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Or alternatively: “A message for 2018-me: quit your job and start doing ‘EA work’”

2022/06/29 update since writing this: Claire Boine and I have made a website advertising career advice for mid-career people. Please consider applying for advice  through there if this article resonates with you! (The advice will be from either me or Claire.)

Note: I wrote this post a bit quickly (~9 hours) so it’s a little rough, and likely contains minor errors.

In this post I want to provide encouragement and information for mid-career people[1] who are sympathetic to EA ideas but haven’t seriously tried doing EA work. Basically, I think there’s tons of amazingly impactful, fun, well-compensated work that skilled mid-career people could do, and that this is maybe much less obvious from the “outside” than it is for a relative EA-insider like me.

Note that I focus on longtermist EA work here because this is what I know about. But I imagine an EA-insider who is in another EA area might share similar sentiments. Similarly, while I focus on mid-career people here, I imagine a lot of what I’ll say will be relevant for people at other career stages.

Also note that, for the purposes of this post, by “EA work” I mostly mean working at EA orgs. But I also think it would be great if mid-career people considered switching to really impactful stuff that isn't at EA orgs, and if they're already doing really impactful stuff that isn't at an EA org maybe they should keep doing that. And a lot of what I say here is still relevant for switching to highly impactful work that isn't at an EA org.[2]

Here’s what I’ll say:

  • Doing longtermist EA work right now is extremely valuable, and there’s a wide variety of roles and skills needed and really exciting projects to work on. 
  • I had a lot of misconceptions before I moved into EA work. I’ll describe what these were and what I now think the reality is as a relative EA-insider.
  • Finally, I’ll admit that there are some downsides to switching to EA work right now.

If you’re a mid-career person interested in switching to EA work, I’d be interested to chat and maybe help. Please get in touch by sending me a private message on the Forum or emailing me at hello[at]bensnodin dot com.

Doing longtermist EA work right now could be very fun and well-compensated, as well as very valuable

There is an absolute ton of very valuable work that needs to happen right now, such as:

Based on my experience working with EAs, I’d expect that you’d do this work with incredible colleagues: people who are driven, passionate, kind, very capable, and who share your goals.

Similarly, many EA organisations seem to put a large emphasis on employee wellbeing and on creating an excellent working environment, and I’ve personally been very impressed by this at the EA organisations I’ve worked for so far.

Also, in case you haven’t heard, there is now a lot of money available to fund longtermist EA work, which allows longtermist EA organisations to pay more than in the past. My impression is that salaries are often in the $60k-150k range (for a concrete example, see the researcher pay ranges on Rethink Priorities’ website). (Side note: if salary is blocking you from doing longtermist EA work, please talk to someone, e.g. me.)

In addition, I think mid-career people have a huge amount to offer thanks to having pre-existing skills and being able to hit the ground running when starting out — this is especially valuable at the moment given the relative lack of management time available. There seems to be a need for a wide range of skills, and I expect this need to increase as we start seeing more longtermist EA projects that are “doing things in the world” (like Alvea). You don’t have to be a researcher![4]

Finally, I think EA community culture benefits significantly from having people of different ages and with different personal and professional backgrounds.

In summary, I think there’s an incredible opportunity right now for mid-career people to do really exciting, rewarding, and high-value work with incredible colleagues in a great working environment.

Misconceptions I had before moving into EA work

I started my first “EA job” in March 2020, when I joined the Research Scholars Programme (RSP) at the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI). Prior to that, I’d completed a PhD and worked for 5 years in finance. I had been a bit of an “EA lurker” for many years, and built up many misconceptions over that time. Here are some misconceptions that seem particularly relevant:

  • Misconception: Because everyone’s time is so valuable, it’s not worth anyone’s time to talk to me.
    • Reality: Some people probably are genuinely overwhelmed with people trying to talk to them, but I think a lot of people in “EA roles” (including me) would be very happy to give more of their time to people who are serious about exploring EA careers.
  • Misconception: Everyone doing EA jobs is extremely altruistic and I’ll probably be judged for things I do that don’t maximise total utility.
    • Reality: I was surprised by the range in the extent to which people are optimising hard for altruism. And in general there’s a lot of acceptance that doing the most good might not be someone’s only priority, and that in any case we’re all human. Also, people vary a lot on moral and empirical views, which means a lot of things aren’t “obviously wrong” even from a ~purely moral perspective.
  • Misconception: Everything is moving really fast; if I take 2 years to (for example) learn a new skill, things will have moved on and the cause area will be “full”, people will have decided that this isn’t important, etc.
    • Reality: I think 80K’s top causes have been pretty stable over the past 5-10 years. E.g. if I’d decided to go into technical AI safety in 2015 (which is plausible), it would be far from the case that things would have “moved on” before I was able to make useful contributions. On the contrary, I would have a ton of experience by now, and presumably (assuming I turned out to be a good fit) be doing pretty valuable work in an area we still want to grow a lot.
  • Misconception: I need to find a new / special area to work on.
    • Reality: I think the instinct here is good, and some people should go hard on this. But I think in a lot of cases, just slotting into an existing field / organisation / role and taking advantage of the existing infrastructure (like management, research agendas) is the best approach.[5]
  • Misconception: The challenge will be finding a great new idea for something to work on.
    • Reality: It became clear to me after starting at FHI that there are a ton of ideas floating around — the bottleneck is people having the time to develop those ideas and turn them into useful research or action. (Also, unlike the situation in academia, people are generally not at all possessive of their ideas — they want to see important things get done, regardless of who does them.)
  • Misconception: I don’t have the right credentials to apply to EA jobs. When I first looked at the RSP job ad, I thought it was very unlikely I’d be a good candidate given my CV, which I thought had little relevance to anything FHI did.
    • Reality: That story ended with me being offered a position on RSP. More generally, I think people often don’t apply for things because they’re worried they’re underqualified.[6]
  • Misconception: There’s a very good chance I’m not well suited for any kind of EA work. When I joined RSP, I guessed there was a 50% chance I’d feel that the work wasn’t for me and I’d end up rejoining finance.
    • Reality: There are so many different flavours of “EA work”. So far I’ve ended up mostly doing fairly theoretical / conceptual research, but I could be doing lots of kinds of research, or focusing on research management, or doing the legwork to help set up a biorisk startup. It seems unlikely that I’d be unsuited for all of these.
  • Misconception: Most of the interesting work is public.
    • Reality: EA is relatively good at this, but actually there’s a lot of work that doesn’t end up being made public somewhere (consider that making something public means that potentially anyone in the world can access it, now and at any point in the future). Generally if you message people, they’ll be up for sharing things.
  • Misconception: There’s tons of people working in all these important areas.
    • Reality: Once you start meeting people, you’ll realise that most areas have surprisingly few people giving a significant fraction of their time to them. And people are liable to spread themselves over multiple topics or switch to new things, so you can quickly become one of the “main people” in an area just by sticking around for a bit.
  • Misconception: Everyone is an expert on everything.
    • Reality: There’s way too much out there for anyone to be an expert in all of it, so any given person you talk to might well know less than you about your favourite topic. Even if someone once wrote a great, well-thought-out article on the topic a few years ago, they might be pretty rusty on that topic nowadays.
  • Misconception: Everyone has everything figured out.
    • Reality: Basically everyone is pretty confused about a lot of the important questions. Which isn’t surprising, because they’re pretty hard! And most people’s day jobs aren’t devoted to figuring these things out, even if they have an EA job.

But I’ll admit there are some downsides to switching to longtermist EA work as a mid-career person

I have to admit there are some things that aren’t ideal about switching to EA work as a mid-career person. (I think improving the situation here would be very valuable.)

  • You may have to sacrifice some career stability. Even though I think things are improving, I still think a large proportion of the most impactful work (especially if you’re starting out in EA work) doesn’t offer huge career stability (for example, 6 months of funding from the Long-Term Future Fund for career exploration). Having said this, there are many options that do involve permanent employment, such as roles at Open Philanthropy or my current employer, Rethink Priorities.
  • You may well see a pay cut. The pay range guess I gave earlier (“my impression is that salaries are often in the $60k-150k range”) compares well to, say, UK academia, but would probably represent a pay cut for people working in very well-paid industries like finance and consulting.
  • It might be initially unclear exactly what you need to do. Depending on how hard you want to optimise for doing the most good (and I think it’s worth optimising pretty hard), finding your most impactful work might require a lot of thinking and exploration. (If you’re interested in doing this and don’t feel like you have much support, get in touch!)
  • You’ll probably be rejected for lots of things. Hopefully mid-career people are familiar with what applying for jobs is like, but, to be explicit, as with other areas of work there are no guarantees that applying for EA jobs will lead to job offers.[7] I don’t think everyone who hasn’t yet explored EA work will be able to find a job doing impactful EA work; rather, I think there are lots of people out there who would be able to get job offers to do higher impact stuff (or funding for new projects, etc.) if they explored this.

Finally, I should say I generally tend to see the positive side of things and enjoy the things I do. Maybe others would give a more nuanced view.

Also, just to reiterate that it’s very possible you’re having a really amazing impact doing something that isn’t “EA work” right now (or are gaining skills that will allow you to have a large impact later). If you think that’s you, maybe you should stick with that!

Final words

To reiterate, I think there’s an incredible opportunity right now for mid-career people to do really exciting, rewarding, and high-value work with incredible colleagues in a great working environment.

I haven’t said much about how you might go about switching to EA work, but I’ll just quickly note that this doesn’t have to mean switching to full-time EA work straight away.[8] Smaller experiments are possible, like learning about an area of interest, or doing consulting or part-time work.

If you’re a mid-career EA lurker like 2018-me, don’t wait for permission! Get in touch with 80,000 Hours for free career coaching, or with organisations / individuals you might want to work with. Start working on impactful and rewarding projects![9]


Thanks to Holly Elmore, Max Räuker, Abi Olvera, Gavin Taylor, Linch Zhang, Claire Boine, and David Reinstein for feedback, and Katy Moore for feedback and copy editing.

  1. ^

    With “mid-career” I have in mind roughly the age range 27-50. But this is pretty arbitrary, and anyway, a lot of what I’ll say will be relevant for people at other career stages. I focus on mid-career people here partly because I think EA career advice for mid-career people is undersupplied at the moment.

  2. ^

    And with “EA org” I roughly have in mind: and organisation with an EA-motivated mission and (probably) mostly staffed by EA-motivated people. (It doesn't need to be explictly EA-branded.)

  3. ^

    I don't think Rethink Priorities has live job ads for this right now (as of April 26th), but I understand that expressions of interest in working on megaproject incubation at Rethink Priorities would be very welcome. See this form.

  4. ^
  5. ^

    This misconception is related to Holden Karnofsky’s misconception #3 in Important, actionable research questions for the most important century (see the 3rd bullet in the first bullet point list in the post).

  6. ^
  7. ^

    The 2019 EA Forum post After one year of applying for EA jobs: It is really, really hard to get hired by an EA organisation seems relevant. While looking for the link to that post, my eye was caught by Is it no longer hard to get a direct work job?, which I haven’t read but which might be relevant.

  8. ^

    But to get an idea of the jobs available, you could check the 80,000 Hours job board.

  9. ^

    Feel free to send me a private message on the EA Forum or to email me at hello[at]bensnodin dot com. And, to plug my current employer again, Rethink Priorities has an expression of interest form.

Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

Happy to see this being discussed :) I may come back and write more later, but a couple quick points:

  • I've been having lots of convos with different people in this vein, and am feeling optimistic there's growing momentum behind recognizing the importance of recruiting mid+ career professionals -- not as a matter of equity and diversification, but as one of bringing critical and missing talent into the movement. I think EA has, on the whole, significantly overvalued "potential" and significantly undervalued "skills" and "capacities" in the past.
  • One of the advantages of the funding overhang is that it creates an opportunity to "remove the excuse" for people to not switch to direct work. It is a very big mistake IMO to be arbitrarily limiting salaries for talented professionals to well under market (for what purpose?). It seems like this is increasingly recognized and orgs are developing more context-sensitive approaches to compensation -- accordingly, I think it's something of a mistake to provide an anticipated salary range (generally below what I would expect mid-career professionals to be paid, I'd add) and describe it as a potential downside of moving to direct work. It's mentioned in the post but bears repeating: IF MONEY IS THE ONLY THING HOLDING YOU BACK FROM A CAREER IN DIRECT WORK, TALK TO PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY ABOUT THIS -- there is flexibility here.

Thank you so much for writing this up, Ben! There are many things that ring true to me, being in my 40s. I'd like to add other misconceptions I experienced:

  • Misconception: EA is only for young people
    • Reality: Although joining a local group can make you feel as if you're sticking out age-wise this will change if you join EAG conferences, especially the mid- and late-career meetups there. Conferences are a great place to start meeting people in similar career positions. Also just sending emails to people you are interested in directly often leads to you being able to have a call. The 80k career call is also a good place to get introduced.
  • Misconception: I will be viewed differently because of my age
    • Reality: After overcoming my own fear of being judged for my age I found out that EAs are generally welcoming and open. I now find myself joining EA meetings more often than ones with my former peers because of the shared interest and good discussion culture. I neither see myself as being penalized nor having special privileges for being older. For example, job applications seem very standardized and fair.
  • Misconception:  Working for an EA org means moving if I'm not in an existing hub
    • Reality: While some organisations want to have staff on the ground, others are fully or partially remote. With more co-working spaces popping up it may even be possible to join EAs in your city while working remotely for an EA org in your specialist area.
  • Misconception: EA orgs are small and mainly need specialists
    • Reality: While many EA orgs have 5 or fewer employees more and more are getting funding to scale up. This means there is more demand for knowledge around organisation building and scaling as well as additional support staff roles. At EAG London I heard about jobs that hadn't been published yet and was able to apply. Prior to the conference, I hadn't even considered these roles as operation roles seemed very limited in scope.
  • Misconception: I can do more good by earning to give
    • Reality: This is really hard to evaluate but after talking to some experienced people at EAG I suspect there are still many people who undervalue their potential for direct work. With new organisations scaling up and the need for bigger projects ("megaprojects") wanted by funders not being met, I think we're seeing a skill gap, especially in entrepreneurship and management. Some people should forgo their current income in order to take jobs that funders are very willing to pay.

Some things that come to mind that might help mid-career people:

  • Meetings/Calls with people that were in similar situations and are now working in EA-aligned jobs
  • Possibilities to explore EA-work while taking a sabbatical, e.g. by doing research projects in an EA hub, joining an 80k career group for people of the same age, doing skilled volunteering
  • Writeups of more success stories of mid-career people changing jobs
  • Talks from mid-career people in EA-jobs at EA job place groups
  • Retreats for mid-career people interested in switching with speakers that have done the transition
  • More volunteering opportunities that enable getting to know organisations

I hope to be able to contribute to getting more mid-career people into direct EA work and have offered High Impact Professionals to support them in that area. Additionally, I'm also always happy to chat with people about this and to make introductions.

Thank you for the post.  What did you mean by these two things?  Can you provide more details or links?

>doing research projects in an EA hub


>joining an 80k career group for people of the same age

>doing research projects in an EA hub

I meant staying for some time in a location where many other EAs are (like the Bay Area, Oxford, London) and working on a research project from there. This could combine the exchange with other people with self-study and deep thinking.

>joining an 80k career group for people of the same age

I would like to have a group of mid-career professionals that are all taking the 8-week 80k career course where we can encourage each other and can discuss questions that come up.

Ah thanks...it was not clear to me that these aren't things that currently exist, cheers

An important point here is that if you're considering this move, there's a decent/good chance you'll be able to find career transition funding so that you can have 3-12mo of runway during which you can full-time talk to people, read lots of stuff, apply to lots of things, etc. after you quit your job, so that you don't have to burn through much or any of your savings while trying to make the transition work.

I agree. To point to a singular source of funding to complete this call to action, I encourage relevant onlookers to look into the Effective Altruism Infrastructure Fund.

Agreed - and to point to lots of sources, I'd highlight List of EA funding opportunities and my statement there that:

I strongly encourage people to consider applying for one or more of these things. Given how quick applying often is and how impactful funded projects often are, applying is often worthwhile in expectation even if your odds of getting funding aren’t very high. (I think the same basic logic applies to job applications.)

Also, less importantly, Things I often tell people about applying to EA Funds

Is that only true for people who have a very good track reckord or are very talented or skilled?

For what it's worth, I'd say (partly based on my experience as a grantmaker and on talking to lots of other grantmakers about similar things):

  • It's not the case that everyone who applies will get funding, and it is the case that track record and other signs of talent/skill would be taken into account
  • But people also have a decent chance of getting at least a few months of funding even if they have neither a very good track record nor clear signals of strong talent/skill
  • And people who think they don't have much signals of strong talent/skill should probably in any case strongly consider just applying, because:
    • people often underestimate themselves or misjudge what grantmakers will be happy to take a bet on
    • applying doesn't cost much (usually just a few hours) and the upside can be quite large
    • grantmakers may then be able to say what sort of ways they'd want the project plan to change or what sort of further evidence they'd want to see before making the grant
  • So if funding would be useful, people should probably just have a go and see what happens rather than spending lots of time trying to predict their odds by themselves
  • See also Don’t think, just apply! (usually)

I endorse this direction for my domain (software)

I'd like to emphasise something you said as a side note but seems really important to me: 

"if salary is blocking you..."

Or if anything else is blocking you - tell someone. The EA orgs are often unaware. At least one EA org explicitly asked me if I think salaries are preventing people from applying.

The EA orgs really need feedback on what is preventing people from applying, this is a blind spot for them and a pain point for the community, please be one of the people who share what is blocking you (even anonymously, or PM me, I'll ask some follow up questions like "what salary would get you to apply?" or so, and then I'll pass it on anonymously)

Nice post! I think that I agree with all of the specific points you made, that they seem in aggregate pretty useful+important to say, and that in future I'll probably send this post to at least 5 people when giving career advice.

But here are two criticisms:

  • I think you don't state explicitly what you mean by "EA work"?
    • And I'm guessing at least 25% of readers will consciously or unconsciously interpret it as "work at explicitly EA orgs", but I'm also guessing you in fact mean it as something like "work that's motivated by impartial altruism and would be seen by many EAs as plausibly the highest impact choice for the person could take right now".
    • E.g., I'm guessing you'd include things like roles in the US government or running for political office in cases where those things either plausibly have very high net positive impact or are great for the person's career capital and the person aims to use that career capital impactfully later.
    • I think it's already the case that many people unfortunately conflate "impactful role" with "role at an EA org", and also that many people get annoyed at "EA insiders" for appearing to do so (e.g., I think 80k has sometimes been criticised based on perceptions of this).
    • So if I were you, I'd probably have defined "EA work" early on and explicitly flagged that it includes but is not limited to work at EA orgs.
    • (To be clear, I do think mid-career people - as with everyone else should also strongly consider switching to working at EA orgs specifically! They should just consider both that and impactful roles elsewhere.)
  • I think much/most of the advice/info provided in this post is ~exactly as relevant to early-career people as to mid-career people. This is of course itself a good thing - just adds to its usefulness! - but it also makes me feel like maybe therefore this either should've been split into two posts or should've had a different title?
    • I expect most of the people I'll want to share this with in future will be early-career, since that's most of the people I come across in EA and give career advice to. I'll probably just clarify each time that most (though not all) of the contents are really just as relevant to early-career people and the title is just a bit misleading.

(Disclaimer-ish thing: I work with Ben at Rethink Priorities.)

Thanks. On the first point in particular, the post might add a bit of confusion here unfortunately.

Edit: I added something near the top that hopefully makes things a bit clearer re the first point

Also note that, for the purposes of this post, by “EA work” I mostly mean working at EA orgs. But I also think it would be great if mid-career people considered switching to really impactful stuff that isn't at EA orgs, and if they're already doing really impactful stuff that isn't at an EA org maybe they should keep doing that. And a lot of what I say here is still relevant for switching to highly impactful work that isn't at an EA org.

This topic looks really interesting to me as a mid-career person who would prefer to work on something that improves the world rather than something that is in the end driven by profit. The post gives me the impression that there are lots of interesting research-y jobs out there that actually try to improve the world without requiring a big financial sacrifice and for which people without the exact skills needed for the job might still have a chance.

This raises a big "too good to be true" red flag for me. There are lots of people who would prefer to do research rather than some random commercial job, especially if it was on a topic relevant to improving the world. That is witnessed by the armies of people who would want to do a research job in academia despite the high pressure and mediocre pay. If these jobs are really as good as this post describes I would expect there to be lots of people trying to get in and thus it not being worth the effort for me to try to apply without exactly the right skills.

So, what's the catch? Or what am I missing here?

Hmm the short answer is that the job markets aren't necessarily efficient, so if it seems too good to be true for you, it might just be a really good option for you! 

The longer answer is that the set of tradeoffs that are common in EA work may well sound appealing to you, but  it's not necessarily that appealing to other people. Some quick things that might make EA work less appealing for many people (especially when compared to academia):

  1. The set of possible actions are vast, the subset of optimal actions are tiny.
    1. Most of my EA-adjacent friends in academia do work that they think of as extremely interesting. In contrast, EA work necessarily (at least in theory) filters heavily on impact, and it's unlikely that the same research questions will be both extremely interesting and extremely impactful.
    2. So from an academic perspective, giving up intellectual freedom to do impactful work is often a huge sacrifice in comparison
    3. On the flip side, if you have the type of psychology that naturally finds (e.g.) corrigibility in AI alignment or timelines for alternative proteins maximally interesting, then this may not look like a sacrifice to you at all!
    4. More realistically, most of us reorient ourselves to make impact itself seem interesting.  
  2. It's harder to get external prestige for doing impactful EA work (though maybe this is changing)
    1. Compared to academia, just isn't the same system of citations, promotions, etc, that's as externally legible as some other career tracks like academia or the corporate world.
  3. There's a lot of responsibility in EA work, and this can be stressful or emotionally hard to deal with.

I think this is a good question and there are a few answers to it.

One is that many of these jobs only look like they check the "improving the world" box if you have fairly unusual views. There aren't many people in the world for whom e.g. "doing research to prevent future AI systems from killing us all" tracks as an altruistic activity. It's interesting to look at this (somewhat old) estimate of how many EAs even exist.

Another is that many of the roles discussed here aren't research-y roles (e.g. the biosecurity projects require entrepreneurship, not research).

Another is that the type of research involved (when the roles are in fact research roles) is often difficult, messy, and unrewarding. AI alignment, for instance, is a pre-paradigmatic field. The problem statement has no formal definition. The objects of study (broadly superhuman AI systems) don't yet exist and therefore can't be experimented upon. Out of all possible research that could be done in academia, "expected tractability" is a large factor in determining what questions people try to tackle. But when you're filtering strongly for impact as EA is, you can no longer select strongly for tractability. So it's much more likely that things will be a confusing muddle that it's difficult to make clear progress on.

Some quick thoughts on this from me:

Honestly for me it's probably at the "almost too good to be true" level of surprisingness (but to be clear it actually is true!). I think it's a brilliant community / ecosystem (though of course there's always room for improvement).

I agree that you probably generally need unusual views to find the goals of these jobs/projects compelling (and maybe also to be a good job applicant in many cases?). That seems like a high bar to me, and I think it's a big factor here.

I also agree that not all roles are research roles, although I don't know how much this weakens the surprisingness because some people probably don't find research roles appealing but do find e.g. project management appealing. (Also I do feel like most research is pretty tough one way or another, whether or not it's "EA" research.)

I guess there's also the "downsides" I mentioned in the post. One that particularly comes to mind is that there still aren't a ton of great EA jobs to just slot into, and the ones that exist often seem to be very over-subscribed. Partly depends on your existing profile of skills of course :).

With this post almost a year old now, I was curious if any of the commenters who were interested in switching to EA-related work have pursued this route. If so:

  • Have you been hired?
  • What was the job seeking process like for you?
  • Any recommendations to other mid-career professionals looking to pursue this path?

So here's a question I've been thinking about. Suppose I pivot to full-time EA work at one of the funded EA organizations described here. I have a good time and make the world a better place by delivering safe AI to a few customers. However, my organization of choice ends up being too longtermist to turn a profit, the funding from the Future Fund runs out, or whatever, and I need to find something more stable to support myself and my (future--hopefully!) family.  How do I sell the experience I gained at an EA company to mainstream stable employers (like at a bank or a top tech company)?

I'm not sure why it couldn't be like any other startup that doesn't pan out - save money in the process and in the interviews talk about what you did and what you learned.

I really appreciate you writing this post, especially since you note "I focus on mid-career people here partly because I think EA career advice for mid-career people is undersupplied at the moment."

I agree with the implication that more resources should be dedicated to outreach to mid-career people, especially since senior management/mentorship seems to be a bottleneck for causes like AI safety. To that end, efforts like these seem valuable!

Question to the author (or someone else who made a similar transition): how much more/less motivated are you for your "EA work" versus your old "non-EA work" on a day to day basis?

At a high level I'd say ~in the 2 years I've spent doing "EA work" my average motivation has been towards the upper end of my motivation level over the previous 8-9 years doing a PhD and working in finance. (I might have been significantly less motivated working in finance if I wasn't kind of doing an "earning to give" type thing.)

I think the biggest areas of difficulty for me re motivation in "EA work" have been difficulties with motivation associated with doing research-type things that are many steps removed from impact, and at times not having huge amounts of management / guidance (but there are lots of pluses, as I implied in the post I guess).

Super glad you wrote this up! The over-representation of young people in EA might in some ways be due to more university outreach and early career resources. Overall, reaching out to mid-career professionals would require different methods - more articles like what you've written here.

Thank you! This post is hyper relevant to me right now - I'm mid career in finance, earning to give, it's OK but don't necessarily love it, thinking of alternatives, part of what's holding me back is the sense that I would do much less good elsewhere (and also a general risk aversion born of earlier-in-life relative poverty, admittedly). This has provided some helpful food for thought. 

I strongly encourage you to apply to 80k advising to think about possible career paths!

Or to message me :)


As a fellow mid-career person looking at moving into EA, and agreeing that ‘EA career advice for mid-career people is undersupplied at the moment’, I found this post and the comments below really valuable - thanks for taking the time to write it up!


I wanted to pick up on Patrick’s point around specialist vs generalist, as to me this seems a key part of the issue. Much as it is the case that EA tends younger, but seems inclusive of older people, it does also seem to skew specialist. This is understandable, given there are a lot of practitioner roles that will require large amounts of specialist knowledge. It’s interesting that this comment talks about more generalist roles being mentioned at EAG that haven’t been publicised. I wonder if it is more likely that specialist roles get ‘officially’ publicised, while the more generalist ones are likelier to not be, maybe to the extent of only living in someone’s head in the style, ‘we could really do with someone to help us out on operations…’


What I would find really useful as more of a generalist is advice around ‘here’s how to use your skill stack to get a job in EA’. This exists to a certain extent in career profiles like on 80k, but not always with the context of ‘this is essential from day 1, this is essential but you can learn it on the job, this will make your life easier, this is something you would only use once a month in practice…’ And it does feel like particular types of roles that could appear in any sector of work (e.g. operations roles) get less coverage than those that specialise in a particular sector (e.g. AI researcher) If I get an EA job, I promise to write something around this! I’ll drop a couple of you a line about this later.


On the ‘quit your job and try things out’ approach - I’ve seen a couple of posts around interim funding. This could be really useful, but from my own situation, the issue isn’t so much runway but whether I would give up a reasonably effective job for the chance of something that may be much better. How do you really distinguish between the genuine difference in impact you might have against loss aversion? How many jobs are there that would be better and how many people are chasing them? For mid-career people, it feels like runway may be less of an impact relative to the knowledge you may be giving up something with a guaranteed impact, even if it may not be optimal, on the basis of uncertain factors. 


Thanks again for spending a few hours writing this one.

It’s interesting that this comment talks about more generalist roles being mentioned at EAG that haven’t been publicised. I wonder if it is more likely that specialist roles get ‘officially’ publicised, while the more generalist ones are likelier to not be, maybe to the extent of only living in someone’s head in the style, ‘we could really do with someone to help us out on operations…’

As I was only looking for operations roles I don't know if there is a difference to specialists. At the moment there seems to be a lot of dynamics with orgs getting new funding and being able to expand quickly. People at the orgs might be able to tell you they are in the process of writing a job post or they might already have a document but not have posted it publicly. Also for some jobs I assume it might be easier to approach people or networks before posting them and then dealing with many applications. But this is only speculation.

What I would find really useful as more of a generalist is advice around ‘here’s how to use your skill stack to get a job in EA’.

My impression is that often co-founders of organisations don't know themselves what a generalist might be doing in a year as everything is changing quickly. This seems to be very similar to startups. When hiring I would always point out that a job title in a contract should be seen as a starting point and might have little overlap with the actual job a few months in.

The upside is that as a generalist in a small and growing organisation you can bring your specific talents to the table and have the chance to change the role so that it fits your strengths. You can then help outsource or hire talent that can cover your weaknesses.

For mid-career people, it feels like runway may be less of an impact relative to the knowledge you may be giving up something with a guaranteed impact, even if it may not be optimal, on the basis of uncertain factors.

In terms of giving up something, you might try to get a sabbatical at your current company to try out direct EA work for a year. If this doesn't work out you might discuss quitting on good terms so that they'd be willing to hire you again if they have a job open after a year.  It might be useful to research how likely this would work out for you.

For the general framing of impact, I personally ask myself: How can I increase the expected value of the EA community having a bigger impact? Especially in longtermist organisations, the additional dollar donated might be much less useful at the moment than being a co-founder or an early employee of a new organisation. This can be still true if the organisation has a high risk of failure but might do a lot of good if it succeeds.

I see that this can make it hard for many mid-career people to change jobs and leave a secure position. But in willing to do it, you're filling a neglected gap. The counterfactual expected value of your work might be one or two orders of magnitude higher than earning to give.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

For mid-career people, it feels like runway may be less of an impact relative to the knowledge you may be giving up something with a guaranteed impact, even if it may not be optimal, on the basis of uncertain factors.

If you're thinking purely about maximising impact, you probably want to go for the highest expected value thing, in which case accepting a bit more uncertainty in your lifetime impact to explore other options is (in the kind of situation you described) maybe well worth it in many cases. Of course, one important factor is how easy it is to return to the current career path after (say) a year of trying other stuff.

(if this is more of a gut level concern, maybe it's a different story of course)

Hey, this is interesting. Have you thought about writing a piece for mid-level impact driven, EA inspired people that are at a cross-road and want to up their impact / leverage / effectiveness? A lot of EA 'recruitmemt' focuses on students and early career starters but we see a lot of people dropping out of the funnel of impacteers. How can we keep them motivated so that they continue with their ambition and drive? And empower them to take the next step on their EA journey? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Sure, I think I or Claire Boine might write about that kind of thing some time soon :).

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