Jun 19, 2013
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...
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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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?