I, like many of you, entered college and decided that picking the most difficult major possible -- I don't want to hear it, pre-meds! -- was a good idea. As you begin your classes, comforted by the familiar calculus principles and the welcoming embrace of Newton's laws, you have no idea that you will soon be subjected to what can be the most painful and grueling experience of your first year: group projects. Something about engineering, more than any other subject, seems to inspire in teachers the need to group their students into small, manageable groups that can be thrown at one assignment and be expected to make something great. With the disparate and bullheaded personalities of many engineering students, this goal is optimistic at best. These projects, often occurring in the background while professors move on to weeks of new material, can cause the students in charge of their completion a significant amount of stress, which is an engineering term which here means "pain and suffering." However, if you can work your way through weeks of work in a few nights and muscle your way through the dissonant opinions of your compatriots, you will find that you will survive the ordeal with a few bits of valuable experience.
1. Not all of the engineering stereotypes are true
In your first engineering class, you may be surprised to see a distinct lack of the headgear and asthma inhalers that you would expect based on every teen drama you've ever seen. Relief washes over you as you see that not only are engineering students just like normal people, but some of them are even girls; or if you're one of those engineering girls then you're relieved to see that the guys weren't half bad. Right? Right?? Anyway, by the time you were put into your first engineering group you had already found that engineering students could be just like everyone else.
2. Some of the engineering stereotypes are true
However, after you start working more closely with a group of engineering students, you will notice a few things. One or a few of your fellow group members might have an idea for the project that they express a little to strongly at the expense of listening to anyone else. They might work a little too hard on their own, but not hard enough when the group gets together. They might try to dominate a conversation, or an assignment, or the entire godd*** project. This one person shows you why some people don't get along with engineering students. Everyone in the group knows who it is and, unfortunately, if you don't see that person in your group, then, it's probably you.
3. Groups can let you get away with a lot
After the first introductions are made, the work begins. You schedule your first meeting, and the first assignments to be completed for your project and pledge to your group with great confidence that you will complete your assigned task. However, life gets in the way and as other classes bombard you with extra work, you may find your part of the project falling to the bottom of a large pile of work, none of which is likely to be completed in time. When you finally remember that group meeting and arrive ten minutes late, you will feel dread fill your body as you are forced to face your group, only to find that several other members didn't do their work, and one person did enough work for everyone. Well, that was anticlimactic, wasn't it?
4. Groups won't let you get away with anything
After the first few weeks, the assignments become more serious and the work becomes a little more involved. The rest of the group can't pick up your slack anymore, and you'll find that the comfortable safety net you established for yourself has turned into a nest of snakes, ready to engulf you at the drop of a hat. Every missed assignment, late write-up, and lackluster effort will be analyzed by a board of experts who all have their grades riding on your work.
5. Group projects never work out well
As you and your group schedule meetings, divide up work, and plan out the course of your project, you will feel hugely optimistic for your project. You're full of bold ideas and brave new experiments and anything you say could take off into a grand new invention which will be recognized for it's extreme genius when it comes to fruition. However, after a few weeks of working little and accomplishing less, you will discover that the course of true group projects never did run smooth. You will find yourself tempted to scrap the entire project and start from the beginning when the nights get longer and more unproductive. A week before the due date, you will most likely find yourself at the bottom of a deep pit of despair, having lost all hope in the abilities of college-age students.
6. Group projects always work out in the end
Fortunately, every engineering group project ends the same way: at the lowest point, when all hope is lost, the entire project turns around. Suddenly, everyone is working together and ideas support each other rather than fight for dominance. Physical prototypes are constructed at lightning speed and complex formulas express themselves in the simplest possible terms. A project that at once seemed insurmountable and immovable suddenly becomes a matter of time. The last week of any project is full of long nights, but the time becomes very productive rather than wasted. In the final hours, the project is birthed into the world in its final form, powered by the ideas that you had so many weeks ago. The final project is as good as it could possibly be, and even if it's not perfect then, at least, it's complete. You bask in the glory of a fight well fought, unaware that another group project lies just a few weeks away.