August 24, 2013 11:05 PM   Subscribe

Groupwork assignments - should I find a different partner?

I'm currently working on an assignment for a class, typically taken by grad students and senior undergraduates.

This class has three assignments, all of which are done in pairs, or individually but marked the same. All of the assignments are fairly challenging, and will take quite a lot of work to complete. Having assignments done in pairs is normal for this kind of subject.

The person I'm currently working with: assignment has been out for 3 weeks, and is due in a bit over 24 hours. Has yet to contribute anything. They don't seem incompetent, merely typical student (leave everything to the last minute, spend spare time partying.) They've not delivered on what they've said they'll do. They have said the day the assignment is due they are free and will work on it - this has obvious problems.

The assignment itself: fairly long, fairly detailed. If we were starting from scratch now, we would not finish it. Also, this is the easy assignment - the next two are more difficult.

Me: I care about my grade. I'm also fairly busy - I can't leave things to the last minute, because I'm usually doing something then (like working.) I don't care about 'fairness' a lot, but I do get more out of a class when I'm working with someone. I feel bad if I don't give a partner a chance to contribute, yet I also get particularly stressed when someone says they'll do something and they don't.

I think it's partly that we're not that compatible in how we do things. I try and do things early. They try and do things on the due date.

(For what it's worth, there are no language issues here, nor is the person in question a mediocre student. I don't think they are trying to sponge off me. The groupwork policy is basically 'you get the same mark. Don't like it? Work alone.' There are no concerns of plagiarism or anything like that.)

My options:
1) Stick with current partner. Do all the work as if I was working alone, be pleasantly surprised when they contribute.

2) Explain to partner we have incompatible styles of working together. Switch partners. I have a friend whose partner dropped the class a week back - we have been unofficially sharing helpful references and explaining things to each other... just like a good group does, excluding actually talking about the assignment specifics. They also don't leave things to the last minute.

What is my question/Why have I not already switched partners?
- How can I best explain this to previous partner, without... creating resentment?
I'd also like to avoid seeming like I 'dropped' a partner mid-course for no good reason, since in future courses I'll need to work in a pair with the same cohort of people.

- What would you do in this situation?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total)
I'd explain that I was looking for someone with a study style more similar to mine. Lots of people pull all nighters for multiple nights in a row. That doesn't mean they're bad people- just incompatible with you. (It's not you- it's me.)

It's reasonable to have a schedule that requires the kind of forward planning you need, and it's reasonable not to. You're just mismatched.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:18 PM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've always hated groupwork for just this reason, btw.

One one hand:
I think that with 24 hours to the due date in a path that will involve working with the same folks over and over again, you should try to complete the assignment with your original partner and then find a new partner ("we work in different ways due to xyz" etc). I think it could create bad vibes to dump your partner so close to the due date, for any reason.

On the other hand:
I would have dropped that partner a week ago.
posted by sm1tten at 11:22 PM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

After this assignment, switch partners. You are totally within your rights to want to work with someone who starts things before the last minute. Don't leave this person in the lurch with 24 hours until the due date, but right after you've turned in the work, break up.

If your partner is a reasonable human being he won't resent this decision. He probably feels somewhat guilty that you're plugging away so diligently already. I had to drop a partner for just this reason and he was relieved because he'd felt bad that I was pulling an unequal load; his work schedule had gotten too hectic and he just couldn't keep up with the pace I needed in order to stay on top of my own work schedule.
posted by town of cats at 11:30 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh dude just switch.don't feel bad about, don't think twice about it. You work is too important. Just say your friend is free and you would rather work with them.
posted by smoke at 12:28 AM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am one of those people who always left things to the very last second and always got good grades anyway. I often hated group work because I knew I made more methodical partners despise me. It's entirely possible that your current partner is aware of the incompatibility and has similar concerns to you. I would stick with them for this assignment, but discuss right now that you want to switch to working with your other classmate. Were I in your current partner's shoes, I would appreciate you being upfront and communicative, so that I might get started on finding a new partner myself for the next assignment.
posted by Mizu at 2:01 AM on August 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Talk to them.

Group work is about more than completing assignments. It's about learning to work in a group with other people who have different styles and methods.

You will have to deal with this for the rest of your life.

Drop the partner as a last resort and know that when you do you will probably have just earned yourself a black mark in the "works well with others" category in the eyes of the instructor.
posted by srboisvert at 5:07 AM on August 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Switch partners after this assignment---your current partner is probably annoyed that you are always bugging them to get things done way before the deadline anyway. Do the parts of this assignment that you agreed to do as well any parts that are technically assigned to your partner that you have the time and inclination to complete (I promise they won't be mad about not having a chance to contribute). Your partner can check your work during their 24 hours before the deadline mad rush to finish.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 6:27 AM on August 25, 2013

If you can switch, do, but this'll be the first time I've EVER heard of a class that did forced group assignments where they let you switch. You're probably reasonably stuck with this person for this assignment, so finish it all yourself and then after that, tell them you really can't wait until the DAY OF (really?!) to start working on assignments and you need someone else who can put the time in.

This is why I despise group assignments, because they ALWAYS go like this. Always, no matter who you are working with. One person cares about the grade and ends up doing all of the work and the other ones, well, it's like pulling teeth just to get them to show up to group meetings at all. The only lesson I learned was that (a) you can't make other people do the work, and (b) apparently it's just fine and dandy with adults to force you to cover for other people's fucking flakitude.

For the record: I've never had people bail on me at an actual job in the way that all "partners" and groups did on me throughout my entire educational career.

I would recommend "Do all the work as if I was working alone, be pleasantly surprised when they contribute." as the best way to handle group assignments, period.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:11 AM on August 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

As a lecturer that spends far too much time sorting out group work drama, it seems tricky I know. In fact I had something similar in one of my classes a few years ago. Group of three, one super organised, the other two basically a living instance of the cliched Australian 'she'll be right mate' attitude. Didn't go so well.

The suggestions to get through this first assessment and then change partners is probably ideal. Yes, part of these assignments are about getting used to working with people that work in ways that don't suit you or getting used to the reality that there are a bunch of lazy people out there that will happily do as little as possible. But there is a limit, which is perhaps the more important take away. Unfortunately there is no easy answer, and bafflingly such people will often somehow end up as your supervisor.

A good instructor or supervisor will be able to tell the difference between not being able to work with others, and being put into a difficult situation. That's where we get to the unstated aspect of these assessments - it's training in covering your arse, because you can't assume a reasonable boss.

There are some idiots out there that think they are trying to teach you 'life skills' by making you work with people you can't really work with, if only you tried a little harder. If they try that try to explain that you've tried to work things through but fundamentally you have different ways of approaching tasks. I will add though that sometimes you just have to take your lumps. For instance, I got a shit mark once on a film review assignment. I asked what I'd done wrong - apparently it was that I'd written a film review, and not a journal article.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 7:53 AM on August 25, 2013

It's too late to drop the partner.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:54 AM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

you get the same mark. Don't like it? Work alone

If that's an option, I'd choose "work alone" in a heartbeat. You're going to wind up doing that anyway with this partner, so you may as well make it official.
posted by ook at 10:02 AM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, in the workplace you don't get to pick your team members always. Lots of profs like to reinforce this in school. That means you move the useless to the least damage they can do - which means make charts and graphs and a table of contents. Beyond that, you'll do the primary research, you'll do any math necessary, you'll put in the long hours writing up any conclusions, and ultimately you'll put together any final presentation. If it makes you feel better, you let the professor know - but when they ask you what you want to do about it, tell them "Nothing. I just wanted you to know that when we both get A's this semester, the grade is from my hard labor." Then make it rain - hard work lots of effort... stiff upper lip. Metafilter has your corner, but other than that... Sorry.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:29 PM on August 25, 2013

"Hey, I've been thinking about it and I think our workstyles are incompatible. I am not free to do so much work at the last minute, and it is not how I like to do things anyway. So after this assignment is turned in I am going to change partners. Nothing personal."
posted by feets at 12:33 PM on August 25, 2013

If you are certain this person does high quality work, just at the last minute, you could do the first "half" of the assignment and hand it off to them for that last 24 hour push.
posted by salvia at 3:48 PM on August 25, 2013

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