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A few days remain before I present my internship report to get a master's degree. I have a few questions:

  1. My field advisor insulted me several times during my internship period. (He is mean, he gets angry very easily, he is bad-tempered and most importantly he is ignorant; he never knew what I must do as a trainee; it is me who proposes the tasks to him. Now that I finished the main task of my internship, he says it is useless). So I decided not to write an acknowledgement in my report: is this a bad thing to do? I mean, will the jury ask me why I did not write an acknowledgement?
  2. If the jury asks about my appreciation of the company where I did the internship: should I be honest in telling them what happened and that my advisor is too incompetent? Or should I lie and tell them everything was fine?
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closed as off-topic by Ben Crowell, scaaahu, RoboKaren, Charles Morisset, J. Zimmerman Aug 18 at 13:45

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Is the advisor in question affiliated to your university, member of said jury or in any other way relevant to your future career (assuming that you do not intend to work for that company)? Also, what relevance does this internship have to your degree (from the tags, I am assuming that it sort-of is your thesis)? –  Wrzlprmft Aug 16 at 13:24
    
@Wrzlprmft no, he is the director of a given company in which I have done my internship) –  tearsmile Aug 16 at 18:31
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This sounds like a golden opportunity to learn about real life and office politics... –  Greg Aug 17 at 14:08
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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about an internship, which is a work-related topic. I suggest moving it to the workplace.se. –  RoboKaren Aug 18 at 3:30
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@RoboKaren: This is about an internship required to achieve an academic degree and mainly about reporting about this internship in an academic context. I thus consider it to be much more on topic here than it would be on Workplace. –  Wrzlprmft Aug 18 at 12:35

3 Answers 3

up vote 17 down vote accepted

If the jury asks about my appreciation of the company where I did the internship: should I be honest in telling them what happened and that my advisor is too incompetent? Or should I lie and tell them everything was fine?

You should do the same as in any other case when a professional relationship goes wrong. You need to:

  1. Focus on the facts. "The project was not going smoothly" is a fact. "We had communication issues, so I ended up delivering not what they wanted" is also ok. "The project was going badly because the advisor is incompetent" is you trying to assign blame. Stay clear of that. You do not need to lie to the committee and pretend that all was great, but try to refrain from presenting your own interpretation of the events. It is understandable that you will want to make sure that the committee understands that the issues were due to no fault of yours, but by badmouthing your advisor (no matter how warranted) you are likely to reach the opposite.
  2. Take the high road. If it is customary that students write an acknowledgement to their advisors, write a short, polite acknowledgement thanking him to allow you to work in his team, if you can thank him for nothing else. Rocking the boat over something so minor seems unwise.
  3. Whatever you do, stay professional. Acting out of anger and a lust to "get back" on your advisor for his insults will backfire on you.

Important Edit:

Based on your follow-up information:

(retracted - some racist comments as well as statements about unduly long work hours)

The fourth, maybe even more important point is:

If something really bad went on (like in your case), find out what the correct official action to take is. File an official complaint with your university, or even talk to a lawyer and have him look into filing a law suite (racist comments in the workspace are certainly grounds for a civil law suite where I live). Don't take a placebo action that does not hurt and does not help, such as not including him in your acknowledgements.

The other 3 points stay in place - even if something terrible went down, you need to stay professional and you need to focus on the facts, in your official reports as much as when you talk to your jury about the incident(s).

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thank you for your answer that I find wise. However, i still do not want to thank him because he insulted me several times (he even said I am a terrorist because I am Algerian, while I am atheist and I fled from Algeria because of Islam -well, I am not trying to make this website a political or religious one, so I prefer to stop here-). He never told me anything respectfully. He always spoke to me in a loud and agressive voice. I had to bear all this because of some personal issues I do not want to list here. –  tearsmile Aug 16 at 18:47
    
He also made me working a minimum of 13 hours per day (from 07h:00 AM until 20h:30 everyday, and some days he forced me to work until 23h:00, without even being able to eat in the middle of the day). He always told me that he is French and I am Algerian -while he came to France on 2008 from Morocco and got French citizenship just recently-. He insulted one French trainee so that student never came back to the company unlike me. –  tearsmile Aug 16 at 18:48
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@tearsmile Racist comments and forcing you to work unpaid overtime? The correct reaction is not to leave him out of your acknowledgements. The correct reaction is to file an official complaint. –  xLeitix Aug 17 at 10:03
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@tearsmile: Note that the information from these comments is probably detailed enough to identify you to your advisor, should he read this, or someone else who knows both of you. If you really want to stay anonymous you may want to delete those comments (and xLeitix should maybe delete them from his answer as well). –  Nate Eldredge Aug 17 at 11:31
    
@NateEldredge agree –  xLeitix Aug 17 at 11:32
  1. Be a better person than him. Write the acknowledgement.
  2. I would think that telling your jury that he was a very hard man to work for is fine, but I wouldn't call him incompetent to people who are effectively his peers. I definitely wouldn't recommend him other students.
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Won't point no. 1 encourage being bad-tempered even further? It means that when someone lands up on the other side of the table, people have got no choice, but to put up with their nonsense. And you are still forced to put up a smile on your face and say nice things (read, lies) about them? –  New_new_newbie Aug 17 at 6:56
    
@New_new_newbie The two most important rules for any kind of professional conflicts are (1) pick your fight, and (2) keep it professional. You don't want to start a fight over something not worth fighting about (read: acknowledgements in a document nobody reads), and you never, never want to get personal (no, not even if the other side does it first). –  xLeitix Aug 17 at 10:01
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@New_new_newbie If something important goes avry (racist comments and forcing you to work unpaid overtime, as the OP reports, qualify), then react accordingly - typically this means filing an official report, if you have evidence even get a lawyer and have him look into filing a law suite. Don't do a placebo action like leaving him out of your acknowledgements (or, worse, start a screaming duel with him in office). –  xLeitix Aug 17 at 10:06
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@xLeitix: On the other hand, acknowledging might against you by a judge or whoever has to decide about this. –  Wrzlprmft Aug 17 at 12:25

Even if writing an acknowledgement is the norm in such a kind of report, acknowledgements remain a kind of gesture, which should have no impact on a professional evaluation. If such gestures have to be performed for their own sake, they become pointless and worthless¹: If literally everybody is being acknowledged, being acknowledged isn’t worth anything. Thus for acknowledgement having any point, there must be at least a small chance of, e.g., an advisor not being acknowledged, if this person really does not deserve it.

So, if your advisor did everything to be not worthy of any acknowledgement (as it sounds like), the only reason to acknowledge him would be that he still has impact on your grade or career². Assuming that this isn’t the case, the jury should not ask you about this missing acknowledgement, as your relationship to your supervisor should (idealistically) not play into your evaluation. (I will come back to this in a moment.)

As for your defense (or interview with the jury), I second the already given advice: Avoid appearing to place blame on your supervisor, but focus on the facts instead. Depending on what the mode of the defense is, e.g., if you are mainly asked questions and do not have to freely report on big chunks, you might not even need to address the issues yourself, unless asked. If you are however asked, e.g., why you made some decision on your project and it was due to your advisor commanding this decision, clearly say so. This also applies to the acknowledgement: If you are asked why you did not include one, it is the jury who brings up this topic and not you, and you can thruthfully say that you felt that there was nothing to acknowledge – but never bring on this topic on your own.

Another thing that you should be prepared for: If your internship was sufficiently long, the jury might hold the opinion that it was your responsibility to report severe problems to the university, such that it could assign you a new internship position or similar. Whether this opinion is justified depends on several factors, such as how much time this would have wasted and how high the risk would have been that such a complaint would have backfired at you and so on.

Also, if it’s not too late for this: Talk to your student body. They better know your specific situation than we do and might have experience with similar cases. Also, they have the means to drastically reduce the chances that this company ever gets an intern from your university again (I assume that they keep a list of good and bad companies for such internships).

Finally, talk to the jury (or another appropriate person), after everything is over. They also will have means to drastically reduce the chances that this company ever gets an intern from your university again.


¹ And you might enter some euphemism treadmill which ends up in a special acknowledgement language which has nothing to do with actual language anymore, as it is the case for employment reference letters in my country.
² Be aware that there might be not-so-obvious ties between your advisor and members of your university.

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+1 However, I don't think it is actually necessary to talk to the jury afterwards. If they care, they will see that things did not go well and react accordingly. If they don't care, talking to them afterwards won't change that. –  xLeitix Aug 17 at 9:58
    
@xLeitix: They will hopefully see that things did not go well, but unless it is directly addressed, they cannot possibly sense insults and the whole extent of what went wrong. –  Wrzlprmft Aug 17 at 10:30
    
+1 for the footnote about ties between the university and the internship company. Did the university assign you to the company or did you find the internship yourself? –  mkennedy Aug 18 at 16:53

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