Group projects are like college roommates: You hear a ton of horror stories, but you never hear about the great ones. Perhaps it’s because the bad experiences overshadow the good times. By the end of my most recent syllabus week, I was assigned semester-long groups in every one of my classes. It was a nightmare: A majority of my semester GPA would depend on other people. As finals week approaches, I am proud to say that I am a Group Project Survivor. I still hate when I see “team assignment” on a syllabus, but I am convinced that they are a college rite of passage that can be conquered with the right attitude and a little bit of Tylenol.
I know that it is important to be a team player. In fact, my schedule is full of team-oriented classes –- and I love it. I’m the epitome of a “people person,” and I realize that professors are trying to put us in situations that are likely to occur in the real world. However, I also know the frustration that appears when you get stuck with the social loafer –- the kid who doesn’t come to class, won’t return emails and could care less that your grade depends on them. As long as they get a “D for Degree,” they’re happy. I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with these people, and am pleased to announce that I have survived to tell you about it.
In a dream world, group members would split the work equally, put in the same amount of effort and ultimately work toward a common goal (for me, a grade higher than the aforementioned “D”). In that same ideal world, there would be no student loans, football season would last all year and universities wouldn’t give final exams on Saturdays. Unfortunately, that’s not real life. Let’s be honest — some group members are slackers, and class sucks when they’re in your group. However, I’ve learned a few things to make group projects a little more tolerable.
Boss it: It’s OK to take charge
In nearly every class project I’ve had, I’ve been the group member that says, “This is where we need to go – this is how we’re going to get there.” I used to feel terrible about it. I hated being “that” group member, but if you want to make stuff happen, someone needs to kick it into gear. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t feel bad about setting standards and getting everyone on the same page –- and it’s OK to want an A while everyone else is all right with barely getting by.
Pick it: Not everything is worth the fight
Similarly, pick your battles wisely. Sometimes, it’s easier to have neon green PowerPoint slides than to argue about it over emails and consequently hate your group members for the rest of the semester. Much like any relationship, it’s important to know when to speak up and when it’s better to keep quiet. Don’t be a pushover, though –- some things are worth the argument.
Plan it: Use your time wisely
You’re not stupid, nor are your group members, but it seemed like every other week, I was meeting about another class project. Usually, our meetings lasted twice as long as necessary. I’m a planner at heart, and am a firm believer in setting an agenda and sticking to it. Email an outline for the project, have things done in advance and be considerate of busy schedules. You can save time and headaches by placing a time limit on meetings and sticking to it. It’s important to know your group members, but do that before you’re 12 hours away from your end-of-semester presentation. Don’t complicate easy things, and stick to your schedule. Keep it simple, smartypants! (So much better than “stupid,” don’t you think?)
Survive it: Find the end of the tunnel
When papers and projects pile up, I go into what I call “survival mode.” I stop worrying about my GPA and I accept that I won’t make it to every meeting and event on my calendar –- I focus finding the light at the end of the tunnel. I hit the survival mode button a lot this semester. As classes come to an end, I’m realizing that group projects teach you all about survival. I’ve survived the meetings, I’ve survived the presentations and I’ve survived the semester that I was dreading.
I might not have made any friends during my projects, but the semester is over and I’m alive to tell about it. The next time your group project causes you to utter colorful language under your breath, eat an excessive amount of dorm food and lose your beauty sleep, don’t panic — this is what the real world will be like! I’m kidding (but to the professors who repeatedly tell me that –- I don’t believe you yet). I have survived and I know that you can, too. My condolences… Good luck!
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