Group Work: The Agonies – and the Possibilities

You’ve started dreading Biology. Your lab partner is nice enough, but she doesn’t do much. You have to ask her to help with the task itself, and she texts her boyfriend while you prepare the lab report. You try to get her to contribute, but she always says, “I don’t know” and copies whatever you write.

Then there’s Business Management. In groups of four, you’re working on your final project: a plan for a new business. The assignment constitutes 30% of your grade, so you want to do a good job. You’re also excited about applying the concepts you’ve been studying in class. But one guy has already appointed himself CEO of your fledgling corporation. He’s not interested in your ideas; in fact, he doesn’t let anyone do very much. This is just fine with one member of your group who is delighted to be off the hook. But two of you are getting frustrated: it’s your education, too!

If you’re a student, you know the perils of group work. Since kindergarten, you’ve also heard teachers rave about the importance of working with others.

Like it or not, collaboration is part of the academic and professional world. After graduation, you will have to contend with other people – even if you work from home, run your own business, or pursue a freelance career. Often, your colleagues will be warm, supportive, and inspiring. Sometimes, you will find yourself with a lazy, stubborn, or overbearing co-worker. You’ll have to contend with these situations without clenching your teeth, compromising your health, or leaving your position.

Here are some tips to make group projects less stressful:

1.) Set Boundaries: Before you get started, delegate tasks. Determine who is responsible for each part of a project and set deadlines. This can be casual: “I’ll answer questions one and three if you do two and four.” With larger projects, you may want to establish more formal requirements: “Rick will write the Procedures section, Liana the Analysis, and Chelsea the Recommendations. We’ll meet to discuss our drafts a week before the paper is due.” Get these arrangements in writing – or save e-mail correspondence about them – so that there is no confusion about responsibilities.

2.) Be the Teammate You Want. Don’t be lazy, don’t be disparaging, and don’t take over. It’s normal to be frustrated when the material is difficult or when your partners’ standards are different than yours. If you’re struggling with the project, get help – from your professor, classmates, or the Academic Support Center. If you find yourself with well-intentioned, but less skilled group members, help them succeed. For example, if your partner is not a strong writer, you might proofread his work and tactfully make suggestions. You might also refer him to the Writing Clinic. When he does something well, tell him so.

3.) Document Everything. Keep track of who attends meetings and contributes to the project. If a teammate isn’t pulling his or her own weight, you will be able to bring specific grievances to the professor. Use this option as a last resort: only approach your instructor after you have talked with your group member. If you must complain about a classmate, be professional. Don’t tattle or rant. Instead, express your concerns in a well-written e-mail, and attach any documentation you have.

4.) Put Your Project in Perspective. Sometimes, this means writing the lab report yourself if you want a good grade in the course. At other times, you’ll have to shrug off your lackluster discussion group. Weigh each assignment to determine how much time you want to spend nurturing group dynamics.

Regard difficult group work as you would any other obstacle: a chance to prove to yourself and your professors that you have the maturity and determination to overcome a challenge. Take a deep breath, and tell yourself that you’re developing skills you’ll use the rest of your life.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

How to Be a Study Smartypants

You just got done with your 9am, don’t have class again for another hour, and all that is on your mind is food. Huden here you come for breakfast. By the time you’re done eating, you only have another 20 minutes until class, which is all the way in Leavenworth, so you think, eh, I will just hang here until class.

Well, now it is 11:50, and your next class is at 2pm.  You need a nap, your bed, and maybe some Netflix. They all sound real good right now.  So, of course, that is what you do for the next few hours.

After your 2:00-3:50 class, you’ll go straight to the library.

It is now 4, and you have 100 texts from your roommate asking you to go to Rutland with her real quick. In your head, you’re like OMG yes, then wait, library. Then you decide okay, I will to go to the library right when I get back.

After Rutland, you need some dinner, so meal exchange at Fireside sounds good for the night. But it is now 7pm.

Your night ends with you going back to your room because it is so late, and getting just a little work done in bed. Then, of course, Netflix and social media will take over once again.

Sound all too familiar? Here are some tips to get things done.

1.) Make a Schedule: At the beginning of each day, make a schedule of your whole day, hour by hour. This will give you a plan to follow so you won’t need to make a last-minute decision you’ll regret later.

2.) Bring Everything: Bringing everything you need to work on or study allows you to be productive during those 20 extra minutes you hang out in Huden. Tell yourself what you are realistically going to get done in the time you have, even if it is something small.

 3.) Eat and Study: Go grab breakfast, lunch, or dinner in Fireside or the Coffee Cottage and bring it to the library. Work and eat at the same time. After your 9am, you’ll have almost an hour to get work done or study.

 4.) Say NO: It is okay to say no to your roommate and Rutland. You had a plan and you ignored it. And definitely regretted it.

Once you make your plan, follow it. You always have the right intentions; just make sure your actions reflect them.

-Alyson Tully

Alyson Tully graduated from Castleton University in May 2018 with a degree in multidisciplinary studies. 

T.I.M.E: Some Tips for Starting Your College Career

 

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You will learn by the end of your college career that your time spent at school is more than just your classes and homework. The skills you learn in college, inside and outside of the classroom, will carry over into your professional and personal lives after graduation. An acronym all college students should know is T.I.M.E.

1.) Time management can be very difficult for many students. There are 168 hours in week, 2688 of them in a sixteen-week semester of college. About a week, maybe two, of breaks. 12 to 18 hours per week will be spent in the classroom, then two to three times that should be spent studying for those classes, then, if you’re lucky, 56 hours for sleep, a few hours for eating… you get the idea. You’re left with only a few hours during the week to do what you please. One of my high school teachers gave me advice I still cherish. As we waited for the bell of our final high school class, she said, “When you go to college, you can do three things: you can study, you can party, and you can sleep, but you can only do two of the three things.”

2.) Involvement. Do it. Get involved. Turn off Netflix and Facebook, go outside, and throw a Frisbee. Go outside and lay in the grass or by the pool. Talk with students who live in other dorms. Close friendships that are made in dorms are important and worth holding onto, but remember life exists outside of your hallway or your suite. Join your student government, or your major’s club, or a volunteer club, or do all three. If you commute, stay for a weekend here and there. Make friends other than your parents and siblings, as well as whatever dogs, chickens, goats, or hedgehogs you might have— all of which I had when I commuted to community college.

Volunteer, tutor, join a team, join a club, join another club. Fill your week, but remember to save time for yourself and time to socialize. If you have a hard time making friends, go to your school’s cafeteria, sit down with some people you haven’t met before, and ask them five questions: What’s your major? What year are you in school? Where are you from? Do you have any pets? Do you have a job? Do you play any sports?

3.) Movement. Simply, move. Playing sports takes care of this one. Some of us don’t participate in sports, so go to the gym. It’s not as scary as it sounds. If you’re nervous like most other people, go with a friend, or ask someone to be a “brofessor” and show you what it’s all about. Still not convinced? Go outside like you did to cure your Netflix addiction. Most colleges have somewhere you can walk where you can feel safe and unjudged. You don’t have to walk for miles, but once you feel the enlightenment of the outdoors, you’ll never want to go inside again. Learn to ski or snowboard, ride a bike, swim, do something other than sitting down.

4.) Education is the reason you are going to college, so study skills are important. If you missed out on study techniques in high school, go to the Academic Support Center and ask for some help—immediately. Unless you are one of those students who doesn’t study for anything, yet somehow gets good grades, you need to know how to study. (And even if this worked for you in high school, it won’t serve you well in college.)

Part of navigating – and enjoying – college is learning to communicate with faculty. TALK with your teachers. Talk with them face-to-face, by e-mail, phone, letter, even carrier pigeon. Although you may believe otherwise, they are people; they do not turn off like a robot as soon as class is dismissed. Get to know a few. Attend a social gathering where teachers are invited without some sort of grade stipulation.

If you only take away one thing from this post, let it be this: you only have so much time while you’re in college. Remember to spend it wisely.

– D. Austin Martineau

D. Austin Martineau is a recent graduate of Castleton University with a degree in English and Secondary Education.