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If you're choosing a career in part for altruistic reasons you need to consider replaceability: how much more good would you be doing than the person you'd replace?
Consider a surgeon: how many lives does she save in her career? [1] Perhaps she does 6-9 surgeries per week of which 2 are life-saving, working 45 weeks per year from age 25 to 70. Multiplying up we ...
Jeff Kaufman's profile photoAllison Smith's profile photo
Location matters quite a lot, when thinking about whether to consider the good you do or merely the difference between the good you do and the average. In a big city, people are easily replaced, but in rural areas the challenge can be to find anyone qualified to fill a position.

This is why I have one friend who felt like in Teach For America she probably made a negative difference in her students' lives, and one who is sure that in TFA she did good. One was assigned to Chicago, where there isn't actually a teacher shortage, particularly for what she was teaching, and the other was assigned to rural South Dakota, where there is a desperate teacher shortage.
+Allison Smith Right. Though even if we assume that the 30ish children in rural South Dakota that your friend taught for two (?) years would otherwise had a much less competent teacher or many more classmates, it's extremely difficult to evaluate the benefit. I believe there's some evidence linking smaller classrooms to higher test scores, and people have all sorts of good things to say about having great teachers, but how much does it improve the lives of these students? Do they end up happier for life? (By much?) Do some of them get much better jobs? What happens to them?
Of course, it is difficult to evaluate! And if she hadn't gone, perhaps TFA would have assigned someone else to the position.

But if you want to be a doctor or teacher or something in part for altruistic reasons, it's pretty clear that those reasons are best served if you can choose to live somewhere where there is a shortage of people in your profession, and sometimes in a drastic way.
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