Hi all!

How do you recommend balancing "investigating cause areas / roles" against just "jumping in" and learning as you go?

Clarifications

By "investigating cause areas / roles," I mean something like carefully thinking through which cause areas / roles might be most impactful, trying to reduce your uncertainty on a number and variety of tricky, relevant sub-questions, etc.

By "jumping in," I mean something like generating your initial best guesses about the highest impact areas for you after spending a significant, but not huge amount of time (i.e. not many years) thinking, learning, etc.; diving into a hands-on experience in your top pick (personal project, internship, fellowship, etc.); and learning whatever you can there. This would include not only learning more about the skills / knowledge relevant for that particular cause area, but also learning more that could help you refine your assessment about which cause areas/roles are highest impact for you.

Context

I'm currently trying to weigh different options for cause areas &/or roles and feel a bit overwhelmed by uncertainty. It feels like there are a handful of very difficult questions I'd need to answer before feeling much less uncertainty. On top of that, it's difficult to find much time for doing this while working full-time. I have some initial "best guesses" that I feel interested in exploring. I'm beginning to wonder whether I should just aim to dive into one of my current best guesses and learn and update as I go. (My current best guesses have been informed by things like 80K's advice, misc. EA info I've absorbed over the years, and of course, my own thoughts/intuitions.)

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4 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:37 PM

I don’t feel justified to give you any advice, but I’ll tell you some of my thoughts on this.

I struggle with this question, too, and I find that it is easy to come to the conclusion that one should become a full-time philosopher or global priorities researcher to straighten these uncertainties out, depending on to what degree you want all of your actions justified.

My current practical strategy to deal with this (which I am sure can be improved) is to do both of the things you've described, but simultaneously. For example, I've been participating in a career accountability group for the last year where I have thought about career-related questions (i.e. "What do I feel passionate about?", "What roles could be a good personal fit for me?", "What do I think are the most pressing issues?"), but I have simultaneously jumped at volunteering to organise a local group and started a writing project on the side.

But I do also work part-time, so I have an easier time to take time for these things than you do.

What is your end goal, exactly? Maximising impact right now? Later? Finding a job which is a great personal fit, but more impactful than the job you have currently? There are different degrees to wanting to have an impact, and I think making it concrete may help.

Let me know your thoughts on this!

Sorry for the incredibly late response! I think that all makes sense--thanks for sharing!

I think it also ends up depending a lot on one's particular circumstances: do you have a unique / timely opportunity to "jump in"? Do you have a clear path forward (i.e. options that you even could "jump into")? How uncertain do you feel about which path is right for you and how much would you have to reduce your uncertainty to feel satisfied?

It's funny you mention that "it is easy to come to the conclusion that one should become a full-time philosopher or global priorities researcher to straighten these uncertainties out"--I've recently been thinking that this could actually be a good move in my particular circumstance. Global priorities research seems like a potentially very high impact area in itself. On top of that, one could use that time to become more informed about other cause areas that might be even higher impact for them. However, I'm not sure how useful this "scouting" aspect / approach would be. E.g. some of the areas I think could be higher impact for me than GPR are ones that I'm already pretty well-aware of. But I guess it could still be an opportunity to learn more about those areas, depending on what the research (done for GPR) would entail.

It absolutely depends on particular circumstances! 

I realise now that my current impression of GPR is that it really is its own field,  i.e. that you would not spending much time dipping your toes into specific (other) cause areas. See more here: https://globalprioritiesinstitute.org/research-agenda-web-version/
But it would be more useful to talk to someone who works with it to find out more, for sure!

Good point! I actually had that same misunderstanding I think too!