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I would like to announce this all-new column called “Tip of the Week”, dedicated solely to you guys: the students of LIU Post. Each week, a new tip will be published by your fellow students about all the different types of situations you may face during the semester, how to deal with them, and how to eventually benefit from them. Follow us throughout the semester, and if you are facing any problems and want our advice, or if you have a tip of your own, be sure to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Now, let’s jump right into this. Most students would agree that the requirement of group projects is a legal method of torture taken advantage of by a large number of professors. We wonder what crime we as students have committed that was so terrible that it caused professors to use this technique to torment us. What have we done to deserve this?
Well, I’m going to let you in on a secret: group projects may not be as terrible as they seem. Once you get the hang of them, you realize that they are actually much more beneficial than they are painful. I know you don’t believe me, so I’m going to give you some tips on choosing, managing and succeeding in your group.
#1: Choose the Right Group Members
The choice you make about who your group members are will definitely impact the quality of the work you do and whether or not you enjoy it. Of course and unfortunately, there are some professors who select your group members for you. If this is your situation, jump to tip #2.
If not, listen closely, because working in groups isn’t about spending more time with your friends. It’s about taking part in an environment that exposes you to different opinions, beliefs, thought processes and approaches to different concepts. It’s about learning how to form relationships and get along with people you know as well as people you have met for the very first time, which will definitely play a key role in any career path you choose.
So, who to choose? I tend to always tell people, “I have no friends when it comes to group projects.” Sounds awful, I know, but it’s the truth. When I have to choose group members, I go after the individuals I know are committed to their studies and will do an excellent job regardless of how busy they get (which most of my friends are). Most often I find that people with really busy schedules tend to do their work on time as compared to those who are “taking it easy.” So, when you are in the process of selecting your fellow group members, make sure you make your decisions based on their capabilities rather than your relationship with them. And, most importantly, never be too shy to tell someone “sorry, I can’t be in your group.”
Mitch Sierakowski, a junior business management major, has a different perspective. He says that if he knows a friend will not do his share of the work, he would “take him on and try to push him to do it,” but, if that doesn’t work, just “give him an easy part.” This is probably because Sierakowski finds group projects “fun and easy if you can work with people you know.” Additionally, James White, a graduate student in the MBA program says, “I will always prefer to work with friends. I do recognize that at times this may lead to procrastination, laziness amongst the group, and a general laid-back nature, but I find that it is a lot easier to get on the same page, and, worst comes to worst, you can usually put a friend in their place with more ease than someone you don’t know!”
#2: Stay on the Same Page
When working on the project, make sure all group members are present at the same time (at least during the first meeting) so everyone stays on the same page. If someone is not there, make sure you email them the details and what is required. As a group, you need to first discuss the project and what steps need to be taken in order to accomplish its purpose. Lay out the steps and let each person choose what step he or she wants to do. If one person ends up with a difficult or time-consuming part, make sure other members take on more than one easy part. Basically, make sure the work is divided evenly and fairly among all the members.
Also, always remain up-to-date with what is going on with each member and the overall project. Do not leave anything until the last minute, including the PowerPoint (if required). Working over a few weeks is much more comfortable and effective than cramming everything to the weekend before the project is due.
#3: Work Together
Always help other group members out. Remember, a group project entails teamwork, which, according to the Encarta Dictionary, is the cooperative effort of a group. If one person has trouble doing something, guide him or her in the right direction and even show them how to go about doing it.
Most importantly, do not be narrow-minded or intolerant of other group members. You are all in this together. Some individuals might be slower learners or just not understand the material as much as you do. This is not because they don’t try hard enough; sometimes you are forced to take a class because it’s a mandatory elective (ex. Philosophy or Art), but you have no interest in it and therefore do not understand anything. It happens even to the most intelligent of people. So, be patient and understanding, and make sure you motivate each other through the semester.
#4: Be Professional
I know that everything I’ve described so far is easier said than done. Problems and misunderstandings arise between group members very often – whether we like it or not – and although we typically can’t control their occurrence, we can control their magnitude and duration. When you find yourself in a group with people you just can’t work or get along with (whether friends or other classmates), always remain professional when handling the situation. Remember, you’re all in this together and, since most professors will not become your “mom” to fix your problems for you, you’re pretty much stuck where you are for the rest of the semester. As a result, the group as a whole must be able to properly communicate with each other and resolve any problems.
Also, don’t let someone’s attitude affect the group. Not everybody is as sweet as sugar or as outgoing as you would like them to be. Respect each other’s personalities and abilities, and as long as the work gets done, who cares?
Of course, there are always those people who will not do any work no matter what. And they always have an excuse. This is where you wish you were the professor and could straight out give them an “F.” But you can’t. So you have to know how to deal with them. One year ago, I was in a group where everybody was really great, except this one kid. All the work was done except for his. We had given him two weeks in advance to do it, and would every few days send him an email to ask him what happened. Guess what, he never replied. When we saw him in class, he’d say “yeah, yeah, I’ll do it.” Sure he will… If it was up to him, he would have never done it. So I waited, but the weekend before the project was due, I sent him an email and told him, “if you don’t want to do your part, or don’t have the time, fine; I will do your part for you. But, since you did not do any work for this project, your name will be removed from the paper and PowerPoint.” Guess what? The next day his part was completed. Problem solved. No hard feelings.
However, if he didn’t do his part, yes I would have removed his name. Most people wouldn’t have, but I don’t believe anybody has the right to receive my grade when I’m the one who worked for it. Unless they got in a car accident and are lying in the hospital on a ventilator, there is absolutely no excuse.
#5: Learn from your Group Members
Keep in your mind that this is a significant learning experience for you. White confesses, “Personally, I prefer to work in groups. At the end of the day, I know I have a good work ethic and I have confidence that I will get the job done some way or another. But to say that I will have the best ideas or best input is outright silly, and that is where group work excels I think. From my experience, the ideas of 2 are better than the ideas of 1.” He adds, “working individually will only expose you to your thinking and your opinion of the task at hand. Group work almost forces different mindsets to be exposed, and then ideally takes the best parts of each and consolidates an outcome.” Most importantly, White points out how group work is an essential part of graduate studies. He says, “undergrad teaches you the concepts and how they would apply to a particular task. Grad basically says okay, here’s what you learned, now apply it to a particular situation and say how it applied, why it applied and what the outcome was.” This application takes place in a group environment. So, if you’re planning on pursuing a graduate degree, or getting any type of job after graduation, make sure you learn how to manage and be a part of a group. It will pay off.