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How to Survive a Group Project

College is supposed to prepare you for the real world, which is why professors are constantly forcing you to work with other people, even though we all know that working with other people is the best way to ruin a project. Groups that you work school projects with & that you’ll end up working with in the real world usually break down like this:

  • 10% Awesome - These people are your new BFF. Start getting close to them now, you’ll need them to keep your sanity while dealing with the bottom 60% of the people you’re stuck working with. In smaller groups, this 10% doesn’t exist. Instead, you are representative of the only awesomeness in the team. In this situation, you’ll have no choice but to rely heavily on the next group…
  • 10% Competent with Minor Prodding - These people can do good work, but they are not the leaders of the group. They take direction well & will do the work you give them, but require affirmation that they’re doing a good job. The work you coax out of them will be usable.
  • 20% Competent but Lazy - These people could do the work, but would really rather be home watching Survivor. Don’t give this group any daunting projects. They need to believe they are doing the least amount of work possible, although you can trick them into doing a decent amount by giving it to them a little bit at a time.
  • 20% Incompetent but Not Lazy - These people can barely write a coherent sentence but they a) think they can & b) really want to help. They are not useless however, since group projects require a tremendous amount of mindless busy work. These people are GREAT at mindless busywork. Put them to work doing that & they’ll mostly stay out of your way while you & the awesome people do the parts of the project the professor will actually read.
  • 30% Incompetent AND Lazy - It’s difficult to understand how these people got into college, since you can’t imagine them either doing the work to get an admission application turned in or putting anything in the application that could possibly convince an admissions committee they are college material. You can only assume these people have very rich families, which is why you must pretend to be nice to them & give them stuff to do.
  • 10% Active Sabotage - This group may or may not do good work, but it’s irrelevant since they are determined to destroy your group & your project. They do this by emitting a continuous string of arguments to any direction your group agrees to go, shooting down any idea that is not theirs, believing that any suggestion or criticism about their work is a personal attack against them, going to the professor behind your back & saying that they’re not being included enough, etc. You know the type.

The way to survive group projects is to team up with the awesome people & forge a bond to get around the uselessness of the rest of your group. If you play your cards right, you can overcome more incompetence than you ever thought you could! Here’s how you do it:

1.) You & the awesome people will do the majority of the real work. Get used to it. This is how it’s going to be for the rest of your life. If you wanted to not do work, you shouldn’t have been so awesome. Live & learn.

2.) You can give a little of real work to the competent with minor prodding people with very specific instructions. Take turns sending them encouraging & over-praising emails. Let these people think they are in with the awesome people. This keeps them happy & semi-productive.

3.) Give things that are kind of important but can be done at the last minute—the works cited, executive summary, appendices, & Power Point slides—to the competent but lazy people. The key is to never give them anything that anyone else in your group will have to wait on to be able to do their part. Make them wait for the rest of you, not the other way around.

4.) Give things that are necessary but time-consuming & hard to mess up—table of contents, charts & graphs, title page with everyone’s names even though not everyone worked on the project—to the incompetent but not lazy people. These are also excellent people to be put in charge of the printing, but someone from one of the competent groups needs to check everything before you turn it in.

5.) Have the incompetent AND lazy people “proofread” everything. Make sure that you save the version you have before they get their hands on it.

6.) Spend the entire semester quietly poisoning the rest of your group’s opinion of the actively sabotaging people behind their back. Chances are, you won’t need to, since these people are annoying enough on their own, but just to be sure, constantly check people’s temperature of them & knock it down even more when you can. When peer evaluations come around, agree with everyone that these people did not make positive contributions to the group. Do NOT do anything unless you are sure the rest of your group agrees to do it together. If you are the only giving a bad peer eval to a person & that person gives you a bad eval too, the professor will have no choice but to assume that the two of you had a personal vendetta. However if everyone in the group gives the person a bad eval & that person gives you a bad eval, the professor will assume that that person is “not a team player.” And that is the sweetest revenge.

Internships: Networking Paradise? Or Copy-Making Indentureship?

Recently, I came across this unbelievable story from Gawker about the New York Sun‘s incredible intern guidelines. (“Interns are expected to remain on the premises until given a ‘goodnight’ from [the editor to whom they report].” And: “Interns will not be admitted to the newsroom without a suit and tie—matching jacket & slacks, belt, white or blue shirt, necktie properly knotted, shoes polished.” Yes, to answer your question, this is an unpaid internship.)

It is when I read stories like this that I thank my lucky stars that I managed to work at five different internships between undergrad and grad school…& none of them were all that offensive.

As a veteran intern, I feel the need to defend the internship experience a little. I did actually do one unpaid internship, my first, at a non-profit organization. I liked it so much, I stayed on for the fall semester. For the record, all of my internships had business casual dress codes, which was good because as a poor college student, I owned exactly one suit. I never made coffee. I wasn’t above making copies or answering the phone, but I also wrote press releases picked up by the major newspaper in a top five media market in the US. I secured two donated media placements guaranteeing 26 million advertising impressions for a non-profit organization, & the successfully wrangled a printer willing to donate the $2,500 worth of printing to produce the ads (this took like two weeks to accomplish, but was so completely worth it when I did). I represented, wrote, & spoke for brands like Verizon Wireless, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, Texas Instruments, Cisco, & Hyundai. I babysat reporters on the back of a media truck following Lance Armstrong as he rode around Austin with 6,500 of his fellow cancer survivors.

Internships can be fantastic learning experiences, great networking opportunities, & a way to get “real world” work experience on your resume before you graduate…if you get one of the many good ones. Yes, there are many New York Suns on there whose internships are a joke & mostly useless. (Another of the Sun‘s rules? “Interns who ask for a byline [for their work on an article] or who complain about a byline decision will be terminated.”) So how do you find a good one? Here’s five great places to look:

1.) Your School. Your college’s Career Services office will have a job bank on their Web site listing jobs & internships in your field. They’ll also often hold internship fairs where you can talk to local employers about opportunities at their companies. Talk to Career Services counselors about your potential internships, often they will have information about the experience from other students who interned there. Employers who get reported as bad experiences by many students are often blacklisted by schools.

2.) & You can look for internships in all different fields all around the country with these two free, top-rated sites.

3.) There are many great opportunities to intern with non-profit organizations that you can find through Because of non-profits tend to have limited resources, human & otherwise, there are often tremendous opportunities for interns to take on many responsibilities that would be handled by full-time personnel in for-profit companies.

4.) &
Want to go abroad for the summer or a semester? Get some get great work experience while you’re at it. Search for an employer through these sites & don’t forget to check to see if you can get course credit from your school for your time there!

5.) Craigslist.
It costs like a lot of money to post a job on Monster. It costs $25 to post on Craigslist. Thus, pretty much everyone posts on Craigslist. Yes, you will have to wade through tons of bad stuff to get to good postings, but you will find a lot of great employers advertising their great internships there too.

Check out this site for more internship search resources.

PS: The National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) reports that employers said they extended full-time job offers to nearly 70 percent of their interns in 2008. Forty-seven percent of employers said that they prefer hiring candidates for full-time positions who gained experience through an internship or co-op program. Proving that’s it’s definitely a good idea to get an internship or five while you’re still in school.

Just not at the Sun.