The Agony and Ecstasy of Group Work

One of the main differences between undergrad and graduate school that I would probably have appreciated knowing about ahead of time was how different the workload tended to be.  Instead of lots of small assignments, you usually only get 3 or 4 big projects per class per semester.  I hate to tell you this, but most of them involve group work.

I have to admit that I didn't know that going in.  For some people it doesn't seem like a big deal - group work?  So what?  For others, though, myself included, knowing that my entire academic life at Simmons was going to depend on groups of peers working together was enough to make my heart sink. 

The first time I heard about the approaching group work storm, I was sitting at a table with five or six other new GSLIS students at the Orientation Day last spring, and we were shooting questions about GSLIS classes and professors at someone who was about to graduate.  I swear that when he mentioned group work, every single person at that table groaned.  I'm pretty sure all of us were picturing the same thing: the group where we're the only one doing any work, or no one's schedules work together, so coordinating efforts is a Herculean task, or someone else's efforts are so much less than they should be that their part of the project drags the entire grade down... there are a ton of terrifying possibilities, most of which we'd all experienced in college or our professional lives more than once.   

Of course, there are advantages to working in groups on big projects, and when everyone works together beautifully it can be an amazing experience, but that's the gold ring, the one in a million chance.  Mostly, everyone's experiences had been pretty awful, and it was with dawning horror that we confirmed that yes, group work was going to be a part of every class, that group work is just how grad school tends to work, not just at GSLIS or at Simmons, but more or less universally. 

It was a pretty chilling revelation for all of us. 

Now that I have more than a year of classes under my belt, I can say with some confidence: it's really not that bad.  I really isn't!  In all of my classes I've only had one group work experience that was even close to the sort of horror show scenario I was expecting at the beginning, and even then it was made clear at the outset that our individual contributions would be what determined our grades, not the overall group performance.  The professors at GSLIS do, in fact, understand why people hate group work so much, and have created ways to minimize the awful parts of it. With that out of the way, there's more time to experience the good parts of working in a group - having other people to bounce ideas off of, being able to divide work based on individual strengths and weaknesses, and all the rest of it. 

I'm not sure I'll ever look forward to group work, but it's not something traumatic anymore.  For that, I am extremely grateful.


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