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Choosing a career with effective altruism as a dominant consideration

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This page discusses how to choose a career with effective altruism as a dominant consideration. If you want to consider the general question of the social value of different lines of work, read social value of work: factors to consider and social value of work: income as a proxy. For background on effective altruism, see effective altruism learning resources.

The relation between effective altruism and career

  • The work you do can directly generate social value.
  • The money you earn by working can be channeled to philanthropic causes (see earning to give).
  • You can leverage your work experience, credentials, and position of authority to engage in effective altruist actions either on the side or after a few years of working.

Careers typically considered high-potential for effective altruism

Top causes that effective altruists have narrowed down to

  • Poverty alleviation
  • Technological progress
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Existential risk and global catastrophic risk (this includes unfriendly artificial intelligence, climate catastrophe, asteroid collision, epidemic, world war, out-of-control nanotechnology, etc.)
  • Animal welfare
  • Cause prioritization
  • Other preparations for the far future, such as space colonization

Careers that are generally accessible to people with high intelligence and high conscientiousness

The list here excludes careers that have superstar economies, with very few people at the top (such as politics, sports, and acting) or ones that require special talent that generally needs to be nurtured from childhood (such as music).

Career name Reason for selection as a candidate Discussion of social value
Finance High earnings make it attractive for earning to give; also, finance involves moving large amounts of money and this can have considerable social impact Social value of finance
Biomedical research Many of the hardest problems related to human health, productivity, and longevity depend on breakthroughs in biomedical research Social value of biomedical research
Entrepreneurship Entrepreneurs can create new businesses and ideas that are transformative (huge upside) and they are less replacable.
Individuals are risk-averse, so there is less entrepreneurship than is socially optimal.
Entrepreneurs could potentially make a lot of money and then engage in earning to give.
Social value of entrepreneurship
Medicine Doctors are in charge of performing life-saving diagnoses and procedures.
Doctors earn a lot of money (though much of it goes into paying medical school debt). They could in principle engage in earning to give.
A position as a doctor gives one a position of authority via which to advocate improvements in healthcare systems. This could have very high leverage.
Social value of medicine
Software engineering Software, including the underlying code for websites, has a very high ratio of consumers to producers (for instance, Facebook has less than 7,000 employees and serves over a billion people).
Salaries in software engineering are high, facilitating earning to give.
Social value of software engineering

Resources

The 80,000 hours website and blog are devoted largely to the question of how to choose a career if effective altruism is a dominant consideration.

The following articles provide general discussion of how to think about the career choice:

See also