January 1, 2020

On Career Decisions

Many of these ideas are stolen from inspired by 80,000 Hours. Read all of their stuff.

  • Treat your career like a series of hypotheses. You don’t need to have it all planned out; find ways to test things that suit you and iterate towards things that fit.
  • There are a huge variety of jobs that you probably don’t even realize exist, especially ones that intersect multiple skills/areas, like research project management, that may be a great fit for you.
  • Too many people by default continue in academia. Almost everyone I know who has done a PhD had a really, really hard time, and many don’t think it was worth it. After your undergrad, consider doing some internships or getting a job for a while and then going back to do a PhD it’s usually fine to reenter academia to do a PhD; it’s much harder to do a PhD, leave, and then reenter.
  • There’s a lot of pressure to be a specialist. It’s taken me a while to feel comfortable accepting that I’m a generalist, or perhaps a temporary specialist, but I realize now that I’m too intellectually curious about too many things to be a specialist. I suspect specialist jobs are also most likely to be first to be automated, so it might even be an advantage to embrace being a generalist.
  • Most people I speak to need to err on the side of applying for more stuff even if they don’t feel qualified. Yes, your time is limited so you can’t apply for everything, but if there’s something you’re excited about and the only reason you’re not applying is because you think you might not be qualified enough, do it anyway. Or at least get a second opinion. Don’t get disheartened by rejections; sometimes it turns out you don’t have a shot if you don’t have a personal referral, and sometimes even if you aren’t a good fit for the job you applied for they might recommend you for a different role (this has happened to me and I’ve done it for others).