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I am currently working on a master's degree in robotics. I have a job as part of a work study program from a French school. During the interview, I was presented with plenty of interesting robotics projects that were to start soon at the company. Due to the difficulty of finding a work/study program and the interesting work done by the company, I took the job.

However, I have been set up in the corner facing the wall working on database administration for 9 months now. Granted, there's data involved in robotics, but it is not my main field of study and I have only had introductory courses on the subject. I have "figured it out" and come up with something that works, but probably not done things "the right way" because I have basically no schooling on the subject. Nobody else in the company knows any better than me though (this is a completely new field for the company) so no one can guide me or point out my mistakes. Since no body knows what is possible or even really what is needed (they're calling this R&D) I am stuck with really vague tasks and no clear objectives. I have made it clear to everyone I can (it has become a running joke in the office that my situation is so ridiculously pathetic) that I need clear objectives and a timeline, but no word from anyone, even when asked explicit questions. So that's problem number 1 : I'm trying my best to do something that I know basically nothing about and no one seems to care.

Problem 2: There seem to be no concrete plans to move me into the types of projects I was told about in the interview. Managers keep telling me "there are currently no robotics projects", but I see the robots on the factory floor, so I'm guessing they don't trust me with "real" projects yet, that have real impact on their bottom line. As it stands though, I'm getting experience in a field which I have no intention of working in and even worse not getting experience in my field of study. I have spoken to my manager, my "tutor" (person assigned to help me in the company), and my school and no one seems too intent on helping me here. My tutor jus seems super overworked and literally answer "I don't know" to 90% of my questions, and my manager has said it irritates him and he finds me very rude for always coming to him with questions. My school has been basically unresponsive (not just on this matter, using Covid as an excuse for never answering emails etc, don't even have my grades back so I can't transfer elsewhere).

Problem 3: My company is now looking to hire someone to do what I do. Which doesn't sound like a problem, because I don't want to be doing it anyway, but now, with no clear objective for my project, and knowing someone (an actual programmer and web developer) is already working on making everything I do obsolete, I don't know how to continue. I have a 2 year contract as part of my school, so I don't really fear for my job, but I do fear for my sanity. As it stands, I have been at a stand still for months, doing everything short of going postal to try to get the situation moving, but no signs that things will improve.

What are my options to get on the right track and be assigned work that will have meaningful overlap with my studies?

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Same thing happened to me. I was working on a master's degree on robotics and embedded systems, I ended up working on some unrelated stuff during my internship. Worse, after I was done with my studies, I started looking for a job, and the only company that hired me (after months of applying everywhere and doing a litteral Tour de France for interviews), was completely unrelated to my field.

Now I'm a simple .Net programmer, and it sucks to remember that my master's degree was completely useless. The robotics/automatic/embedded systems field is pretty rare to find in France. Unless you apply to Airbus or some big company that is known for that (even then, you might end up working on unrelated stuff).

You might find some small companies too with a R&D department and "iNduStRiE 4.0" projects that might let you work on what you want, but it's just pure luck at this point. Most of them will let you dream, talk to you about augmented reality and self-driving cars, then once you're hired, they'll tell you they don't have an interesting project for you, so they'll give you something else in the meantime (meantime can mean 2 years or forever).

But things are not all dark thankfully. There are things that I did (and still do) that kept me sane :

  • Don't be too attached to your job (unless you really like it), don't be too invested, instead, work on personal projects with technologies that you like during your free time. Of course, you should be a good employee and do your job. But watch the clock and don't work more than you're paid for so you can concentrate on things that matter : your personal life and your projects.

  • When you have nothing to do during your internship, learn about something that you like. I used the free time during my internship to learn about AI, game development, robotics and even UX/UI. And to be honest, it was more useful and insightful than my actual degree.

  • Don't expect anyone to teach you anything. As a freshly graduated person, all you think about is wanting to learn more, landing a job that will teach you lots of stuff, meeting interesting people. But most of the time, you don't learn sh*t, work is repetitive and you rarely meet someone that you'll remember. So if you want to learn something, learn it yourself. For everything you want to know, there's an indian guy making a tutorial about it.

  • Finally, keep in touch with your college friends. You can start projects together, or at least flex on them when you make something and you're proud of it. It sounds competitive, but it really lifts your spirit and gives you motivation when you feel useless and disappointed by life.

I hope my rant was useful :)

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  • That's basically the approach I've taken. I've read every EPSON manual I have so far (software, actual robots, etc.), Staubli is next. Thanks for your answer, it's nice to hear I'm not alone in this situation – E.Aigle May 17 at 16:19
  • "For everything you want to know, there's an Indian guy making a tutorial about it." Funny but so true! – archilius May 18 at 13:25
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Honestly, you've done all the right things here. You've talked to your mentor at your placement, your manager at your placement, and your school and none of them are helping. Given this, you have to find someone else to help. Options would include:

  1. Escalating it directly at your school. They should have a process for students making formal complaints, and you could engage with this.
  2. Getting support from your student government organisation; they again should be able to give you guidance as to how to deal with this kind of situation.
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  • These would be the two primary options, it's in the schools interest to keep you happy. – Kilisi May 17 at 10:32
  • I agree that these would be good options, but I don't know if either exist. This is in France, where school is basically free and it really shows. I have been very vocal with my school that I need support and have gotten dismissive responses if any. Is there a job side approach I could take? – E.Aigle May 17 at 11:04
  • Job-side: honestly, probably not very much in this case. The general answer if you feel strongly enough about an issue and don't like what your manager says is you go to their manager. Eventually, if you're not happy enough you find another job, but that's a much more difficult option for a placement student, doubly so if you're not getting support from your school. – Philip Kendall May 17 at 11:12
  • Can't go to this manager's manager, he's the CEO's brother and the owner's son... I'm looking into other jobs but it's slim pickings. – E.Aigle May 17 at 11:18

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