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I am a college student and last year was approached with an job and internship opportunity by one of my professors. The job and internship were both with the town government. The job was building a website, not for the town government but for the Mayor, which I did, I got paid and and he was happy with the site. The Internship was unpaid but I took it because I was told I would be working with the town website, and I was told I could receive credits towards my CS degree. So I took the internship.

The internship turned out to not be what was advertised, I had been just uploading files to the site for a couple hours a week. It was about as computer science related as putting pictures on your Facebook profile. Although I was unhappy I continued the work, hoping to be able to eventually get a reference from the Mayor, which could pull some weight on a job interview.

At the end of last years term I had to leave the town but had set up to return the following term. Upon returning and going in at the time and day I had set up there was no one at the office. I returned the following week and there was no one again. I attempted to contact the office and the Mayor but had no response.

Recently I received an email from my professor saying that the Mayor has been wondering why I have not been in. I then attempted to contact the Mayor again, but have still received no response.

There are three questions I would like some help with regarding my situation.

  1. With how much hassle it has been to get in contact, should I continue trying?
  2. I still want to try to get credit from the internship, how can I go about explaining that the internship was not what was advertised and ask for more CS related responsibilities?
  3. If all else fails, how can I leave the internship and still be able to expect a positive reference should I need one in the future?

Update: I received a call from the Mayor today. It turns out that there was a change that occurred over the summer and they changed their email provider and their staff, which is why I was never getting through to anyone.

I talked to him and we have set up a meeting for early next week. I plan to inform him that I would like to find some more CS oriented work in the position, and if it is not possible then I will make up the work that has backed up since the communication issue and resign.

  • No, the job and the internship were separate things offered at the same time by the same person. – Ryan Raten Kuhar Dec 5 '13 at 15:08
  • If you want to do something more CS oriented then create something for the website that you think it needs? If you come up with something you are proud of then show it off and maybe they'll let you deploy it. A key differences between people who rise through the ranks and those who seem to stagnate is initiative. Why do you need to be directed to do something more CS-oriented? Show that you have some initiative. I remember in my newbie days all the people griping about not getting the opportunity to do the "good" work as if it was no fault of their own.... – Dunk Dec 5 '13 at 21:57
  • ...It was beyond their control. Well, I got to do the "good" work because I showed initiative and skills. I made my work interesting, either by automating tasks or coming up with better ways to do things and it usually turned out to be of benefit to the company. While others just expected someone to come along and give them what they wanted. – Dunk Dec 5 '13 at 21:57
  • Dunk has an important point, if you can think of potential projects there's a solid chance you can propose work at the meeting. – Snagulus Dec 5 '13 at 22:27
  • You need to learn the differences between public sector and private sector work. Just because the work you are doing isn't techy enough for you, doesn't mean the mayor doesn't see what you do as wizardry. You need to do the best you can, and continually offer improvements. Most people don't get a chance like this, and while it sucks, you need to play the game if you want to make it. Public is all about the dog and pony show, so whatever you do, make the mayor look good. – David Houde Dec 7 '13 at 13:57
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As for giving up, I don't think you currently have enough information to make a decision on that. It's possible they switched offices and informing you was lost in the shuffle. Are you able to find out what contact info the professor is using? You should verify it is the same as yours, and seek alternative methods of contact in any case. There is a misfire in communication here, and a reasonable follow up is a great thing you can show anyone who asks regardless of outcome.

As far as getting credit for the internship work you have already completed, this depends a great deal on three things. A)The internship mechanisms of your school, B) who is in charge of them, and C) if the professor who facilitated the internship is in the CS department. It's possible they'll count the internship without asking questions, but you should prepare for that to fall through as soon as you can. If there's anything I learned in college, there's almost always someone who can sign enough paper to make your problem go away. If your professor is willing to suggest the school recognize your internship as CS credit (and is in a position to do so, such as being a CS professor), you probably don't have much to worry about. Second case you can talk to a CS professor you're on good terms with for advice, or skip to the dean/chair of the CS program directly. Worst case you'll have to meet with the arbiter of internship-things and explain the situation. Talk to people, and if you can find support, you'll be okay. If not, and it was denied initially, you probably won't be able to receive credit.

If you aren't able to receive credit for the internship, and if after reestablishing contact they aren't able to find CS work for you to do, I would suggest a respectful exit from the unpaid, uncreditable work. Sadly, I am wholly unqualified to answer the question 'How can I respectfully quit my current job?' A cursory search on wp.se appears to be mostly 'should I quit?' questions, so I don't have a canonical answer on hand to point you at either.

Edit: How do I maintain a good relationship with an employer after resigning? is close and contains solid advice in many of the answers. The most relevant part of the accepted answer:

The best possible scenario for you is for you to leave in a situation where they agree that the thing you are leaving for is the best decision for you.

It's especially true if your program requires internship credit to graduate.

TL;DR: Talk to people, start with your professor.

Side note: You may not have gotten much CS experience to put on a resume, but you have good stuff too: you completed a project, the customer was pleased, you developed communication skills, you were assigned multiple responsibilities and ended up handling a tricky situation. Those things are arguably more important and harder to pick up in classes anyway.

  • I'm still looking for a 'respectful quit' solution; if anyone finds one I would really like to be able to round out this answer. – Snagulus Dec 5 '13 at 16:06
  • To clarify, the professor I mentioned is a CS professor and I don't need an internship to graduate but it would be credits that would let me graduate early. In order for the internship to qualify for credit it has to be at a level similar to that or a 300 level class (examples include Database design, A.I., Software Engineering, Networking, Security, Simulations) and I must write at least 10 pages about the experience and a guide to future interns in the same position along with a presentation. I don't think I could write 10 pages about scanning and uploading documents. Overall good answer, +1 – Ryan Raten Kuhar Dec 5 '13 at 21:42

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