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I am currently interning at a hardware/software company. Two months ago, I was assigned to a machine learning project that I am extremely interested in. It's relatively math intensive, which is great because I love math. In addition, by their own admission, it's not something that other people on my team know how to complete right off the top of their heads (like many other intern tasks or projects at my workplace). My team members are putting a lot more trust in me than I thought they would, and that is both flattering and immensely motivating.

I've learned a lot so far, I love working on this project, and I am definitely grateful for this opportunity. But I feel like I'm too dumb to be working on this project. I feel as if anyone else at work would be able to do a better job than me, and do it faster. What is the right thing to do?

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    You're an intern. For the most part, anyone else there should be able to do a better job, faster. They have experience and skills that you do not. This is true almost universally and nothing to do with you. Jun 18, 2016 at 3:19
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    @ChrisHayes If you make that an answer, I'll upvote it :)
    – Jane S
    Jun 18, 2016 at 5:00
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    You aren't dumb, you're inexperienced. The cure for that is experience.
    – keshlam
    Jun 18, 2016 at 5:45
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    My and my friends, who are interns and coop students like you, feel the EXACT same way. The only thing I would suggest is ask tons of questions (but think it through and read carefully before asking), and work for longer hours to achieve the same results as those who are full time employees. You should look at this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome Jun 21, 2016 at 14:35
  • If you don't feel too dumb for your current position then you're not challenging yourself enough. Just don't forget to call for help when you need it - issues only arise when you hide the fact that the ship is sinking from your colleagues. Jun 22, 2016 at 18:13

4 Answers 4

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You are an intern. Everyone else is supposed to be able to do the job better and faster than you. At some point in the future you will be a junior developer, then you are supposed to be better and faster than the intern, equal to other juniors, and not as good as more experienced people.

But also consider this: You see your own strong and weak sides. You see other people's strong sides because they show them; you don't usually see their weak sides because they don't show them. So what you see is biased against you. In reality, you are better than you think.

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I've been working with students and interns for a while now, and, in my experience leading them, you never expect them to know a lot, because, being interns, their "real world" knowledge is very limited, what you really are looking for is young people with the right attitude, who enjoys, or at least are willing to, team work, because, in the end, you know eventually they are going to learn how to do things, and, the great thing about working with interns is you get to teach them how to do things your way, so, their lack of knowledge is, in a way, an asset.

So, to answer your question directly, you are supposed to show that you are doing your best to accomplish your assignments, that you are learning and that you are willing to listen to advice and to take critics to your work positively and trying to improve.

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I feel as if anyone else at work would be able to do a better job than me, and do it faster.

While that may or may not be true, the relevant fact is that everyone else there already has things to do. If a company saved every task for the person who would do it best, very little would ever actually get done.

It sounds like you're doing great, but it might be useful for reassurance to get your supervisor to confirm that you are meeting expectations - or indeed exceeding them.

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A degree of feeling inadequate is to be expected if you are in a nurturing environment that encourages employee development. They should taking you out of your comfort zone and building up the fringes of your capabilities. Conversely, you would quickly tire of a position that only provides you with tasks you have mastered.

Try to see this opportunity as just that. Continue to be humbly grateful for the opportunity they have provided you. I suggest learning as much as you can, admit when you don't know/understand something, ask questions wherever you feel the need to, and do everything in your power to meet the goals they've laid out.

That being said, if you feel that you are so completely in over your head, that you provide/receive little value or are struggling to meet the base requirements, it would be wise to bring this to the attention of management.

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