I work at 80,000 Hours, talking to people about their careers; opinions I share here are my own.
Hahaha, thanks for posting!! :)
This is a really interesting question! Unfortunately, it was posted a little too late for me to run it by the team to answer. Hopefully other people interested in this topic can weigh in here. This 80k podcast episode might be relevant? https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/michael-webb-ai-jobs-labour-market/
This is an interesting idea! I don't know the answer.
Thanks for the interesting questions, but unfortunately, they were posted a little too late for the team to answer. Glad to hear writing them helped you clarify your thinking a bit!
On calls, the way I do this is not assume people are part of the EA community, and instead see what their personal mindset is when it comes to doing good.
I think 80k advisors give good advice. So I hope people take it seriously but not follow it blindly.Giving good advice is really hard, and you should seek it out from many different sources. You also know yourself better than we do; people are unique and complicated, so if we give you advice that simply doesn’t apply to your personal situation, you should do something else. We are also flawed human beings, and sometimes make mistakes. Personally, I was miscalibrated on how hard it is to get technical AI safety roles, and I think I was overly optimistic about acceptance rates at different orgs. I feel really badly about this (my mistakes were pointed out by another advisor and I’ve since course corrected), just being explicit that we do make mistakes!
Tricky, multifaceted question. So basically, I think some people obsess too much about intelligence and massively undervalue the importance of conscientiousness and getting stuff done in the real world. I think this leads to silly social competitions around who is smarter, as opposed to focusing on what’s actually important, i.e. getting stuff done. If you’re interested in AI Safety technical research, my take is that you should try reading through existing technical research; if it appeals to you, try replicating some papers. If you enjoy that, consider applying to orgs, or to some alignment bootcamps. If you’re not getting any traction on applications, consider upskilling in a PhD program or industry. Some 80k advisors are more keen on independent research/taking time off to upskill; I’m not as keen on this. I would totally fail at structuring my time during an independent upskilling period, and I could see myself becoming quite isolated/anxious/depressed doing this. So I would prefer to see people pick up technical skills in a more structured way. For people who try all these things and still think they’re not making valuable progress, I would suggest a pivot into governance, support/non-technical roles at AI safety relevant orgs, or E2G. Or potentially another cause entirely! I don’t have as many opinions about outreach strategies for getting people into AI Safety work; overall outreach seems good, but maybe the focus should be “AI risk is a problem” more than, “You should work at these specific orgs!” And there are probably a lot of ways outreach can go badly or be counterproductive, so I think a lot of caution is needed — if people disagree with your approach, try and find out why and incorporate the fact of their disagreement into your decision making.
Alex Lawsen, my ex-supervisor who just left us for Open Phil (miss ya 😭), recently released a great 80k After Hours Podcast on the top 10 mistakes people make! Check it out here: https://80000hours.org/after-hours-podcast/episodes/alex-lawsen-10-career-mistakes/
We had a great advising team chat the other day about “sacrificing yourself on the altar of impact”. Basically, we talk to a lot of people who feel like they need to sacrifice their personal health and happiness in order to make the world a better place. The advising team would actually prefer for people to build lives that are sustainable; they make enough money to meet their needs, they have somewhere safe to live, their work environment is supportive and non-toxic, etc. We think that setting up a lifestyle where you can comfortably work in the long term (and not quickly flame out) is probably best for having a greater positive impact. Another thing I talk about on calls a lot is: the job market can be super competitive. Don’t over update on the strength of your CV if you only apply to two places and get rejected. You should probably not conclude much until you get rejected without an interview 10 times (this number is somewhat arbitrary, but a reasonable rule of thumb). If you keep getting rejected with no interviews, then it makes sense to upskill in industry before working in a directly impactful role; this was the path to impact for a huge number of our most productive community members, and should not be perceived negatively! Job applications can also be noisy, so if you want to work an ambitious job you probably need to be applying widely and expect to get quite a few rejections. Luisa Rodriguez has a great piece on dealing with rejection. One line I like a lot is: “If I’m not getting rejected, I’m not being ambitious enough.”
I love my job so much! I talk to kind hearted people who want to save the world all day, what could be better? I guess people sometimes assume we meet people in person, but almost all of our calls are on Zoom. Also, sometimes people think advising is about communicating “80k’s institutional views”, which is not really the case; it’s more about helping people think through things themselves and offering help/advice tailored to the specific person we’re talking to. This is a big difference between advising and web content; the latter has to be aimed towards a general audience or at least large swathes of people. One last thing I’ll add here is that I’ve been a full time advisor for less than a year, but I’ve already spoken to over 200 people. All of these people are welcome to contact me after our call if new questions/decisions pop up. Plus I talk to more new people each week. So I spend a *lot* of time answering emails.