Advice for Awkward People

On group projects

India Price, Ruth Scherr Mar 27, 2017

Dear Ruth,

I HATE group projects — I always have. There is usually one person who completely pulls their weight. Two or so people try enough to scrape by, they're annoying but at least they do some work. Then there's that one person who's life mission is to reverse any progress made by the other group members. But, since my grades and well-being have depended on doing so, I've learned to just let it go and moved on. My new method of group work is just trying to do as much of the assignments as possible and then just send email updates to keep everyone on the same page. But now I've encountered a new problem. Nobody responds to my emails! No matter how many follow ups I send out or how nice I am or how many funny GIFs I attach, I still get nothing. It doesn't even make a difference when I switch from the formal "Hello" to the causal "Hey" and then to the passive aggressive "Hi!" I'm running out of ideas! Texts seem too informal to handle these pressing matters. I do NOT want more GroupMe notifications. I'll only go back to Facebook Messenger when they get rid of the dumb stickers. And what? Am I supposed to call them? On the phone? What is this... 2007?

Sincerely,
I Need Direct, Immediate Answers. Please Respond. I Can't Even.

Dear INDIA PRICE,

I'm going to be honest for a second here — I don't understand why professors assign group projects. I mean, okay, I get why (because it's practice for real projects at a real job in the real world... ugh), but it seems like there ought to be a better solution that doesn't put your grade in jeopardy just because your group member's girlfriend broke up with him three weeks ago and he's still inconsolable and unmotivated. (Like seriously? It's been a month! You only dated a month!)

But my moral, emotional, and spiritual qualms aren't going to help you if you're in the middle of a group project right now, because no professor is going to let you talk your way out of a group project due in a week. (You should talk to your professor, but we'll get to that.)

So, a three-step plan to get ahold of your good-for-not-nothing-but-very-little group-mates:

First, absolutely 100 percent text them. I know I'm much more likely to respond to a text than an email (and not entirely because I have a 600 unread email backlog...), and the fact is that a response should be your first priority. Who cares about how formal or informal the means is — you don't care if these people think you're a little weird, at least definitely not more than you care about that passing grade. (And I have to put in a good word for Facebook Messenger here: nothing like read receipts to let you know if they're actively ignoring you or not.)

If texts don't work, then the second step requires some face-to-face time. If you have a project together, you have a class together. Corner them. Before or after class, either works, just make it so they have to stop and pay attention to you. It's easy to ignore someone over text — it's much more difficult to ignore them when they're blocking all of the viable exits.

The third step, which can happen at any point in this process, is that you should talk to your professor about your situation. Explain that your group-mates aren't responding and that you're doing your best to complete the project but you're having difficulty. Most professors are pretty understanding, especially if you can provide a log of google doc edits or something to prove your problems, but even if they aren't then the worst thing that happens is you tried.

So good luck, godspeed, and I hope your group-mates pull their heads out of their a**es and get over their girlfriends or whatever their problems are.

Ruth