This summer I spent two months working at Giving What We Can’s Oxford offices as an intern. It was an incredibly valuable experience and I encourage anyone with an interest in extreme poverty alleviation to apply. You can find more information about doing a summer internship at Giving What We Can here.
The Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA), the organisations Giving What We Can is part of, shares the office the Future of Humanity Institute. This means that even though the Giving What We Can team is small, there are constantly opportunities to talk to, learn from, and socialise with a much larger group of people who are all trying to improve the world as much as possible. I doubt I’ve ever met so many great people in a two-month period before.
This immersive experience is also the best way to learn about effective altruism. I had read about effective altruism a little bit, mostly from the perspective of global poverty, but being there just doesn’t compare to reading things online (although there is a lot of very high-quality material here and here). There was always an interesting conversation going on, and someone I could test my ideas on or ask to explain something. New concerns and old critiques of effective altruism are discussed frequently and openly. Among the interns, there were very varying degrees of commitment to the ideas of effective altruism, but everyone was very serious about genuinely helping their organisation and creating top-quality output.
Giving What We Can takes good care of its interns. I first noticed this when I explained that I didn’t have accommodation in Oxford for the summer, and they replied that I could stay in a house which was shared between interns and employees of CEA. But this was certainly not the last example.
I was encouraged to work very independently and to choose my own projects. For instance, after one or two weeks working on outreach (encouraging people to start local Giving What We Can chapters), I noticed that this work was probably not a great personal fit for me. I came up with a couple of things that I thought would be a better fit for my skills, one of which was to work on tax deductibility in France for our recommended charities (I’ve lived in Paris for 14 years). The team welcomed these ideas – they operate under the principle that each intern is in the best position to figure out what would be the highest-impact thing for them to do.
Some of the other projects I worked on included translating the effective altruism landing page into French, improving our chapter ‘starter packet’ and writing two research reports on promising interventions. Doing so many different projects really drove home the 80/20 rule: the 80% of the value comes form 20% of what you do. For instance, I spent perhaps 5-8 times more time and energy on my first research project than on my second, but I am not sure the first one was much more valuable. My internship taught me to ruthlessly prioritise, something I became better at but still have room for a lot more progress on.
“Work smarter, not harder” is a cliché of self-help, but CEA is an organisation that has really internalised it. CEA recognises that making its people more productive is a very high-leverage action, and worth investing a lot of resources into. I could always turn to some of my very knowledgeable colleagues for advice on how to work more efficiently, and this idea is baked into the office culture, with things like morning check-ins, monthly feedback sessions, lunchtime talks, and a personal mentor for each employee or intern.
I grew a lot as a person during this internship. It was a fun and supportive environment where I felt free to try things and fail. I was shocked by how often my colleagues offered to take time out of their workday to upskill me – whether about multiple regression, GitHub, how to write a good cold email, or how to plan my day.
For any of these aspects alone, the internship would have been worth my time. It’s a great way to help the world while helping yourself develop. If you’re considering applying to be an intern at Giving What We Can or the Centre for Effective Altruism, hesitate no more and go for it!