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Intern-itis: Symptoms & Treatment

Date Posted: June 24, 2019Reading time: 3 minutes

by Reed Wigglesworth


Everything can be overwhelming and intimidating ​when starting out in a new workplace. You’ll find yourself wondering if your title should be changed to Official Nodding & Mhm, I’ll do That Now Coordinator. Or if a typing and smiling robot could replace you. Well, that feeling has a name (that I just made up right now). Intern-itis.

intern · itis | noun

The feeling that you add no value to a workplace and that everyone else knows what they are doing but you.

“She wouldn’t stop apologizing for existing earlier. I think she has intern-itis.”

If you experience these symptoms regularly, you might want to ask your doctor about a related disease: Imposter Syndrome. I first faced these feelings at a high-tech startup where I interned in the summers of my undergrad. And I became very panicked. I wanted nothing more than to be a helpful little intern, but knew nothing about the big data industry and lacked a computer science background. My solution? To do everything I was told quickly and competently. So even though I didn’t think I added value, at least I was getting things done properly. I also vowed to myself that I would say yes to any task and give it my all. This landed me tons of kitchen cleaning, coffee duty, and social committee work.

How on earth can an intern add value to this start-up and What in the world is a data path?

During my first of three summers at the startup, I was the 12th employee, the only intern, and surrounded by experienced software engineers. I often thought that I was just costing the startup money and felt like the work I was doing was just busywork. It wasn’t until my third summer at the start-up–which had then grown to 100 employees–that I saw the fruits of my labor. Including actually delivering fresh fruit to the engineers.

I could suddenly see it. All the mitigating heated scrum meetings and “constructive conversations” about the new project management software with the engineers had created value. And I had done them well. Before I knew it, I was someone of value. I even had co-workers with years of industry experience coming to me for advice, all while I was still cleaning the microwave. I had acquired many unofficial titles by the end of my last summer that were much more flattering than my self-appointed Mhm, I’ll do That Now Coordinator. Although my earned title of The Coffee Elf was probably just as bad.

The marketing director gave me advice on my last day of work that helped everything really sink in and let me see the bigger picture. Even if I think that I’m “just an intern”, she said, I have valuable knowledge and should share it more. I realized that I had spent three summers stressing about how I could create value when all she wanted was for me to share my thoughts and ideas more often.

​In summary, don’t panic!

Intern-itis is perfectly normal and not fatal. The truth is, it takes everyone doing their part to make a company successful. And each person adds individual value, no matter their title or responsibilities. I can say from experience that the smallest things make a big difference in the workplace in ways you may not notice. Even something as small as taking photos at company events or politely reminding someone for the 10th time to log their hours. And the most important thing of all about Intern-itis is that you are not alone. Everyone feels its effects at some point in their lives. So, keep your head up and remember that you add value!

Reed Wigglesworth is an Account Coordinator at Trampoline. Want to get her help on an upcoming project? Get in touch at [email protected].