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As part of my computer science degree I need to spend 5 months in a job placement as an intern. I've been here for about 3 months now and I've become really unhappy with what I'm doing here.

I've been working on a single project the entire time I've been here. The issue is that this project is heavily physics/engineering oriented (in MATLAB), which I have practically no knowledge of, and no interest in.

I had partially done a previous course which had some physics modules, and this was on my CV. I can only assume that the manager picked up on this and thought I'd be better at using those skills rather than the skills I've learned on my current course.

My current course is software based, with my main skill being Java/C# programming, which they do here. But the project I'm doing has absolutely no relevance to my course or anything that I've learned, so I'm completely alone in the woods here and pretty much have to self-educate myself on the subject matter from scratch, which is extremely challenging.

I have no relevant skills that I can use on this project. Honestly, a random person picked off the street could arguably be of more use than me for this.

I'm the only person working on this project, and I can't actually see any use this company might have for it.

My biggest concern is that this is my one chance to get industry experience before I graduate. As of now I've learned essentially nothing that I can use at any other job, which I feel will disadvantage me when I'm competing for a graduate position. It's like applying for a job with a chemistry degree and then being thrown into accounting.

Is it acceptable for me (being a lowly intern) to make a request to management that I be transferred to a project that perhaps is more in-line with my skill-set? How do I go about that without sounding insulting?

Bear in mind that this placement is an integral part of my course, so I can't just quit and find something else.

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    You should talk to the appropriate people at your school to determine if this can be done. We can't tell you if you should because sometimes doing something that is not an exact fit for you it being a professional. – Donald Jun 23 '14 at 11:12
  • I've clarified the OP. I don't want to (it's not possible anyway) to change employment. I'd like a different project internally within the company. And in this case it's less of an "exact fit", than "not even remotely close to a fit". – karoma Jun 23 '14 at 11:18
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    Do bear in mind that you are already 3 months into a 5 months internship. It could be that you are too late to switch. It would have been better if you would had been more clear upfront as to what you wanted. – Paul Hiemstra Jun 23 '14 at 11:27
  • True. Although I didn't expect it to be a long term project at the start. That, and I didn't know if it was acceptable to be complaining about my designated work after such a short time there. – karoma Jun 23 '14 at 11:34
  • @karoma - Its not acceptable. Its likely not even going to be considered. I hope you learned a lesson about what is on your resume and being honest about your skills or knowlege in a subject area. – Donald Jun 23 '14 at 11:39
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Yes.

Ok - a little more detail :-)

I work with interns. It's quite usual that what they want to work on and what we want them to work on are very different.

You should be having regular meetings with your boss - it's at one of these that you should explain why you want to change. You'll need to deliver a robust "business case" why you want to.

Before going any further - let's look at some of the reasons a manager will reasonably say "no." This is to help you counter these objections in advance.

  • This is actually quite an important project for us.
  • We don't have enough time to hand-hold you through setting up on a new project.
  • You're halfway done with this - it's too late to change.
  • It will look bad on me if one of my interns requests a change.
  • These are really vital skills - and you will need to know them if you enter our industry.
  • There are no other projects suitable for an Intern.

You have to make sure that your boss sees the personal advantage for them.

For example...

  • Me having a wide range of skills will help me with your other projects.
  • The company will see how well you treat your interns.
  • I really want to work here when I graduate and would love to get to know the other departments / projects. Can you show them to me?

And now, a note of caution. You may have already left it too late. I would expect one of my interns to have told me of their concerns after a few weeks. You've left it a few months. It is not an insurmountable barrier - but you have to construct an excellent business case for a change.

So, in summary, yes - if you are not happy it is totally acceptable for you to ask for a change of project. Learning how to manage your boss is a vital skill in the modern workplace.

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    +1: Not a bad answer, but I would add a word of caution with this. An intern asking to change projects after a couple of months sends a message to an employer that they will not see a project to the end simply because they are not happy with it. – Joel Etherton Jun 23 '14 at 14:07
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You can ask (although as others have said you should have brought it up much sooner), but I think the likeliest thing is that you will not get switched.

So you need to understand some of what you can get out of this project. First everyone has to work on things they don't want to at times. So you are learning about that part of the workplace. You have also learned, I think, that you need to speak up sooner rather than later or you have to live with your choice not to bring up the subject. That can be hard lesson to learn, but the fact that you are continuing to work in area of less interest to you is mostly your own fault. No one else is going to manage your career, you have to be proactive.

Something useful you can get out of this is the ability to pick up something your don't know and do something useful with it. In software developement, this is a critical skill and you have a golden opportunity here to work on it. This is also a lesson on not being attached to a particular language.

If they won't move you, spend the next two months really digging in and getting something accomplished. You will be proud of yourself for that. A good deal of success in the workplace is more about persistence than technical chops. Not giving up because it is hard or not what you personally want is something that will only help you in the future.

If you are intersted in furthering your own skills on the software stack you prefer, consider if the project can be redone in that language as a personal project. You would learn alot about how differnt tools approach problems differently by doing that and you would get some practical exerience in your preferrred stack. You might even learn why it is that the particular tool was chosen over your particular favorites for this task. Of course, don't take anything work related home to work on in a different language without your boss's knowlwedge. You may be too junior right now to really know what is proprietary and must be protected and what is not.

You are also learning skills in how to devlop some domain knowledge in order to complete the project. Again this is something useful no matter what partiicular techinical stack you pursue. You may also be learning such things as how to use source control and how to communicate progress and issues to your boss. I bring allthis up so that you can change your perspective and realize that you are getting things out of the internship. Things that are valuable to your career.

You worry this will make you less marketable. But if you present yourself correctly, it will not. No one expects an entry level person to have expert skills in the technology stack, that is why they are entry level. But someone who can dig in to something unfamilar and deliver a project in five months, that is something valuable and will set you apart from many of your peers. If you supplement that with pesonal projects in your preferred stack, then you become a strong candidate indeed.

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    +1. I'd encourage the OP to re-read this answer for the next job interview. These are already wonderful answers to those "tell us about a challenge you met and overcame" questions future recruiters will ask some day, which the present suboptimal job will at least help you in answering... – Stephan Kolassa Jun 23 '14 at 14:40
  • Overcoming hardships will make OP more marketable. Good companies (in which you want to work) hire for attitude, then train for skills. +1 for reimplementing project in preferred language as side project. This is exactly good lesson for OP. How matlab might be much better fit than Java. – Peter M. Jun 23 '14 at 15:02
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You ARE getting industry experience - you often don't get to chose which project you work on, and find yourself having to develop new skills based on your affectation. There have been many interns (including myself) in this situation before and there will be many more in the future.

I know it seems unfair right now, and it's perfectly ok to be unhappy with the way your internship is going on. But from my experience, I can tell you this : what you're learning about employment in general (adaptivity, and coping with projects you're not so much interested in) is probably as valuable as what you could have learnt about programing.

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The only reasonable reason for a manager to change your project is because you can be of more value to them on a different project. If this is a project they need done then the OP is stuck doing it. It wouldn't matter if were a full time employee instead of an intern.

Instead of asking for a change you first need to talk with your manager or supervisor. You should make sure you understand what they are expecting from this project and how it will be used to benefit the business. On the off chance that the project was really just something that they thought might interest you but is of no value to the business then you should be OK in asking to help with a project that has actual business application. Do not ask to be taken off of the project just use it as something to fill the time if you have no other tasks. But knowing it has no value means no real need to finish the project either.

Assuming they do have a business need for this project, realize that you are not getting off of the project short of failing your internship. This means you need to figure out how to succeed even with what you see as the situation working against you. I would start out by explaining what you are having the most difficulty with and asking if there is someone who can help you get past it. The key here is to get the help you need but try to make as much progress on your own with the minimal help needed. Ideally ask questions to help understand the application of the project and how they want it to work and handle most of the programming of that application on your own or with just enough help to get you over then rough spots.

Another tactic you could use is to find out what other projects they are working on that actually interest you. Then explain that the project seems interesting and see if there is any way you could also work on that project some. This shows initiative and drive to grow. It would mean more work for you but you are presumably young, and a little hard work now will be good for you. It will help you grow where you want to as well as where the business needs you. This will not mean that you can let your project slip, but if you are willing to go the extra mile to be on the other project you can probably learn something as well as impressing your company.

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    +1 for using this as opportunity to learn asking for help. Good skill to have. – Peter M. Jun 23 '14 at 15:04

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