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Why do schools continually push the idea of teamwork?

  1. Apr 26, 2006 #1


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    This past semester I've been working in a group of 4 to look at a certain ketone found in hazelnuts, and it is by far the most frustrating experience I've ever had; every single problem is because people are expected to work together.
    The project was 8 weeks of lab, 4 hours per week.

    First we started with synthesizing this ketone in order to quantify how much is found in hazelnut oil. The first step of in a 4-step synthesis was to oxidize an alcohol into an aldehyde, which requires an expensive reagent called pyridinium chlorochromate (PCC). Due to the high cost, the amount of alcohol initially used in this synthesis was very low, only about 0.25g; just to see how the reaction would go. I had several of these reactions going at different times to see which one makes the best product and doesn't form acids/esters/hemiacetals/etc.
    When the reactions were done and the solvent was rotovapped off, it didn't look like any of the flasks contained any liquid, which seems normal since I only started with 0.25g of alcohol. While I helped one of my team mates set up a few other things, another team mate cleaned all the flasks out because "I don't think they contained any product".
    Well that's just great. 1 week gone. 7 left to get work done.

    One of the people in the group was a meticulous note taker, but wasn't very good at chemistry. Because of this, we had it so she wrote down what was going on, and we did it. This is normally a bad idea, but we were under very serious time constraints. It worked fine, until she stopped showing up. About 4 weeks into the project she simply stopped coming to school. She missed all labs, all lectures, everything. She did not answer emails or phone calls. There was absolutely no way to contact her. That wouldn't be a big deal for how we did things if she didn't take our data with her. She left us with no documented program for how we were running the GC, nothing written down for what the letter codes on our samples meant, none of the nut statics we did, and none of the chemical information we had. We had to figure out a new temperature program for the GC. We had to throw out all extracted oil samples because we didn't know what the letter codes meant (which is why we had her write it down). We had to redo all nut statistics. We had to lookup all chemical information we had.
    2 more weeks wasted. 5 weeks remain to do work.

    After a few weeks we were required to do a basic rough outline of what we were doing, including a budget, time line, and literature references we're basing this on. I did some work, it was ok. The group leader did work, and it was great. The third team mate did work that was just horrible. He would construct something completely nonsensical and send it to the group leader to get it handed in (I was not the group leader). She, the group leader, would say it's not very good, explain what is missing or should be changed, then send it back to him as well as CC a copy to me so I know what's going on. The team leader sent stuff back to him at least 3 or 4 times, and each new one he did was still crap, such as a hand-written point-form overview of foreseeable problems, but it was actually a list of problems that already happened. The group leader eventually just did it herself in order to get it done by the deadline.
    This didn't cost us time in weeks, but the group leader had to work a hell of a lot harder than she should be required to.

    Later on we started doing radical scavenging (antioxidant) capacity of hazelnut oil. The group leader did a bunch of kinetics scans which look at absorbance changes over 10 minutes. She did about 30 scans which created about 90 pages of paperwork (that's double-sided). She gave the papers to the retarded guy since she was going to do the GC work and I was doing the FTIR work. A week later retard says he lost all of the printouts, so the group leader spent 1-2 hours finding and printing last week's documents. During this time, the group leader isn't doing any GC work. I can't do the GC work because I haven't been following what the group leader was doing (I was busy with the FTIR). Retard can't do any of the GC work because he's not enrolled in chromatography or even spectroscopy; he really has no understanding of any of the equipment we were using.
    1 week gone, 4 remain to do real work.

    After that week, retard guy went to Malaysia for 3 weeks without a valid reason. He missed enough labs to fail each of his lab courses, and he left the group with more work than ever. We even had the instructor helping us with lab work because half of our team had disbanded.

    After the end of the 8 weeks, we had to write a technical report of all this. The group leader did the rough copy of everything we did, then sent it to me for editting. I would edit as much as I could, add parts that I did, add tables and figures relating to what I did, then send it back to her because I'm missing some data, such as a chromatogram she has. She would edit as much as she could then send it back to me to add something else. This document would go back and forth repeatedly, and get better each time. The problem is that this process has huge time delays because we have different time schedules. I'll work on it for 3 hours then send it to her at midnight. She's asleep at that time so she can't work on it until the next day. She'll do some work on it then send it, and I'll get it while I'm asleep. There's a 1 day time delay every time one sends it to the other, and there's usually only about 3 hours of work I can put into it before I need to send it to her to get her to put in what she did, what results she got, or what those results mean. We can't fill in the other person's stuff because we really don't know what the other person did; I've never once used the GC for this project and she has never used the FTIR.
    The final report was due 1 week after the last lab; report was due last friday, April 21? I sent my final revisions to the group leader on monday April 24 for her to add her standard operating procedure and experimental data (meaning actual chromatograms, not tabulated data). Tuesday I got an email from the instructor asking where the hell the report is, so on Tuesday I called the group leader to find out what's up, only to find she was working that day, so I had no way to contact her. Today is Wednesday and I'm still not sure what the hell is up. Each day late is -10%, so right now we're at -30% and the report is still a piece of crap.

    If this project was just me, it would be great. If it was just the group leader, it would be great. Together it's crap, and it has only been sabotaged by the other 2 group members who are now dead to us.
    It's time we stop pretending that team work actually gets things done. Am I the only one who remembers that math problem asking you to prove that having more people makes a situation more likely to fail?

    A and B each have 10% chance of failure on their own. Together they fail is A fails, B fails, or both A and B fail. Total failure is:
    (0.1)(0.1) + (0.9)(0.1) + (0.1)(0.9) = 0.19 = 19% failure
    Together A and B are 90% more likely to fail.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 26, 2006 #2


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    teamwork, just as diversity, is total Bull----. :biggrin:
  4. Apr 26, 2006 #3
    Sorry you had a bad experiance

    Hi Shawn,

    thinking about advice for others doing group work...

    what safe guards would yo put in place next time you do group work concidering the problems you have had this time?
    • to protect against data loss
    • to reduce the chance of late submission
    • to improve the communication between the group

    has the tutor put in place sutible constraints/allowances for the possiblity of the group not working? If the groups were formed out of practical need rather than a stated learning benfit you probally have leaverage for an extension.

    Hope it all works out for you

  5. Apr 26, 2006 #4

    Chi Meson

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    When teams work well, they work synergistically and produce something better than any could have done alone. We have to know how to work in a team and part of that is knowing how to recognize what people you want in a team. It would be more fair if you could choose your team members such that you'd be complementary in talents, but that's not what happens in school, is it? It is unfair if this grade affects your future as a scientist, but in truth I doubt it will.
  6. Apr 26, 2006 #5
    I'm not a great fan of group work. Works assigned usually don't get finished on time, or are messed up, and often don't go the way you'd like your work to go. We do group work in math, about two, three times a week. Nice, that I have good relationships with the teacher. He's my friend. He never forces me to work with others, anyway I alone, often finish the work before any groups. It doesn't mean that I know the stuff better than anybody. It means that people can barely co-operate and work together in groups. There frequently is a person who doesn't mind to work, but talk instead.

    On the other hand, we sometimes have to work in groups on science projects. My first project had to be done with a table partner who lived about 25 miles away from me. We couldn't finish the work in school, because we had different lunch-periods, and the school is closed about 20minutes after the 10th class. Since I didn't want to get a 0, I decided to do all the work myself. Second project I had to do with the very same person. This time we divided the work into two parts. He brought half-a-project for a 55. Grammatical errors all over the place. It didn't contain the proper informations, or I can even say, any informations at all. It probably took him less than 5 minutes to do it. Good that I've done what we were supossed to, that gave us an 80. We also do group works in almost every class. A few days there was a group class project to do from biology on DNA. On the first 2 days, my partners decided to play cards instead. It brought me into the :grumpy: mood. I crossed out their names of the project and tried to finish in myself. They went to the teacher and all of them said they've done the work. I was ordered to write their names again. 2 of them were absent the next 2 days. Guess what, we haven't done even half the work we should. Now I chose a 0 and don't give a s.... about the project. We do group works in english, at least these are pretty nice, since everyone is afraid of the teacher. Whenever you're idling, not doing the right thing, talking or whatever, she call your house, or bring you up to share your fun with the principal. It causes everybody to do the work.

    The pluses of group work written by the previous poster only work when all the people want to do work and learn. It doesn't happen in an averaged school. Whenever you can, I'd suggest you try to get out of the group work and do all the work alone. I'm sure most of the teachers will understand the problem.

    Last edited: Apr 26, 2006
  7. Apr 26, 2006 #6


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    One reason is that when you get out into the "real" world and get a job, you quite often have to work with or depend in some way on other people. Unfortunately most of these people are incompetent. The sooner you learn how to guide or work around or work with others of varying skills, the better.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2006
  8. Apr 26, 2006 #7
    In the real world people get fired. Its a worthless comparison and you know it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2006
  9. Apr 26, 2006 #8


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    No, in the real world, you're stuck with these nimnals, they only get fired in your dreams. Trust me on this.
  10. Apr 26, 2006 #9
    What's a nimnal?
  11. Apr 26, 2006 #10


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    In the real world, an operation has a monthly staff meeting to assign tasks out to each office and hear about the progress of each office on tasks assigned during the last meeting. In a smoothly functioning operation, one of the people responsible for pulling this meeting off goes around to each office ahead of time to get an idea in advance of how much progress has been made on previously assigned tasks and an idea of what new issues are likely to come up (i.e. - he prepares the meeting's agenda).

    The advantage of this is that each office will spend the day before the meeting fervently trying to accomplish at least a little progress on a project hoping to avoid total embarrassment. Of course, the problem with this is that the task they were assigned requires coordination with a different office, which is fervently trying to make a little progress on their own neglected project.

    At least everyone has time to come up with well thought out excuses.

    A poorly functioning organization has staff meetings that last two or three days as people randomly fire ideas off the cuff about how they're handling their neglected project. Having tap danced cluelessly through the meeting, a person's office is now committed to rolling ice cubes up a hot sliding board.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2006
  12. Apr 26, 2006 #11


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    ShawnD, i completely agree. I'm in my last semester in Computer Science and working in my senior design project, with a group of 5, and i'm doing 95% of the work. I have to because we have to present this project to people and my team members don't care if they came to the presentation with nothing to show, but i do. Instead they're asking me to do their part for them, not showing up for the bi-weekly meetings with the instructor, making up excuses (2 hard drives have crashed in the past weeks, apparently) and then arguing amongst themselves, having done 0. Senior design, of all classes. Some people are just in the wrong major and just get in the way, no offense or anything.
  13. Apr 26, 2006 #12


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  14. Apr 26, 2006 #13


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  15. Apr 26, 2006 #14


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    I have this sudden mental image of Evo wielding a fist of death.
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