I'm looking at different career choices and in particular, academic research projects. I've tried to compare their impact by using some Fermi calculations, including working out:
- the magnitude of the problem the research will attempt to solve
- the likely value of the research if it is successful
- the likelihood it will be successful
- my marginal contribution to the research if I get involved with it
My calculations seem like they could be easily out by a couple of orders of magnitude. And it makes a difference--one less order of magnitude and the project is not more than the value of my marginal career impact if I simply maximized income and earned-to-give. Of course...who knows...I might have the order of magnitude the other way around, and perhaps the research project could be even more impactful.
Honestly, it seems like a bad idea to make any kind of decision based on this process, but if I want to know which career path has the most impact, I don't know any other way to do it!
So I have lots of questions, but the biggest one is: if you don't use this awfully flawed method to decide what the impact of a career path will be, what else would you use?