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80,000 Hours careers workshop | Habiba Islam | EA Global: London 2021

May 28, 2022
EA Radio
80,000 Hours careers workshop | Habiba Islam | EA Global: London 2021
Show Notes Transcript

What career strategy should you follow if you’re aiming for impact? Holden Karnofsky recently wrote up his perspective on career choice for longtermists on the EA forum - focusing on building aptitudes. Habiba will run through that framework and highlight some things she personally thinks are useful and some reservations she has.

This talk was taken from EA Global: London 2021. Click here to watch the talk with the PowerPoint presentation. 

hello everyone i'm gonna get started it's totally fine if people are coming in as i'm talking how are we all doing
today that's fantastic for people in the room that's great saturday morning energy um
i'm habiba islam i work as a in the one-on-one team doing careers advising
with 80 000 hours and this is going to be a career planning workshop to kick off the eag weekend
um what we're going to do in this workshop is focus specifically on longer
term plans that you might have for for your career goals so this is explicitly not going to be focusing on like if
you're if you're facing like an immediate kind of career choice between a couple of different options um if
that's the situation that you have there's like different advice that might apply but this workshop is going to be focusing on longer term plans um we're
going to really try and focus on like trying to identify some of the core
uncertainties that you have so that we can like come up with a plan for things
that you can do right here this weekend at the conference to try and make progress on some of your
uncertainties uh so hopefully the idea is that this will be very like action focused as a workshop today
the thing that we're gonna go through is sort of loosely based on the beginning of the 80 000 hours career planning
process which is an eight-week course available on our website it's eight weeks long so we're not gonna do the
whole thing we're going to do a little taster of the beginning kind of brainstorming longer term parts we're
going to start off with like the personal priorities think about impact think about what problems seem pressing uh doing this brainstorming for on
longer term paths um and uh yeah like i said kind of try and gear it towards the
kinds of uh things that you can get an answer on this weekend okay does that seem good
yes yeah fantastic okay here we go um so first of all what is a career plan
i think i just want to set some expectations that um sort of when i hear that term i think sometimes i might
think oh man a career plan means you need to have these like like a detailed every step you're going to take over the
next five years and i think that that is not what i mean uh that kind of level of
detail is like unrealistic and also not very helpful because the world is going to change so just to set expectations
about what is kind of the core part of the career plan that i think is actually useful is just like a rough a sense of
what kind of things you want to achieve and like a rough sense of like what might be sensible steps to get there but
like fundamentally focusing on how to make progress on your uncertainties so this is very much an iterative process
you can come up with some ideas then you go out into the real world test things uh update your information about what
seems like seems good and then go back around again okay so
first step when you're thinking about longer term career planning is to start off with thinking about what your own
personal priorities are um because no no like none of us are
just maximizing like impact that's not anyone's uh own like single priority in
their life so it's important to be clear about uh what are the things that you're actually sort of aiming for and so
roughly this kind of covers things like what kinds of work maybe are you interested in like how much autonomy
that kind of thing um what kind of colleagues do you want to work with what are these kind of like some of these
like basic things around where do you want to work and what kind of deal breakers you have for your longer term
path um so we're going to just do the first quick exercise that we're going to do uh the
first of i think so four or five in this workshop is sort of a bit of a chance for you guys to
write down some of your thoughts on these things um just so that you have a chance to have spent some time focusing
on this um and as you do this making a note of some of the things that you're not certain
about and any things that you can you can do to get some answers on them so this one is very much like a you
question but there may be some actions that you want to take like maybe you want to talk to your partner about where do you see
yourself living and that kind of thing that's not the kind of action that we can do very much about at this conference but i want to give you a
chance to like write them down and maybe you want to take away some actions for afterwards okay so this is our first
kind of um first kind of little exercise uh if you're in the room you can grab some of the pen and the paper from the center of
the table if you like or just like make notes on your phone people who are watching at home feel free to just yeah make a document and start uh like
writing down some of your thoughts i'm gonna give you just a couple of minutes to write down some thoughts on what what
are your personal priorities what does a fulfilling career look like to you and there are some prompts on the screen
there uh that you might want to think about okay two minutes off you go
that was the easy one that was the question that you have access to in your own mind all the information hopefully
mostly um but then then we get to some sort of big question so the step two of this
kind of process that i sort of recommend people follow is thinking a bit about this question of positive impact so in
so far as your career also has this aspect of wanting to to do the most good that you can uh what does that actually
mean to you um this is a huge question uh and i think uh i wouldn't expect anyone to feel like
they have the complete answer to it right now you do not have to solve all of moral philosophy to be able to get
started on your career which is the good news um but i do think it is kind of useful to get some of your thoughts down to
this question on paper especially if you've not actually like articulated this before like i had studied
philosophy and i'd never actually tried to sort of write down the things that i really valued i sort of had like a mess
of thoughts in my head until like maybe a few years ago and it did just get a bunch out of actually trying to like put
some words down on paper and it like starts being a bit action guiding and it's like something to think about over the years so i think it's useful to sort
of do this as you start thinking about um impact some of you may have done a ton of this already in which case good
job but um for those of you who haven't i think it's great to like spend a bit of time as part of career planning to
think about this question too so there's a bunch of choices here there's like what's the thing that you value maybe in
this kind of consequentialist framework or maybe you value things that aren't like to do with the consequences of your
actions as well um there's questions around who do you think is important to help
like future generations or non-human animals some of these questions are like complicated but it's worth having a sort
of a stab at your answer to them at least right now and again pointing out where you have some uncertainties
so we have a um an 80 000 hours kind of definition on the website which roughly
sort of points to this question of like expected value is important um thinking in a consequentialist kind of way
specifically about well-being thinking about the long-term um but also with this caveat of not sacrificing anything
that's of comparable more uh more moral importance um my own personal view is a bit
different um i uh have this is very long but i have uh slightly more uh slightly sort of you
know instincts that are not so consequentialist sort of virtuoish instincts i have some like pluralist instincts i care about justice not just
about um welfare i think it's useful for me to know that about the way that i think about impact um i also like yeah
have some thoughts on uh future creatures as well so next exercise is just having a stab at
writing down some thoughts about what positive impact means to you uh sort of who and sort of uh which which
beneficiaries and what kinds of things you actually value but with an emphasis on the like what are your outstanding
questions that you're kind of really still confused about and specifically which if any of these seem like they
might be like relevant action relevant like if you changed your mind on this it maybe would have ramifications for what
you actually do with your life or your career it seems worthwhile like like making explicit some of those confusions
um and then can have a go at some guesses of how might you make
some progress on the things that you're particularly confused about that might actually make a difference specifically
with reference to what you can do this weekend like could you for example ask someone for like reading recommendations or find
someone to do uh like a a group with you where you do like a chat about like population ethics or something like that
whatever it is that might actually be relevant it's fine if there isn't anything particularly in that category but i'm going to give you again a couple
of minutes to uh have some write down some thoughts on this big question about what does positive impact mean to you any
particular confusions you have and then some guesses that things that you might be able to do to make progress on those
confusions ready ready yes yes
it's totally fine if you haven't got the complete answer to that yet this is a lifelong journey i think of getting like
a better sense of this um but hopefully there's like some stuff that you feel like maybe you can you can sort of do to
get started on some of the really relevant bits of that so that has been quite like big picture stuff around
impact but it sets the scene for starting to get more concrete thinking about which problems you think are the
most pressing and i think it is useful to start thinking about careers from
this perspective because it seems like one of the most important choices when you're thinking about careers what kinds
of problems you think are most important particularly because it seems like there's a fact of the world that some
problems are just a hundred times more pressing than others uh and so you could
work a hundred times as hard or a hundred times as long a career on something but it being like not nearly
as good as working on a different thing if you just switch to a more pressing problem and that just seems like it
seems really worth paying attention to make sure that you focus all of your time and energy on something where you can have the most impact um
so it seems good to think about some options here you again you don't have to
pick something right now that's like the one problem that you like are going to devote your entire rest of the career to
but it is useful to have some guesses at some of the things that you think are most important maybe like a cluster of
things together that you think are particularly important and rule some things in or out um and at this stage i think it's useful
to stay thinking big picture about like the biggest problems in the world rather than thinking so specifically about
where your skill set might be useful and one of the reasons why i think that's important is because there are often
ways to contribute to problems that you might not have expected if you didn't do this step so for example there are often
organizations that need like operations people or maybe there's ways of doing fundraising or something like that that
could be applicable to many different causes even if you don't have the technical skills for doing like research
in that area or something um so i think it seems useful to start off by thinking yeah big picture about problems even
when you're thinking about your own specific career um there's a ton of like practical questions sort of answered like
difficult questions that go into what the answer to this question is um what things just are most like uh neglected
what needs more attention specifically if you're part of the effective altruism community thinking about what's like
relatively neglected within the community the scale of different problems in the world like maybe some
big questions about sort of how we uh relate to future generations and some of these like big catastrophic risks how
plausible actually are they these are like practical empirical questions that i think will massively impact on uh what
choices you pick here so now we're gonna do the the the exercise
of of getting some guesses of some of the most pressing problems and like if you can think about ranking them but
again i think a big emphasis on like what are your biggest uncertainties here like what are the things that could change your mind uh what what are you
like the most unsure of when you're trying to put this ranking in place um and i think this one hopefully would be
is something that this weekend can hopefully get you sort of started on in terms of making progress on some of your
uncertainties um there are a bunch of different ways that you might be able to start getting some uh some like uh input
into resolving some of your questions around this um so i think yeah again like a strong
emphasis on like if you identify a specific uncertainty like i'm just not sure like how big a scale like mental
health um is like as a cause area or something are there people that you could like look up on swap card to like
have a conversation about that could they direct you in the uh in the direction of like some more research in the area or something like that so
that's the kind of thing i'm going for here um try and give like a brainstorm like five to six if you can like go longer if you
if you want to just do a longer brainstorm of some some problems that seem the most pressing and
then what are your biggest uncertainties here and how might you make some progress on them and then we get to parts after this but
problems first okay uh yeah three minutes now uh and off you go
wave if you're finished cool okay uh we'll stop there then um is
anyone comfortable sharing maybe one of the sort of from any of the sections we've done so far one of the questions
that you had and the sort of action that you're thinking of taking to resolve your uncertainty or like make progress on it you want to give me a wave if you
are it's totally fine if you don't want to your career is a very personal thing
yeah richard yes i was thinking about climate change and
so in ea we talked about how it might not be that big of an extinction risk but
i still have the question of what about just civilization collapse or any other bad outcomes how likely would be kind of
scenarios um thank you i'm sorry i'm messing with the people in the room and i will repeat
what you just said because we didn't give you a microphone um but yes a question around climate change and uh
yeah how big a risk it would be um did you have a sense of what specific action you might take specifically do you want
to like is that like a meet-up to go to or do you want to just like ask a bunch of people about it i think we are getting a microphone on its way thank
you barry test hello yes um asking people seems like a
good first step yeah that seems great and like you can look on top card for people who have like an interest in climate change and
see if you can reach out to them that sounds like that's exactly the kind of thing that i think is like really good to make use of this weekend to do thanks
so much um does anyone else have anything that they'd like to share
hi yes over here barry thank you
yeah i think uh i had two points which was long versus short term mm-hmm and
and then human versus animal where the human rights animal is very much from a perspective where
you know humans have the intellectual capability to actually help more animals so if we help humans it's like an
exponential effect and i think that was one of the things where i would like just
one of the actions was just to ask people what do they think about this question and and to inform all this just data
that we need more data i think that is evident that sounds great yeah i think it's
really complicated thinking about uh how some of these things might play out over the very long run and what seems like
the most effective thing to do even if your goal is to sort of help animals as much as possible um so i bet there's like a bunch of people who have really
interesting thoughts on that that you can uh ask it there um at the conference um one last one if anyone if anyone
wants to share totally fine if not yes over here
microphone coming from behind you yeah i think it's
both for the the cause area and for the original point about
what we want out of our career learning to operate with uncertainty and the fact that as you mentioned there's
plenty of of collective insight in this conference how do you feel that you've reached a
sufficient level of either self knowledge or ea knowledge to make a concrete next
step where do you you draw that line i love that that's a meta-level uncertainty the uncertainty of how to
deal with uncertainty itself top marks um yeah that sounds like the kind of thing that i bet you get some
really interesting perspectives from different people about how they've approached that in their career um and like try and find what seems like the
right approach for you thanks so much for people uh for sharing at the workshop um yeah hopefully that
gives other people some like food for thought of other things they might want to investigate too
cool okay so we've done this like the big picture bit of the thinking about uh
like impact and particular cause areas and then how do we turn this into thinking about career paths um so the
there's a one way that you might think about what you should do for career planning is sort of have some kind of goal in mind and roughly that seems
useful because uh if you have a bit of an aim it seems more likely that you're actually going to be able to to get
there but i think we want to be a bit careful about being too prescriptive with what goal that you with what goal
you have in mind because it's quite hard to predict the future the earlier you are in your career the harder it is to
like get a sense of like what specific thing you want to aim at so you want to get a balance between having like a goal
to aim for and not making it too prescriptive giving yourself enough flexibility um so it seems good to have
something to aim for beyond your next steps and specifically seems good to aim high uh because uh some people are under
confident some people are overconfident but in general like the the theme of this event is to be ambitious and
there's a lot of stuff that we can do uh to try and to do good in the world and it seems like if you haven't put
yourself in this headspace of thinking really ambitiously about what you could achieve it seems really useful at brainstorming stage to raise your
aspirations and aim really high so there's two types of longer term
paths that it seems useful to think about you might want to try and come up with a list of roles that would address
specific needs in the problem area that you're interested in so you might think that climate change is the thing that
i'm really worried about i think that like the real bottleneck is to do with like political will for example i think
there needs to be like more advocacy or lobbying and that's like a real bottleneck that's going on in this
like that would that would like really unlock a lot of value in this particular area and so that might identify like
okay maybe i want to like aim for like doing non-profit or like or lobbying or something like that hypothetical example um
and this can be kind of useful because it helps you be really targeted towards like core bottlenecks and the problems
that you want to make progress on but there's another type of way of thinking of this sort of longer term path or the thing that you might want to aim for
which is just more generally aiming for what we call like transferable career capital that could be useful in the
future so you might think that if i was able to just become like a really good writer working in like a like a
nationally respected outlet as a journalist i would have a position of influence that i'm able to sort of use that to
work on important problems later down the line and this is not specifically like targeted at a particular bottleneck
in a particular area but it seems like a really kind of useful type of transferable career capital to have
built up uh to enable you to do good later down the line and i think both of these perspectives are useful and it
seems like you might want to try and think about goals in both terms and come up with some suggestions for both
um the first is more kind of thinking top down from the problem and the second is more thinking probably
more thinking from your strengths and uh things that you're particularly good at and sort of projecting forwards from that
so if you're thinking this first kind of way you might want to think about the bottlenecks
in the problems that you care about if you're thinking the second way you might want to be trying to think about your sort of what unique kind of combinations
of skills do you specifically have your what are your particular core strengths and there are some maybe some
other prompts that you might want to consider when you're sort of coordinating with a community uh what
are the things that are actually most neglected in the community where would you like to see the portfolio of what we're doing shifted in which direction
so here are a bunch of different prompts on this page about things that you might want to consider if you're coming up
with longer term paths what we're going to do here is like do a long brainstorm of a bunch of different longer term
parts that might be able to uh either work on some of the problems that you really care about or be sort of like
this kind of transferable career capital that will be really uh worthwhile later down the line um you can use as many of
these prompts as you like uh this is like yeah this is like a brainstorming activity come up with as many as you can
i think that seemed plausible does that make sense as an exercise
cool okay so uh yeah i'm going to give you three minutes for uh for some brainstorming here or longer term parts
off you go
okay i think that's probably done um we'll call it there um yes uh i think this can be
this can be like a hard thing to do to get yourself to think really broadly beyond the sort of you know
four careers that people seem to go on about a bunch as like impactful careers but i think it's really important for people to think widely about different
things that could play to their strengths or like that not enough people are doing and to explore different areas as a community we can really coordinate
and different people should be like uh be able to sort of specialize in different directions um so this one was
just the brainstorm but uh you may know what's coming be like thinking about your uncertainties and like seeing if
you can make some progress on those so i think this longer term parts question is just really useful uh and will it
will be really helpful to uh see if you can like make your list better or get
more information on them so for example maybe there's like a bunch of stuff that you you've maybe you found that kind of
hard and uh it's like hard to come up with enough examples and maybe there's like a bunch of really useful things
that are missing off the list um so it's possible that maybe one thing you might want to do this weekend is sort of talk
to a bunch of other people to find out what kinds of roles there actually are in the area that you're thinking about to see if there are just opportunities
you hadn't really thought about um so for example uh if people are concerned about the people i talk to who are
concerned about sort of making um a.i go really well maybe they don't want to do a phd and
become a technical ai safety researcher or that's not a really good fit for them but maybe they don't realize that actually there's you know there's like a
ton of different roles for really good programmers or software engineers or maybe there are people in sort of ai
hardware that could be doing something really useful and there's like a whole bunch of different roles there or maybe you want to work in operations um and or
like work as a recruiter or something and a bunch of different really impactful ai safety organizations need
those people too and so there might be ways for you to contribute in that particular area so i think this is like a big one that might be pretty useful to
think about at this conference um other things that you might want to consider are yeah what are the
uncertainties that you have about the paths that you've written down maybe you have some concerns about like how does it fit with
my personal priorities should i talk to some people who have been doing that to find out sort of how it matches with
some of my deal breakers or maybe you're wondering about how competitive is it uh
like how well does it fit with someone with my particular kind of skill sets and aptitudes um
and then uh yeah what kind of opportunities are there out there right now um
how in demand is it potentially from a community perspective as well i like not enough people going in this direction
so ultimately these are just like some of the kinds of uncertainties that you might have you might have more um but
again i think this is hopefully going to be one and again a really useful thing to think about uh saturday morning but
we've got the whole kind of couple of days ahead of us how could you make progress on some of these questions this weekend uh do you want to look up people
who are working in the field or who are in like the kinds of roles that you want to get into um do you want to talk to
people a bit more about this kind of transferable capital type route and see like how easy they found it
being able to use their skills on something that was really valuable later down the line so next exercise is going to be is this
kind of what questions do you have about the longer term paths that you were thinking about maybe stuff around like what's missing or uh questions that you
have about the ones that you've come up with and how can you make progress on that over this weekend what networking
sessions could you go to who could you reach out to and have a one-on-one what kinds of questions do you want to ask people do you want to ask the same
question to a bunch of different people and make a note of it these kinds of things um ready to do that exercise
cool okay i'm gonna give you a little bit longer this time uh yeah like three minutes or four minutes or so
do you want to give me a little wave if you're done on this one okay that seems good um is anyone up for
sharing uh one of their kind of questions and what they're thinking of of doing to to make progress on them
yes lovely
test um yeah i think i'm mainly uncertain
about where kind of the in-between steps are or how to get like the preliminary
experience or position to kind of then go into the roles and become influential
kind of in the long term um so i think connecting and going to workshops like this and
figuring out um just kind of ideas about what to do
kind of like right after graduating yeah great question i think this is probably a very common question which is
like what is the best way to get into this specific path and i think one thing you can do is yeah find out what
specifically like individual people did to go into the in that direction or uh
if that doesn't generalize as well just like more generally what advice people might have for specific parts um does anyone else want to share one of their
uncertainties yes over here uh my question was really
on whether like it's easier to pivot from a technical side of things like learning the
technical side first pivoting to public policy later or starting in public policy and pivoting to the more
technical side which would be more achievable and less resource consuming um i am not sure where you are in the
room but great question so i'm over there fantastic okay um yeah that sounds like a great question to
have and like uh really good to have such a precise question to ask a bunch of different people and hopefully by by
the end by sunday evening you'll have some more thoughts on that um anyone else uh
yes over here um so when we talk about policy and
impacting policy my mind defaults to like federal and in like american based
that's like kind of runs everything but you can have a lot of impact at like even like the hyper local city and
neighborhood level i don't know if you have any take on trying to have more of a bottom-up versus top-down approach for impacting
poly policy uh great question i think i won't answer that right now but i think that's
the kind of thing that you want to ask a bunch of people at this at the workshop and i like sorry at the conference i
like that this is a yeah it's also a question on like routes to impact as well um to just sort of get a sense of
like which parts actually seem most valuable as well as i think it's really great to have questions about that and
not just about like how to get into a particular path um we have the last one this uh the lady done this table and i
think i wanted to share something and then we'll move on to the last little bit
yeah i kind of have two main uncertainties one of them is on the subject of what is needed like where the
bottlenecks are so i have some ideas about where i could take my career but i'm not sure which of those are actually
most impactful so that's a question to ask a lot of people and then another one is
how kind of involved on how to get started but more how to test
different career paths to try to get an idea if you would actually like them before you say get an econ phd or something
sounds good to test first um yeah ben todd's talk after this one is about
kind of the state of ea which is quite useful for the sort of bottlenecks some of the bottleneck stuff but if you have
specific questions of bottlenecks in a particular area i do think this is like a great opportunity to try and get a
sense from some of the people in the field about where the key bottlenecks are fantastic thanks so much for people
who shared their thoughts there um so i wanted to make sure that you guys actually had a chance to take some of
the some of the specific actions so insofar as you have particular questions that you want answers to uh maybe the
specific action that you want to take is to look through swap cards search by course
area find a bunch of people who you could ask about this message them and set up a meeting so i wanted to make an
opportunity in this session right now for you guys to take out your phones and actually take some of those actions um
it's also fine if you want to like do something that would like uh to set it up for even after eag you could email
someone else in the field who you want to uh you want to chat with as well but um specifically i think it would be
great if you took the opportunity right now to set something up for the for the weekend so yeah message a person pick an
event like think of a like formulate a question and like submit it in advance to one of the q a sessions something
like that okay so uh for the last sort of for the last kind of three minutes um a chance to do
that right now off you go
okay there's more time to do this just after the session ends but i'm gonna um just finish off with the last couple of
slides before before we run out of time um so just a flag that once after say
after this weekend you like have a better sense of some of your longer-term parts that you want to aim for and maybe
some sense of how to go in that direction um roughly the rest of the kind of 80 000 hours career planning
process takes you through thinking about like what career strategy you might want to pursue over the next uh until you
sort of get to like your ultimate aims um and then thinking about your best next step both thinking sort of
backwards from where you want to get to and also forwards from like what are the best opportunities that present
themselves to you right now um we encourage you to make backup plans a plan a a plan b and like a backup plan
zed if everything goes really um badly wrong um so that you always have like a fallback thing um and then there's a
strong emphasis on um investigating your uncertainties like pulling out from this process all of the questions that you
had and then working out what you're gonna go do to get some make some progress on those um
so beyond the effective altruism global conference this weekend things that you want you can do if you want to carry on
this kind of process of thinking about your longer term career plans um you can try this 80 000 hours career planning
process the 8 week course i think i really recommend people reach out to sort of your local groups or like
professional networks like ea finance or ea medicine or something like that especially if you have questions about like particular uh fields um or want to
find other people to connect with to carry on talking about some of your uncertainties um you could try and find
someone here who is going to like work with you to continue working on some of your um some of your uncertainties like
an accountability buddy you can do it together with you can always apply to speak to the 8000 hours team for one-on-one advising and then get like
much more tailored uh questions and discussions um with us um i'm gonna finish there be to give
enough time for the next session to uh to start but you're more than welcome to stay here and carry on doing the
messaging everyone on swap card to like actually make progress on some of the things that you are uncertain about but thank you very much everyone for coming


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