We recently spoke with a few of our 2019 interns—past and present—about their experiences with ACE. This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.
About the Interns
Bill Geltzeiler is ACE’s current Communications Intern. Bill has a background in theater performance and teaching. He enjoys performing and inspiring young people. Cash Callaghan and Marianne van der Werf are Research Interns. Cash earned his bachelor’s degree at NYU, where he co-founded a club for effective altruism and became passionate about helping animals. Marianne recently completed her physics degree in the Netherlands and has volunteered for several animal charities and effective altruism organizations while searching for the most effective ways to help animals. She recently transitioned into the position of Program Officer for ACE’s Effective Animal Advocacy Fund.
What inspired you to apply for an internship with ACE?
Marianne: I think that being part of an effective altruism (EA) organization can be one of the most effective things to do and that ACE and other meta-organizations are especially important. I was torn between earning-to-give and doing direct work. After having worked on similar projects with Utility Farm and Wild-Animal Suffering Research, which proved to be a good fit for me, I decided to apply to ACE to find out if direct work was the direction I wanted to take in the long term.
Cash: I was inspired during my studies at NYU with professor Jeff Sebo (a long-time Board Member of ACE), and by Sofia Davis-Fogel (a former student of Jeff) who held the position of ACE’s interim Executive Director at the time. I realized that I wanted to dedicate my career to doing the most good possible and support a cause—animal suffering—which I believe is neglected even within the EA community. Like Marianne, the idea of working for a meta-organization was an important aspect. I find it exciting to work for an organization that looks at a movement as a whole and tries to figure out how to make the movement itself more effective. I thought this internship would be a great opportunity to join a team of international nerds who think about and have a passion for these topics, and to work on the cutting edge of animal advocacy. Finally, I love researching, writing, and collaborating with other people. The internship was a perfect fit for me for all those reasons.
Bill: I first heard about the organization through Sydney, who works for ACE as a Researcher. She told me what a great organization it was and that the communications department was hiring interns. Since I was looking for something to do in this field—preferably something that would offer flexible hours—I saw the internship as a great opportunity to contribute some of my skills. I also have training in communications, so everything lined up well.
Why did you choose effective animal advocacy (EAA) as a cause area?
Bill: The cause area definitely stems from my food choices. I was a pescetarian for a long time, but have been vegan for about one year. My diet change is what led me to get involved in the animal advocacy community. I feel strongly that my beliefs in this area align directly with animal advocacy—and especially farmed animal advocacy.
Cash: I think my skill set is a better fit for EAA than other cause areas. Apart from the massive scale of animal suffering and EAA being a relatively neglected cause within effective altruism, I consider EAA to be relatively tractable given that we already have a pretty good idea of how can improve animal welfare. Being an animal advocate can also be emotionally taxing, which contributes to high rates of burnout; that’s why I believe that EAA—more so than other cause areas—needs people who are motivated to stay and become leaders in the movement. On top of that, I see overlaps between EAA and other cause areas like global health, climate change, and even AI. Expanding humanity’s moral circle within EAA to include other sentient beings could, in a future with sentient AI, help humans and sentient AI be more considerate of each other’s welfare. I think that expanding our moral circle is also relevant to the far future. It might help us be more empathetic if we come across other sentient species in the universe. As another (perhaps less likely) example, if we colonize the galaxy and decide to bring animals with us, our future treatment of animals has the potential to increase animal suffering astronomically.
Marianne: The most important thing to me is to reduce extreme suffering, and I believe that factory farming is a form of extreme suffering that we can reduce in a relatively straightforward way. I think that abolishing factory farming is the next step in spreading values of compassion towards beings that don’t look like us, which I think is very important for the long-term future. Besides spreading compassion, it is important to develop a better understanding of consciousness in order to know which beings have meaningful experiences in the first place. Various EAA research projects are currently looking into insect consciousness, but as Cash mentioned, artificially intelligent programs could potentially be conscious as well, and if they are, our actions could cause extreme suffering to them without us knowing. In short, I chose EAA because we both need to understand what beings are conscious, as well as make sure that we care for these beings.
What skills do you find particularly useful in your work as an effective altruist and an animal advocate?
Bill: I think you have to be resilient. Animal advocacy is hard, and it is often lower on people’s lists of things they believe to be wrong with the world. When you are working within animal advocacy, you need to be aware of the pushback you’re going to feel from the outside world and still keep going. You have to be resilient because of the uphill battles and roadblocks that come with this kind of advocacy.
Cash: Communications and people skills are valuable—even more so in EAA than in other cause areas. EAA is closely aligned with organizations that see themselves as part of a social movement. So, I think that it’s important within EAA to have strong communications and people skills to be able to convey our ideas to animal advocates who might not identify with the values of effective altruism. There are so many groups involved, and even though we are all working towards similar goals, I think it can be easy to step on other people’s toes—that’s why social sensitivity is an especially important skill to have.
Marianne: I wanted to say a similar thing as Cash. In EAA, there are a greater number of bigger structures involved than in other cause areas that focus on a few interventions. I think EAA used to be more like that with organizations focusing, for example, on handing out as many leaflets as possible. I think EAA would be strongest if we see ourselves as part of the social movement—especially when it comes to expanding the moral circle.
Cash: I agree with Marianne that EAA is unique in that we interact with so many different systems. For example, we communicate with agents of the animal agricultural industry, animal advocate groups who campaign against corporations, as well as people who work within legal systems to change policies and laws that affect animals. There are also people from academic backgrounds trying to expand the knowledge base, as well as scientists and entrepreneurs who are developing and marketing alternatives to animal products. I think that being connected to and working with so many different systems requires a meta-perspective of how all of these systems interact with each other and how we can leverage our advantage within those interactions and between those systems to benefit as many animals as possible.
Could you tell us a little about your internship projects?
Marianne: My internship is focused on the Effective Animal Advocacy Fund (EAA Fund). The EAA Fund grants to projects that, unlike ACE’s recommended charities, are usually smaller and whose impact is less certain but could potentially be very high. I think the animal protection movement benefits from a broad range of approaches, especially because even the best evidence on the effectiveness of interventions is limited. I started at ACE after the first round of the EAA Fund. At the beginning of my internship, I analyzed how much time we spent on the first round, what kind of activities were especially time-consuming, and how we could be more efficient during the next round. Then I prepared the next round of applications. I have also been working on setting up the application review process and on updating the EAA Fund page on our website as well as our application form. I added guidelines on what projects we are likely and unlikely to fund to our website so that charities have a better idea of whether or not they should apply. I updated the application form in collaboration with the review committee of the first EAA Fund round. I also eliminated questions that did not aid in decision making, and added questions to streamline the process and to provide us with valuable information.
Bill: I’m working on two projects. The first one is a guideline for presentations. Essentially, I’m making a presentation on how to make presentations. This project will include presentation slide best practices and advice on how to use PowerPoint to create an effective, informative, appealing, and entertaining slideshow. The guidelines will also offer suggestions on how to present information succinctly and uniformly. Right now, our presentations are inconsistent across the team, so I think that bringing them together to a more uniform style will be beneficial. My second project is creating audio recordings for different blog posts, articles, and research reports that will be available to listen to alongside the written articles on our website. I enjoy recording and editing. Also, having my voice as “the voice” of ACE’s web content is going to be pretty fun.
Cash: When I started my internship, I chose projects that I believed might help ACE (and other organizations) operate more effectively. My first project is a series of conversations with people working at remote organizations about the challenges and benefits of working remotely and how to foster a strong culture at remote organizations. This roundtable conversation will be published on ACE’s blog in hopes that other remote organizations will be able to use these insights to improve and sustain their own healthy organizational cultures. I’m also looking into best practices related to research project prioritization—in short, figuring out the best ways to decide which research projects to take on. Another project I’ve been working on has been adding content about chickens and fish to our Why Farmed Animals? page. I’ve been estimating the numbers of chicken and fish used in comparison to other land animals to make the argument that we should focus more on chicken and fish welfare because they’re far more numerous relative to other species used by humans. In addition to that, I’m building on economic research conducted by Mary Light, a previous intern, to try to analyze and estimate how many animals are spared by one average American eating vegan for a year.
What does your day-to-day life look like working as an intern for an entirely remote organization?
Marianne: I usually check Slack or my email first to see if there are any updates, especially since I’m in a different time zone than most of my co-workers. When I post a question in Slack, people usually respond to me while I’m sleeping, so I often find updates in the morning. I use a Trello board where I keep track of what I’m doing. I do find working remotely easier than expected. One thing I like about ACE is that we have many Slack channels and other social activities like donut meetings and intern meetings. In this way, it feels like we are a very social team. Communicating via Slack is convenient and I enjoy that I’m able to be at home with my birds and structure my own time. It’s unfortunate that I can’t socialize with my co-workers in person. But on the other hand, being a remote organization makes it possible for us to work with people from various places all over the world.
Cash: I felt pretty lucky, especially at the beginning, because a lot of my work involved conducting interviews via Skype. I enjoyed being able to meet with people via Skype because sometimes I don’t have a lot of face-to-face interaction during my other independent work. In the first few months, I usually spent my mornings doing research and reading while taking notes, and then having conversations and conducting interviews in the early afternoon. I was concerned at first that I might feel lonely working remotely, but it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought. Like Marianne, I’m grateful for our social Slack channels and try to interact with them as much as I can. I started sharing memes in our watercooler channel every Friday, which has turned into a really fun and interactive tradition. I also try to make a point of coworking with a friend at least once per week and scheduling social interactions in the evenings, whether it’s meeting with a friend or going to an EA event, to get enough face-to-face interactions. I also enjoy working remotely because of the flexibility that comes with it. I can take short breaks, do little chores, make lunch, or take a break around lunchtime to go to the gym. At first, I thought it would be difficult to schedule my time and make sure that I get enough social interaction and enough work done. But now I sometimes find that I’m so focused and enjoy what I’m working on so much that I end up working later than I thought I would. It’s great to be doing work that I love so much that it doesn’t really feel like work at all.
Bill: The best thing about working remotely is that there is no “standard” structure. I have another job that has demanding hours, so I like the freedom of waking up when I need to wake up, have a list of things I want to accomplish, and go into the office on my own time. This flexibility is a real asset to people who work more than one job. A typical week for me includes multi-hour time blocks at random times throughout the week to work on recordings and presentation guidelines. The fact that ACE is a remote organization also leads to an interesting dynamic—I haven’t met many of my colleagues yet. It’s nice to talk online, but being in the same room with someone offers a sense of camaraderie and closeness that I haven’t felt yet at ACE due to the remoteness of it all. That is something that is new to me. But like I said, I really enjoy the freedom regarding scheduling work hours.
Is there anything you would describe as unique about being an intern at ACE or at an EA organization in general?
Bill: Interns don’t usually get paid, so it is nice that ACE offers internship stipends. So far, I find the remote work setup most unique. A lot of the interns I know have to go somewhere in person.
Cash: What I find unique is being part of a team of intellectuals around the world who are truly passionate about animals and the work that we do. There are so many interesting conversations happening in meetings and on our Slack channels, and I enjoy being part of a team of people who like to geek out and share knowledge about the same topics that I am interested in and passionate about. Before I joined ACE, I was a little concerned that my values as an effective altruist might make it difficult to relate to coworkers who might not be effective altruists (or not yet, at least). One of the things I love about ACE is that we share similar values, but also come from such different backgrounds, which creates a rich mixture of great in-depth conversations and interesting perspectives.
Another thing I find unique about ACE is supporting other organizations that are doing great work to help animals. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by all the animal suffering happening worldwide, but at ACE we focus on helping organizations that are doing the most good and helping as many animals as possible. Being aware of and supporting the inspiring work that these organizations do keeps my spirits lifted.
Marianne: To me, this question ties in with what we were talking about before: Effective animal advocacy is a unique area because it incorporates moral circle expansion. I see the animal protection movement as a furtherance of movements such as antiracism movements and the LGBTQ+ movement that are making society less inconsiderate towards marginalized groups of humans. I appreciate that ACE sees the animal protection movement as most effective when it supports other movements, and that ACE also cares about humans and forms of discrimination they face. Also, I appreciate that the effective animal advocacy community aims to focus on what actually works. Effective altruists are more willing to cancel projects that turn out to not be effective even if we feel attached to them. I think ACE is very open to changing things and searching for ways of improvement.
I also like that EAA feels so positive. Yes, there is a lot of suffering; but there are also many things we can do about it. This form of advocacy feels both hopeful and inspiring to me.
What have you learned during your internship with ACE? Are there any main takeaways from your experience?
Marianne: Prior to my internship, I wanted to focus on research, but then I realized the importance of contributing to the culture of the movement; that it is, for example, not just important to study insect consciousness but also to actively build a healthy culture and community. Animal advocacy relies on humans to succeed; we need to make sure they feel healthy, sustained, and want to stay a part of the movement. On top of that, we need to build a culture where we listen to each other and also take the input of people seriously who might not be considered movement leaders. This is especially important when it comes to the direction of the movement, as we have little evidence yet on what actually works. I came to the realization that culture is something I would like to work on while working on the EAA Fund because this fund also centers around capacity building and improving the health of the movement.
Cash: I can think of three main takeaways. The first one is the almost shocking lack of knowledge in this field. It struck me as surprising how little information we have about effective animal advocacy and animal suffering. It makes me grateful to be part of an organization that is working on expanding our knowledge in this field. Secondly, I have learned the value of collaboration. Although the work we do is rather independent, I found it incredibly helpful to ask other team members and people outside of ACE about their insights and perspectives. They have always been warm and enthusiastic and happy to offer their advice, and often asked questions that forced me to think deeper and in new ways. My third takeaway is similar to what Marianne said. I’ve discovered the value of nurturing a network of relationships both within and beyond ACE. Like Marianne said, fostering a strong, cohesive, sustainable, and supportive culture is crucial if we want to become more effective as individuals and as a movement in our work to help as many animals as possible.
Bill: I’ve learned that the animal advocacy network is bigger than I thought it was. There are several organizations working to help animals that I wasn’t aware of before I started working at ACE. It’s nice to know that there is a lot more support for this issue than I previously thought. I’ve also learned how to be part of a remote team, how to do work at my own pace, and report the work back at my own pace. The internship has also opened up the possibility of working within effective altruism and animal advocacy for me, which is something I hadn’t thought possible before. Now it’s something that I am slightly considering career-wise. In this way, I learned a bit more about the animal world, as well as a bit more about myself.
What would you say to someone who is considering applying for an internship with ACE?
Marianne: Working at ACE as an intern is a great way to learn if working in the animal advocacy movement is a good fit for you. Interns are often included in discussions and invited to contribute to projects they’re interested in outside of their internship project. This allows you to learn about discussions and projects within the effective animal advocacy movement, as well as collaborate with and learn from different people.
Cash: First of all, the internship is a great opportunity to work with an international team of people who are passionate about helping animals. ACE is a great place to learn more about animal advocacy and to build one’s skills in both independent and collaborative work. My second piece of advice is that while remote work can have many benefits, it also comes with a unique set of challenges. Not everybody is cut out for this kind of work setting. That being said, there are many coping mechanisms and tactics to make remote work feel less isolating and more manageable. Interning at ACE has been one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling experiences of my life, so I would definitely recommend to anyone thinking about interning to apply!
Bill: I would say go for it! Apply to be an intern because you will have a lot of freedom and flexibility. Also, there’s a lot of openness between interns and upper management. I feel like if I had an idea for a project, I would be able to present it freely and personally without having to worry about judgment or that I’m stepping outside of my station. I like that we all call each other by our first names. ACE has been a really unique experience for me so far. I don’t know how it compares with other remote organizations, but I think how ACE operates as a remote organization works well.