The Effective Altruism Community

Did you know that the average person spends around 80,000 hours of their life dedicated to their career? How to make these 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, for 40 years as productive, impactful and rewarding as possible is what Benjamin Todd and the 80,000 Hours team address in their career guide, also named 80,000 Hours. 

We have all found ourselves at some point wondering which professional path to follow, which field of employment suits us better, which jobs pay the best and so on. The extent to which we can use our jobs to tackle the world’s most pressing issues and to improve society is an increasingly important factor in our career decisions. Sarah discusses this in her piece about the Fridays for Future movement in regards to our role in fighting the climate crisis. Many of the ideas shared in the 80,000 Hours guide match very well with the liberal arts nature of Bard College Berlin; uniting work with charity, volunteering, advocacy and personal satisfaction is an absolutely achievable task and is extensively discussed in the book.

I was handed a copy of it during an intensive three-hour Crash Course Careers workshop offered last Spring by the Career Services at BCB, in which all the workshop materials including the book were funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Tina Marie Joaquim, who is BCB’s Manager of Career Services and International Programs, highlights BCB’s success in assisting students with their endeavors, as well as the importance of students taking advantage and participating in such events offered throughout the semesters. 

Although it only started last year and is still in the process of growing and developing, the Career Services already offers a range of resources. Among those are individual consultations and group sessions for CV, cover letter, job, internship and grad school applications; brainstorming and editing; one-on-one counseling regarding plans for the future; goals and insecurities; mock interview sessions; and Gap Year info sessions. Not only that, but guest speakers such as representatives from the Fulbright Program and the Hertie School of Governance also come visit campus for lunch presentations. BCB Careers works closely together with the Bard College–Annandale Careers Office and started just this semester coordinating roundtable-style sessions with BCB faculty and students in order to provide feedback in accordance with the degree they are pursuing.  

From my personal experience with the BCB Careers workshop, through a self-assessment activity I participated in, I was able to learn a little bit more about myself apart from how to find and apply for opportunities. During the workshop, I evaluated my own values, recognized moral factors that are meaningful to me such as independence, stability and moral fulfillment, and also did an activity where I could acknowledge hard and soft skills I possess and found areas for improvement. For the BCB Careers office, this self-assessment is the first step in the process of choosing a job or career, one which many of us skip or forget. Next comes discovering how to use our passion and strengths in the most effective way to contribute to the better functioning of society and wellbeing of people and groups who are in need of help, which is where 80,000 Hours steps in. 

The Effective Altruism Community (EA), introduced in the 80,000 Hours career guide, is an international community that is dedicated to proposing deep reflections about ways in which individuals can get involved in tackling pressing, neglected and solvable issues across the globe. Its mindset also revolves around concrete ways in which people can take action using the resources they have: “Effective altruism is about following through. It’s about being generous with your time and your money to do the most good you can.” It is also a philosophy and social movement that brings together a diverse group of people, such as entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and researchers. Some of its guiding principles are commitment to others, openness, integrity, collaborative spirit and a scientific approach, meaning basing actions and propositions on reasoning and evidence (in collaboration with Oxford University’s Global Priorities Institute and the Open Philanthropy Project) to create a greater degree of impact. Their vision and mission are to build an optimal world and entail a world with less suffering, inequality and so on. It is indeed an ambitious and optimistic task, one that they believe is possible through collectivism. 

Examples of urgent, large-scale problems the EA community has been focusing on are emerging technologies and risks of global catastrophy or extinction (specifically climate change, nuclear security, biorisk reduction and positively shaping the development of artificial intelligence). Then, they look to shape the long-term trajectory and future of these issues, i.e. establishing solid global priorities research as an organizational and guiding tool which also builds effective altruism in general by improving institutional decision-making. Health in poor countries, factory farming and fighting poverty are other areas considered of high concern.

In the 80,000 Hours career guide, its authors also included a list of high-impact careers, and detailed descriptions of those, many of which will surely become even more relevant, promising and necessary in the next few years. Think tank researcher, foundation grantmaker, policy-oriented government worker, and working at effective nonprofits are a few options that came up. Factors of consideration when choosing a path to follow are career capital (experiences, skills, connections, and credentials one acquires through jobs), direct impact, earnings, advocacy potential, ease of competition and job satisfaction. However, there are also other ways to get involved too, especially as students at the start of our professional lives. Building skills, focusing on what you excel on the most, donating effectively to charity, taking part and learning more about organizations such as the EA community are a great start. 

In fact, there is a local EA community based in Berlin. It functions as a connecting point between students and professionals who are interested in effective altruism. On their website, they state, “We organize regular work meetups, discussion groups, workshops (career planning & rationality), career coaching, research projects, talks, networking events and socials. Most of our events are internal, some public. Occasionally, we join the wider EA community at international conferences and on retreats.” Many conferences include experts who debate topics like Effective Animal Advocacy and AI Policy. It is important, though, to have a deeper understanding or contact with EA to be able to join the community, given they want to ensure that all members have enough background and are on the same page for the effectiveness of projects and discussions. Online content, such as podcasts and TED talk videos, as well as research articles, and books such as the 80,000 Hours career guide and Doing Good Better (written by William MacAskill, co-founder of the Effective Altruism movement) are available for further information on EA.

I hope this encourages like-minded students to investigate new career paths that are in line with your passions and in areas where you can do the most good in an effective manner.

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