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Why She Hates Group Projects

I am a Medical student. One would think a certain degree of maturity and consideration for other people comes with this career choice, however, this is not true in all cases.

We were asked to do a group project for our Pharmacology class and placed in groups of five by the professor, based on the alphabetical order of our last names. Out of the four people I had to work with, three were responsible, hard-working individuals who finished their part on time (we divided the work so each of us could focus on a different aspect) as did I. The other group member, whose name is “J”, was the problem. His part of the project (which he chose) was the easiest one, but he gave us his contribution incredibly late and didn’t bother writing a summary like we all had done. Not only that, but he had tons of references (we are almost certain he copied all of the from some article’s bibliography and had not actually read them), more that the rest of us combined, even if his part was less relevant.

Only one person was allowed by our professor to do the presentation of the group’s work (in short, most of the talking), and another person would do the Power Point that would be used in this presentation (a matter of copy & paste mostly, since each member also did their own slides, we just needed them put together with a consistent format). It was extra work, but we all agreed to draw lots to see who would do it. “S” wound up having to do the actual presentation while “J” was supposed to provide the Power Point for her.

The night before the presentation, at 1 a.m., the final Power Point had not been uploaded to our group cloud. At first, “J” tried dispersing blame, saying that the earlier version of the Power Point (which we had been tweaking together as a group that morning without much contribution from him when he should have had it ready by then) was not available to him. This was not true, as I had personally uploaded it just as soon as the meeting ended. Other group member confirmed this, it was indeed in our group cloud. I also informed him that if he had not been able to find it he could have said so at any point during the previous 13 hours (the time elapsed since our group meeting).

This other group member informed “J” that he was being terribly inconsiderate, especially towards “S”, who had gone to bed already without the chance to practise her speech with the actual Power Point that would be used. “J” then complained that he “had a life” and hadn’t been able to do it, but that he would before going to bed. The presentation was scheduled at 4 p.m. but we had morning classes starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 3 p.m., with two spare hours in between lessons.

As soon as I woke up I checked my phone, which I had put on silent to get some sleep, and “J” had said that the final version of the Power Point had been uploaded. I rushed to check while having breakfast, and found out that the Power Point he had uploaded late at night was an even earlier version of the one we’d been working on the day before. At first, I wanted to believe my tablet was faulty and opening the wrong file. Not true. The supposedly final file was nothing but a very early version, and it was easy to tell because the order of the slides was wrong (“J” got it wrong despite us telling him clearly the right order before he put it together).

Then I thought he’d made a mistake and uploaded the wrong file, and when I saw him in class he told me he had the right one in a flash drive with him and would upload it as soon as he could. I must also say that the day’s lessons did not require attendance, I understood however that he wanted to be there and would probably upload it during our two spare hours. When that time came he said he needed to go to a committee meeting (he had not informed us of this, but it was true) and that after that he would go home and upload it from there.

“S” and I asked him if he could lend us his flash drive for a second, so “S” could copy it and have immediate access to the final file in order to practise the presentation in those two spare hours. He kept mumbling excuses and saying he had to go home to upload it. That’s when we understood that he had not done it, or else he would have let us see the file. I called him out on this, repeating the earlier comment that he was inconsiderate, and telling him that he was in a group project and he had to mind the rest of the group too. He stormed out saying that if we wanted it done we should just do it ourselves.

That’s exactly what we did, “S” and I called an emergency group meeting, and the remaining four members finished the Power Point so “S” could finally practise with it (I should say she knew what she had to say perfectly and did wonderfully that afternoon, but the lack of Power Point had stressed her out a lot).

We debated whether to leave “J”‘s name out of the project and inform our professor but we didn’t want to be snitches, or risk a bad grade because of him so we decided not to. I also didn’t want any more trouble, and I resolved to just ignore him from then on. We also found out through Facebook that he had been at a classmate’s birthday party the previous afternoon, and that was why he had done nothing. We could hardly believe it.

Our two spare hours ended and we headed to class, but he was not there. A friend of mine told me she’d just seen him at the library, studying for a different subject. Apparently it was alright for him to skip class to study for other subjects, but not to actually do the work we’d been counting on him to do.

The presentation went really well, as I have said, despite his absolute lack of effort throughout the whole project. The rest of our contributions were good and “S” explained them well. That would have been the end of it, but what really inflamed me was that when a classmate asked a question about the project “J” immediately started talking, saying things that had nothing to do with the question.

This question had been very specific and referred by name to something I had researched, so I said out loud “this is MY part” so he could hear me. He ignored me and went on talking, now saying things that, while still not related to the question and a little nonsensical, bore some resemblance to yet another thing I had personally researched. This was clearly an attempt to be noticed by the professor (who talked to every one of us about our involvement in the project so there was actually no point in doing it and he knew this, just wanted to show off in front of her and our classmates). I said, again out loud (but I don’t think the professor heard me), “this is also MY part”.

He showed no sign of stopping so I just cut in, actually addressing my classmate’s question, and earning positive feedback from my professor (she didn’t make any comment on my interrupting “J” but I believe it was obvious he was just saying the first thing that came to mind and not actually contributing anything).

I had never encountered this kind of behavior before and I am honestly appalled. Not only did “J” do next to nothing at all, he never apologised, blamed the rest of us, and even tried to take credit for something that I had researched.

I am still in doubt about whether we should have raised this with our professor (we are aware that other groups had similar problems and didn’t tell her but it wasn’t this extreme) or if it was better to avoid confrontation (it could, and would get ugly with “J” involved). What really worries me though, is that we have years ahead of us, and probably more group projects in the future, and his last name is the next one to mine alphabetically. It is highly likely that we will be in the same group again.

How do I let him know that I won’t let him piggyback his way to a good grade through my work again? I could still tell on him, but that seems like a petty course of action and likely to raise more trouble than it’s worth (after all, I’ve got a good grade, just for this once I could let it slide that he earned a good grade too, but undeserved, and just remind him that it won’t happen again).

In the meantime, I would like you all to please accompany me in condemning him to the deepest pit of eHell (or whatever Hell you see fit, since I’m not sure if this is a breach of etiquette or something else entirely).    0408-15


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ladyxaviara April 15, 2015, 7:16 am

    Piggy backers drive me absolutely batty. I had a group presentation worth 15% of my grade, and my partner spent two weeks in cuba. While I did the entire project. Always, always, always address these concerns with your professor. If your partner isn’t pulling his/her weight, they can and sometimes will adjust your grades according to the work you have done.

    In the future, if you have a class with this kid, and there are group presentations, inform the professor immediately that you will not work with him because he is a freeloader and doesn’t take his education seriously.

    • Mary April 15, 2015, 9:17 am

      I agree with everything said in this answer.

    • JO April 15, 2015, 3:42 pm

      This exactly.

      • Enna April 20, 2015, 11:16 am

        So long as you go about your complaint in an academically professional way that he doesn’t do his share of the work, is unreliable and will use research without acknowledging who has done it (which could verge on plagiarism) I wouldn’t worry about causing bad feeling with him. If he starts getting nasty then he’s the one who is going to be kicked out.

  • Jess April 15, 2015, 7:20 am

    This is one of the most annoying things about university. Some people go and have no real interest in actually learning, causing havoc to others.

    We had a “peer reviewed assessment” to complete; we write an essay, another student marks it to give us feedback. Everyone has one other to complete, everyone therefore gets feedback.
    The number of people, in a 150 person class, that saw no reason to complete the assignment was a joke.

  • Jewel April 15, 2015, 7:24 am

    Group projects are a special kind of hell for students. The performers lack the authority to boot the anchor out of the group and are often viewed as “not a team player” or “ineffective at inspiring cooperation” if they dare take the issue to the professor. Worse, professors often fail to add that one crucial step to the process that would give the performers a little ray of hope for justice: the group evaluation form wherein the anchor’s misdeeds could be reported in all their glory.

    With many years of life experience behind me, I’ve decided that I wouldn’t hesitate to report an anchor to my professor should I ever find myself in that position again. I would also firmly state that, for the good of the performers and the project itself, the anchor has been booted out of the group and WOULD NOT BE ACCEPTED BACK. I would add that my schedule is already too demanding to have to deal with a ne’er do well who is doing nothing but adding stress to my life. Period, end of discussion.

    In your case, OP, you might consider approaching any profs at the beginning of the term should you see that they’ve included a group project on the syllabus. Explain that you simply will NOT work with “J” on any group projects again based on your experience with him and that you want them to be aware of this fact now (at the beginning of the term). Be deadly serious and immoveable on this issue. Your future stress level will thank you for it.

    • Abby April 15, 2015, 8:54 am

      I don’t know that the average professor will take too kindly to a student introducing himself or herself by telling the prof what he or she will or won’t do over the course of the class.

      And really, what will that solve? The professor can’t insist that based on the hearsay of another student, that the J in question has to work alone while everyone else is in groups. Which means, even if OP avoids being grouped with J next time, someone is going to stuck with him. How is that fair?

      • The Elf April 15, 2015, 12:50 pm

        I have to agree. If you start a group project and have a “J”, then you can talk to the prof. But the pre-empt it? I think it would cause more trouble than it would fix.

      • Wild Irish Rose April 15, 2015, 2:56 pm

        It isn’t. But how is it fair that in a class that is critical to your major and possibly your career, ONE bad apple gets away with stuff like this while others do all the work?

        The thing here is that J is in a class with medical students, from which we can infer that he too is a medical student. If he is permitted to behave like this now, what are other medical professionals going to be up against when working with him? More importantly, what are PATIENTS going to be facing?

        J needs to be called on this and the professors who are going to be unleashing fresh medical pros on the public need to know who can be counted on. Grades aren’t the only important thing here.

        • Scat April 15, 2015, 9:01 pm

          I have to agree. I am working in post medical degree medical education and have found that behaviour observed in medical school follows through to their medical career. Not accepting feedback results in the doctors often than not appearing in front of medical boards.

      • Jewel April 15, 2015, 3:06 pm

        The OP doesn’t need to care how the professor handles “J”, whether another group gets stuck with him or not, or whether he has to work alone. Her goal is to make clear that she, the OP, will never work with him again. She’s already “done time” with him and doesn’t need to deal with that stress again. That’s what is fair.

  • Matt April 15, 2015, 7:29 am

    I’d love to hear the other side of this story, because the poster sounds overbearing and opens the entire post with a self-aggrandizing statement.

    Quite simply, the point of group projects is to teach students to work in groups. With medicine becoming more and more team-based, this seems to be a valuable lesson that was missed by the poster. If, as a medical professional, you are presented with a complex case, you can’t just divvy it up into 5 equal parts and hope each professional does their job. You need a clear leader who makes sure things get done, low performers get motivated, and a team-supported solution is found. Hopefully the poster takes away a lesson about how dysfunctional (leaderless) teams lead to sloppy work, rather than just a feeling of superiority.

    As an aside, leadership is a tough skill to learn, but a very useful skill for anyone. It also seems like a rather useful skill for a future M.D.

    • mark April 15, 2015, 9:44 am

      I too would like to hear the other side, but I definitely can believe the story. I’ve been there, unfortunately from both sides.

    • Michelle C Young April 15, 2015, 10:32 am

      Have you never suffered from a piggy-backer who simply will NOT take direction? Even with a leader?

      • Matt April 15, 2015, 12:26 pm

        Yes, I have several times. When I was the leader and had the ability to remove that person from my team, I did so. When I did not have the ability to remove the person from the group, I worked with them the best I could. I also made the best contributions I could and trusted that the boss/instructor who evaluated my team could tell who had made good contributions and who hadn’t. Fortunately, I have never been in the position of being fired or failing a class because of a dysfunctional team-member. I have lost letter grades and progress at work because of it, though. I try not get hung up on it.

    • Dee April 15, 2015, 11:03 am

      I am far more concerned that J is not learning leadership than that the OP may be a bit overbearing. J is studying for the medical profession and his attitude towards others worries me greatly, that he would have future care of patients or responsibilities that affect others. The team OP described sounds as if it was highly functional with the exception of J. So, clearly J is the problem, and the sooner he is “outed” the better for all of us.

      • Matt April 15, 2015, 12:21 pm

        I wouldn’t be so quick to castigate ‘J’ solely based on the poster’s account. From the poster’s account, they had four highly functional individuals and one slacker. They most certainly did not have a highly functional team. “Divide it into 5 even parts and draw straws for who presents” is not teamwork, and it obviously led to a sub-par product as a whole.

        • SororSalsa April 15, 2015, 8:50 pm

          Not necessarily. This was primarily how group projects functioned when I was in grad school (it was a commuter MBA program, so 95% of the students worked full-time). We typically would, in a 5-person team, have three primary researchers who completed the paper, one person who would edit the final version of the paper (adding the summary and conclusion) and complete the PowerPoint slides and one person to do the presentation. We would normally assign these roles based on an individual’s strengths. When everyone is working full-time and can’t always meet, this was a very good method to complete group project work.

          • psammead April 17, 2015, 1:14 pm

            I think that is Matt’s point: he’s not criticizing the OP for sharing the responsibilities among the team members, but for what their ~method of assigning the responsibilities says about the way their team operated.

            Your team discussed the matter and made a thoughtful group decision to assign the different roles based on the members’ different strengths: that’s teamwork. OP’s team assigned responsibility for presenting and for making the PowerPoint by drawing straws–which is a stupid way to do it, basically abdicating the effort of making a decision and leaving the whole thing up to chance. That’s not teamwork. And it had the result of leaving them dependent on the slacker for a vital part of their final product.

        • Monica Rynders April 17, 2015, 10:43 am

          I agree. It’s very poor team management and their project fell apart because of it. There is always going to be someone who can’t contribute as much as other people. They aren’t just learning their class material here, they are learning how to create an effective team and they really failed in this project.

    • Lucretia April 15, 2015, 11:31 am

      You mean “be a leader” which can be “overbearing” to people who go to birthday parties instead of finishing their homework. The problem with leadership when everyone is on equal footing is that nobody actually *has* the authority to make this guy do his share. And as someone who is a patient, I don’t want the doctor who “has a life” that means he can’t prioritize correctly, help his team, or contribute to his subject in a meaningful way. Which it sounds like this guy can’t. My criticism of the OP isn’t that they may be overbearing or self-aggrandizing (it sounds like they’re definitely not overbearing or he would have gotten his contribution *done*) but that they didn’t go to her professor earlier.

    • Tracy W April 15, 2015, 3:02 pm

      I agree that working in groups is a valuable skill, but I think it is one that needs to be actively taught. That the students in this group didn’t manage it is, at least at first glance, a failure of the professor, who failed to show the students ways to deal with a non-performing group member.

      I hope that a medical professor would not expect his students to perform a complex surgery by just assigning five students the case and hoping it gets done, instead they’d actually show the students how to do it, and be on hand saying things like “okay, a little deeper, yes, that’s the bile duct, now ease it out”, etc. These are skills that need to be actively coached.

    • Jewel April 15, 2015, 3:12 pm

      Other students in the group don’t have the leverage needed to motivate a poor performer. They don’t pay his salary, nor are they in charge of his performance reviews as with a supervisor/employee relationship. Expecting the stellar student to successfully “motivate” a slacker with zero tools to do so while also completing the lion’s share of the project is not right or productive. Labeling those students poor leaders because of the slacker’s behavior is the lazy man’s assessment of the situation.

      • Matt April 16, 2015, 7:27 am

        “Do this or you’re fired” is the nuclear option of leadership. It also doesn’t work at all when the person you need to complete a task doesn’t report to you. 95% of leadership is using soft power and influence because authority is so costly in terms of morale. Also, I’m not labeling anyone a poor leader, I’m saying that nobody stepped up to lead this particular team.

        • Jewel April 16, 2015, 3:57 pm

          “Hopefully the poster takes away a lesson about how dysfunctional (leaderless) teams lead to sloppy work, rather than just a feeling of superiority.”

          You clearly state that the OP came away with feeling superior, so you must be also directing the first half of your evaluation (dysfunctional leaderless) at the OP, also. And, note that I did not at all state or advocate a “do this or you’re fired” approach. I actually stated that the other students in the group do not have any leverage over the slacker as an employer would, such as salary decisions or performance reviews. Application of some of those tools could lead to termination, but with many steps prior to that point. In any event, the OP had no leverage to use with the slacker.

          • Matt April 17, 2015, 8:45 am

            There’s a difference between can’t and didn’t.

            Also, your examples of leverage all fall under the category of authority, which is the tool of last resort. There are many ways to influence someone without holding a position of authority over them.

        • Skaramouche April 16, 2015, 4:15 pm

          I completely agree that the the threat of a firing is an incorrect way to handle most workplace problems. Not only do the trouble makers often fall outside your influence but I wouldn’t do this even to the guys who DO report to me.

          Having said that, this is a skill that is gradually learned over time, not by forcing students to do group projects where they have no recourse when some members of the team are slackers. I would fully support group projects if a) teachers paid attention to which team members were working harder than others and offered some support/coping mechanisms or b) if the sole purpose of the project was to build interpersonal relationships and the grading was based on that and not on other content. Otherwise, you’re just teaching the student that “some people are useless/get away with things and sometimes life is unfair” :P. Students rarely have the time, vision, inclination or experience to figure out how to positively motivate their team members. A very useful skill but it needs to be purposefully inculcated rather than throwing a mixed bunch together and hoping for the best.

    • iwadasn April 15, 2015, 8:46 pm

      I wouldn’t say it’s “self-aggrandizing” to point out that medical students can reasonably be expected to be mature. It’s a field that requires hard work and discipline, so you’d think those preparing to enter that field would behave accordingly.

    • Rebecca April 15, 2015, 10:35 pm

      I don’t see how “I am a Medical student. One would think a certain degree of maturity and consideration for other people comes with this career choice, however, this is not true in all cases.” is a self-aggrandizing statement. I took it to mean he/she wanted to state that we aren’t talking about first-year college students here. We’re talking about people who presumably worked to get to that point, know what they want in life, and have been screened in the interview process for maturity level and willingness to work with others. Do I detect a contempt for the medical profession and/or people who are seemingly smart enough to get into med school here?

      I am not in the medical profession but it seems to me that doctors can choose to work with people who have a similar work ethic.

      I sure don’t think I want to have someone like J as a doctor! As for the “other side of the story” if there is one, I’m inclined to believe the OP’s story is true, given the number of group projects I had to deal with that contained at least one J, and also that out of the group of 5, everyone else seems to have been on board and only J was the problem. If they OP had complained about ALL the other group members, you might have a point. Someone waiting on a file for a speech they are giving the next day, and you still don’t have it by 1 AM the night before? You just don’t do that.

      • Matt April 16, 2015, 7:32 am

        It’s self-aggrandizing because the poster is implying that she is mature and considerate of other people. It’s like me saying that “I know we’re all used to guys named Matt being exceptionally good looking, but sadly that’s not always the case. Let me tell you a story about one that’s not…..”

        Honestly, in my interactions with med school students (and given my career as a biochemist, I’ve had a lot), I’ve found them exactly as mature and considerate as anyone else their age.

    • K April 16, 2015, 12:41 pm

      I don’t see a self-aggrandizing statement. She is a medical student. Yes, one would expect a medical student to have some maturity and consideration for others.

      Those are just facts.

      Also, there is nothing useful in university group projects like this, because in the workplace one is surrounded with legislation and clearly defined roles/hierarchies every time one works in a group. This kind of stuff is just a waste of everyone’s time.

  • Abby April 15, 2015, 7:37 am

    Ah, group projects. The bane of my existence in college. I always seemed to get stuck with the slackers and ended up having to do twice as much work as anyone else in a functional group. In my experience, the professors at a college level are not really interested in hearing complaints about group members. If you were unfortunate to get stuck with a lazy, inconsiderate member, you were expected to accept it as one of life’s unfair tasks and just be glad when it was over. I will certainly join you in condemning all the Js to e-hell, but I would not encourage you to confront J or tell him he can’t piggyback of you again. As you said, if you get paired up with him again, he probably WILL piggyback off you again.

    My last semester of college, I had a group project, group members assigned by the professor. It was a class that everyone was required to take their final semester, so everyone in the class was looking at graduating after passing the class. It was a big school, but a small major, so after 4 years, I knew most of my classmates prior to class starting. When professor announced the group project, and that he would be assigning groups, there were only two people in the class that I would not have wanted to be grouped with. Two, out of a class of probably 30 people. Yet, when my name was called, so were both of theirs. And while most groups had 4 people, one group had 3. Guess which it was? So yeah, I was stuck with two of the biggest slackers, and had to do the entire project by myself. Never once did I think to complain to the professor. I really don’t think it would have done any good.

    One night I get a call from Slacker 1, who tells me he isn’t able to go to our group meeting that night because he’s sick, and he doesn’t want to infect me and Slacker 2. I am baffled and tell him we don’t have a meeting planned that night (Slacker 1 smoked a lot of pot and frequently was confused). Slacker 1 responds by asking me if I want to get a drink with him that night then. It’s actually funny now, but 10 years ago I was pretty furious.

    • Michelle C Young April 15, 2015, 11:25 pm

      Well, at least he called you, instead of just skipping out and giving a sorry excuse the next day. He was lying, but he was at least trying to be considerate about it.

      Yeah. That’s just… Wow.

  • MathTeacher April 15, 2015, 7:39 am

    I can’t speak for all instructors out there, but as someone who assigns group projects and the like, I can usually tell when there is a group member who is not pulling their own weight. I quietly grade them accordingly.

    You really should mention issues like these with your professors though. If this was a professional situation, you would raise issues quietly with HR or your boss, so it really shouldn’t be any different in school.

    In the unfortunate event that you have to work with “J” again, now you know that you can assume that he won’t actually do as requested, and assign “J” tasks that won’t impact the rest of the group terribly much if they are not completed.

    • JKC April 15, 2015, 9:34 am

      I do the same thing in my biology classes. I even have a clause in my syllabus that says “if I don’t see you actively contributing, I will cross your name off the assignment and give you a zero”. All of my group assignments are in-class, so it’s easy enough for me to monitor myself. If someone isn’t pulling their weight in an out-of-class assignment, that really needs to be brought to the professor’s attention.

    • manybellsdown April 15, 2015, 10:03 am

      I was going to say this also. It’s pretty clear to most professors who didn’t actually participate in the work. The only time I’ve had to go to a professor over it was when one member of our group “Sara” was told she’d only get half credit because she was ill the day we presented and couldn’t be there. She’d done plenty of actual work, and we felt it was unfair that she was going to get half credit when another student “Jane” had done no work and just showed up the day of the presentation and stood there (she actually asked me “what are we doing?” when we brought our materials up to present!)

      So we went to tell her that if Sara was only getting half credit, we didn’t think Jane should be entitled to full credit just for being in the room. She refused to give Sara full credit, but she was also aware that Jane hadn’t contributed.

      I think there’s always a “coaster” in every group, and the professors are pretty quick to realize who the coaster is.

    • K April 15, 2015, 1:03 pm

      Second this! Although when I assign group work, I also always give a no-points assignment in which I ask all group members to describe each member’s contribution to the project and assure them that no one else will see their responses–just in case group members have compensated so well for a slacker that the slacking is invisible to me as the instructor! I’m always happy when students come to me with information like this, so that I can adjust grades accordingly.

    • Reboot April 15, 2015, 11:38 pm

      This. I have to admit, I get a little baffled at the whole “we didn’t want to be snitches” mentality. You’re adults, and a team member isn’t performing the required duties. That’s not “snitching”, that’s reporting someone for failing to do what they’re supposed to do.

      • mark April 16, 2015, 10:31 am

        The whole snitching thing needs to die on elementary school playground where it came from. It is nothing more than an effort by bullies and slackers to avoid consequences.

    • Tracy W April 16, 2015, 10:20 am

      As someone who assigns group projects, when you see that a group member isn’t pulling their own weight, what else do you do, apart from adjusting the grades?

      For exampe, do you work with the group member to work out why they’re not pulling their weight? Eg people here have said that sometimes the straight-A students just take things off them because they can’t do it to the straight-A student’s standard, or won’t do it to that student’s standard. Another possibility is that the slacker student is trying to conceal that they’re floundering in class and there’s something you could have taught better. Or, perhaps, they just don’t care about the topic, but that’s not the only potential cause.

      Or do you coach the non-slacker members of the team about how to work with someone who is slacking?

      It’s all very well to adjust grades, but you’re meant to be teaching *something* here before the grading happens. If the objective of the group projects is to teach people how to work in groups, then you should be teaching this and giving feedback on how students can do better when they have time to fix things, so before the final grade. If the objective of the group project is to learn some subject material, then what is the point of assigning group projects if perfectionist-type students wind up taking away others work because it’s not up to their own standards?

    • Angela April 16, 2015, 8:44 pm

      I do much the same. I have students divide 100 imaginary points between them. If there is a slacker, it’s pretty clear to me, and I give that person a lower grade (and am clear about why). I think the usefulness of this approach is that it discourages “social loafing” and encourages responsibility. I actually don’t get a lot of complaints.
      As far as not working with someone, I usually tell students that I will group them randomly but if there is someone he or she doesn’t want to work with, I will take this into account. I don’t want drama any more than anyone else does.

  • David April 15, 2015, 7:59 am

    You’ve tried to be exceedingly honorable in not “tattling” thus far, so I’m not going to second-guess you there. But, as they say, “fool me twice, shame on me.”

    The next time you are grouped with “J,” I would first go to the professor and honestly express concern about “J” taking advantage of you, due to past experience. I doubt the professor would change the grouping just to accommodate you, but you can first emphasize to your professor that you WILL be doing your work, and secondly request that the professor closely analyze individual contributions to the group projects, and perhaps poll group members on their groupmates’ contributions after the project is over (I have had professors do this). This should show the professor that you aren’t interested in nailing “J,” but that you’re invested in getting him to do his own work — a goal the professor should agree with. And if it’s public knowledge that the professor will be polling group members about their groupmates’ performance, that might scare “J” straight.

    Once that’s done, I would let any other group members know that “J” burned you once — not to prejudice them against him, but to put them on guard. “J” has forfeited some of the trust we automatically extend to classmates, and he will have to work to regain it. I’d also state frankly to “J” that he needs to hold up his end, and that if he tries his antics again, you WILL report him for doing so. If you end up reporting him, it will not be because you are “tattling” but because you are protecting the integrity of your own work and that of the others in your group.

  • DGS April 15, 2015, 8:10 am

    J is not going to last long with this kind of work ethic once he begins actual clinical rotations. Attendings and fellows and senior residents will not suffer fools gladly, and his procrastination, lack of knowledge and inability to assume responsibility for his own deeds and misdeeds will result in him being consistently reprimanded and disciplined unless he either, grows up and begins to do his work (clearly he is capable of doing some work, as he achieved grades and MCAT scores high enough to get into medical school) or until he is suspended from the program. He may be given ample chances to redeem himself (medical schools do not like to to admit students and not graduate them), but unless he demonstrates a marked change in maturity and work ethic, he may be asked to leave down the line.

    I would not say anything to the professor but simply distance yourself from J unless you are asked to work with him on a project again. At that point, I would simply approach the professor or the course director and say that you are uncomfortable working with J due to a recent negative experience doing group work with him and would prefer to be in a different group.

  • Tracy P April 15, 2015, 8:25 am

    I’m a bit confused by part of the story. If J skipped class to study in the library, how was he answering questions after the presentation?

    The only time I was OK with group projects was when the teacher would also have us do peer reviews at the end of the project. It would just be a simple thing with each member filling out a sheet saying how much each other member participated. The teacher could then compare across the group and see if everyone said someone slacked off.

    • Jays April 15, 2015, 1:54 pm

      It was another class that was skipped, I believe.

  • Shannan April 15, 2015, 8:28 am

    I would absolutely go to the professor!!

  • The Elf April 15, 2015, 8:39 am

    And that’s why I hate group projects. Unless you can pick your group yourself, you’re likely to be stuck with a slacker. Thankfully, in college I was able to pick my team each time, so I picked students of similar quality. But in grade school and high school, I quickly figured out that the easiest way is just to do the whole thing myself and let others put their name to it. The teachers tended to make 4-person teams – one high-performing student (me), one low-performing student, and two middle-performing students. As a bonus, I could pretty much guarantee tha at least one of those other kids was one of my bullies. When I tried to work together with them, it was of a lower quality than I usually turned in and it was twice as hard to do, plus it temporarily increased whatever torment I was getting from the bully. Screw that.

  • Jocelyn April 15, 2015, 8:45 am

    Talk to the professor. Would you really want J as your physician? Let the faculty know so they can take this sort of unprofessional conduct out of him before graduation.

  • Moralia April 15, 2015, 8:48 am

    Group projects are the worst. I did find a couple of ways to alleviate the pain, though.
    When I was in college, I had a side job with the school as a note-taker for people with hearing, learning and physical disabilities in my classes. It was a pretty sweet gig since I was essentially getting paid to print out copies of the notes I would have taken anyway…and a fair number of classmates would pay me directly for my notes from classes that they missed.
    Since everyone was accustomed to my typing away during class, I always ended up being the “recording secretary” for our group projects. On the second or third meeting of a group, I’d hand around a list of the task assignments as previously discussed and get everyone to review their part and initial it for me “So I can be sure this is all correct.” As the person who inevitably had the task of assembling the paperwork to turn in to the professors, it was easy for me to make sure this sheet was included, usually just behind the cover page. Grades tended to be much more fairly apportioned in my groups because of this and the lollygaggers never caught on as to why. 😉
    The most amusing part is that a couple of instructors actually started adding a task assignment sheet (with initials!) to their project specs. I imagine that there might be a few professors out there who don’t want to see anything other than what they specified in those packets, but I never ran into that problem.

  • crebj April 15, 2015, 8:51 am

    If assigned to work w/J again, demur, and tell the professor why. Also, make your point much, much earlier.

  • Jessica April 15, 2015, 8:56 am

    My last semester of college, I took a class that had a big group project that counted for a big percentage of our grade. Our professor had an excellent way of dealing with fairness in grades. Basically, if you had 4 people in your group, and you made a 85 (out of 100) on your project, you would multiply 85 by 4, take that total, and the group would decide how to divide up the points. So if there was a piggy backer, three of the 4 people could take a 90 (an “A”), and leave the piggy backer with a 70 (“C”). The professor made it very clear that you had to work it out amongst your group and he really didn’t want to get involved. This was a senior level business course, so you’re kinda hoping everyone is mature enough to agree on everything without crying to the professor.

    • Tracy P April 15, 2015, 11:26 am

      I can’t imagine that all the of piggybackers took their 70’s without a fight. What happened when they refused to admit to their bad behavior and demanded a higher grade?

    • mark April 15, 2015, 12:17 pm

      I’m not sure how excellent I would consider this method. I would guess it would work most of the time among seniors since the worst of the slackers have usually long self-eliminated themselves. But I could see several scenarios where this would fail spectacularly in particular if the groups are randomly assigned or if you end up in a group where you are the odd man out.

      Honestly it sounds like a cop-out by the professor.

    • The Elf April 15, 2015, 12:56 pm

      That would have ended very badly for me, in the grade school and high school group projects I was forced to do. I was a bit of a social outcast. So despite being the workhorse of the group, I have no doubt I would have ended up with the lowest grade. You’re pretty much counting on the honor system there. While it would work better in college than high school, I still think you’re asking for maturity that just might not be there.

      • NostalgicGal April 17, 2015, 8:51 pm

        I did have this happen once in high school, where the points were to be divvyed and I basically got the short shift despite I did most of the work, because I wasn’t the popular kid. That one got turned in; the instructor read the page of the divvy, and called every one of us up front. He sat us around the front lab table/desk; and handed all blank paper and a pen. None of us were in easy glance of the other. He laid out the worst of the math problems, just one, said show your work. He had changed it just enough that it wouldn’t be the same answer as the similar equation in the project. We had five minutes. For some reason only one of us finished in 5 and had a correct answer… the other three got zero which caught me some offscene grief after but I got 1/4 the divvy amount (or full credit). That ended group projects with that instructor…

      • Snarkastic April 22, 2015, 11:27 pm

        Or ever.

        • Snarkastic April 22, 2015, 11:27 pm

          (in regards to maturity)

    • EchoGirl April 15, 2015, 1:20 pm

      The problem I see here is that the piggybackers always seem to think that either a. they did more work than you claim and/or b. It wasn’t their fault and they deserve full credit for “effort” or some such. If they’re required to be part of the process, this could cause trouble.

  • E April 15, 2015, 9:05 am

    When a member of a project group does not carry their weight, as in this situation, it’s usually quite evident early on what is going to happen. Unfortunately, this is part of everyday, you collaborate in a group and sometimes someone doesn’t carry their weight. If, after confronting the person, they still do not step up, it is correct to have a discussion with your manager (or in this case the professor) as it is hampering the project as a whole.

    When this happened in business school, we notified the professor and made sure the project was complete around the delinquent party. Part of learning about management, is learning to handle toxic members of a group. The professor is notified, the project is given, and the group is handed a grade. However, the professor is made aware of the participation level of the delinquent member, allowing his (or her) participation grade to suffer accordingly.

    It’s important your professor be aware of lack of effort on part of a group project so they are aware of how their students are doing.

  • Kamatari April 15, 2015, 9:20 am

    I’m so glad my group project days are over!

    I’ve had many a group project during the pursuit of my degree (Dietetics and Nutrition). The one that stands out to me most was when my group and I had to find people in the community to educate about a nutritional topic. The project didn’t get off to a great start. We had the whole semester to complete the assignment with due date checkpoints periodically to make sure we were doing things correctly and were on target. I was elected the leader and I assigned everyone individual work to be completed on the first due date. So naturally, as the professor walked around to assist/discuss/grade the assignment, we STARTED the assignment and did it as a group. These people had a month to do it or speak up and say they didn’t know what to do, but didn’t. It went downhill from there. In a group of seven people, my friend and myself did well over half the work. It was a wonderful experience, don’t get me wrong, but these big group assignments need to be done by people you know you can trust will do their work. You will not be sane if you don’t. Oh, and our groups were assigned by a personality and “how you learn” test.

    I thought my group was going to have it easy because we had “S” in our group. He was nice, hard-working, and best of all, great at public speaking. The HUGE problem however, he had to “feel” the information before he could say it effectively. So anything we did for the project and ANYTHING he was going to speak, had to be exactly what he wanted to say. He had to completely understand and feel in his heart that the information was correct before he would say it. He wasn’t strictly “it has to be my way or the highway”; he’d allow information from others as long as you explained it to him in a way he could “feel” was correct. We clocked over 30 HOURS of meeting time over that semester. Almost half of it was arguing/explaining the information with/to him. I know you guys are going to say that I wasn’t being an effectual leader by having the meetings get off topic like that, but I’d never worked with someone that alien to me before. Most people just accept that if the research says x, and their schooling agrees with x, then I can present x to my peers. He didn’t function that way at all.

  • Roslyn April 15, 2015, 9:47 am

    It sounds to me like Jay will skim on through…leech off of anyone he possibly can, and then make a perfect life in management or administration.

    • Jaxsue April 15, 2015, 1:01 pm

      “….that’s just a straight shooter with upper management written all over him.” (Office Space)

    • DanaJ April 15, 2015, 4:36 pm

      I think he is my co-worker.

  • rubysububi April 15, 2015, 9:48 am

    I recently took a course that includes group projects, and the instructor requires all individuals to privately submit reviews of their fellow group members’ performances on the project. I don’t know whether any other groups had difficulties — mine didn’t — but if someone behaved the way J did, the rest of the group would have an opportunity to inform the instructor about it.

  • Library Diva April 15, 2015, 10:08 am

    Group projects were the absolute worst. I always got stuck with someone who was either completely overbearing, wanted to do the whole thing herself, had nothing but criticism for anyone else, and loved playing the martyr OR the other extreme: someone who couldn’t have cared less, wanted the group to carry her, did less than the minimum and still expected full credit.

    My most memorable project was the time when I was in a three-person group with two slackers and decided that if they weren’t going to do anything, neither was I. We had all semester to work on the project and did it in two days, with each of us doing several parts. There wasn’t enough time to come together and make sure everything matched, though, so we completely contradicted each other. I’m amazed we passed. If it was college, we wouldn’t have, but it was high school and we were seniors.

    My past experiences are informing my comment, and it’s possible that I’m reading something into this which isn’t there, but I, too, am curious about the other side of the story. Like Matt said, this is a problem that does not go away once you enter the workforce. I wish my teachers had emphasized that more, and provided us with some strategies about the issues Matt raised, because they will always be with you unless you manage to find a job where you work completely independently at all times, and I don’t think medicine really has any of those.

    • Bellyjean April 16, 2015, 3:40 pm

      THIS! Yes, this. Rather than the “handle it yourself – you’ll grow as a person.”, teach the student how, as a teacher of students.

    • Anna April 19, 2015, 11:04 pm

      But in my experience, you do not need to deal with them in the worklife. Because the low performers and high achievers don’t end up at the same places. My workmates are just as ambitious as I am, that’s why we got hired for this job.
      I don’t know what the slackers of my class are doing, but I’m glad I’m not working with them!

  • Booklover13 April 15, 2015, 10:21 am

    So unlike most I liked group projects, even when I had less then stellar group-mates, because they were good prep for the real world. It also may be that I have likely had much more experience with college level group projects then most, because my school was 100% about projects, and projects mean groups. To put this into perspective, nearly every class had at least one group projects, this includes classes like math, physics, and even so of the gym classes. Over 4 years I did well over 100 projects.

    Now I wouldn’t expect the OP to see it, but I never would have let J have that job. If I saw he was supposed to make the Powerpoint, I would have found a way to offer to do it instead or make sure it happened during the group time because J was giving off all red flags and warning signs everywhere. Once again I wouldn’t blame the OP to not pick up on it.

    The most important thing though is to tell the Professor. They will likely know because of their years of experience, but this is also an important learning experience. This is how you learn to speak with superiors about problems with coworkers. It is where you learn where your limits are and what is important to complain about. It is not ‘tattling’ or petty to let the professor know when someone has stepped out of line. While agree there should be some allowances made, you need to stand firm when someone goes to far.

  • Dani313 April 15, 2015, 10:24 am

    Ooooh…group projects…the evil!

    In graduate school I was assigned to complete a research project and presentation about middle eastern americans. I was 22 and fresh from undergrad while my partner was 52 and going back to school to advance in her already established career. Our first meeting she was late and told me that I should do most of the work because she was taking care of her mother and I was young and did not have children so she knew I had a lot of time on my hands. In reality I did not as I was in school full time, working full time and had a part-time internship. (Coffee was my best and only friend for those 2 years!) So like a good worker bee I complied and did most of the project. One week before our presentation she told me she couldn’t do her part and that I needed to do it. Then she said…”I don’t really care for those Arabs (pronounced A Rabs, yes the derogatory way) anyway.” I calmly told her that its pronounced “Air Rub” and that I would email her the presentation the next day so she could practice.

    Forward to the presentation, she repeatedly pronounced Arab wrong and said “All Muslims are terrorist who move into Black neighborhoods and take over our businesses.” Mind you our professor was Muslim and Black. I hung my head during her 7 minute diatribe about Middle Eastern Americans, Muslims and their “backwards ways.” I spend the rest of the presentation time highlighting the beautiful culture, food and people. After I went to my professor and as soon as I walked up he said “Dani, I know. You got an A…she didn’t.”

    Although group projects are meant to teach us how to collaborate, the lesson should also be that we have a duty to report those who are not doing their part. If “J” becomes a doctor, the OP would have a legal duty to report him if he was slacking on his work and putting a patient in danger. As a clinician I have a duty to report colleagues if they are doing harm. Too often we paint the person who speaks up as a snitch or complainer when in reality it is the slackers who should be penalized.

  • Michelle C Young April 15, 2015, 10:30 am

    Oh, may he burn in the seventh circle of E-hell, and be forever poked by the pitchforks of people piggy-backing off HIM.

    This is maddening, and why I also hate group projects. I swore, many years ago, that if I were ever a teacher, I would never assign a group project. They are awful.

  • lnelson1218 April 15, 2015, 10:30 am

    When completing my master’s we had 3 group projects. Only one of those time did we have an issue with one person not pulling their weight. Fortunately, the professor let us be a group of two.

    In the other groups, we each had a strength, but we also had to be seen as actually working together in the presentation portion. My group did get flying colors.

  • just4kicks April 15, 2015, 10:32 am

    My son who is in 7th grade, recently came home with a very large project to finish over the Easter holiday break.
    I asked why they were given such a big project to complete by themselves, and he told me the teacher had posted groups on the bulletin board of four or five kids to do this.
    My son said, when he saw his group, the other three kids were class clowns who were always in trouble and never did assignments, or slapped them together at the last minute.
    He went up to the teacher, and quietly asked if he may do the project by himself, as he would rather take the chance of doing all the work himself, (which he said he would’ve had to ANYWAY to get even a decent grade), then working his butt off and only getting a so-so grade.

  • Susan April 15, 2015, 10:43 am

    Like MathTeacher I can often spot who the slackers are, but not always, especially if the other group members have put in overtime effort to fix everything. I also have students assess their team members’ performance (as both Jewel and David recommend) to provide feedback to everyone and make some grade adjustments. However, I would find it helpful to have a student notify me directly about an especially troublesome person so I can make sure to assign him/her to another team in the future (and perhaps call ’em to my office for some stern guidance). Don’t think of it as tattling, OP: think of it as helping the next people that have to work with “J.” Just keep and such reporting factual, as constructive as possible, and avoid any martyr drama, please. And try not to blame the professor- s/he has to place that problem person in some group, and rarely are poor teamwork skills sufficient reason on their own to fail someone out of a class.

    As has been pointed out on the board, group projects are assigned in part because professionals need to know how to work with others, even the slackers and the jerks. Sometimes those slackers/jerks can be taught to reform, but not always, and there’s always a few that manage to get ahead even in the face of bold incompetence or laziness. So every profession (especially academia- I’ve got some doozies I may submit) has its share of individuals that are best dealt with by giving them unimportant stuff to do (or stuff you expect to cut out in the final editing and compilation) when it comes to an important joint project.

  • nannerdoman April 15, 2015, 10:47 am

    Tell NOW, before this person somehow becomes a medical practitioner!!

    • Anonymous April 15, 2015, 12:39 pm

      Yeah, I was going to say. I wouldn’t want to go to a doctor like J.

      • Michelle C Young April 15, 2015, 11:43 pm

        What do you call someone who graduates last in his class as medical school?


  • ColoradoCloudy April 15, 2015, 10:56 am

    As a freshman in high school, my daughter was put into a group with two older boys on a project that would have a large part of the final grade. The two boys didn’t do their parts, and daughter was getting more and more upset. She finally came to me in tears, asking what she should do. I said- tell them if they don’t get their parts done by tonight, you will be going to the teacher to let him know that you can’t be held responsible. The two boys didn’t do the work, so daughter went to her teacher and explained the situation. Teacher called in the two boys, who immediately started making excuses, claiming they HAD turned in the work, and blaming daughter for not telling them what they were supposed to do. Thank goodness, the teacher saw right through them and told them they would be getting zeros, and daughter would be graded on what she’d done. She ended up completing the whole thing herself and got an A. It was very hard for her to go to the teacher, or even to give the boys an ultimatum, as she hated confrontation and was very shy, but the experience showed her how to stand up for herself and was a good life lesson. Even so, I get worked up every time I think about it!

  • Ashley April 15, 2015, 10:59 am

    Oh my gosh this post is SO relevant to me right now. I have a group project going on in two classes and BOTH were like pulling teeth.

    In one class, the project IS our grade. We could ace everything else, but if we fail any part of the project, we’re s*****. I was optimistic at first because I found a group right away, and everyone seemed excited about working together to get a good grade. How wrong I was. My classes are all online to accommodate my work schedule, so we communicate through email, skype, and the school’s system which has a lot of really useful tools to help students communicate and complete assignments together. None of them are helpful however when your other group members check their stuff once a week, then offer a paragraph when they are supposed to be offering two to three pages with sources. One woman is TRYING to pull her weight despite some technical difficulties but the other woman, I honestly don’t know how she’s passing any of her classes if her work in this group is any indicator of how she lives her life. Thankfully, the next several portions of the assignment were marked group or individual so I waved good bye to my group, and my teacher will get to see how much I put in verses everyone else.

    As for the other class, we got assigned to groups. Our teacher is a saint. She has EVERYTHING spelled out, with examples. She makes excellent use of the tools provided on the schools website. We have our own little forum to discuss our project in, our own color to put stuff on the calendar with, etc. But again, none of that helps if half your group doesn’t check anything as frequently as they should and doesn’t participate. Currently myself and another member of the group are the only ones who make any sort of regular use of the forums, and are the only ones who contributed anything of substance to the project. Thankfully, we have a peer review where we’ll get to spell everything out to our teacher about who is doing what, and she can browse our forum if she wants to see who is contributing and who isn’t.

    I just don’t get how some people are comfortable making it to adulthood without being able to work in a group.

    • Ashley April 16, 2015, 12:12 pm

      An update to my previous comment. Last night we had an optional check in meeting with our instructor for the second project in my story. We posted on our team forum when and where the meeting was, and how to access it via gotomeeting. The teacher had also made an announcement about it, and it was marked on the calendar for that class. The two of us who have been contributing regularly turned up for the meeting. The other two members of our group? I’m not even sure they are aware the meeting was a thing. Our meeting time was scheduled to start at 5:30 but I tried to log in a little early to make sure everything worked and I got in fine. The other participating member of my group was there, and immediately when I logged on, our instructor said to me “Ashley, don’t worry, you and Sarah are safe, I have looked at your forums and understand your concerns about the other two members of your group. They will be graded accordingly”. It was a HUGE relief that she had this check in meeting, and confirmed that she had been looking at participation based on the forums. She also offered to split the group if it comes down to it, letting me and Sarah work together and leaving the other two to their own devices.

      She also agreed with us, that she doesn’t understand why the other two members aren’t reading the forums. Sarah and I have taken time to collect all the links relevant to our project on the forums, in a post entitled “IMPORTANT LINKS!” and when the other group members DO chime in, they ask “where’s this?” and it’s all stuff we’ve linked dozens of times before.

      I’m glad my instructor is so helpful, and that she sees the work Sarah and I are doing vs the other members. Everyone cross your fingers that we nail this project, we’re marketing yogurt, yay!

  • Lisa_M April 15, 2015, 11:14 am

    I had sort of the opposite experience in school. I was assigned to work with another girl and a guy on a project. When I called the girl at home to get directions to her house (as we planned), I was told she’d gone shoe shopping. Later, when I was able to get in touch with her, she told me she and the guy had met up and done the project themselves. I was miffed at being left out, but since they had no qualms at letting me take credit for their work (since it was their decision to exclude me from the group the teacher had assigned), I stood with them during the presentation and accepted my grade. Luckily, my teammates did a good job!

    • Ashley April 16, 2015, 12:16 pm

      That’s a little scary! I will admit that when it comes to group projects I do tend to do a bunch of the work on my own simply because I’m one of those weirdos who LIKES research and writing and stuff. But even if I sit down and get the whole project done on my own, I still present it to the rest of my group, ask for their input about things they would like to add or change, etc. I’d never just do a project and leave other people out completely. You’re very lucky they did a good job and didn’t try to throw you under the bus!!

      • Lisa_M April 16, 2015, 4:00 pm

        Ashley – the one good thing about it was that the other girl in the group (besides me) was one of the top students in the school, so I knew she’d get a high grade no matter what. 🙂

  • Cora April 15, 2015, 11:29 am

    I work in higher education, and I see this and talk with professors all the time about such things. Working within a group, including learning how to deal with a slacker, is a very important part of medical education. You will go on to do research, run labs, etc.; and the earlier you learn strategies to deal with non-contributing people, the better off you’ll be. You professor is giving you the opportunity to learn a valuable skill. That said, you are WAY too invested. I get it, it sucks, he sucks, but you really need to let go of a lot of this angst. Do you honestly think your professor doesn’t see what’s happening with J? You do realize that your professors have to get together on committees and evaluate students — don’t you think they ALL notice what a slacker J is, and discuss that? You can go to your professor or not, it doesn’t matter. She’s seen it all by now; she can handle the student who gets riled up and needs tell someone; she can also deal with the group that deals with it internally, like you. I think what you did shows good leadership qualities, and we all know J is a total jackass. So does the professor he was trying so badly to impress. {Jackasses never understand that part.} Bottom line: in your career, you will have to work with groups. Sometimes other member will suck. Learn to deal with it. You clearly have the intelligence and critical thinking skills to do so.

    • Rap541 April 16, 2015, 9:10 am

      Eh… I just hate the notion of “Hee hee we really knew J is a complete slacker and the entire point of this assignment wasn’t for you to learn subject X but was for you to learn how to manage jerks like J” as a legit teaching technique.

  • Lucretia April 15, 2015, 11:42 am

    You have my sympathy, OP. I had a guy in university who gave me an ancient Hamlet paper for his part of our group project- which was on Eastern Religions and due the next morning. When I sent him a frantic email (I’d gotten all of the other group members stuff the week before), he was surprised, but said he’d bring the finished part of his paper to class and I could just staple it to the back of the paper. I had already quietly gone to the professor with my teammates before the project was due to explain our predicament. She was understanding, and when he brought me a paper that had been crushed in the bottom of his backpack and had nothing to do with Eastern Religion, I just let him staple it to our paper. When he got a failing grade he blamed us. We got an A, and we told him why. He didn’t have much to say.

    Seriously, let your professor know. They may not make J contribute (and probably won’t), but he will likely get the grade he actually earned, not the grade that you did.

  • NostalgicGal April 15, 2015, 11:49 am

    Oh those were my bane, group projects. Early days of ‘personal computers’ and one lab had a fellow that hated them with a passion and he totally refused to get near one or touch the keyboard. Then one of the others lost all our data, so I had to beg the morning it was due, rerun the lab, then crank out the report. Another, grad level course as undergrad and I ended up being wanted as English was my first language, and I had two grad student partners from other countries. They were actually great, they could get the nosebleed math right and I wrote up the papers to hand in. I had more than a few of those over the course of my years though where I realized that if I wanted a grade I had better crank it out, and at least most of the instructors understood who really did the work… the loafers usually got theirs later in the course (as in the karma). Then there was the class I took with my DH, he had a degree in field and I didn’t, and he always DEMANDED that we do the homework together, yet that always went to his last class to work on so he never did. I missed several assignments, then. We got one that I did myself and did what I wanted instead of what the instructor set out (long story, kit robot of the 1980’s and I did an interactive with it… I actually did a skit and my co-actor, the robot, did things and it was pretended we were indeed interacting), and the final. Which I walked out of whatever my DH had planned and let him have his fit and went to take, I showed up 10 min late and asked if I could still take it–and ended up being the best essay I ever wrote, and I earned an A … instructor knew the background with DH. I learned to never take another class with DH, and we got along a lot better after that!

  • Caro April 15, 2015, 12:03 pm

    I had fun on one of these too. I was doing a Masters course part time whilst working full time too. Basically, part timers did half the modules one year, half the second and for most of them were with the same group of full timers. For one module there were people from some other courses. I got put into a group with people from the other course. I explained that I worked full time but was willing to run straight from work to meet up with them for however many days. I usually start work at 7am so this would enable me to join them around 3.30 in the afternoon, not an unreasonably late time in the day. If it meant working until midnight, so be it, I was prepared for that. The others in the group refused on the basis that they’d have been working all day so they’d be tired. I wasn’t impressed, their refusal to consider any options other than what suited only them led me to contact the professor and explain the situation. He asked me to submit my part of the project and presentation and graded me separately (I got a good grade 🙂 ) and the others went ahead and did the presentation by themselves and never uttered another word to me. It was a shame because it had been a really enjoyable module otherwise.

  • TKD April 15, 2015, 12:28 pm

    While I sympathize with the OP for being teamed up with a slacker, I don’t understand why they let J be responsible for assembling the ppt. According to the OP’s description, J had already shown that he turned in shoddy work and turned it in late. Random draw is a reasonable way of deciding who will do the ppt *if* everyone is reliable, and in an ideal world, whoever was randomly chosen would have completed the ppt on time to the best of their ability. In reality, they already knew J was a slacker, so why entrust him with a vital, time-sensitive final piece of the assignment? That’s just handing him more power to ruin the assignment. He certainly doesn’t sound like he would have argued if the rest of the group wanted to let him off the hook and have someone else do the ppt. It wouldn’t be “fair” in terms of workload, but it would have saved a lot of stress for S and the rest of the teammates who ended up doing the work anyway.

    • Ellie April 15, 2015, 9:40 pm

      Yes! This is what I was thinking through the whole second half of the story. Yes, it sucks he didn’t do his 1/5 of the work, but why on earth would you then give him MORE responsibility? Responsibility in the spotlight (creating the ppt that everyone will see), no less?

      At that point you’re just inviting trouble so you can gripe more about him.

  • Beach Quilter April 15, 2015, 12:48 pm

    Unfortunately, whenever there is a team project whether it be in school or the business world, there is always a chance that something like this will happen, and in my experience telling a superior that you don’t want to work with X tends to backfire as much on you as it does on X, no matter how valid the reasons — particularly if you are both unknowns to the superior.

    What I don’t understand is this….” It was extra work, but we all agreed to draw lots to see who would do it. “S” wound up having to do the actual presentation while “J” was supposed to provide the Power Point for her.” Why on earth, given J’s lack of contribution, did the group even entertain the possibility of giving J a key part of the final project? Trying to distribute the work evenly is a noble effort, but in the end you made your lives all more difficult, and gave yourselves more work under the guise of being fair. At the point that it became clear that J was not pulling their weight, they should have been removed from the equation and told why.

    Ideally everyone does their job, but in reality, life isn’t fair. If your success depends on someone else, you need to take steps to protect yourself from their incompetence. You don’t need to be a doormat–still insist on holding them accountable as much as possible (and document when they don’t deliver), but, in the end you need to be prepared to deal with their lack of commitment .

  • ketchup April 15, 2015, 12:58 pm

    Yes, you should tell the professor. I think it’s unfair not to. He’s benefiting from your work, and not learning anything. He shouldn’t be able to pass a course that way. Especially in medical studies. I wouldn’t want someone like that handling my medical needs.

  • lakey April 15, 2015, 1:37 pm

    It’s frightening to think that someone this lazy and irresponsible is going to be a medical doctor. I don’t understand how he’s gotten this far. Of course if he was babbling when he answered the question about your part of the project, it should have been obvious to the professor. When I was in college, it was pointed out if you said something in class that couldn’t be backed up or was inaccurate.

    In the future, if you are stuck with this slacker, snitching might make you look petty. It might be better to ride herd on him hard, to the point where HE doesn’t want to be in a group with you. If this is how he works he will

  • Jays April 15, 2015, 2:04 pm

    OP, could a spokesperson from your group sit down with the professor and tell him/her, diplomatically, about some of the issues (without naming names) and ask what to do in the future?

    Problem is, there are professors and teachers out there like a poster above, who see this as learning how to be a leader and how to work together. When in reality, it might teach some this, but it also teaches some how to successfully get away with not doing their work and dumping stuff on others. Which has certainly been a job skill some places I’ve worked, but not a good one.

  • Freq Flyer April 15, 2015, 2:04 pm

    Part of a college education is to learn how to work in a group, as that is what you will do for the rest of your professional life. In any group of human beings, there are the overachievers and the slackers. Learning how to work with the slackers is an education in itself.

    Going to the professor to complain about the slackers just demonstrates you haven’t learned how to work with slackers, yet.

    • Tracy W April 16, 2015, 2:42 am

      Yes, and going to the professor to complain that you don’t understand how to do the third problem on the homework set just demonstrates that you haven’t learnt how to do the third problem on the homework set.

      The whole point of a college education is that you have teachers, who help you learn skills that you would not naturally learn on your own. That’s why people pay thousands and thousands of dollars. Humans can accomplish far more if we learn from the experts in a field than if we are each obliged to learn everything from scratch ourselves, with no coaching. A professor who expects their students to learn how to deal with slackers without needing any teaching and guidance is a professor who has just demonstrated that they don’t know how to do the job they are being paid to do.

      And in those cases, my sympathy is with the people who are paying the money, not the ones who are being paid.

    • Margo April 16, 2015, 3:46 am

      I disagree. here are plenty of professional positions in which working in groups is not necessary or is infrequent, and in most professional settings where working in a group is necessary there will still be lines of management / authority, they do not rely solely on everyone voluntarily doing their share.

      Going to the professor to let them know there is a problem is a wholly appropriate and professional thing to do, in the same way as speaking your line manager, or to the project manager, would be the appropriate and professional thing to do in a professional setting, if you were not able to resolve matters between yourselves.

      In group projects at college you may be able to agree with the other participants to elect someone to coordinate / manage the project, but that person can only ask and encourage – they have no way to enforce participation.

      It is the job of the professor to ensure that they are monitoring and fairly grading participants.

    • Cat April 16, 2015, 7:31 am

      So how do you deal with a team member who refuses to do any work? What is the technique to motivate the unmotivated?

    • mark April 16, 2015, 2:27 pm

      I disagree. I work in a professional environment currently and it is crucial to report slacking and incompetent work. Of course you should try and motivate/help the person first. But I really don’t want their issues to reflect poorly on me, so at some point you need to point it out.

      I’m not talking about making mistakes either. That’s normal, and you should in general not sacrifice someone for making a mistake. I have refused to give names for that when asked. But if we are 3 weeks into a project and person B is coming into work 2 hours late browsing FaceBook for 3-4 hours and then going home on a daily basis, I’m not going to cover for them, and I’m going to make sure it is known.

  • Auntbee81 April 15, 2015, 2:19 pm

    One of the biggest problems I have encountered in “group work” is that there are some malicious people who actually make things up in order to manipulate others into doing more than their fair share of effort. It is difficult to combat this, especially if favoritism is present. You can do as much as possible, but if the “leader” has another agenda, and just wishes to make you look bad – for any, or even no reason, you are really out of luck. I never enjoyed group projects while a student, and so, have endeavored to work in areas where there are not as prevalent.

  • Aje April 15, 2015, 2:19 pm

    I didn’t experience a big problem with slackers. Most of the time I looked forward to group projects because I struggled in school and it was a chance to boost my grade. Also projects have many parts and if I wasn’t strong in the presenting part of it I was usually good for the creative aspect (making a poster, printing out pictures, etc)
    The problem I had was the A+ kids who wouldn’t let you do anything. They wanted everything to be just right… I remember I was drawing a farm for a science project and he told me the way I drew mud on the ground was wrong (I didn’t shade everything in the same direction). I told him to calm down; it was mud, I drew it that way because I wanted it to look messy. I said that it was my part of the project and I wanted to do it.
    He redid it for the next day. Unfortunately my class was full of kids like this who just had to be perfect or the best and if you weren’t nit-picky then you weren’t allowed to participate. I gave up at one point and handed it over. Got an A for the project and didn’t to a darn thing. So frustrating.

    • Tracy W April 16, 2015, 2:44 am

      That’s a great view from the other side.

  • ss April 15, 2015, 2:28 pm

    In my later college years, after a group presentation was given, the instructor would ask the group at the end of the presentation”who did which part?” And make each person verbally tell him the breakdown of the work. The slackers were usually obvious based on their conflicting answers versus the people that did the work.

  • MPW1971 April 15, 2015, 2:42 pm

    Group work and partner work was the bane of my existence in elementary school. By the time I was in 7th grade, two of my classmates had a falling out and a fistfight because one guy felt it was his “turn” to be my partner. That meant that he had a free ride to an “A” on the assignment – I was a top-rated student with very active and controlling parents who ensured that I always did my best, regardless of the circumstances. I didn’t know that my classmates had a schedule on who would be my partner, as I preferred to chose a friend whom I trusted and liked, and not the guy who moved his lips when he wrote his name.
    Things changed a bit in high school as we always got to choose our own groups, as was the case in university for lab work . I feel sorry for the people who had no friends, but not for those who had developed bad reputations and were shunned because they could not be trusted as group partners. (For some, this was deliberate – they viewed the whole education process to be so competitive that they would not share their own work or answers with others, thinking that it would take away from them. There was always someone like that, sitting alone in our tutorial sessions, while the rest of us worked on problems in groups and shared our answers, which is what we were supposed to do.)
    The biggest difference for the real world is that team leaders have authority over team members. Either directly, or indirectly, if a person is chosen or assigned to group work in the “real world”, there is a supervisor who has authority over that worker. Sometimes it is someone outside the group itself, but the team leader always has the ability to involve the direct supervisor of someone who is not pulling their weight.
    The OP’s example is the worst of all worlds. It doesn’t accurately represent the real world because there is no authority. As a team leader, I have excluded those who are not reliable, dismissed supplier reps because they are lazy and slow, and resolved personality issues with a strict “check your attitude at the door” approach. No one is irreplaceable, and if they are very important, there are ways to manage it, but there is always a way to flex muscles and use one’s “teeth”. Even if a supplier has your money, they will accommodate personnel reassignment for the good of future work.
    One course in medical school is very short-term, and without any team leader authority, there is no accountability. If the membership is assigned randomly, the solution is to have each group elect a leader to assign tasks. Once the leader is established, they have the authority to assign or reassign tasks, and they can be removed by unanimous vote (and instructor’s approval). At the end, there must be a 360 degree review – everyone rates everyone else, especially the leader being rated on their performance for assigning tasks and enforcing it. If 4 of 5 team members, including the leader, all universally dismiss the contribution of one member, it should be reflected in the grading.
    Unlike others, I do not doubt that “J” from the OP can make a good doctor. Not all doctors work with patients, or even other people. Many would-be doctors go into that profession knowing that they want to spend the rest of their life in a laboratory, dealing only with research. “J” seems to be focused, talented, and self-interested – which are all good qualities for someone who works alone in a lab. I wouldn’t want that kind of person as my personal physician, but as with any profession, there is more to it than just “bedside manner”.

  • Gabriele April 15, 2015, 6:23 pm

    This reminds me of a course that a company I worked for presented. The company was going through a reorganization process (led by one of the family members who had already ‘re-engineered’ one of the other companies.
    We were flown to a city (US) where the company had an office, but we were all from other cities, from different departments.
    It was a great experience (Perceptions-how we see things and what they really are and how to change our perceptions so they aren’t as limiting; Work structure (using various ways of organizing work–top down, bottom up, separate/integrated, etc), other things and the last, Team work.
    We were split up (6 in each group I think) and each given a drinking straw. We had been told when we opened out package for the day that everything would be needed. Some people had already trashed their straw.
    We were to use our straws, working together, to build a structure as tall as we could…using only the straws. I could tell right off others were better qualified so I handed in my straw and just gave encouragement. Others insisted on taking charge even though they didn’t have a plan OR understanding of what might work. Ours was second highest but it didn’t fall apart. No specific rewards were given.
    Having read a lot on psychology (not for work, just personal interest) I knew it wasn’t just preparing us for the transitions, it was a way for management to decide who they wanted to keep and who they couldn’t trust to contribute.

    The course was so productive a number of people having been confronted with the idea of change (first day was an exploration of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s work on Loss) and grasped that and on the second day seen what they themselves could accomplish working with others, decided they’d go with change…but of their choosing and in a short period of time found new (better, too) jobs.
    It was an unforeseen result but I was happy to see people I liked and admired going on to new and better situations.
    When they closed the LA office I was offered a position in Tampa at HQ but I’d already seen how they’d treated other employees in other offices and said ‘no thanks’
    The re-engineering didn’t work at all well, people who did move to Tampa left and the company went bankrupt within a couple years and was bought out by another company. Sad…but I was then and still am now very happy we were given the course. I saved the workbook and later gave it to a boss I really liked and respected…dont’ know how much it helped him but he did change jobs and is still with the ‘new’ job, productive and happy.
    I was a supervisor of a group (10 or so people) and when I realized that while each person was good a some things, most weren’t interested in being good at anything else…that’s why they had a supervisor, to do the things that had to be done that they didn’t want to do…and the department manager seemed to think the same way (she was overly protective of people with children or someone with a family problem, etc)…so I resigned as a supervisor and let the manager hande the difficult workers (and no, the increase in pay for being a supervisor-HA!—how about a ‘promise’ that was never delivered.
    The absolute worst?
    Company was ‘courting’ a new customer and the new customer wanted a CV for each employee. They provided a format for the info. Manager made copies and passed them out, gave instructions on what had to be done and gave us five days to complete. Each morning, a reminder when it was due. Day before, three had been turned in. Afternoon, half of them. Then the manager looked at them.
    One line replies, no one followed the outline, and one person wrote four pages of extraneous detail about her work as monthly National Guard work…details on checking stock levels of basic (bandages, etc) medical supplies. Manager had been in meetings so he asked me if I could help…please. It took me until 1 am (still in the office) to do them all…having to rewrite everything, try to vary the statements so they sounded like different people, ‘create’ work histories for people who hadn’t put one down and edit out self-serving comments on the work done and how appreciated it was by the customers.
    Some had comments on the forms about ‘shouldn’t have to do this bs’, etc….
    I kept copies of the original forms…and knowing a lot of people in the industry, if I knew a person was applying for a job that required honesty and integrity, I’d send over a copy of the filled out form. It was not only appreicated but on the basis of the forms I might be asked if I could recommend someone. Enough people (outside the company) saw the form that it became part of a lot of job applications…

  • JeanLouiseFinch April 15, 2015, 6:23 pm

    The only solution is that if “J” gets a reputation as a slacker, nobody will voluntarily partner up with him. I am assuming this will cause problems later on. This garbage occurs in the workplace too. I used to work at a law firm where I was told to work in groups with the bosses’ “pet” who would always pull the same type of garbage as “J” so I was forced to fix it at the last minute. I finally just started to do all of my work and his work too, and just left his name off the motions and briefs. Unfortunately, in a heavily political office, it does no good to complain, you just get the reputation for being a complainer. Sometimes though, karma kicks back. The last I heard of this slacker was that he got another job where he was forced to put in 60 to 80 hour weeks and they were always yelling at him because he didn’t do anything right.

  • Msmolly April 15, 2015, 7:56 pm

    My sympathies to the OP; rarely have I experienced a group project that didn’t cause major resentment or conflict. The absolute worst one I had was a group that had to upload small projects to an unwieldy but not impossible knowledge management system. Each group member had to take it in turns to submit it each week, while the others would write small paragraphs for the submission. While most of the group members were on the same page, one member, ‘Phil’, had poor IT skills and even worse social skills. He had already gotten off on the wrong foot when it was ‘Kat’s’ turn to submit, emailing her his submission after the due date and blaming her for him not receiving credit for the week.

    When it was his date to submit, we all continually checked the submissions page to see if he had done it correctly. Mind you, he had received all of our submissions two days before the due date, so there was nothing to stop him from putting it in early. When it was about three hours from the due time, Kat apparently emailed Phil to politely ask if he wanted any assistance with the submission. He emailed a reply about two and a half hours later asking a question about the file size; by then, Kat had apparently gone to work and was not allowed to have her phone on site. When she did not reply, rather than email another group member or one of our tutors with a question, he sent Kat another email. I was not privy to the contents of this email, but whatever he wrote to her got him expelled from university.

    It was probably for the best, this was high-school teaching that we were studying for. If this was his reaction to email etiquette, I doubt he could cope with a room full of teenagers.

  • WillyNilly April 15, 2015, 8:20 pm

    I always hated group projects. Not because of slackers though. Because of over zealous type A folks. I am of those people who works best at the 11th hour. And who does not use formal notes or outlines, or who does drafts beyond the final. I do plan things out, but often in my head or on scraps of paper, etc. Then I whip it all together in one final swoop as it’s needed. If a project is due on the 31st, I don’t appreciate a classmate demanding a draft on the 10th, and then the final on the 21st, just so that their timeline is met or wires for style edits (unless that is specifically required as a part if the project of course.) Unless a draft is an official part of the grade my drafts exist in my head. And while I appreciate a proofread for typos but not for changing the way I communicate. While lots of folks are quick to exclaim every group has a slacker, it should be noted every group usually has a pushy person who thinks their way is not only the best way but the only acceptable way.

  • Rebecca April 15, 2015, 11:30 pm

    Oh yes. We had a group project (three of us, while most of the other groups had four). It was the kind of project that needed to be worked on all semester. Field work, collecting data, analysing data, putting it all together in one thick paper with charts and illustrations, descriptions of the charts and illustrations, references in the text of the charts and illustrations, discussion of previous work on the topic, analysis of our project, discussion of findings, conclusions, all interspersed with references cited.

    I couldn’t get these other two to do anything. They kept saying they were busy and would get to it later. (I was busy too). Yes we collected data together, but that wasn’t enough. I begged and pleaded to get started on the paper. I visited the prof’s office and looked at previous years’ projects to get an idea of what was expected. Once I saw those papers I realized the task was even more enormous than I’d initially thought. I urged those two other girls, “Please go look at those last years’ papers…you’ll see how huge this project is.” They both said OK, I’ll get down there at some point.

    A few nights before the paper was due, they both contacted me to say, “We saw the older projects just now. OMG, we have a LOT of work to do!!” Ummmmmm, YEAH! That is what I’d been saying.

    The day before the due date we got together and worked frantically through the night. It was due at 9 AM sharp. I had hoped we’d be done by 2 AM so I could get SOME sleep. At 2 AM we were nowhere near finished and one of them started whining that she was hungry (I had planned ahead by eating dinner so I wasn’t hungry). She wanted us all to go out to a 24-hour restaurant, one that required a car to get to. She knew I was the only one with a car. I refused. It would have taken us away from the project for at least an hour and a half. I said no, I want to get this done and maybe hope for SOME sleep that night, even if it was only an hour. I was already so tired I felt as though I was being tortured to stay awake. She continued to whine about how huuuuuungry she was (she wasn’t – there was food in her fridge but she had a craving for fast food). We somehow got the paper done in the nick of time, but I didn’t get to go home AT ALL that night, and I didn’t get to sleep a wink. And it was quite shoddy work. Never in my life have I been so ready to throttle someone.

  • Rosie B. April 16, 2015, 1:35 am

    I’m a college student, and I DESPISE group projects. Even if the group members are okay to work with, there’s still the issue of working around everyone’s schedules and keeping track of who is doing what–plus it’s stressful to put part of your grade into another person’s hands no matter what.

    My freshman year, I took a theatre class where the final project involved conceptualizing and producing a 10-minute film or play with each person acting in it and/or doing some kind of behind the scenes work. I had a pretty decent group, with the exception of one member. He hadn’t really been doing his fair share of the work from the beginning, but for some reason we decided he should play the lead role in our film. (Looking back on it, I have no idea what the rationale was there!) On the day we were supposed to film, he texted us at the last minute saying he couldn’t make it. (This was not due to unforeseen circumstances–he’d had a conflict he’d known about in advance but hadn’t bothered to say anything about.) He was also supposed to bring his video camera, so we ended up having to film the entire thing on our cell phones. We got it worked out, but the end product wasn’t very good.

    Luckily, a requirement of the project was that we each had to turn in a report of how each group member had contributed to the project. These were confidential and not shared with anyone else in the group, so we could be honest without worrying about making anyone mad. Long story short, I got an A.