I’d rather take a textbook to the head than to do another group project.
Like Lord Voldemort, group work is an evil that should never be named in a course. As soon as I see the syllabus upload for a class I scour the pages for group assignment.
Every time it’s there I go through the seven stages of grief for the part of me that dies. My first stage is shock and horror that I’ll have to go through this again, followed by extreme denial that this is my fate.
The second stage comes from the pain in my stomach when I realize I can’t circumvent this. Then, I guilt trip myself. Why did I enroll in this class? I could’ve chosen a different class. This is my fault.
My frustration with myself then turns to anger in the third stage. The guilt I felt turns onto the professor. This is their fault. Group projects are dumb. Nobody does the work until the last minute. Then, I stare at the professor with the scowl of Batman.
I storm out of class to go wallow in the fourth stage of group project grief. I reflect back on all my past experiences that make me so trepidatious towards group projects. All of those old feelings of my grade plummeting swell up in my head.
I take a much-needed breath. I assure myself I’ll be fine. The only reason I don’t immediately blow a fuse is because of the calming nature of the fifth stage.
In the sixth stage I come up with my game plan. I will lead the team. I’ll start by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the team members. Then we’ll all work on it together. This cheery attitude slides me into the seventh stage of acceptance and hope.
For the last year, hope has carried me through each group project: hope that we will communicate effectively, work harmoniously and everything will be copacetic. Unfortunately, every time the group projects come around, I’m reminded how naive this train of thought is.
Sure, the seven stages may seem dramatic, but once I explain my experiences it’ll make perfect sense.
The earliest group project disaster I can remember happened during the fall semester of my sophomore year. Science isn’t my strong suit. I’m like Ronald Weasley in potions class. So, when I take a science class, I really push myself to learn. I’m actually pretty good in biology and I was maintaining my A.
My group was formed early into the semester and comprised of three other students who sat at my lab table. Everyone seemed to have a baseline understanding of the topics in class.
Then, I started to see some red flags. The girl who sat next to me barely came to class. Then, she just stopped. The guy that sat diagonally from me also periodically missed class. He started to fall behind and spend class time working on old labs and quizzes.
Our presentations weren’t until the final two days of class. As we inched closer, things weren’t looking good. We hadn’t really talked outside of class, we hadn’t chosen a topic and we weren’t able to get in contact with our AWOL group member.
November came fast. I knew December would come faster with Thanksgiving break. I decided that I needed to take the initiative on decision making for the group. That night I chose a topic and the subtopics each person could focus on and websites they could use to find more information on those subtopics.
I walked into class the next day ready to unleash my plans. I opened up my book bag and opened my folder with the printed out information like blueprint schematics to the White House. I allocated tasks based on their responses to my various questions. I know I can be authoritative and I like to take control, but I try to be diplomatic with group work. This time, as well with many others, that wasn’t the effective route to take.
Once everyone present had their assignment there was one loose string. Our absentee member was… absent. Another guy in the group said he emailed her, no response. This is where group work gets tricky. Do we move on without her and let her suffer the consequences (i.e. an F) or do we try to reach out to her again?
Personally, I feel like everyone is an adult and we aren’t each other’s babysitters. Life happens, but communication is key and leaving your group members in the dark isn’t helpful. Despite my altruistic attitude, I know students generally don’t like to be the ones to kick group members out, at least from my experiences. So I reached out to her. She responded.
I read her email filled with excuses and promises. I rolled my eyes and replied with my best customer service response. “No problem, I understand…” I understand that personal issues can sometimes trump everything. I don’t get being unresponsive or reaching out to just let us know if you’re still in the group or not. Yes, life happens but life also keeps moving for everyone else.
She came to class the next day. I gave everyone a timeline to submit information as I wanted to work on the PowerPoint. I like control, especially of our presentation aesthetic. Everyone agreed to the dates.
The first date came for submitting the basic information they found. Nothing came. In class everyone promised to finish by the next day Wednesday. They trickled in slowly over the rest of the week. The next deadline was their PowerPoint slides. They requested another extension. They didn’t come.
This happened to be a week before the presentation. Only my slides were ready to present. I wanted to spend the next class practicing our presentation. So, I spent the next several hours doing the rest of the presentation. I stayed up until 1 a.m. when I had to be at work at 9 a.m.
To say I was livid would be an understatement.
I couldn’t type a nice enough email to request the slides because I was too incensed. So I decided to do it alone. Lady Absentee sent her slides the next afternoon. Funny that she went from the WIP (worst-invaluable person) to the MVP. Of course when I saw them in class, they all apologized and made excuses. This was also the class before our presentation. They would all finish tonight, they swore. “Ok,” I responded to them nonchalantly.
For once, they followed through on their promise. Two days before our presentation they sent their completed slides. Slides I already completed last week. I didn’t feel like adding their information, but I did. I fused what they found and what I already had.
We agreed to meet 15 minutes before class to practice. It was rough. We somehow managed to pull together during the presentation and received an “A.”
I’ve been scarred ever since.