Your One-Stop Guide To Surviving A Difficult Internship

As we near the end of the summer, most of us interns have a good idea of how your internship is going. If you find yourself in a difficult summer job, this article is for you.

In the summer after 10th grade. I joined a research lab, eager to get my feet wet in academia. However, I soon discovered that there was a recent change in executive leadership. As a result, every research professor was so busy adjusting that they could not assign interns any work. They simply would not have had the time to check over our work. With the shift in leadership also came a drastic change in policies, putting pressure on research faculty who had to juggle grant proposals and new regulations. I didn’t wrote this article to spite anyone, by the way, as this was a truly difficult time for the entire lab.

Disclaimer: If you experience or witness any illegal activity or sexual/verbal harassment at your internship, consider leaving or telling someone. 

Otherwise, here are five steps that can help you survive and maybe even salvage your internship.

1. Don’t be in denial.

If something seems off, it probably is. I have to admit that I didn’t face reality immediately. So if you recognize the problem soon enough, you may still be able to salvage your internship. Immediately realizing what’s wrong allows you to prepare your next steps, like speaking with your supervisor.

2. Have a conversation with your internship director.

Just a word of warning — this conversation will be awkward. Some managers may be unaware that the workplace structure ruins your experience, especially if it’s their first time hiring an intern. Try to have an open-minded conversation about your internship concerns. In addition, assume that your manager has good intentions for you. 

When you make assumptions about why your manager is ignoring you, you will negatively affect the conversation. Instead, do your best to stay calm and communicate your concerns in a straightforward manner. It can be tempting to talk passive-aggressively, but that will only escalate the situation. 

Also, do your best to be concise to ensure that you get your point across. Try to write down what is bothering you and use those list items as talking points. If the conversation changes nothing, you may just have to bear with this internship until it’s over.

3. Remember that this too shall pass.

The beauty of an internship is that it’s temporary. My internship was not a life sentence, and I don’t have to work there anymore. If you like it, though, you can think about returning next summer. So instead of focusing on everything that went wrong, try to figure out what you have learned from this experience. 

Maybe you learned how to deal with difficult coworkers. Or maybe you learned how to advocate for your needs. I’m sure there are small life skills that you picked up that you didn’t even realize.

4. I realized that I wasn’t alone.

I felt extremely isolated at my job. I questioned if I was even qualified. Were they not giving me work because I wasn’t qualified? I even blamed myself for even applying to this position. Until one day, out of curiosity, I Googled “how to deal with difficult internships.” I found many people in the same spot as me, caught in the middle of corporate drama. 

The sheer number of people in the same situation as me made me feel validated. It meant I wasn’t going crazy. These articles made me realize other external factors at play, like interpersonal conflict. So before you blame yourself, keep in mind that there are aspects you cannot control. Instead, focus on what you can control. An internship gone awry is not necessarily a reflection on you.

5. Keep your mental health in check

I didn’t realize how much that internship was burning me out even though I was doing nothing. The frustration that came from this experience took its toll on me. So if I were to do things differently, I would have definitely tried to talk with my friends about this situation more. You probably know at least one college friend who’s been through this.  

When you’re stuck at a difficult internship, the most important aspect to remember is that this job is not permanent. Moving on may be the best you can do. 

Featured image via Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels


  1. My horror story during the internship took place in the summer after the 11th grade in one of the summer camps. I was a counselor there and this is the most responsible work because there were a lot of children in the group and they are all young. I also had a partner. It was very hard both mentally and physically. Therefore, I understand the author.


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