I am currently managing an intern. I found out that he failed his exam because his dissertation project was incomplete. He is indirectly blaming us saying that 3 weeks was not enough time to do his dissertation project.

I had given him 3 weeks to focus on the project and his dissertation. My boss was not happy with it and insisted that the intern shouldn't be doing his academic work on company time.

I can see both sides of the argument, but does the intern have a point? A part of me is wondering why he was not working on his dissertation outside of working hours.


The interns project was creating a feature to improve our product, which was why I let him work on company time. My boss however did not feel that it was high priority. The intern's academic course credits depended on it.

  • 5
    I can see both points of the argument, but does the intern have a point? - Is off topic here. I can not see any edit that would be helpful to you and be on topic. If we say yes or no does it make you feel more or less guilty? In the end it was the interns responsibility to get his project and thesis done. They failed that part, and nothing I can see here would make me think that you or your company are responsible for that. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 14:52
  • 23
    It would help greatly if you clarified the relationship between the internship and the dissertation, because some answers assume that the two are intrinsically linked, but there is nothing in the question or the tag wiki which states that and it's not universally the case. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 15:40
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    "The interns project was creating a feature to improve our product, which was why I let him work on companies time." Uhm, no, that's not the problem here. The issue we found bizarre was letting him do his academic work on company time. He was hired to work on the project, so you don't need to "let him" work on it, as that is what he is expected to do anyway.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 16:19
  • 3
    The problem is that the relationship between the company, intern, academic program, & dissertation is not clear (at least in the question, but likely from a legal point of view). Without those being clear and knowing the jurisdiction, it's impossible to accurately answer. The critical thing was "The interns project was creating a feature to improve our product". Depending on those relationships/jurisdiction, the answer varies from you must pay the intern to work on the product feature to the intern must spend their own time. The failure is that those relationships are not clear to everyone.
    – Makyen
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 19:35
  • 7
    (A) Is this a paid internship? (B) is the internship something your company supports formally? (C) What are the expectations of support from the academic institution you signed on to? ... what kind of academic project takes more than 3 weeks of full time work over a (4 month period?) in which you are expected to already be working full time?
    – Yakk
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 19:53

8 Answers 8


I was an intern recently and leaving your internship paper to the last 3 weeks is beyond daft and really reckless. The intern was at fault here and they should've managed their time and schedule better.

Of all the interns I know of and have known of, none of them had to be given time off to do the work, they did it during their own time to get it completed. There was a small time off provided by some bosses, to get the document ready and do the final steps before hand in, but not to write the thing.

You shouldn't feel guilty and maybe the intern will take this as a lesson to learn better time management.

  • 10
    Sounds like he is blaming the company for his failure to me. Not sure if they will learn from this.
    – Neo
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 14:44
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    Yep, but what can you do? You can lead a horse to water...
    – Draken
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 14:45
  • 4
    My mother typed/edited dissertations for years when I was growing up. It was not at all uncommon for her to be working with a doctoral student on a dissertation for months at a time. Three weeks is a ridiculously short timeframe to attempt to complete one.
    – Necoras
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 18:05
  • I think you are partly jumping to conclusions here because the question leaves many questions open like what were the exact terms of the internship. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 8:34

Part of me is wondering why he was not working on his dissertation outside of working hours?

No you should not feel guilty at all. You gave the intern 3 weeks on company time to finish the work. The intern definitely should have been doing more outside of working hours to be sure they were successful.

You can only do so much in this case. The intern should have been in the final phase of completing the work with only three weeks left.

  • 14
    It does seem largely bizarre that the intern was doing it on company time.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 14:34
  • IMHO that was very generous of the company.
    – Neo
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 14:35
  • 10
    We are a generous company.
    – bobo2000
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 14:40
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    @Fattie, if this was an unpaid internship, imo, it is as much his time as it is the company's, although on paper I realise this is not the case.
    – ESR
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 1:52
  • 1
    I am currently an paid intern and here(Netherlands) I am allowed to do academic work on company time
    – Denny
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 7:35

Your boss is right. From the company's perspective, the intern was hired to do the company's work, and he should not be doing anything else on company time.

While internship is certainly different from a normal employment, in that the intern's academic course credits depend on it, it is not your problem. The intern is responsible for completing his dissertation and anything else required to complete his course. He has to figure out how to manage his time.

As other users have pointed out, it was bizarre on your part to offer him company time to do his academic work. That may have led him to believe that he is entitled to company time to complete his dissertation, and hence the complaint that you did not give him enough. Avoid doing that from now on.

  • Indeed. If, incredibly, the company wanted to do that: I was thinking, a better plan would perhaps be to literally give the intern time off - say 4 days - actually with pay (!) to be used to work on the dissertation. That would make the whole situation clearer all round.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 14:58
  • I don't see anything in the question to indicate that "the intern's academic course credits depend on" the internship. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 15:22
  • @PeterTaylor Hmm, it could be locale-specific, but the interns that I have mentored had to do a dissertation on their internship project, so that sounds like a dependency to me. Nonetheless, that was a statement about internship in general, not specific to this instance. In my location, the universities have "tie ups" with companies, and they consider the internship project as the final year project for those students. Although, I guess in other locations, internship projects do not carry any course credits. I am just answering from the context that I am familiar with.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 15:36
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    It's definitely locale-specific (and possibly subject-specific too). When I did an internship my university didn't know about it, I wasn't in my final year, and the project I worked on wasn't even in the same sub-field as what I ended up doing for my dissertation project in my final year. I've asked OP to clarify the relationship. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 15:42
  • @PeterTaylor I would imagine that there has to be some connection between the two, otherwise this entire situation sounds extremely ridiculous to me. The manager offering company time to the intern for his dissertation makes about as much sense as offering an employee paid time off to learn bungee jumping ... and, of course, the intern blaming the manager for failing the exam makes about as much sense as blaming him for breaking a limb since he didn't get enough time off to practice.
    – Masked Man
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 16:02

I'd like to nuance the other answers,

of course you are not at fault, an intern should not be expecting to write his dissertation on company time. However, what Masked_Man stated is also important to keep in mind:

internship is certainly different from a normal employment

Your intern is there to work for the company, but also to learn a lot of skills, including organisation and time management.

What you definitely don't have to do, but can do for future internships to avoid repeating this issue, is clarifying with the intern from the beginning what kind of dissertation he needs to write, whether he is allowed to write it on company time or not, what kind of feedback he expects from you, how much time you will need to give said feedback, etc, etc. After all, it is maybe his/her first experience with employment and not everyone can get everything right on the first try!

  • 3
    Appreciate this alternate answer which is a better philosophy imo. It should be possible to help the intern organize their time, without them having to learn the hard way. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 22:11
  • Agree. Plus that it's less that valuable for anyone to have somebody fail. Both intern/company that are concerned would usually end with poor 'How-did-I-let-this-happen' or 'I-wish-I-had-seen-this-coming' kind of feelings. Damages on both side...
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 9:20

I was an intern not so long ago, and now work with some intern too. Something that my internships taught me, was "A company hire you to do some job with a lower salary, thus it is its duty to make sure you will learn useful things as a compensation."

That's how my last tutor thought and thus he gave me a few hours at work to prepare for my final exam. But what he did that matters the most, was helping me during my internship, teaching me things about the company and in general programming. That's what helped me most writting my internship report, not four hours before the final exam.

So, if you think in your company everyone did a great job teaching things with this intern, while giving him work, then I think you shouldn't feel guilty and he shouldn't blame you.

However, if you just gave him work, while teaching nothing to him I think he might be right to blame you a little (even though he should have worked on his free time).


If the interns project to pass was to create a specific feature on an in house application and the actual internship was mostly spent on other things that appears to be a major breakdown somewhere between his University and your employer. A setup like that shouldn't be established without full buy in on both sides; and a contingency plan for if business priorities change in place before anyone started. The student's write-up could still arguably be something that should've been done off clock; but the sort of programming that the University was expecting seems that it should've been the students primary task while working.


As both a manager and an employee of a university, I would argue that the intern's situation was their responsibility. Why?

  1. The intern is an adult, so has to take responsibility for their own time. Their lecturers and managers cannot force them to spend a certain amount of time on their dissertation
  2. Your manager is almost certainly right that company time should not be used for the dissertation. The only exception I can think of is if the dissertation has a benefit to the company that is agreed prior to the internship commencing
  3. It is the intern's studies, therefore in their interest to put the required resources in to make them successful. A student can ask for more help from their educators in certain cases (help from a tutor understanding a topic, help in an exam in the case of a disability), but they must take charge of their own education
  • Now please, enlighten me on the way of making students take responsibility and charge of their own education. I am not a manager, but otherwise in a similar situation and while this is a noble theory my heart deeply supports, it's application tends to fail big time. (Not only for the students but also me being frustrated and ending up with additional work.)
    – skymningen
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 8:59
  • @skymningen: I think the best motivator is to point out the fees the student is paying. In the UK, most courses charge £9k per year, which is often paid for by a loan. At the end of a three year course, I wouldn't want to fall at the last hurdle and retake an expensive course :-)
    – user27483
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 9:16
  • Around here, education (unless on a private school/university) is free, and I support this (mine wasn't, and while I was lucky to have my parents support, others failed because they could not handle the workload and studies which were designed to be a more than full time job). On the other I don't have that on my side. I usually hope the student chose to study and thus should have an interest in actually doing so.
    – skymningen
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 9:20
  • @skymningen: in the case of free tuition, I would motivate the student by pointing out a) the time spent already studying, and b) the opportunities the qualification opens up. But at the end of the day, we can't force students to put the required effort in, and they will have to live with the consequences of that (whether they are good or bad)
    – user27483
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 9:27

Intern positions are jobs, not company sponsored study time. Part of the purpose of an internship is to learn the ins-and-outs of the corporate world including time management and the separation of work and non-work time. That includes learning to blame ones self for time management fails, not look for excuses.

Though interns are often given a break, such as a couple hours to slide so they can study for an exam, this is more a trade off as they are not full employees so get a break. Three weeks is way beyond that, and is more than bending over backwards. I would have to fully agree with your boss, and frankly he should make if clear to you that really, that can't happen again. An hour here or there in consideration, maybe, but that is all.

It is his responsibility to make time, not yours to find time for him. If he cannot see this, he failed the exam, the dissertation, and his internship and the lessons it was supposed to teach him.

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