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Research into important areas is a potentially very high impact career.

Some of the people who have had the highest impact have been researchers. By developing code breaking machines that allowed the Allies to be far more effective against Nazi U-boats in World War II, mathematician Alan Turing may have saved millions of lives (Copeland 2012). Similarly, Norman Borlaug’s development of short-stem disease-resistant wheat is estimated to have saved tens of millions of lives (MacAskill 2015).

Research has a significant influence on economic growth. Since a very small proportion of the population is involved in research, the value contributed by the average researcher is significant. Furthermore, the best researchers have a much higher impact than average (median) researchers; so a person who is good fit for research might be able to have a very large impact.

Further reading

80,000 Hours. 2016. Why the ideas you’ve heard for doing good with your career aren’t the best.
An overview of research as a promising career approach.

Copeland, Jack. 2012. Alan Turing: The codebreaker who saved ‘millions of lives’.
Argues that if the U-boat Enigma had not been broken, and the war had continued for another two to three years, a further 14 to 21 million people might have been killed.

MacAskill, Will. 2015. Doing good better: How effective altruism can help you make a difference. New York: Gotham Books.
Chapter 9 discusses research as a potentially very high impact career.