Initial Thoughts on Personally Finding a High-Impact Career
As I mentioned in my strategic plan, I have 10 months and 28 days until I graduate from Denison University and hopefully will be transitioning to a career. Careers are important because having one will not only mean that I won't starve, but that I'll have an opportunity to change the world. As the career advice organization 80,000 Hours notes you'll be spending about 80,000 hours in a career, so you might as well use it to make as big of a difference as you can? But what career should I pick?
Here are my starting thoughts and strategy...
Basic Philosophy and Strategy
My aim is to choose a career that will, taken as a whole, contribute the most to the world with regard to my utilitarian goals to increase total well-being. "Taken as a whole" means that I'm not just considering the direct good of the first career itself, but also it's interaction with the rest of my life, it's indirect good, and how it might set me up to have an even better second career.
However, there is one catch: I furthermore want the job to be at least moderately enjoyable. I would very much not like to be depressed or burnt out, and I suspect that would be bad for my utilitarian goals too. If I think I would be miserable at my chosen job even if somehow it were to maximize total well-being, I still would not take it (despite this being immoral from a utilitarian standpoint).
I also would like to have a plan in place rather soon, so I can actually act upon preparing for it. The earlier I pick a career plan, the more options will remain open. Right now, I'm stuck, for better or for worse, with a psychology and political science major and unless I do something drastic, I won't be able to take any classes outside of those two majors for the rest of my time at Denison.
As a political science and psychology double major, I think I could be very well qualified for a job that involves research and/or statistics. To get more of an idea of what I can do, feel free to look at my résumé and at my personal website. I'll speculate a bit more about my qualifications later on in this essay.
The Scope of High-Impact Careers
The way I've been categorizing it, there are essentially only two different kinds of careers that promise to do lots of good -- funneling money to effective organizations and working for effective organizations, though some opportunities allow for some combination of both.
By effective organizations, I mean orgs like Giving What We Can, 80K Hours, Effective Animal Activism, The Life You Can Save, Center for Applied Rationality, Machine Intelligence Research Institute, Future of Humanity Institute, Leverage Research, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, GiveWell, Against Malaria Foundation, Vegan Outreach, etc. (Of course, the actual choice of organization would matter a great deal, and some of these organizations might actually not be effective for one reason or another, but I won't look at those arguments here.)
Funneling money to effective organizations, in this case, involves only one opportunity -- earning to give, which I've summarized before. The basic idea is that you aim to pick a high income job and then donate as much as you can to an effective organization.
Working for effective organizations involves four other opportunities -- research, influence, fundraising, and/or direct work. I say "and/or" because you could end up employed at a effective organization that allows you to so some combination of the four. Research might involve working for a university working on an important question. Direct work might involve assisting in the day-to-day opportunities of the organization.
Notably, research, influence, and perhaps even fundraising, could be carried out in one's free time, such as what I do through this blog.
My Perceived Opportunities in Earning to Give
I think earning to give is a great baseline for me to evaluate other opportunities from, even though I'm moderately confident I can do more impact through a different line of work. What opportunities await? Here are my guesses:
- Investment Banking: My guess is this is the highest earning career, when considering probability of achieving certain incomes multiplied by the quantity of income, and high incomes right out of college. However, I'm only moderately qualified for it -- I think I have a good analytic mindset and have taken some economics and finance classes, but I'm not an economics major, and I've never done any finance internships. Moreover, I don't think this job would be particularly enjoyable. I see a high chance of failure to get a job and burnout once I get a job here.
- Law: Law seems like a high-earning career if you can make it big, but there's a low chance of making it big. I've heard anecdotally that you basically need to get into a top law school or you won't be having a good time, assuming you can pay for that law school. I think this would be moderately enjoyable and with Moot Court, a Constitutional law class, and a Political Science major, I'm as prepared for law as anyone can be in a liberal arts school.
- Consulting: Consulting offers high incomes right out of college, though the incomes might not be as high as other opportunities overall. I'd say I'm as prepared for consulting as anyone can be in a liberal arts school, though I'm not an economics major. Unfortunately, however, I'd guess that I'd really hate regular travel, so consulting might not be a good career path for me.
- Computer Programming: Computer programming also offers high incomes right out of college, provided you're talented at it. I think I have the raw aptitude, but I don't have the formal training. My guess is that if I wanted to go into programming, I'd have to pursue some additional education after Denison.
- Market Research: I think market research would also offer decently high incomes right out of college, and I'd be well qualified for it and I'd enjoy it. This has always been one of my favorite choices.
- Engineering: Engineering would provide high incomes right out of college, but I have no experience with engineering.
- Medicine: Doctors earn a lot, though they have high expenses with medical school. Doctors seem to be like lawyers who have a more smooth earnings curve -- you'll earn a bit less overall, but you have a higher chance of success. However, I don't think this is worth pursuing as I have no interest for it and I have never taken a single college-level biology course.
My Perceived Opportunities in Research
I've done really, really well in political science and think I'd have lots of aptitude as a political science Ph.D. However, I don't think political science offers much opportunities to actually make an impact with one's research. Psychology research, on the other hand, I do think has a wide variety of high impact questions to study, but I've only been moderately good at psychology and I'm unsure I'd get into a top Ph.D. program. I also imagine I might have the general skills to survive in other social science programs, like economics research.
I thought about doing philosophy research, since most of the biggest questions seem to lie in the realm of philosophy right now. However, I'm nearly certain I can do just as well or even better at philosophy research by just writing things on the internet.
My Perceived Opportunities in Influence/Fundraising
I don't know if there's much I could do in influence beyond what I'm already doing. I suspect my only options are to either retire early and blog full-time (it's not that hard to retire permanently by age 30 with a high enough income and savings rate). That seems unlikely to be my best choice.
I could go work on behalf of an effective organization, which seems promising.
Or I could always retire early and then work for an effective organization, as well, which would have the added benefit of not needing them to pay me.
A career in politics is unlikely to be high impact as a first career, and I've probably already burned myself from running for higher office with public statements of outside-the-mainstream views.
My Perceived Opportunities in Direct Work
I think this is the same as the above. I think I'd enjoy working for an effective organization directly.
One interesting idea is to be a personal assistant to someone who is high-impact to boost their impact. I'm not sure how good I am at this, however, and I'd feel like I could do better. I'm also not sure if this would be fun, though it could be. I suppose it depends on the person I'd work with.
This essay is good in making my career plans a lot less vague. But it's full of guesses and I'm definitely missing a lot. What do I plan on doing from here?
- Get a significant amount of advice on this draft. I'll be visiting England this summer and hope to stop by 80K and get advice from a bunch of cool people in person. I'll sign up for another 80k coaching session (my first one got a bit derailed). I also plan on talking to people not affiliated with 80K. Just by passing this draft around, I hope to get more advice on how to modify it. (Hint: You should give me advice on careers or advice on how to find good advice.)
- Do more personal research. 80K has a lot of research, but they might not be going fast enough for me to make it in time, and I might need to pick up some of what they don't have, to the best of my ability. Finding salary information for my favorite jobs would be a good start.
- Choose a few paths to pursue and build toward them. I can apply to jobs and graduate programs simultaneously while still figuring things out.
- Work on the LSAT and GRE. I need to take these two tests for law school and Ph.D. programs respectively. I also might need graduate school for non-Ph.D. career advancement. I'll get the practice tests ready.
- Keep writing about this. I'd imagine there's a lot of benefit for both me and others in creating more documentation and discussion around career choice for making the world a better place.