We just released a new resource, which may become an important part of our site, and which might help reduce some cultural issues in the EA community.
As a little background, 80,000 Hours has always aimed to provide two types of advice:
- Information about specific problems and career paths and their impact
- General strategies & decision-making tips for high-impact careers, such as steps for how to compare two jobs, or whether to focus on career capital or immediate impact.
The key ideas page we released in April 2019 emphasised specific problems & paths over general advice, but it was always our intention to fill in our coverage of both (similarly to how the 2017 career guide covered both).
I think we’ve taken a big step towards filling this gap with our new, in-depth ‘career planning process’.
It’s a set of prompts that take you through how to make a career plan, checking you’ve asked yourself the most important questions, are aware of the best resources, and have taken the most useful steps to investigate.
It starts with high-level questions and then works from there to concrete next actions. Specifically, it covers:
- Clarifying your ultimate goals and what a high-impact career looks like
- Prompts for choosing a global problem to focus on
- Exploring ideas for longer-term career paths you might pursue
- Clarifying our career strategy, based on your answers to the above
- Ideas for your next career move based on the above
- Your alternatives and back-up options
- How to investigate your key uncertainties
- Putting your plan into action
To get started on the process, you can either dive into the article that discusses each step above, or start filling out the associated worksheet:
- An in-depth article with a section covering each step above
- A Google Doc worksheet you can copy and fill in
Later, we hope to release a ‘just the key messages’ version that aims to quickly communicate the key concepts, without as much detail on why or how to apply them. We realise the current article is very long – it’s not aimed at new readers but rather at people who might want to spend days or more making a career plan. Longer-term, I could imagine it becoming a book with chapters for each stage above, which contain advice, real-life examples and exercises. (Added: we'll also consider making a 'tool' version like we had in the 2017 career guide.)
I hope this process will be useful to anyone within (and outside) the community with the good fortune to be able to consider making a big career change, since the prompts don’t depend on which causes you support or career paths you’re able to work on. We’ve had good feedback from some local groups already, and EA Student Career Mentoring have adapted it for their advising process.
I also hope it clarifies a lot of our positions. In Key Ideas, we throw out a lot of options and concepts, but there’s a long way to go from those ideas to an individual's career plan, which takes account of their values, skills, personal constraints, and so on.
To oversimplify the problem, people often get the impression we think everyone should try to work on AI safety as quickly as possible.
This is wrong first because we’d like to see people work on many problems besides AI safety. But just as importantly, we also think there are many other considerations to take into account in career planning: we want people to think about their greatest strengths, how to build valuable skills over time, how to ‘work forward’ from idiosyncratic opportunities, and to consider exploration, personal growth, and many other rules of thumb. All this could easily mean someone's best option isn't pursuing one of our priority paths or working on one of our highest-priority problems.
Finally, I hope this career planning process will help the community reframe what it means to have an ‘effective altruist career'. Effective altruism is focused on outcomes, and for good reasons; but focusing a lot on outcomes can have some bad side effects.
For instance, some of our readers have felt bad that they don’t have the mathematical skills needed to become AI safety researchers. Because they think AI safety is one of the world's most pressing problems, they feel guilty about not being able to work on it and compare themselves negatively to others who can.
Instead, I’d like to make it easier for people to focus on finding the best option for them, which is what really matters in practice.
I hope this planning process will make that idea more concrete: if you work through these steps and think carefully about them, I think you’ll be close to planning your best career.
In my view, if we’re going to try to assess how ‘EA’ someone’s career is, then rather than assessing it based on whether they’re working in a priority path or not, or even whether they’ve had a lot of impact, we should ask whether they've thought carefully about their career plan and put it into practice.
Sketching a plan, trying to put it into practice, and updating as you learn more is, after all, all anyone can do.
The article and worksheet are still in the early stages. We’re keen to get feedback – we have a form here or leave a comment. We’re especially keen to hear thoughts about what you found personally most useful vs. confusing and hard to apply.
We’d also be keen to see filled in versions of the worksheet from readers of the forum -- so if you want to fill out the worksheet and get some comments, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Worksheet from [Firstname_lastname]". As an incentive, we'll set aside time to give feedback on the first 15 we receive.