by: Mar Curran
Like most people who are shy, I hate group projects. I am also very set in my ways when it comes to how I work for school: leave things until the last minute, wing it, do fantastically. It’s a well-honed system. This year, my senior year, I have finally figured out how to not only survive group projects but enjoy them. Better late than never! Here are my tips for making the most of forced socialization for group work.
Speak up early on.
Have you ever been the person who, when deciding on a project topic, will just say you don’t care and then complain the whole time when your group stupidly decides to chronicle the life of a sea sponge in a fifty minute presentation? It’s your own fault. Help your group pick a topic you can live with. Sure, sometimes they won’t listen to you, but at least then you’re allowed to say you had a better idea they shot down.
Talk about cats a lot.
I’m in a research group on a heavy, emotional subject. It’s hard to sit in a room for an hour with people talking about horrible things. This is why we also have started talking about cats. When we had to present our research proposal to our department we even included pictures of cats in our slideshow (much to the confusion of the department and delight of our professor). It doesn’t have to necessarily be cats (though why wouldn’t it be?), it just needs to be something that can unify you all and open the door for easy conversation.
Don’t be afraid to be the butt of a joke.
I think I often have trouble being in groups for projects because I fear seeming less intelligent than everyone else, or less capable, or just plain weird. To break that tension I find that self-depreciating humor helps me keep things in perspective. Mentioning that I want to wear a mesh tank top during a presentation and will only start presenting my section if someone does a windmill high five with me doesn’t make me seem like the most professional person in my group, for sure. But it does keep in perspective that, yes, I may be a nervous speaker but these people are kind enough to laugh with me and agree I’d look good in that outfit and say I should wear some jorts with it, and I am talented in other ways. Like windmill high fiving.
Make a friend by being a friend.
There might be someone in your group who will have great stories, be funny, and could be a friend to you. You never know if that guy in your group knows your favorite band and will get you an autograph from them, and would be a totally cool guy to hang out with outside of class. You never know if that girl from feminism class will later pepper your project emails with stories of how you were in her dream last night and it was hilarious. You never know if that person working with you on slides about solar panels will want you to cut their hair and will pay you in beer (their idea, not yours, Mom and Dad), and you’ll end up realizing you have cool friends in common. These are all true stories, readers. Friends come to you in many different ways! Be open to potential cool people.
Responsibility is key.
Two groups I’m in this semester had people who just didn’t contribute without saying anything. They were promptly not included in any of our project plans, and if they plan on getting the same grade as the rest of us they will be sorely disappointed. If someone isn’t showing up or doing work, check in with them to see what’s up. If the problem persists, I’m very much in the mentality of calling them out. By the same token, keep your group up to speed. Do your work promptly on time, and let them know if you’re behind. I’ve had group members tell me the night before something is due that they’ve had weeks busier than Tila Tequila and will finish their work tonight; if I hadn’t been up to speed, I would’ve assumed they flaked, but since they told me what was going on I was fine with it. Letting your group know about impediments to your progress makes everyone a little more at ease.
Keep it in perspective.
Worst case scenario, you’re in a group with a bunch of (pardon my French) total fucking jackasses. Just remember this is temporary, or if it somehow isn’t, get a group change if possible. Also realize that if these people are total toolboxes they aren’t worth your energy or time worrying about; just do your work as quickly as possible so you can get back to your regularly scheduled programming of awesome people and cat snuggling.
Mar Curran is a trans/queer rights activist and community organizer; he is on the boards of Video Action league, Advocate Loyola, the Queer intercollegiate Alliance, and works with GetEQUAL. As spoken word artist, he has read at each All The Writers I Know event. He studies Communications and Women’s Studies at Loyola University Chicago. Curran likes beer and cats.