Group work is rarely *group* work

This post is sort of a continuation of Monday’s post on Group Work.

I’m, personally, a little weary of group work. We’ve all been involved in groups that don’t actually involve “group” work, but one or two individuals completing the whole project. And my grad school experience has been similar.

The main difference I’ve found between undergrad and grad school group projects is that the groups are smaller. Normally this is a good thing, but there usually ends up one person in the group who’s a lot more excited about the project than the others, and therefore takes on more work.

I find that grad students are usually of two types. Type A people are use to doing all of the work in a group project, while type B people don’t like giving up any control of the project. If everyone is of type A, it’s not to bad, as usually it means everyone will pull their own weight. If you have someone (or more) of type B, then often it ends up being a struggle to do any work, as this person tries desperately to keep it all to themselves. That’s not to say that there aren’t any type C people – those who don’t want to do any work but want the credit – in grad school.

However, as much as I find a lot of group work very irritating, it is still important to get involved and have the experience. Everyone needs to know how to deal with people of all types (like A, B and C) – such as finding ways to assert yourself to regain some control from type Bs and motivating type Cs. If everyone is use to doing all the work, then usually the biggest hurdle is making sure you don’t plan too big of a project. Just because everyones going to pitch in, doesn’t mean the project can grow a lot larger and still be feasible.

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11 thoughts on “Group work is rarely *group* work

  1. Though there are a lot of pitfalls to group work, I think another challenge besides learning how to work with other people, is to realize that other people may have different ways of attacking the same problem. I have often discovered that a fellow group member may have a strategy that I did not even think of, and it actually makes the topic easier than my own.

  2. Group work in grad school is great if everyone is motivated, competent, and willing to pull their weight. Unfortunately, what I’ve seen is generally 1 or 2 people pulling a group of 3 or 4. When I’m working with people who don’t do the class reading or the research necessary to do an adequate job on their part of the project, it means I have to do it. It’s more work and stress for me. I’ve worked with several lazy scags that see I’m an A student and smugly drag their knuckles knowing that I’m going to be earning them a free A. That ticks me off, and I generally let the free riders know how I feel about pulling them along. It irks me that I have to give them a ride on my hard work. I understand that I have to do it, but I refuse to do it with a smile.

    What I see are people who, due to lack of academic ability or work ethic, are doing C work when a B- is passing. The solution then, from the perspective of the leadership and faculty, is make group work 35% percent of the grade and the competent can pull the dead weight along. To justify their jobs, they have to retain and graduate a substantial number of students.

    Its ridiculous. Group work in grad school is not comparable at all to work in the real world. At a real job there is individual accountability and usually a supervisor with authority overseeing people’s input and performance. At every place I’ve worked, people who don’t perform are culled, not pulled through on someone else’s back. The best thing grad school administrators and professors can do for students is foster in them a sense of self-responsibility.

  3. I’m in a masters program that has been nationally recognized for its “rigor” and “high quality of instruction” and I continually have to work in groups with people who read and write at an 8th to 10th grade level. This means that they have difficulty grasping much of the material they read and they have a hard time writing at a graduate level. This means that when we work together to produce written output, I basically have to carry them. It means lots of extra work and stress for me. I do not benefit at all from working with these people. They contribute nothing to my education. But they benefit greatly from working with me. Half of the people I work with are either unable and/or too lazy to pull their weight.

    I’ve worked in collegiate quasi-academic settings. Nowhere have I ever seen a manager say “Here’s a topic. You all figure out how to coordinate your disparate, busy schedules. Bring it back in 8 weeks.” That doesn’t happen. In every job I’ve had, people are selected and managed in some type of authoritative structure that holds them accountable individually for their input.

    I used to wonder how these people manage to stay in a graduate program. I’m starting to realize that people like me who pull them through projects, also end up helping to pull them through the program. Group grades give the little bump that many of them need to obtain passing grades.

    • Yeah, the longer I’m in grad school, the more I realize there are a lot of students who are here, and still here, who really shouldn’t be. And this makes it feel like the standard for grad school has gone down a lot. Or maybe it was always this low, and we just never realized because we’ve always assumed the people who got them were really really smart.

      Of course, saying this, there are days when I wonder if I should even be here. And if I’m actually smart enough. So, who says I have any right to judge the others.

  4. I work very hard and don’t expect anyone to pull my weight. When my hard work carries lazy, incompetent people, I have every right to judge them. Overall, grad degrees are declining in value because they are overproduced. Frankly, universities benefit from retaining and graduating warm bodies–it justifies their jobs.

  5. I’ve had 6 group projects this year (more than I’ve EVER had in the real world) and everything you all are saying has rung true, however I’ve called my own leadership skills into question. It makes me wonder: “how can I control this situation so I DON’T end up doing all the work?” “how do I encourage someone else to try their hand at being a leader?” “How do I assert myself without making my group members feel inferior, even if their writing is poor or their strategies are mediocre?” it seems the best thing I can do is just do it all, and even when work is delegated, it’s like people can’t be trusted to deliver…

    I found on more than one occasion I’ve thrown myself into the group project so deep to try and fix other people’s mistakes that it makes me suffer in other areas (i.e. prepping for another assignment or exam which may also be due). As a first year grad student, I’m learning a lot from the dreaded “group” situation, and I think next year I will be extremely keen on who the type B & C people are, because I am a devout type A who likes getting As, and I can’t take a B for type Cs.

  6. The thing is, there is no way to really “control the situation so you don’t do all the work”. Even if you are able to sweet talk, manipulate, and coddle someone who is totally disinterested into lifting a finger to do something, the result will still probably be far below your work standards and below what you are willing to turn in for a grade.

    Personally, I’m tired of trying to manipulate these fuktards into doing their freaking jobs. The real world does not work that way. I’ve worked in highly team-centric professional settings, and gradschool groupwork does not compare in any way. If these people are expecting to go out there into the working world and have their bosses and coworkers coddle them into doing their jobs, they are going to be very disappointed.

    But really, groupwork in gradschool serves the interests of universities and professors. They are able to boost the grades of low-performers, and maintain more people in the program–improving their job security and justifying their existence. It also means less work for professors-it’s easier to grade 4 papers than 24.

  7. I just left working at a university to complete studying my Masters at the same university. Anyhow a former colleague is on the course with me (don’t ask me how) but whenever we have group work she always picks the role of scribe which means that she does not need to contribute yet asks questions of us as if we aren’t supplying enough information! I’m an ideas person and I was merrily reeling off ideas – her eyes were glazing over, but I resent paying my money so she can sit there cribbing our ideas and then passing them off as hers! When we swapped groups guess what – she volunteered to be the scribe yet again! I will now make it my mission to count the number of times she does this as I’ll be damned if I’m contributing to her end mark if she’s not helping me!

  8. Just sick and tired of group work, let the weaker links struggle. I hate carrying people through assignments so they can ‘earn’ their grad degrees.

  9. I can understand the value in some group work. The reality is that we will have to collaborate in our prospective careers. I’ve had some great group experiences and some disasters. The great ones are have occurred when I can pick the person I know will share the work with me, and where we can utilize are different strengths. What I can’t understand is when everything single project for a class is a group project, and we have no opportunity to showcase our individual skills. I just did a project that contained an individual component and a group component. My component was spot on, but the group insisted they knew what they were doing and stream rollered the group component. I’m no shrinking violet, but I got sick of repeating myself. I got an A- overall (would have been an A with more of my input). Wondering if they learned their lesson and are rethinking how smart they are.

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