Reading or hearing that phrase “group projects” is enough to make my stomach turn over and twist into a knot. We’ve all had projects, so you would hope your peers would acknowledge the project will likely be a drag and work diligently to get it done. But too often, the bulk of the work falls on one or two people. I’ve been one of those people who had to do more than my fair share throughout college. So this weekend, I sat down — between working on four group projects, no less — to write what I want to tell students who have no issue dumping an impossible amount of work on their group members.
First and most importantly, these projects are an important part of our college experience: students who take them seriously learn a lot. Studying the material by yourself is important, but it is just as helpful to learn how your peers interpret the same information. When four or five people sit down to brainstorm how to present a topic in class, the list they create is more well-rounded and wide-ranging than one person jotting down their own ideas.
Second, our professors are also preparing us for our professional life, which — like it or not — will be filled with group projects. In the workplace, teams cannot rely on one person to pull a project together. Employees, like college students, bring different skills and gifts to the table, and pooling those talents together means a better solution to the problem at hand, and hopefully, a happier office (or classroom).
However, when the work falls on one person or a few members, the final result suffers. Group projects are designed to be more involved than regular assignments for a reason — the teacher expects several people to dedicate a good-faith effort to them. When one person shrinks their portion of the work onto others, everyone else’s attention and efforts spread thin. The people who do more work wind up tired, cranky, and stressed. This not only affects the project, but their other assignments and responsibilities too. That’s not fair to anyone, especially when the tasks are manageable between a few people.
Luckily, not every group project has been this way for me. I’ve been fortunate to work with some very smart people. When smart, dedicated people come together, work effectively, and put together something they’re proud of, it makes all the difference. Some of the hardest workers I’ve met at Suffolk, I collaborated with to put together something we could be proud of, and our professors recognized the hard work we put into the project. We walked away feeling accomplished and satisfied, not exhausted and bitter that we shouldered the weight of it.
So here’s my final pitch to those students willing to sit back and let the assignment run its course: you stand to gain a lot from these projects besides a good grade. Working with your peers to put something together you can all be proud of is one of the best feelings you will have during college. Step up and take ownership of your part of the work.