Martha Speaks

Group Projects Suck: Martha Speaks Vol. 3

Photo Credits : Cathy Vi Quan

Do you hate group projects? Most students have experienced the horrors of a group project either in grade school or even now in university.  Some of us (most of us) are introverted or socially awkward, therefore a group project is just uncomfortable. On the other side of things, a lot of us are afraid of getting a bad group and having to do all the work ourselves while our slacking groupmates take credit. If your groups are assigned then you can chalk it up to luck, but if you have to pick your own groups, it’s mostly on you to recruit accountable groupmates.

Most of us want to be in a group consisting of our friends to make the work feel more fun, but that might lead to shenanigans. Although you might want to be careful working with your friends, as it might cause a tear in your group. All it takes is if your friend Fred doesn’t do his part correctly or waits until the last hour to complete it; your friend Fred is now your most disliked person. I have collaborated with Martha Speaks on this article to provide advice on some common group project horror stories.

Q: My 3 best friends and I just finished a group project. One of them waited till the last hour to complete their part and completely missed the mark on what it was supposed to be. This group project was worth 15% of our grade and although we passed, their poor work tanked our guaranteed 100. I am no longer speaking to them and my other friends are saying I should forgive them and join their group again for the next project. Should I forgive them and find a new group, or should I drop the friend altogether?

A: I would be pretty upset if my friend did that to me too. Although there may have been other reasons for your friend’s actions, you could speak to all of them about how you feel. Maybe you do not need to get rid of your friends, but maybe working together isn’t the best for your relationship.

Q: I just finished a group project and one of my members had a huge ego. They wouldn’t let anyone do anything on the project and would complain about the only one doing anything. They don’t tell the profs or TAs, but it is really annoying. It sounds like a dream, but I was genuinely interested in the topic and had a few ideas on how it could have been done. They’ve been assigned to my group on the next project as well, what should I do?

A: It’s great that you are passionate about your work. I recommend you talk to them about it and try explaining that this is a topic you are really interested in and have lots of ideas on what you both could work on. They might be used to a working environment that is more independent, so talking to them about collaboration is a good idea. You guys could end up being friends and come up with even stronger ideas.

Q: I am in a lab that requires pairs. I had a partner in the first experiment but he found someone else for the second experiment and onward. That means there’s one more person who doesn’t have a partner and we became a pair. I am about to do the third experiment, is it wrong for me to hope he doesn’t have a partner again so that we are automatically paired?

A: Absolutely not! A lot of us are introverted and are shy when it comes to approaching people. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be partners again since it is tough to warm up to a new person. It might seem a little malicious or “sad,” however it isn’t a big deal and I’m sure they will enjoy being your lab partner again!

Q: My lab partner keeps spilling our solutions and derailing experiments. They erase my labels on the glass and they get mixed up. Since most of them look like water I cannot tell what liquid it is anymore. One time I measured a solution perfectly to the exact amount needed, and when I brought it back, they tried to grab it and spilt it on the bench.

A: Speak to your partner about it, they could be naturally very clumsy or disorganized. You both could work out an agreement where you do the pouring, measuring and labelling, and your partner can do data recording and observations, whichever works for you guys.

Q: I’m currently in a 3 person group project that’s supposed to last the majority of the term. We’re in the design stage of the project right now, and my two group members argue about everything. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, they will find something to disagree on in our design. Outside of the project they seem to get along, so I’m not sure why they can never agree on anything. I feel like I’m stuck in the middle of their arguments, any suggestions?

A: This sounds like a difficult situation. When it comes to the project itself, try and suggest compromises for the design that will incorporate both of their ideas if possible. If the disagreements feel like they’re getting to be too much for you (which it sounds like they are), you could try bringing up the issue to them individually and see why this keeps happening. Maybe from that you can discuss as a group to find some common ground.

Q: My lab partner is always late. At first they claimed they overslept, but then it kept happening. They seem to conveniently show up after I’ve done all the hard parts of the experiment. The last straw was when they simply just didn’t show up to our lab last week with no explanation to me, or that the prof was aware of. We keep the same partner for the entire term, so I’m stuck. Should I call them out?

A: If you have never spoken to them about it before, try to talk to them first before lashing out on them. If you have mentioned it before, then I would recommend a more direct approach to it. It is unfair to you that you do the majority of work alone, most labs won’t even let you in if you come in late!

Have questions or need advice from Martha? Send your submissions to for a chance to get an answer from Martha in a future issue!

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