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I have recently got into a weird situation, that I didn't think I would be in. First of all, I had applied for a paid research internship abroad (at a foreign university) some time ago. Due to covid restrictions, that has been converted into a remote/virtual intership. I have accepted their offer so that's all well and good.

However, one of my professors at my own university has now offered me a paid internship for the summer. That will also have to be done remotely I guess, judging by the current state of the world.

Now, as I have accepted the offer from the foreign university, I cannot cancel that, and I have to go through it. On the other hand, I don't know how to reject my professor's offer poiltely. I want to stay on good terms with her, because I have to stay in this university for two more years. And she is researching in the field where I want to go, so there is a chance that I will have to apply for her supervision for a PhD in future.

I am an undergrad studying chemistry in the UK in case anyone is wondering.

What should I do? I can probably accept both internships, but I don't know if I can really work on both of them, even if it's remotely. How common is it for people to do two internships in one summer? What is the perception of such a thing in the academic world?

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    You obviously can't do both, but why can't you cancel? It's virtual they can't kidnap you. – user133933 Mar 18 at 1:38
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    If this professor is a nice/reasonable person, they will be happy for you that you got an offer somewhere else and will be gaining more experience. If they aren't happy with you for that, that's not a person you want to be doing a PhD with in the future. – astronat Mar 18 at 8:02
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    Just politely decline/cancle one of them. People should usually be understanding if they are told early enough. Doing two full-time internships at the same time is unrealistic and likely to make you and everyone else unhappy. – Michael Mar 18 at 8:09
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    Perhaps it would be an option to do the remote internship now, and then check next year with your own university's prof whether they have a position open for you? – lucidbrot Mar 18 at 9:37
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    Why could you just not say something like, "Thank you for offering me this opportunity; however, I have already accepted a similar one at <the foreign university> when I did not know about this one. It's a shame I am missing out on this but still look forward to working with you at the next available opportunity."? – alwayslearning Mar 18 at 12:30
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Based on my experience in math in the U.S., you should probably give up one of them. The point is not "can you do the work?", but that such internships have a broader point that is not just some task. The people would want you to really engage, more fully than the allocated hours and salary might indicate, with their projects. That is, it's almost surely not just about getting some task completed, but about a mutually beneficial experience, where you'd get more than just salary, and they'd cultivate a future collaborator. "Dividing by two" is not palatable here.

(For example, if someone told me they wanted to work on a PhD with me, while also doing something else full time (!?!?!), I'd almost surely refuse, on the grounds that it'd just be a source of infinite frustration for me... And, in particular, a very bad investment of my mental energy.)

So, no, don't try to do both.

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It would only seem proper if everyone is informed of the situation. If everyone agrees, and you can do the work, then I see no problem.

But I doubt that either of the two institutions would agree. You should probably give up one of them proactively. The offer from your professor is likely the easiest. and then they can offer it to someone else.

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    Is this kind of thing common? – Shoubhik R Maiti Mar 17 at 23:09
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    Winding up with two offers probably is, but doing two at once is pretty unlikely. In some places there might be laws or regulations against "double dipping", – Buffy Mar 17 at 23:11
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    @ShoubhikRMaiti I agree with Buffy, I just want to add that even in the unlikely case that doing both was allowed, it might not be a good idea because they are both going to expect you to work full time on their project. This would probably cause a lot of stress to you, and the quality of your work might suffer. Even for your academic/professional future, it's much better to have done one job very well rather than having done two mediocre jobs. – Erwan Mar 18 at 0:21
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The problem with two internships in one summer is that you only have 24 hours a day. If you spend (like you are probably supposed to) 8 hours on one internship, then you have exactly 8 hours left for sleep, leaving you zero time for anything else. You will burn out.

So you should do only one internship at a time. If you cannot cancel the offer from the foreign university, then do that internship and tell your professor you already have something lined up for the summer. They will understand - after all, staying on good terms doesn't mean "do whatever she wants". They don't have a monopoly on your time (would they get angry if you were simply taking a holiday over the summer?). Plus, if it comes to another internship / MSc / PhD next summer, your experience at this internship should be helpful.

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So I was in the position of doing two internships simultaneously a couple of summers ago. I strongly recommend against doing this. You are likely to get burnt out, and not give your all to either project to the frustration of the people hiring you. Also, one of the really beneficial aspects of internships for furthering your career are references. You won't get good references if you spread yourself thin and it impacts your work, which it almost surely will. You might also be in a tricky position in the future if you did not disclose that you were doing two internships two both parties. If you ever want to use professional networking sites like linkedin, or to put your cv online and either side sees this and realises afterwards that you were two-timing it would seriously burn bridges.

Plus, this is a bit unethical. You can't make the most of both internships, and are taking the opportunity from someone else. In my case this only hit me after I began the internships, and I felt really really awful about it.

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A good undergraduate research internship will be interesting enough that you will think about it all the time. You can only think about one interesting thing all the time. As a research beginner, you should stick to one internship.

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While you potentially could do both of them, as long as you could satisfy the agreed requirements of both (so probably not of they are both suppose to be 40 hour weeks), you really probably shouldn't.

Since this is research, you will most likely be learning new things that you have only touched on in your undergraduate degree. If you tried to learn both topics at the same time this could lead to confusion and slow your rate of learning. Keep in mind that this is also your break time so you can come back and continue learning in your next semester.

So what to say to the local professor, basically just something like:

Dear XXX,

Thank you for the offer but unfortunately I must decline. At the time of offer I had already accepted a different summer research internship at YYY university. However I am very interested in your work and would be interested in doing research in your lab at <insert next break or semester here, or some vague time in the future>.

Regards, ZZZ

Of course only put that last part if you are seriously interested, which from your original post it sounds like you are. In addition you could look to see if there is an undergrad research course if you are thinking of doing research during the semester so your work counts towards your undergrad.

From the professors perspective they may not get you as a research assistant, but they now know they may potentially have a good/interested student who had demonstrated a professional behaviour lined up for the future. And one that will also already have some prior research experience.

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  • Thanks! I have told my professor that I can't work this summer, and she said ok. – Shoubhik R Maiti Mar 18 at 19:07

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