Thank you very much for doing this (long!) analysis.
Your conclusion makes sense to me and is an interesting result.
It would be interesting to think about how the survey can be adapted to better pick up these differences in future years.
This data might also be useful to cross-check against:
I just noticed that there were people who report first finding out about EA from 80k in 2009 and 2010. I’d say 80k was only informally formed in early 2011, and the name was only chosen at the end of 2011, so those survey responses must be mistaken. I gather that the sample sizes for the early years are small, so this is probably just one or two people.
That’s a complex topic, but our starting point for conversions would be the figures in the EA leaders survey: https://80000hours.org/2018/10/2018-talent-gaps-survey/
Just adding that we made a similar suggestion: that people should cut back their donations to ~1% until they’ve built up at least enough savings for 6-12 months of runway.
We also suggest here that people also prioritise saving 15% of their income for retirement ahead of substantial donations. If people want to donate beyond this level that’s commendable, but I don’t think that’s where we should set a norm.
Great! I was wondering if this might be it.
I think in practice people work on it for both reasons depending on their values.
Thanks for this analysis. If there’s time for more, I’d be keen to see something more focused on ‘level of contribution’ rather than subscriber vs. identifier. I’m not too concerned about whether someone identifies with EA, but rather with how much impact they’re able to have. It would be useful to know which sources are most responsible for the people who are most contributing.
I’m not sure what proxies you have for this in the survey data, but I’m thinking ideally of concrete achievements, like working full-time in EA; or donating over $5,000 per year.
You could also look at how dedicated to social impact they say they are combined with things like academic credentials, but these proxies are much more noisy.
One potential source of proxies is how involved someone says they are in EA, but again I don’t care about that so much compared to what they’re actually contributing.
Hi there, just a quick thought on the cause groupings in case you use them in future posts.
Currently, the post notes that global poverty is the cause most often selected as the top priority, but it should add that this is sensitive to how the causes are grouped, and there’s no single clear way to do this.
The most common division we have is probably these 4 categories: global poverty, GCRs, meta and animal welfare.
If we used this grouping, then the identifiers would report:
Global poverty: 27%
Animal welfare: 10%
(Plus Climate Change: 13% Mental health: 4%)
So, basically the top 3 areas are about the same. If climate change were grouped into GCRs, then GCRs would go up to 41% and be the clear leader.
Global poverty is a huge area that receives hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, and could arguably be divided into health, economic empowerment (e.g. cash transfers), education, policy-change etc. That could also be an option for the next version of the survey.
I’m glad we have the finer grained divisions in the survey, but we have to be careful about how to present the results.
I think it might be clearer to break up the Bay Area into SF, East Bay, North Bay and South Bay. These locations all take about an hour to travel between, which makes them comparable to London, Oxford and Cambridge (even Bristol). Including such a large area as a single category makes it much easier to rank top. Wikipedia reports that London is about 600 square miles, while the nine-county Bay Area is 7000. I appreciate that what counts as a city is not clear, but I’d definitely say the Bay Area is more than one city. (Alternatively, we could group ‘Loxbridge’ as one category.)
I agree it’s better to give the most concrete suggestions possible.
As I noted right below this quote, we do often provide specific advice on ‘Plan B’ options within our career reviews and priority paths (i.e. nearby options to pivot into).
Beyond that and with Plan Zs, I mentioned that they usually depend a great deal on the situation and are often covered by existing advice, which is why we haven’t gone into more detail before. I’m skeptical that what EAs most need is advice on how to get a job at a deli. I suspect the real problem might be more an issue of tone or implicit comparisons or something else. That said, I’m not denying this part of the site couldn’t be greatly improved.
One point of factual disagreement is that I think good general career advice is in fact quite neglected.
I definitely agree with you that existing career advice usually seems quite bad. This was one of the factors that motivated us to start 80,000 Hours.
it seems like probably I and others disappointed with the lack of broader EA career advice should do the research and write some more concrete posts on the topic ourselves.
If we thought this was good, we would likely cross-post it or link to it. (Though we’ve found working with freelance researchers tough in the past, and haven’t accepted many submissions.)
I think my hope for better broad EA career advice may be better met by a new site/organization rather than by 80k.
Potentially, though I note some challenges with this and alternative ideas in the other comments.
Here are some additions and comments on some of your points.
If I remember correctly, the EA survey suggests that 80K is an important entry point for lots of people into EA.
It’s true that this means that stakes for improving 80,000 Hours are high, but it also seems like evidence that 80,000 Hours is succeeding as an introduction for many people.
3) We talk about EA movement-building not being funding constrained. If that’s the case, then presumably it’d be possible to create more roles, be that at 80K or at new organisations.
Unfortunately lack of funding constraints doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to build new teams. For instance, the community is very constrained by managers, which makes it hard to both hire junior people and set up new organisations. See more here.
Research/website like 80K’s current career profile reviews, but including less competitive career paths (perhaps this would need to focus on quantity over quality and “breadth” over depth)
Note that we have tried this in the past (e.g. allied health, web design, executive search), but they took a long time to write, never got much attention, and as far as we’re aware haven’t caused any plan changes.
I think it would also be hard to correctly direct people to the right source of advice between the two orgs.
It seems better to try to make some quick improvements to 80,000 Hours, such as adding a list of very concrete but less competitive options to the next version of our guide. (And as noted, there are already options in earning to give and government.)
Research/website/podcasts etc like 80K’s current work, but focusing on specific cause areas (e.g. animal advocacy broadly, including both farmed animals and wild animals)
Agree—I mention this in another comment.
Regular career workshops
Yes, these are already being experimented with by local effective altruism groups. However, note that there is a risk that if these become a major way people first engage with effective altruism, they could put off the people best suited for the narrow priority paths. As noted, this seems to have been a problem in our existing content, which is presumably more narrow than these new workshops would be. They’re also quite challenging to run well—often someone able to do this independently can get a full-time job at an existing organisation.
One-on-one calls seem safer, and funding someone to work independently doing calls all day seems like a reasonable use of funding to me, provided they couldn’t / wouldn’t get a more senior job. (Though it was tried by ‘EA Action’ once before, which was shut down.)
Research/webite/podcasts etc like 80K’s current work, but focused on high school age students, before they’ve made choices which significantly narrow down their options (like choosing their degree).
This seems pretty similar to SHIC: https://shicschools.org/
So it seems to me that either 80K should prioritise hiring more people to take up some of these opportunities, or EA as a movement should prioritise creating new organisations to take them up.
Unfortunately, we have very limited capacity to hire. It seems better that we focus our efforts on people who can help with our main organisational focus, which is the narrow vision. So, like I note, I think these would mainly have to be done by other organisations.
So it ought not to surprise anyone that a huge fraction of them come away demoralized.
I want to quickly point out that we don’t have enough evidence to conclude that ‘a huge fraction’ are demoralized. We have several reports and some intuitive reasons to expect that some are. We also have plenty of reports of people saying 80,000 Hours made them more motivated and ambitious, and helped them find more personally meaningful and satisfying careers. It’s hard to know what the overall effect is on motivation.
Hi Milan, this is a very quick response. The short answer is that we have considered it, but don’t intend to do it in the foreseeable future.
The main reason is that it would cost one of our key managers, but we think it would be lower impact than our current activities for the reasons listed in the main post. I also think our donors would be less keen on it, and it seems hard to make work in practice—how would you tell people which one they should use?
My guess is that it might be better for a new team to work on. One framing might be to to approach the problem from a different angle, such as making a guide to contributing to politics part-time (e.g. neglected bipartisan bills you could call your congressperson about); or putting more emphasis on the GWWC pledge again. It would also be cheaper to start by just publishing a more concrete list of less competitive career options.
A slightly different project that might be worth someone taking on is an organisation focusing on global health or factory farming career advice.
Hi Milan, it would depend a lot on the details, but if it were mainly due to us and they were donating to the EA Long-term Fund or equivalent, then it would roughly be a rated-10 plan change, which would mean it’s in the top 150 of all time.
On 2), note there’s discussion about this here.
It’s not our intention to give this impression—finding someone who donates $60k per year would be seen as a significant success within the team. We also highlight an example of someone doing exactly this (working at Google and earning to give) in our key career guide article on high impact jobs. I’d be curious to hear about anything we’ve done to exacerbate the problem other than our discussions of certain very competitive paths, which I admit can be demoralizing in themselves.
I think the main aspect of our advice that might be mainly relevant to people who have ‘top half of Oxford’ credentials is the list of priority paths. However, even within this list of our highest priorities, are options that don’t require that kind of academic background, such as government jobs and operations positions. We know lots of people without this background currently succeeding in these roles. What’s more, on that page, we also highlight five broader paths that a significant fraction of college graduates could pursue, as well as a general step-by-step process for coming up with options.
Here are some responses to your specific points:
while their career reviews provide an “ease of competition” rating on a 1-5 scale, there’s no explanation how they arrive at these ratings or what a given rating means concretely, and what information they provide on standards and expectations in different fields is frustratingly vague.
We aim to assess entry criteria, predictors of personal fit and how to test out your fit within each career review, although we admittedly do a substantially better job of this in our ‘medium depth’ reviews than in our ‘shallow’ ones. The score, along with the ‘key facts on fit’ section in the summary of each profile, is just a very quick summary of that material. For instance, you mentioned working out whether to continue with academia, and we have about four pages on assessing personal fit in academia in the relevant career review.
while 80,000 Hours occasionally mentions in passing the value of having a backup plan, their website contains almost no concrete advice or recommendations about what such a plan might entail or how to make one.
We encourage people to make a ranking of options, then their back-up plan B is a less competitive option than your plan A that you can switch into if plan A doesn’t work out. Then Plan Z is how to get back on your feet if lots goes wrong. We lead people through a process to come up with their Plan B and Plan Z in our career planning tool.
Precisely what a person’s Plan B and Plan Z will be will depend a great deal on their skills, interests, existing resources, and on what Plan A they are aiming for. For that reason, in our profiles on particular career steps, we try to discuss what the highest value roles to aim for might be, and also what other paths they open up, for example in our page on studying economics. Having said that, unfortunately (being a small team) we are not able to discuss the specifics of the vast majority of career paths. This is less bad than it could be because Plan Zs are likely to involve ways of building up savings or taking jobs which aren’t peculiar to effective altruists, and so to be covered by other careers advice.
To ameliorate this somewhat, we also often discuss donating as a great option which allows most people to have a huge impact. While we think it’s crucial to find the most important skill bottlenecks and work out how people can train to fill them, that shouldn’t be taken to imply that we think donating to effective charities is not important.
Somebody coming to the 80000hours.org front page might start by reading the “Career Guide”, where in the section on career capital they would read that the most impactful years of one’s life are probably one’s 40s, and that in the meantime it’s important to build up broad flexible skills since the most important opportunities and cause areas will likely be unpredictably different in the future. However, buried in the 2017 Annual Report where a new reader is unlikely to find it is a more recent discussion reaching the exact opposite conclusion, that one should focus exclusively on narrow career capital that can apply directly to the things that seem most important right now.
I agree this is a mistake, for which I apologise. We’ve been working on an update to our content on career capital this year, but haven’t been able to finish it due to the lack of writing capacity. I agree we should have flagged this at the top of the career capital article, and I’ve now added a note there. We’ll likely add it to our mistakes page too. Thank you for prompting us on this.
Other widely-linked parts of the website seem neglected or broken entirely; for example no matter what answers I put into the career quiz it tells me to become a policy-focused civil servant in the British government (having neglected to ask whether I’m British)
I agree there are some major problems with the career quiz. It was last reviewed in 2016 and no longer reflects our current views—we’ve therefore removed most links to it from the website (dramatically reducing traffic), and added a note on the page to the effect that it doesn’t reflect our views. We’re considering whether to remove it altogether when we redesign our site next year. In the meantime, we recommend people use the general process for generating options listed here.
For what it’s worth, civil service only stays on the top if you select ‘no’ to working in the most competitive fields. We do think this can be a high-impact but less competitive option, but it’d obviously be better to have more such options, and better tailored ones. I agree that sending people of all nationalities to our UK civil service career review is confusing; though we do think many of the general points are relevant to working in government in other countries.
We built the tool to be a fun way of thinking about new options, and to act as a springboard for further research. We hoped that this would be evident from the format (only asking 6 questions). Unfortunately, we failed to anticipate how people would in fact use it.
Many of my friends report that reading 80,000 Hours’ site usually makes them feel demoralized, alienated, and hopeless.
We deeply regret this. Unfortunately, as noted, we also often hear the opposite reaction. I think it’s going to be difficult to be helpful for our whole potential audience. With the narrowing of our focus, we’ve been putting a lot of time into thinking about ways to make it clearer who will find our content most useful, and to avoid demoralising others. We’re sad that we haven’t yet succeeded in striking this balance, and are keen for more ideas on this front. We think that the number of importantly impactful jobs in the world are far more than we can expect to cover, and we at root want to convey a message of hope: that by thinking carefully about our career decisions, we really can help others and build a better future.