I am in a long internship at an IT company. At first, I was excited because it was the company I wanted and I was doing the job that would help me for my future career. But mostly, I was involved within a team in a very interesting project, and my various tasks helped design the final product; there was interaction everyday and I felt I was useful.

When the project ended, I was given a new task, to match my school program better (NOT an application project but implementing something I have NOT been taught at school). This time I am working alone, for an even longer period than the first project. I am mentally unstable and it's extremely hard for me to work on a brand new thing alone ( I have done it for school but only succeeded after acquiring the status of disabled student). Even to sane persons I believe it's not something you can ask.

My supervisor says this program "can be helpful for future projects" but that's all for the interest. He used to help me for the big project, but now he says he can't. He refers me to another engineer who only gives tips for occasional problems (most of them don't help). All the teams are now involved in new projects which started after my "all-alone task", and some of them have even not been revealed to me. The few colleagues I used to exchange a "hello!" with have been sent elsewhere.

I know there is at least one of these projects which can make me learn things according to my school program - the learning would be effective since this time I would be talking to people. But I never dared to tell my supervisor I want to give up on the task he assigned to me. Now there is less than a month left and my initial wish to take my authorized 7-days vacation turns to dust (who is this girl who's going on vacation while her task fell behind?). I have not taken a single day off since 7 months straight and I feel like my head will burst out.

Even now, I wonder. Without telling anyone about my mental health, should I have spoken to my supervisor and tell him I can't do something that no one in the company knows how to do? That I enjoyed the start of my internship but now it's too hard for me not to talk to anyone and feel like I'm a trash can? That I'm one of the few people in IT who does NOT learn by reading the internet but by hearing someone talk to her and transmit their experience?

This robot life made me lose all motivation. "Sit down, do as if you were working, read the code again, try to resolve this problem, try another solution, do as if you were working, hear the others work in a team and laugh, get out". Is it still time to speak my feelings? I am not planning to work in this company after my internship.


should I have spoken to my supervisor and tell him I can't do something that no one in the company knows how to do?

Yes. If you aren't capable of performing an activity that is assigned to you, you should discuss this immediately with your supervisor and determine what action needs to be taken.

That might be re-assigning the task to someone else. It might be spending time learning how to do the task. Or, it might be something else.

Either way, the solution starts with a discussion. Don't wait - do it now. As @HLGEM correctly points out, bosses don't like surprises. He'll be happier to learn of your problems now than if you wait.

That I enjoyed the start of my internship but now it's too hard for me not to talk to anyone and feel like I'm a trash can?

That sounds more like a whine/rant. It might be better to keep that thought to yourself.

That I'm one of the few people in IT who does NOT learn by reading the internet but by hearing someone talk to her and transmit their experience?

Again, this comes across as a whine as well as a slam against your co-workers. Don't do that.

You might express that your personal learning style works best when you can work/talk directly with someone.

Either way, clean up your thoughts and language before having this discussion. You'll be far better off for it.

  • Of course the terms I would use are NOT the ones I used in the post. I thought that was obvious. But I don't know if the best solution is to talk now, 3 weeks left, I don't know if I can begin anything new? Or keep suffering 3 more weeks and finally be done with this situation... – Ety Jul 23 '14 at 14:16
  • 3
    @Ety, you should discuss it now. One of the things you need to learn from an internship is how to bring up problems to your boss. Yes you may end up staying on the project for the next 3 weeks anyway, in life we win some and we lose some. But you have to learn not to run away from problems and face them head on. You will have better results that way overall. If your boss doesn't hear from you, he is thinking everything is fine. When you don't produce at the end of the three weeks he will be madder at you because you didn't tell him there was problem than he will be if you tell him now. – HLGEM Jul 23 '14 at 14:24
  • @Ety you should make the question as close to your situation as possible. You may also wish to add where you live as this can be helpful (most responses will be fairly western/US centered unless the question specifies otherwise). – enderland Jul 23 '14 at 15:19

If you believe that you have a mental health issue that can be classified as a disability which puts constraints on the conditions you work under, you must tell your boss if you expect them to accommodate you. If you think that impacts your ability to function, tell them. If you think that has serious impacts on your feelings and emotions, tell them. They cannot begin to be a good manager if they don't know about who they are managing.

Additionally, try to recognize it from their point of view. Companies that take on long term interns are doing it because they figure that the initial period where the intern gets lots of help/attention (in which the company is losing productivity by having senior employees spend time not doing their normal tasks and instead training and supervising an intern) will eventually be overcome when the intern is self-sustaining and independent. Additionally, it's common to be the first one at a company learning a new task...somebody has to be that person for every new skill the company ever acquires and it wouldn't be fair if it was always the same person! Lastly, taking on a totally new area is risky (what if it's way more work than they thought, what if it ends up not working out, etc) and applying lots of resources to something risky is...err risky. So companies will often have an intern test the waters to new areas.

Keeping all of that in mind, they are trying to (1) get more out of your presence than they are putting in, (2) get their regular employees to return focus to their duties before they had to watch over you and (3) try out something new without putting too much on the line. ... So, in order to solve that, I'd suggest trying to find alternative ways to learn things without needing to take up the time of your coworkers. If you prefer talking to people to learn, you might not get what you prefer. But you could try to go to a course on the subject, buy/borrow a book (which has a more narrative form than internet tutorials), find an online community to discuss the topic over, etc. Try to look at it from their point of view.

To reiterate though, no manager can solve a problem they don't know exists. If you don't say the problem, they can't address it. If you don't explain the reasons, they can't address them. And it's important to be flexible. It's hard to know how much of what you said is due to the disability you mentioned and how much is just opinion, but at work, you'll have to do things you don't like, everybody won't be put on the project they want and you might not have your personal needs (like being able to socialize) given a top priority. Additionally, in an internship, since the point is that you are learning, it's both common and beneficial that you are "implementing something I have NOT been taught at school". If you were just doing what you learned at school the internship wouldn't be all that valuable. Internships are learning experiences.

  • Thank you, I understand your point. Concerning the second paragraph, the "training" I had in the first part is totally irrelevant to the work I am doing now (this is why I said I'd like to switch to another task so that school says I respect their program - never thought it'd end like this!!). As for my "needs", every human being needs to socialize, right? Can you spend 3 months straight without exchanging a "hello"? That's killing me. I tried to learn by myself but there're no libraries with the books I need here in Morocco. Even on the tech StackExchange they don't know how to solve my pb. – Ety Jul 23 '14 at 14:50

One of the most important things you are supposed to learn in the university is how to learn new things on your own. If you can't do this you might have a much bigger problem that your internship. In IT the odds are that sooner or later you will have to learn something new and none of your colleagues are familiar with it. It would be wise to find a way to learn without supervision. If you have difficulties due to your health, try to find an advisor who is trained to help students with disabilities. If the university does not provide such help look somewhere else - medical practitioners perhaps. If you are diagnosed, probabaly you have a doctor that treats you. Ask them if they can help or if they know who can help with your issue.

As for your current situation - speak with your manager. It is to noone's benefit if you pretend working until the end of the internship. Explain you problems to the manager and explain what would help to resolve them.

  • Well I'm working in a different country from the one where there is my University and where I can get medical help. I'm just in a situation where I'm too little experienced and I CAN'T work alone and stay apart for entire months; if that makes me a problematic girl, then yes, I have a problem. I have no idea how to resolve all of this! And I'm afraid that I get a bad evaluation if I speak. – Ety Jul 25 '14 at 12:11

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.