Trials and tribulations of group projects

If nothing else, we come out the other side with the bonds forged in the collective misery that is the group project

Photo Credit: Joe McCallion/ Trinity News

Group projects are a staple of university life, like sleep deprivation and pizza, and they are met with nearly universal frustration by students. Between the absolute fiasco that is scheduling meetings amongst busy classmates and the terror that is placing your grade in someone else’s hands, they seem like far more trouble than they are worth. Sure, it makes sense to have us learn how to work as a team, but at what cost?

These ill-fated projects can range from groups of 3 to groups of 13 (thank you, senior freshman Chemistry Broad Curriculum, for testing my patience), and how it goes depends nearly entirely on the team. In every group, there will inevitably emerge a leader, a slacker, and a range in between.

Without a leader of some sort, nothing would ever get done, and without a slacker of some sort, life would just be too easy for everyone else. Best case scenario, people’s expectations for the outcome of the project are close enough to be compatible, but, as many a student will tell you, this is not often the case.

“People have different expectations about what they want to get out of it or put into it, which can be really frustrating if you either expect a lot or expect little, because it doesn’t fit with your expectations,” says environmental science student Peter Cox, who recently participated in what I am told was a grueling group project about soil.

Managing vastly different expectations in one group can be difficult, and the important thing is to keep them realistic. You can’t do the project all by yourself, and it won’t be perfect, but you also can’t expect your team to let you get away with doing absolutely nothing.

When faced with the daunting shadow of a group project, how does one make the best of it? Environmental science student Aneta Gaxha has some ideas. “I think that group projects can be good if people aren’t scared to be vocal if something isn’t working. As long as everyone remains honest about where they are in terms of the project, then group projects are good.”

It only makes it worse for everyone if you’re not all on the same page. Cooperation is key to a bearable group project experience. As Aneta says, “Lack of cooperation is probably the main reason why group projects go downhill.” Having that little bit of extra patience required to cooperate with each other can be the difference between a great group project and an abysmal one.

It may be hard to appreciate two days before a deadline, when all you want is for this assignment to be over and that one person to do their stupid job, but there are actually some advantages to group projects.  

“Knowing that your work affects others’ grades and learning weighs on people to put the work in for the most part”, says JS Engineering student Grace McLaughlin. “I think overall everyone benefits from group projects, and it prepares you for jobs in the future to work effectively with all sorts of people.”

Working with people you don’t like will unfortunately not end when college does. We will all be working with other humans, many of whom we will not get along with, for much of the rest of our lives. University is as good a time as any to figure out how to do that without tearing someone’s head off, and to work out the kinks in your teamwork strategy.

All in all, as annoying as they may be, we have to admit that group projects do us some good. They teach us time management, how to work with others, and, most importantly of all, that elusive virtue, patience.

They are not fun, they are not easy, and they are stressful as anything, but group projects are a part of college that everyone deals with at some time or another. If nothing else, we come out the other side with the bonds forged in the collective misery that is the group project.