Does anyone actually enjoy doing group projects? I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who did, and it’s rare that I’ve enjoyed them myself. Unless you luck out and get a great group and are working on a project that is in and of itself great, chances are good that you’re in for some stress.

This is to say nothing of when situations aren’t ideal – perhaps you hate the subject matter as it is, or you have less than ideal group mates, or your instructor isn’t understanding of the circumstances outside of your control. To make matters worse, sometimes you or your group members may have extenuating circumstances that make things even more difficult, like an overfilled schedule or a condition like social anxiety disorder.

That being said, there are ways to deal with these besides just “sucking it up and dealing with it”. After all, much of the post-graduate world involves collaborative work, and these problems don’t disappear when you get your diploma.

First of all, the other group members in and of themselves. Just google “group project memes” and you’ll likely see a cornucopia of image macros describing taxonomies of different group members, such as ‘the one who does everything’ and ‘does 99% of the work’. These are widely circulated because many find them relatable, and sadly I cannot tell you in good conscience that there isn’t a grain of truth to these memes.

However, that doesn’t mean these memes are an inevitability. I think when most people dread group projects, it’s because of stereotypes like the ones circulated via meme. Whether these are from personal experience or from cultural osmosis, they are still assumptions. I have had projects where precisely none of the members fit any of the stereotypes – sometimes because things were far worse than that, true, but usually because everyone else in my group was just as dedicated to moving forward as I was. So when you see a group project on the syllabus, take a moment to get some perspective before you prematurely panic about the effect it’ll have on your GPA.

But of course, people are people, and it’s highly likely that you will run into less than ideal group members. When that happens, there are a few steps you can take, depending on the situation.

  • If someone isn’t doing their share of the work, consider a gentle confrontation if you can. If you go into such a confrontation offensively, they may not be willing to hear what you have to say. I would recommend going into it assuming that the person has actual extenuating circumstances that they may be struggling to talk about.
    • If they do, they’ll likely be relieved that you broke the ice and will be better willing to negotiate if they know you understand.
    • If they don’t, they’ll probably be embarrassed and thrown off guard by your kindness, which will motivate them to do their share of the work to save face.
  • If someone is taking over 99% of the work – ask them how you can help! The sort of person who ends up in this role is likely someone who cares a lot about the finished product and the final grade, so they’re likely to be very glad you asked.
  • When someone says they’ll do something for the project, hold them accountable. If necessary, set actual due dates for things you and other students do.
  • Set boundaries with your group members – if you don’t want to be contacted after 10pm at night, for instance, do not respond to any correspondence that is sent to you at 10:01pm. Make these boundaries known to the best of your ability.
  • If someone has extenuating circumstances that might affect their ability to participate, talk openly and honestly about alternate strategies to ensure they can participate.

That being said of course, sometimes other students aren’t the problem. Sometimes the instructor is unreasonable in one way or another. While I always recommend talking to them in the event of a problematic group member, even if you know they’re unlikely to do anything, mileage with this approach will always vary. Sadly, there often isn’t much you can do in this situation except do your best within the circumstances. Make sure you understand your rights as a student, and know how to go over their head in the event that they cross the line.

Other times, you might be your own worst enemy, especially if you have social anxiety or extenuating circumstances yourself. Be sure to come into the project ready to explain any unusual life circumstances (possibly with little detail if they’re rather private) and come prepared with some pre-made ideas for accommodating them. Your group members will likely appreciate the foresight.

At the end of the day, make sure you’re taking good care of yourself through the group project process. Remember that this is as much your grade as it is everyone else’s – make it count.

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