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I have been working as a software engineering intern for the last 8 months or so. My job started in the summer, then continued into the semester. My employer's plan is to employ me part-time as an intern throughout the remainder of my degree, then offer a full-time position once I have graduated.

The last 2 semesters have been less than amazing. I enjoy my job, and I find the work to be very satisfying, but trying to balance work, classes, and homework has become a very big issue. I'm currently taking a standard course load (16 credit hours) of mostly upper-division courses, and then working around 20 hours a week (which is the amount of time my boss expects interns to work). Unfortunately, to get everything to fit into my schedule (which is unavoidably tightened by my living situation), I've had to schedule most of my classes back-to-back, without allowing me to take a break for lunch. Then I find myself up until 2-3 in the morning working on homework.

I was able to pull off last semester well enough, but this semester has proven to be extremely difficult, and it just got way worse. My midterm grades this semester did not meet my expectations for my own performance, and one of my professors just informed us that one of my courses would require around an extra 6 hours of expected out-of-class work.

At work, I've felt like my performance has been relatively good, given the somewhat limited hours I'm working. That said, I have had to take a few days off of work to attend to life, school, and student organization obligations (I hold a position in the department's student organization). I feel like my boss has been fairly pleased with my actual work output, but I have also observed that he's not particularly pleased with how many hours I'm actually working. Additionally, I have no guarantee that he's actually satisfied with my performance, as I have had no performance evaluations. When I'm needing to take a day off, he always asks if there's a day I can come in early to make up for lost time. The answer is almost always "no" since I go from class directly to work.

I've come to the conclusion that I will need to cut out a full day of work so I can focus on improving my grades, making room for out-of-class course obligations, attending student organization meetings, and just generally tending to my physical and mental health so I don't get [even further] burned out. How can I tell my boss that I need to cut a full day from my schedule when I'm already backed against a wall with hours?

EDIT: I should clarify on the student organization commitments, as I think I made that seem more invasive in my original question than it actually is. To be clear, those meetings are very few and far between. Thus far, this semester, I've only had two total meetings regarding the student organization. The meetings have been mandatory (budget meetings with the university staff, I'm the treasurer of the organization). My involvement with the organization this year is a little unavoidable at this point, as the organization is extremely small, and I'm the only eligible person to do the job. Apologies if I made it sound like the meetings are more invasive than they actually are-- those meetings were just on my mind at the time.

Additionally, the question of credit and payment has been raised. I am getting paid hourly for my work, but I am no longer getting university credits for my job (I was during the summer, but not afterward). That said, the employment is dependent on me remaining in school. Cutting back on coursework is entirely out of the question.

I appreciate the input received thus far, and I look forward to hearing more.

  • "attending student organization meetings" is this required? You should speak with your university to see what the usual amount of hours to work are. If it's 20, that's what you should target? From what I can read, you're doing 36 hours of work a week, excluding homework? – Gregory Currie Mar 21 at 5:22
  • Can you cut your organization meetings? You probably like it, but you have to do what you must not what you want in this moment. Then you can slack off, but not now. – Cris Mar 21 at 9:58
  • The student organization meetings have been required-- albeit they've been few and far between. I should have been more clear in my original post, and I have since corrected it to better reflect the effect the meetings have. Apologies for the unclear information. – explodingkittns Mar 23 at 5:01
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Just talk to your boss, ask if you can work fewer hours. You clearly need more time for your education and your homework.

From your question I get the impression that you're afraid your boss is going to get upset because he "expects" you to work 20 hours a week. I think you should look at it from a different angle. He will just be grateful for mentioning that you want to focus a little more on your education. After all, he wants you to succeed, doesn't he?

After you complete your education you will be more valuable to your boss. What if you fail your education?

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Ask him. Why not? You are a student above everything else. If internship is part of your curriculum, it should be treated as part of your study not as employment.

I am doing graduation project at the moment in a company, full time. However, I do have to finish other subjects, and I made this clear to the manager. It is an internship, and the company should treat you as a student, not as an employee. Even more: If your boss wants to employ you afterwards, he should be interested in your academic success. Just ask for it and explain why you need the time off, I am sure he will give it to you.

Edit: If this internship is not a part of your study, then you should reconsider the approach, because expectations of you are completely different. If you work there independently from school, it might be a bit more difficult to find solid arguments for dropping hours, yet the previous point still stands: If your employer wants you, he will give you time off to get your degree

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Conservatively, what is the maximum number of hours you can devote to work? It is ok if the answer to this is zero.

In addition, what is the minimum number of hours you can afford to work? Hopefully zero but it is important to consider this.

Once you have figured out the maximum/minimum number of hours you should speak to your boss. You could open the conversation by saying that you want to negotiate a plan for the future. Briefly explain your difficulties and that you would like to work for him when you graduate (if true). State that you think it would be a good idea to stop working for him for the remainder of the term. If pressed then offer your maximum number of hours or, if suitable, a week or two of work to tidy things up. Reaffirm that you would like to work for him afterwards and ask how this will work.

Some points to consider:

  • The company is trialling you but you are also trialling the company. If they don't care about you enough to let you get your degree then are they going to be a good choice in the long term?
  • Unless you live in a wonderful country you will have paid a lot to take the degree (even if this is in the form of a loan). Retaking the degree is probably not an option.
  • There is no guarantee that your boss will employ you long term (years). It seems likely that they will but you can't know for sure.

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