Advice by expertise
This wiki is in very early stages and is a work in progress.
Here’s some ideas for high-impact options if you already have substantial expertise in an area e.g. a PhD.
These are just starting points. It’s often possible to completely change field.
This list is still in draft and likely to change.
- 1 Quantitative skills: mathematics, statistics, physics, computer science etc.
- 2 Verbal and written skills
- 3 Visual skills
- 4 Politics and policy
- 5 Entrepreneurship
- 6 Business, management and accounting
- 7 Programming
- 8 Economics
- 9 Philosophy
- 10 History
- 11 Law
- 12 Biology and medicine
- 13 Engineering (excluding software)
- 14 Education
- 15 Psychology
- 16 Marketing
Quantitative skills: mathematics, statistics, physics, computer science etc.
Three common paths are:
- Research both inside and outside academia (see advice here). Bear in mind you have lots of opportunities to switch field e.g. into economics or bioinformatics. You can also switch into supporting roles, like research management and grant writing.
- Earning to give in finance (in decreasing order of competitiveness: quant trading; investment banking with a focus on sales&trading or asset management; actuarial science or middle office investment banking)
- Work in the technology industry either for earning to give or direct impact (e.g. companies that serve the global poor, or develop important technology). Focus first on direct impact, since most direct impact startups pay competitive salaries too. The most competitive and risky option is working as a startup founder. Otherwise you could work as a software engineer or data scientist at a large company. In the middle is working as a startup early employee.
You can also consider many other paths, such as direct work in non-profits.
Verbal and written skills
Some competitive options to consider are: politics and policy; public intellectual; journalist, other positions in media; non-fiction writing focused on socially important topics; foundation grantmaker, direct work in effective non-profits (writing skills are especially needed in management, fundraising, outreach, research). You could also consider earning to give in law, though it’s not usually as attractive as these.
Learn design (web design, graphic, product etc.) then apply those skills at socially impactful organisations, or earn to give.
Politics and policy
There’s three main areas:
- Party politics - being an elected official, an advisor, or working in a supporting position in the party.
- Working in government as a non-elected official (including international organisations).
- Influencing positions - think tanks, lobbyists, media etc.
You can be influential in any of these areas, so initially concentrate on where you have best personal fit aiming to increase your influence.
Then you can do good by promoting policies that address the most pressing problems. Since some policies have far more impact than others, it’s probably best to only spend your political capital on a few key issues.
Learn about a pressing problem area, then look for gaps that a project could fill. Then either work with an existing organisation that can address the problem, or if none exists, found a new organisation. As a backup, you could join or found a for-profit startup to earn to give.
Business, management and accounting
Work at or found an organisation with a social mission (either non-profit or for-profit), focused on one of the most pressing problem areas. Operations and management staff are in-demand in many non-profits. Failing that, earn to give in business.
You could also consider transferring into research management (especially if you’ve done graduate study) or working in government.
See the technology sector options in the quantitative skills list above.
Do research relevant to global priority setting, development economics, the impact of artificial intelligence, science policy reform, immigration, decision making, macroeconomic policy, and many other areas. If you want to leave academia, seek policy positions. Or you can go into finance and business to earn to give. Read more.
There are some areas of moral philosophy that are little explored but have major relevance in priority setting, such as population ethics. If you want to leave academia, then consider verbal skill options. Bear in mind you can probably also retrain into some quantitative options e.g. we’ve seen some switch into programming and economics. Read more.
Study areas that are relevant to understanding the long-term arc of history, and social change e.g. the history of philanthropy and history of happiness, are highly neglected. If you want to leave academia, then consider verbal skill options, such as those listed under ‘writing skills’ below, politics & policy, law, and marketing.
Probably start at a law firm to train up and pay off your debts, then ideally aim to work in government or go into politics. Failing that, focus on a high-earning (but non-harmful) area to earn to give. Some other (competitive) options to consider aiming for long-term include (i) being a judge (ii) specialising in a neglected but important part of legal academia and aiming to influence policy (iii) impact litigation in a neglected area (in general, impact litigation seems crowded and less influential over policy than working in government). Performing really well will give you the most long-term options and influence, so early on it’s likely best just to focus on wherever you’ll perform best. Note than it’s much easier to go into government as a lawyer in the US than in the UK, so law is more attractive as first step in the US.
If you want to leave law, consider any of the verbal options above.
Biology and medicine
Biomedical research as a whole seems high-impact, and you might be able to focus on especially neglected but important areas. In particular, consider bioengineering and synthetic biology, which offer huge upsides as well as major risks, so are important to influence. Read more about biomedical research. If you don’t want to be a researcher, you could become a research manager in an important area.
If you want to leave academia, public health with a focus on biosecurity is an important area. You could also work in the biotech industry, both to develop new treatments and earn to give, or you could transfer into the technology industry by doing a data science bootcamp.
Engineering (excluding software)
The most obvious option is to work as an engineer, where most of your impact will probably come from earning to give. However, there’s also scope to help develop and roll out important technologies, especially within green energy.
If you want to leave engineering, consider transferring into biology (where engineering skills are increasingly in-demand), startups (where new tech like 3d printers is opening up new avenues of cheap hardware startups) or any of the quantitative skill options listed above.
Good teachers probably have a substantial impact on their students lives, but if you’re in a rich country, then the students who benefit will already be among the world’s most fortunate and wealthy (even those below the poverty line in a rich country are more than ten times richer than the global poor). So we don’t think the direct benefits to students are where most of the impact comes from. Rather, it’s from creating good citizens who go on to make the world a better place in the long-term. This might mean it’s better to seek a position where you can work with relatively talented students to encourage them to use their talents for good ends.
Another option is to try to seek a position with greater scale of influence, such as in education policy, research or online education. There’s a substantial evidence-based policy movement, while online education has the potential to dramatically decrease the cost of quality education. Here’s some ideas for research topics in education. Read more about teaching.
There’s lots of important areas within academia, including collective decision making, positive psychology, moral psychology, improving research methodology, and more.
If you want to leave academia, you could consider policy - there’s increasing interest in policy informed by “behavioural science” (e.g. at the Behavioural Insights Team in the UK), so you could use that as an entry point. There’s also a growing number of tech startups trying to cheaply distribute evidence-based psychology interventions, such as Lantern, Sleep.io, Joyable, Headspace, and Clearer Thinking. Within earning to give, you could use statistics skills to transfer into data science and the technology industry; otherwise psychology is relevant to marketing. However, it may be better just to start from scratch e.g. by entering consulting.
Start by honing your skills, which probably means working in a company with a top marketing department. Try to focus on digital and data-driven marketing rather than traditional marketing. Then do marketing for a socially impactful organisation, or seek a high earning position in business and earn to give. Read more.