Two months down, one to go!
This summer has gone by in a flash. I feel like I am just getting settled into my life and routine here and yet its already time to makes plans to come home! The OECD prefers longer stays here so my internship is just over 13 weeks. Most of the interns stay for 6 months. In talking with my manager, they expressed that it is hard to get a lot done at the OECD in only a summer. I would have to agree. Nonetheless, I have learned a lot and this post will highlight the work I have done while here and some tips on how to get the most out of a shorter experience at the OECD.
Just to give some context, I am on two teams here at the OECD, 21st Century Education and Global Trends in Education. Both are housed in the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) which is under the Innovation and Measuring Progress Division (IMEP). As such, my work spans two different teams with related, but different goals under one manager.
Immediately after arriving here, I was given a 30 page working paper and told to mold it into a chapter that could fit in a book my team was publishing. It was on a topic I was unfamiliar with, written with lots of complex jargon, and I had no true idea what the book was even about (remember this was in my first hour of arrival). They say the best was to learn is to do so that’s exactly what I did.
One of my main tasks this summer has been compiling, editing, and publishing a book with my 21st Century Education team. I have read over all of the chapters multiple times through different lenses. I was expected to know and abide by the OECD style guide, make quality contributions to the content, and keep the ball rolling when my entire team was on vacation (sidebar: that’s something you should expect when coming to the OECD. Everyone vacations the entire month of August. There are weeks when I am the only member of my team here in the office and work still needs to get done so it falls on me.) This allowed me to grow a deeper knowledge and understanding on the topic of child well-being in the 21st century.
Global Trends in Education recently published their triennial (every three years) book. In between book publications, the team produces a “spotlight” every month. A “spotlight” is a paper that isolates one trend and takes a deeper dive into what may be at work effecting educational indicators. You can find past reports here. When I arrived, we had a list of future planned spotlights and I was given the opportunity to either take one from the list or come up with an original idea to write my own spotlight about. I chose to come up with my own idea, informed by the classes I had taken during Spring semester. After doing a preliminary lit review and writing a brief proposal, I went ahead with writing about crime & punishment. The process of writing this publication has been very self-driven. Most of the focus this summer has been on the book so it was up to me to hold myself accountable to personal deadlines and sending out drafts to experts who could speak to the issues I brought up in the paper.
In addition to work assigned to me, I volunteered to write a country note for the Education at a Glance team. This was a good opportunity to work with new people and experience other avenues of work at the OECD. Although to date the notes have not been published, you can check out last years here. Writing a country note entails going through many, many quantitative variables that are collected yearly and creating a narrative about the status of education in a country. Individual countries have the option of providing preferences or themes they would like to see in the note, but ultimately it is up to the author what to include. Once the notes are completed, they are sent to the respective countries’ education ministry or department. Often this will initiate a conversation with the country of possible implications of the findings, including policy changes.
In order to get the most out of your experience at the OECD (which can probably be applied to any internship) is to make yourself available to take on whatever comes your way and actively look for opportunities to expand your view and understanding of the organization. I came into this internship with two objectives: (1) create a tangible deliverable that I could leverage as I transition to looking for a job and (2) make valuable connections that I can call on in my professional pursuits.
I made a big effort to create tangible deliverables, as described above. I have an acknowledgement in the book and two forthcoming publications under my authorship. This took a lot of me speaking up about what I wanted to take away from the internship. I made it pretty clear as I sat down with my manager within the first few days of me being here. They were supportive and helped me map out and plan my work over the course of the internship. I feel like I was very lucky to have a manager who was flexible and willing to build an internship with me that we both could benefit from.
Making connections was a bit trickier. I, personally, am not a great networker. I like to joke around and make friends but I feel a bit awkward around people who supervise me so it took a bit for me to feel comfortable with my team, and specifically my supervisor. By the time I was getting a hang of things, my entire team left for vacation and aren’t returning until after my internship is over. The network you build here at the OECD is one of the most valuable assets you’ll walk away with. I knew this coming into the internship and I wish I would have done a better job getting out of my comfort zone to meet and network with more people who are working in my areas of interest.
A lot of the work done here is an individual effort, meaning there is not much collaboration or opportunities to work with others. My days mostly consist of me sitting at a desk, working on the computer, solo. This got real old, real quick. I found that in the beginning there were days that I would be so bored that I wouldn’t accomplish anything. I decided to make a to-do list every day to that gave me measurable progress and track what I was accomplishing. This not only gave each day a purpose, but it also helped me finish my assignments and projects. Of course, some days were more productive than others, but having a list to check off made me feel accountable to myself for accomplishing my tasks.
Make friends with the other interns! There are so many cool people here from all over the world with different experiences and expertise. Having friends around the office is what make the long days at the office more enjoyable. At the OECD they work 9am to 6pm but take their breaks seriously. Every day we have at least one 30 minute coffee break (more likely two or three) and an hour for lunch and (you guessed it) coffee. So for those many breaks throughout the day it’s important to have some friends to hang with.
There are a lot of opportunities for informal learning here at the OECD. Each week the Intern Circle puts on brown bag lunches with various professionals from all over the organisation. There are also weekly EDU Forums where outside experts come in to share their research. Go to any and all opportunities that interest you. Beside from being interesting, these events can helped me figure out what I really wanted to work on in my career. I learned about work being done all across the world and in all types of institutions.
Keep in mind that the work at the OECD will vary vastly based on which team(s) you work on. I would say, however, that my experience is similar to most of the education interns. Some have more team involvement, others do more data analysis, but generally there is a lot of literature to be read and reports to be written.
P.S. International SOS is the real deal. I had a little run in with some rogue scissors and had to get stitches. I used the app to communicate with them and they made the process of going to the hospital simple and easy.