For older EA-oriented career changers: discussion and community formation

by AllAmericanBreakfast 3 min read1st Jul 20197 comments


Much of 80,000 Hours' career advice seems primarily directed at people in their early 20s or teens. This makes sense, but I think there's value in beginning a discussion specifically for people who have been in the working world and are being guided by the "important, tractable, neglected" framework toward a career change. I invite anyone else in the same boat to respond to these questions or raise others. My hope is that out of those who respond, we can form a community for mutual support, identify common problems and potential solutions, and normalize career change for older people who might think it's not for them.

It may be that if 10 people invest 75 hours a year in a mutual aid support group, they'd collectively increase their chance of making a successful career change by 1%. Considering the stakes - 600,000 hours of future career work for a group of ten people who've been working another job for a decade - this kind of investment seems well worth it.

Here is a link to the Google Forms survey version of these questions. Hope you'll take the time to answer!

What have you been doing for work thus far, how do you feel about it, and why are you changing careers?

I've been working as a private music teacher, which is enjoyable but gives me little money or career capital. The "argument against education" makes sense to me, and my intellectual abilities, autodidacticism, and social competence make me think I'm cut out for scientific or policy work. 80k's analysis of pressing issues and careers with leverage basically makes sense to me. It swayed me to study math and economics rather than pursue my initial career change plan of becoming a doctor.

At what stage is your career change?

I'm at a community college, planning on a year of math and econ classes. By that time, I'll make a decision about whether to pursue a PhD in statistics or economics, or a master's in policy.

How has your age influenced your process?

It makes me leery of pursuing a PhD, because academia is already hard enough to work in without being older. I may pursue work in industry or government for that reason, but I'm hoping that a strategic choice of degree and program, top grades, test scores, and some independent research accomplishments will give me a chance at walking through many doors. Most of my family members neg me subtly or openly for not getting a teaching certificate, buying a house, and starting a family; I anticipate this will continue until I have been admitted into a graduate program. I'm becoming practiced at justifying my choices to get people off my back, because most of the anxiety they project onto me is only going to be an emotional burden rather than a useful critique of the reasoning guiding my choice.

What do you think would make this process easier, more attractive, or more normal for you?

My community college has a post-bacc pre-med program, and I found it very helpful when I was working toward becoming a doctor. It was a strong source of community, and helped me feel normal, motivated, and supported. We had an adviser who focused on developing the program, biweekly seminars that brought in speakers from medical schools and successful graduates and helped us with career planning, and biweekly social lunches. I did a rough calculation that full involvement with this guidance program took about 75 hours a year. Having this program made my otherwise ordinary community college a draw for interested students from two states away.

I wish there was something equivalent for 80k-oriented post-bacc career changers.

What do you think gets left out of the conversation when we focus exclusively on the "important, neglected, tractable" framework for issue or career evaluations?

I think I'm not alone in having "selfish" desires and "irrational" emotions. I want financial security and children someday. I'd miss home if I moved, worry about the toxic environment of corporate America or our government that I've thus far largely avoided by working for myself, fear accumulating significant debt and then failing to find a job, and like where I'm living and would be sad to move away from friends, family, and the beautiful environment of my region. I'm also afraid that I'm being forced to compartmentalize these negative emotions and that they'll sabotage me down the line. We look not only altruistic work, but issues that are neglected, meaning that they are probably especially likely to be low-paying or non-paying, while also seeming very strange to our loved ones.

I wish there were more discussion of how we can deal with these issues. Often, it seems as though these emotional concerns are simply set aside - often by writers who have already achieved significant career success working in the EA-sphere or academia, and who seem therefore not to share this struggle.

What are your ideas for how a group of EA-aligned older career changers could best support each other?

Video conferencing social meetings, organizing some form of career-planning seminar, meeting up if they live near each other, sharing struggles, opportunities, and successes online, exchanging contacts and networking, and serving to normalize this process for themselves, the EA community, and our friends and family who may not always be entirely sympathetic.

Would you like to be involved in an older EA-career changer community, and if so, what kinds of projects are you interested in and what's your availability?

Yes, and I could probably devote 1-2 hours per week to this.