels like a judgement on someone’s worth, and more particularly on their ability to help others. And I think there are additional reasons for these rejections being particularly tough:

  • If you’re early on in your career (as most of our readers are) and haven’t yet experienced many rejections, they will hit harder than if you’re more used to them
  • Effective altruism is often experienced as an identity, above and beyond its ideas and the community. This makes a rejection feel particularly sensitive
  • Whenever you’re being judged, it’s hard to keep in mind how little information the person has about you. Our application is far shorter and more informal than, say, university applications. We therefore often have pretty little information about people and so are correspondingly likely to make the wrong call. But since the person filling in the application knows all about themselves, it’s hard for them not to take it as an indictment of them overall.

I do want to highlight that our not talking to someone isn’t a sign we don’t think they will have an (extremely) impactful career; rather it is simply a sign that we don't think we’ll be as helpful to them as we could be to some other people. So while I deeply empathise with the feelings I describe above and I expect I would feel the same way in a similar situation, I don’t think people are actually right to feel like they “are not good enough”.

I realise it’s probably no consolation, but, on a personal note, needing to turn down people who are asking for my help is unquestionably the worst part of my job. We spent a significant part of last year trying to find an alternative model we believe would be as impactful as our current process but wouldn’t involve soliciting and then rejecting so many applications. Unfortunately, we didn’t find one. I think it’s my responsibility to implement the model we think is best, but it’s hard to feel like I’m doing the right thing when I know I’m disappointing so many people. I often only get through reviewing applications by reminding myself of our mission and trying to bring to mind the huge numbers of people in the future who may never get to exist and are entirely voiceless, and for whose sake it is that I have to refuse to help people in front of me today that I care about.

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 80,000 Hours one-on-one team plans, plus projects we’d like to see · 2021-02-11T15:14:55.267Z · EA · GW

By focusing on people "for whom you’ll have useful things to say", you talk to people who do not need additional resources (like guidance or introductions) for increasing their impact. The contrafactual impact is low. For example, testimonials on the website include PhD Student in Machine Learning at Cambridge and the President of Harvard Law School Effective Altruism.

I don’t quite agree here. I was counting ‘additional resources’ like guidance and introductions as ‘things to say’. So focusing on people for whom we have useful things to say should increase rather than decrease the extent to which we talk to people who need these resources to increase their impact.

I agree we’re not always good at figuring out which people could most benefit from our providing resources / introductions. We try to keep calibrating on this from our conversations. That’s clearly easier in the case of noticing people we talk to for whom we couldn’t be that useful than the opposite. To counter that asymmetry, we try to do experiments with tweaking which people we speak to in order to get a sense of how useful we can be to different groups.

With respect to your concrete examples:

The descriptions we’ve given of people on that page is actually from where they’re at a year or two after we speak to them. That’s because it takes a while for us to figure out if the conversation was actually useful to them. For example, I think Cullen wasn’t President of HL EA when we spoke to them.

That aside, on the question of whether we should generally speak to people with these types of profiles:

Being a PhD student in Machine Learning doesn’t seem like an indication of how much someone knows about / has interacted with the effective altruism community. So it doesn’t seem to me like it should count against us talking to them. (Though of course the person might in fact already be well connected to the EA community and not stand to benefit much from talking to us.)

It seems like a hard decision to me whether someone running an EA student group should count in favour of or against our speaking to them. On the one hand, they might well be steeped enough in effective altruism they won’t benefit that much from us recommending specific resources to them. They’re also in a better position to reach out to other EAs to ask for their advice than people new to the community would be. On the other hand, it’s a strong signal that they want to spend their energies improving the world as much as possible, and so our research will definitely be applicable for them. It’s also not a foregone conclusion that someone running a student group has had much opportunity to sound board their career with others who feel equally strongly about helping the world, let alone those with similar values but more experience. So I could imagine us being really useful for EA group leaders, despite the caveats above.

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 80,000 Hours one-on-one team plans, plus projects we’d like to see · 2021-02-11T13:08:34.120Z · EA · GW

A month-long period of reviewing the application is prohibitive and disappointing.

I agree this is too long, and I’m sad that it was actually longer than this at times. Right now I’m mostly managing to review them within a week, and almost always within 2 weeks. I wouldn’t want to promise to always be able to do this, but it’s much easier now we have a team of people working on advising.

I have an impression that 80k accepted a long time ago that that wait time will just have to be pretty long.

I'm actually really keen to avoid us having long wait times. Career decisions are often pretty time sensitive due to application and decision deadlines. Thinking about your overall career also seems pretty aversive to me, so I think it's important to capitalise on people's enthusiasm and energy for doing those occur. Right now we're aiming to have slots available in the next couple of weeks after we've accepted an application, though it might take a few weeks before there are slots that work for a person, particularly if they're in a very different time zone than us.

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 80,000 Hours one-on-one team plans, plus projects we’d like to see · 2021-02-11T12:58:35.793Z · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing your view. It’s useful for us to get an overall sense of whether others think our work is useful in order to sense check our views and continue figuring out whether this is the right thing for us to focus our time on. It's also important to hear detail about what the problems with it are so that we can try to address them. I’ll respond to your points in separate comments so that they’re easier to parse and engage with.

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 80,000 Hours one-on-one team plans, plus projects we’d like to see · 2021-02-11T09:44:25.220Z · EA · GW

I'm afraid I don't really know anything about discord (me and tech are not the best of friends...), but from your description it sounds good! I think there is some EA activity on discord, so maybe you could build off that. I don't know anything about the form it takes or how to find it though unfo - but I'm guessing others on this forum do.

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 80,000 Hours one-on-one team plans, plus projects we’d like to see · 2021-02-10T11:15:00.363Z · EA · GW

This sounds great to me! I'd be tempted to try out things in existing infrastructure first, like trying it out in the careers discussion fbook group, or the open thread you mentioned.

Other options that come to mind:

  • Look at the EA London community directory for people who would likely have relevant comments on your plan and reach out to them. This seems like it might be more likely to get a reply than a general call, and the person might have more relevant comments than a random person would. But they would likely have less time because they're not selected by being keen to look over a career plan.
  • Finding an accountability partner eg through the EA life coaching exchange Facebook group and looking through each other's.
  • Talking to other EAs at your local meet up about looking through your plan, or if there isn't a group in your area joining EA Anywhere

I've been surprised how much people's preferences on how to give comments on career plans differs. For example, I find it takes me ages to read through a plan so I end up putting it off for ages. Whereas I really like talking to people, so I'm much happier to chat to someone for half an hour. By contrast a friend of mine finds answering questions on the spot really stressful, so far prefers reading over things. So it seems worth giving people an option about whether to read through something (and if so how much) or whether to chat.

In the longer run, I think it would be cool to have a facebook group or slack for EA job seekers to keep each other motivated and accountable, because it's so hard to apply for jobs and deal with the uncertainty. That might also be a good place for people sharing and commenting on career plans.

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Are there robustly good and disputable leadership practices? · 2021-01-27T09:56:07.041Z · EA · GW

only principles which are both robustly good and disputable seem worth teaching

This sounds false to me: You might think different kinds of principles work better and worse for different people's styles, and lots of principles are non-obvious. In that case, it seems worth someone learning about a tonne of different principles and testing out to see if they help or hinder their personal style of management.

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on My Career Decision-Making Process · 2021-01-23T10:30:02.069Z · EA · GW

Thank you very much for this post! As you say, it's great to have examples of how people think through their careers, what options they chose and why. Useful for others to learn from and also help each other feel less alone in making these hard decisions and going through the frustration of applications. 

I'd be particularly interested in hearing more about why you don't see cybersecurity and formal verification as promising: in particular whether your view is that EAs should be aiming to build up expertise in these, or whether you think they are useful skills for a number of EAs to have, it's just that their use will come in the future (or in a country other than Israel).

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Training Bottlenecks in EA (professional skills) · 2021-01-19T11:15:55.453Z · EA · GW

Thanks, this is all really useful to hear! It makes me think that it's somewhat likely I've just generally not found the right courses / types of training.

I wonder if one thing that's going on is that I'm making the enemy the perfect of the good. The courses I've done like the global health short course at Imperial felt interesting and fun to me, but not very efficient: I learned a bunch of things that I wouldn't use alongside what I would, and the learning per unit time could have been higher. But on the other hand, it's pretty likely that although I could have learned the most useful parts in a shorter time, I wouldn't have, and so it was worth going. 

I may also be biased by enjoying courses, and therefore feeling like they must be a selfish waste of time, rather than what I should do. Or perhaps by the finding of the courses seeming boring, and so not bothering.

Perhaps low staff retention rates make some EA orgs reluctant to invest into the development of their staff because they worry they won't internalize the benefits.

This seems really sad if true, given that you would hope that in EA more than in the commercial world, skilling up staff to contribute elsewhere is still treated as valuable. 

I'd love to hear any advice from how that charity decided which courses would be best for people to do! Also whether there are any specific ones you recommend (if any are applicable in the UK). 

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Training Bottlenecks in EA (professional skills) · 2021-01-19T11:02:46.413Z · EA · GW

Thanks!

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Training Bottlenecks in EA (professional skills) · 2021-01-19T11:00:49.574Z · EA · GW

My learning goals for the year are somewhat intertwined, where one is 'forming more views' and another is 'developing better models of the world'. The things I'm doing are each somewhat focused on each, partly because I only want to form sensible / well informed views, and partly because I think I'll only feel comfortable forming views if I am in some sense conscious of knowing about a topic. The thing most focused on the 'forming views' side is writing - where that doesn't need to be shared with anyone. But a few other things I'm doing: 

Pay more attention to what rhythms/habits I can get into that make broad learning easy. For example: 

  • I love quizzing people about their job / something they know about. So I'm aiming to talk to one person a week who's in an area I want to know more about. 
  • I go for a walk everyday, and my plan is that every day I'll start that by listening to an article on pocket (after that I can just listen to music if I want, but often by then I'm into listening to pocket and continue). This is useful for me because I far prefer listening to things than reading.
  • I organised my bookmarks into better folders of things to read / watch with priorities, which means that so far (cross fingers I can continue!) I've actually been keeping track of things I want to read later rather than leaving the tabs open and hoping I get back to them later.

I also want to have a better sense of knowing that I know about an area, and a ready picture of what the landscape in that area looks like. I think the main thing to do there is to deliberately learn and memorise facts rather than simply reading around areas (so that I know that I read some book but am not sure how much I'd recall about the area unless asked specific questions). That involves reading / watching overviews of an area, and then putting into anki the key things I want to remember. (I think this is the article I found most helpful on using anki.)

My hope is that the combination of the above, and then sitting down to physically write down my overall take on some issue, will help. The final step then would be getting other people's views on my takes, if I get to the point of being happy to share with a colleague or others. 

I'd love to hear other thoughts on how I could improve at this!

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Training Bottlenecks in EA (professional skills) · 2021-01-19T10:39:35.757Z · EA · GW

>Just setting up weekly meetings with someone else who's at roughly the same level of seniority and who also wants more "management"/"mentorship"

I really like this idea. I had a set up like this when I had a hands off manager, with a friend who didn't have a manager. I found it really helpful. For others who are keen on this but don't have a particular friend they'd like to do it with, there's a Facebook group for finding such accountability partners

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Training Bottlenecks in EA (professional skills) · 2021-01-19T10:29:55.345Z · EA · GW

Thanks! I'd also love to see any tips you could share here for what has / hasn't worked. I imagine a lot of us do informal mentoring (eg my workplace has an internal cross-team mentoring program), and so would be interested in these. 

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Training Bottlenecks in EA (professional skills) · 2021-01-19T10:28:30.399Z · EA · GW

That's a good point, thanks. Edited to clarify. (I went with adding it in brackets, to make it easy to parse but lack the implication that I think this is particularly important bottleneck). 

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2021-01-11T18:30:04.268Z · EA · GW

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 michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2021-01-11T18:28:28.094Z · EA · GW

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 michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2021-01-11T18:17:59.337Z · EA · GW

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 michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2021-01-11T18:10:56.280Z · EA · GW

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

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2021-01-09T16:21:16.903Z · EA · GW

This is a fantastic career plan! And thank you very much for your article on being an expert in hardware, 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 michelle_hutchinson on 10 Habits I recommend (2020) · 2021-01-06T10:58:36.178Z · EA · GW

Thanks for these! Added Ultralearning to my Audible wishlist. 

 

Re RSI, a colleague of mine shared the following note when some coworkers were struggling with it. They said they were happy for me to share it here, and I thought you might find it interesting and useful: 

"I have the view that a significant component of a lot of RSI is psychosomatic - and I’m quite confident that this was true in my case. That is, the way we relate to and think about it has a significant effect on how much the disease shows. 

To give a sense of what I mean here, think about all the people (including me) who had a bunch of coughing/breathlessness symptoms when they were worried about COVID, or consider how much paying attention to sensations in different ways can change their character. The extreme versions of this effect look like people having seizures (this is common enough that I’ve seen it in hospitals more than once) or being hypnotised. 

Some reasons I have this view:

  • When I had a really bad episode of it in 2017, it ended abruptly by my doctor (a hand surgeon) ruling out things they thought might be causing it, and then telling me to take lots of painkillers and just work through it. It disappeared after 2 weeks. That hand surgeon thought that there was a tricky balance between overuse and underuse syndromes, and thought I might have made it worse by not working with it. They did think that at the beginning something happened to my hands, but that I should have started treating them normally earlier than I did. 
  • It seems much more common in EAs than in other knowledge workers (except maybe programmers). I don’t recall ever seeing patients who have it, and none of my med school friends did. 

One tricky thing is that it pushes hard against the ‘pay lots of attention to whether you have symptoms, and if you do take them really seriously and don’t do any work’. I don’t really know what to do about that. I do think that it's probably harmful in some cases to take that attitude, but I'm not sure about the average case.

What to do about this? The main thing I’ve got in mind is for people to keep this as a perspective if they’re experiencing symptoms. You could try noticing what fraction of your symptoms are explained by this type of effect - I'm not sure how effective it would be. It would also point towards treating it more like standard psychosomatic illnesses are treated. 

A worry with sharing this thought is that it's really hard to know what to do with it. But I checked with a few people who all leaned towards thinking it was a good idea to share - so I’m doing so."

 

Also, I noticed I was excited when I saw you had left a bunch of comments on my articles, because your comments are always interesting and useful. Thank you for that!

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 10 Habits I recommend (2020) · 2021-01-04T10:29:29.894Z · EA · GW

Sorry about that. Here's the link: https://www.focusmate.com/signup/EffectiveAltruism

(I'll fix it in the article)

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 10 Habits I recommend (2020) · 2021-01-02T19:08:53.152Z · EA · GW

Thanks - our Whatsapp group had been looking for a link which is always on! We'll check out Jitsi

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 10 things I bought and recommend (2020) · 2020-12-31T14:08:04.712Z · EA · GW

Thanks! I don't know how I didn't notice that tag.

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 10 things I bought and recommend (2020) · 2020-12-31T09:42:22.046Z · EA · GW

Nice!

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on What areas are the most promising to start new EA meta charities - A survey of 40 EAs · 2020-12-30T13:10:25.541Z · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing this Joey - really interesting!

>A particular concern that came up was that there is already a lot of frustration from job seekers and individuals not having a sense of how they can have an impact outside of a pretty small number of jobs and opportunities, with expansion likely to aggravate this problem.

This sentiment strikes me as incorrect, and a bit worrying. My perception is that EA could do with spreading out a bunch from its current distribution. For example, it would be great to see more policy work along the lines of HIPE for different governments (eg I know of very little few EAs thinking about EU policy) , more specialists in different types of potentially important technology like recommender systems and a greater breadth of understanding of different potentially important organisations, whether intergovernmental like the WHO and UN, or companies. I'm also excited about people starting more effective non-profits, as CE is facilitating. My perception is that what's hard for people seeking career paths is figuring out what path would best suit them, rather than an actual lack of roles which help others in expectation. It's not at all clear that expansion would make this problem worse rather than better, and it strikes me that it would depend a lot on how EA grows. For example, if we grew by attracting people from a broader range of organisations then they might bring more ideas for which people would be best suited helping where. If more people joined of an entrepreneurial mindset, perhaps it would cause new charities to spring up and so increase the number of roles available. That's not to say I think all things considered that EA should be expanding rather than improving - I'm not sure about that. But at the extreme this reasoning looks like avoiding the expansion of EA to prevent people currently outside EA from being hired to specific roles, which seems likely to harm our impact to me.  

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-19T18:43:31.502Z · EA · GW

Hey!

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. 

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-19T18:30:24.150Z · EA · GW

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 michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-12T19:14:40.270Z · EA · GW

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 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.

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-12T18:45:58.878Z · EA · GW

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). 

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-12T18:33:41.221Z · EA · GW

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 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 michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-12T17:53:35.185Z · EA · GW

Really glad to hear it seems useful!

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-12T17:47:35.036Z · EA · GW

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 michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-12T10:19:30.139Z · EA · GW

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. 

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-11T10:39:32.995Z · EA · GW

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 michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-10T19:02:59.364Z · EA · GW

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 michelle_hutchinson on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-08T20:05:10.779Z · EA · GW

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. 

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on My mistakes on the path to impact · 2020-12-07T19:45:03.621Z · EA · GW

Thank you so much for writing and sharing this! It’s really useful to get such a thoughtful perspective from someone with long experience of seeking an impactful career. 

A couple of the pieces that feel particularly important to me, and actionable for others, are trying to get a good grade in your degree and applying for a broad range of jobs. I would guess it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that doing well at high school and in your degree is going to set you up well for having a broad range of options (though I might be biased by my natural risk aversion). I’d also guess that for most people they should be pushing themselves to apply for more roles than they’d naturally be inclined to. Doing that seems really hard given how horrible applying for jobs is, and that it feels like the way to do well in a particular job process is to get really invested in that specific job, which feels like it precludes applying for many at once. 

I’m sad that you found the only way to feel ok about broadening your job search was to distance yourself from EA. It really seems like we’re doing things wrong as a community when we’re not only failing to support people but actively making their lives worse in that way. I’d be interested to hear ways in which you think we could do better, if you’d be up for sharing. I wonder whether increasing the visibility of people taking a bunch of different paths in life would help, as the Giving What We Can blog now is? I also wonder where local meetups fit into this: One thing I’ve often found useful in chatting to people with similar values to me about my career is that they’re less harsh on me than I am on myself. They’re more inclined to remind me that my happiness should be an important consideration in my decisions, and that the advice I’d give my friends is sometimes pretty different from what I tell myself. I don’t know if you’ve found this a useful part of in person EA meetups? Perhaps this is easier to achieve with one-on-one interactions, and that it could be useful do pair up with someone, as this Facebook group facilitates.

The question of epistemics and how much to defer feels pretty tough to me. I strongly feel the pull towards thinking that questions like ‘what problem in the world is most important to work on?’ are too big and difficult for me to possibly answer. That made me really excited to find people who shared my values but were better informed and smart, and who I could learn so much from. I really want this to be a community where people are trying to form their own views rather than simply trusting what others say, plus are debating those views. That seems like how we’ll most likely get to the truth. On the other hand, doing that does often feel really difficult, and I don’t want it to be the kind of place where people feel like they can’t engage unless they’ve personally read and thought through everything relevant to questions of how to do the most good. I guess it feels to me like understanding these things and developing views on them is a work in progress for me, and maybe that would be a helpful framing for others too. 

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on My mistakes on the path to impact · 2020-12-07T10:47:15.632Z · EA · GW

Thanks - so useful to list specific things people could read to follow up!

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on What are you grateful for? · 2020-11-27T13:59:43.421Z · EA · GW

I love being in a community which helps me live up to my values: 

When I first came across Peter Singer, I just kind of assumed I wouldn't end up donating much because it seemed like even though clearly we ought to, no-one else did. It makes it so much easier being suddenly in a group where donating 10% is just the accepted norm. 

The community also seems great at sharing knowledge to make this easier, and supporting each other. An example I particularly loved was Rob Wiblin helping me ringing for the election: he wrote up and easy how to guide, and then for people who still found it aversive (which includes me because I hate making phone calls), he invited us over to all do it together and egg each other on, and so that he could help troubleshoot. 

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on If you like a post, tell the author! · 2020-10-08T11:20:46.659Z · EA · GW

Thank you for this post! I appreciate these kind of posts with suggestions about how to use the forum.

On the specific point, I appreciate the positivity of people posting that they like a particular article, and feel it makes it seem more appealing to write articles. Also, I often find it a bit tough to tell when I write something whether people find it useful, what they find it useful for, and what parts seem particularly useful. So I really appreciate people who find posts useful not just upvoting (which might just be a sign they found it a pleasant read), but actually commenting with some more information.

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on How we promoted EA at a large tech company · 2020-10-02T09:38:35.338Z · EA · GW

This work sounds great! Thanks for writing it up in such a clear way for others to learn from.

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 5,000 people have pledged to give at least 10% of their lifetime incomes to effective charities · 2020-10-01T10:31:48.345Z · EA · GW

<3

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on 5,000 people have pledged to give at least 10% of their lifetime incomes to effective charities · 2020-10-01T10:31:25.978Z · EA · GW

That's so great! :-D

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Parenting: Things I wish I could tell my past self · 2020-09-19T11:54:17.023Z · EA · GW

This looks great, thank you!

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Parenting: Things I wish I could tell my past self · 2020-09-19T11:52:20.373Z · EA · GW

Thank you for the recommendation!

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Parenting: Things I wish I could tell my past self · 2020-09-15T09:56:26.752Z · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing! Your experience about losing interest in sports is really interesting. I wonder whether part of what's going on is my baby still only being 10 months. I look forward to knowing what the coming years will bring!

Comment by michelle_hutchinson on Parenting: Things I wish I could tell my past self · 2020-09-15T09:55:24.537Z · EA · GW

This sounds so intense. I have no idea how you guys handled not taking leave while looking after a newborn. Great work getting through all that!

How frustrating to not be able to get back to breastfeeding when she was hoping to and doing a bunch of pumping instead.

Thanks for sharing your experience.