I am an undergraduate STEM student in an Asian university. At the beginning of the semester, I had about 7 courses which is the usual workload we need to deal with, so I gave a 'semester research plan' of sorts to the professor from another university under whom I am working as an intern.

After midsemester exams, our department shocked us by introducing 3 extra labs for the semester which have weekly assignments and quizzes. On top of that, several of the 7 other courses have their own course projects (some more than one). Not to mention the course quizzes and assignments. I am also working on a research problem with a professor in my own university. Plus, I need to secure an internship for the summer, which COVID has complicated quite a bit.

Overall, I just feel tired and demotivated to work on anything. I constantly break down and worry. I have spoken to some supportive family members about this but they don't really know how bad it is, so they can only offer so much advice. My uni friends on the other hand seem to be getting on fine and I am ashamed to seek help from them.

All this has made me want to take a break from my internship with the professor from the other university. I have barely done any work this semester and I haven't been regular at all to the meets. So I have already disappointed him considerably and I am further sad that I wasted an opportunity to learn and work under him (he is fairly popular in his field in the country).

So how do I tactfully tell my internship guide that I would like to take a break without disappointing him further? The reality is that I am already the weakest link in his research group, so I am worried that this will just convince him to let go of me from the group.

  • 1
    Don't be ashamed to talk to your friends about this. It could be that everyone is struggling and putting on a brave face. A problem shared is a problem halved. Mar 9, 2021 at 15:32
  • 2
    I doubt that (all of) your Uni friends are “getting on fine,” even if they seem to. When they look at you, they probably think the same about you. If you live in a tough, hard-working culture you tend to put on appearances. This doesn’t help with your problem, but I’d at least talk about it with close friends in a similar situation. Mar 9, 2021 at 15:33

2 Answers 2


This question was asked some time ago but never got an answer. Hopefully the OP feels less overwhelmed now, and the additional pandemic-related stress is gone.

As an undergraduate student, the top priority should be learning and your courses, and research with a faculty member is a secondary priority. It's perfectly normal to go through periods where your other obligations demand your full attention, and research goes on the back-burner. Your professor won't be too disappointed. They recognize that you are human.

Let me share a bit I wrote in another answer:

"In my experience, most professors do not truly rely on undergrad research students. It's very common for undergrad research students to realize, as a result of the experience, that they are not very interested in research after all. It's also common for them to realize they need to improve their time-management skills, and that it's hard to make progress on research or writing on top of the obligations of being a normal undergrad. So, I think most professors supervising undergrad research students recognize that some degree of unreliability is not out of the ordinary."

I also wrote:

"To any student readers, if work is getting overwhelming and you are not sure you can devote time to a project with a professor, I think it's better to write them a simple email like "hey, sorry, but things are getting crazy and I might not make progress for the next week or two" instead of saying nothing and then feeling like it's been too long without contact. Checking in and discussing expectations is important for any good research relationship."

To the OP's specific question:

So how do I tactfully tell my internship guide that I would like to take a break without disappointing him further?

I would just write a short email explaining that your coursework has gotten busier than you expect, and asking if it would be ok to delay the undergrad research till the end of the semester. The professor wants what is best for you and should have no problem with that. Again, they won't be disappointed or think less of you as a human being.


"Dear [name], the last few months have been difficult for me, and I am afraid that I am on the brink of burning out. I would like to take a break, but at the same time I don't want to disappoint you. Sincerely, [your name]."

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