Diary of a Postgrad student – tips for group work

There is a good chance that you will be doing group work as part of your degree. This is where I’m lucky. I have had over 20 people reporting directly to me and I have run a call centre with over 500 people working in it. I’ve also had to manage people based all over the world, so have not had the luxury of face to face meetings. So here are my tips for working in a group.

  1. Don’t take responsibility for everyone else. Everyone will have their own work style. Some will be up all night. Some up early. Some will like stuff done in advance, some will leave it to the last minute. Trying to get other people to fit the way you like to work will just stress you out.
  2. Understand group dynamics. There will almost always be one member of the group that disagrees with everything. They often deflect from their own activities by focusing on yours. This can be super annoying! They are just insecure and it’s easier for them to deflect by looking at your stuff. Get used to using a standard phrase like “Ok, interesting, I’ll keep that in mind” or simply “Thanks”. You won’t be able to win with these people. Anything you say will be wrong. So don’t try. Just go with the flow.
  3. Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve. When you meet to discuss, go in with a clear goal “By the end of this meeting we will have…”. Without a goal you can get lost down rabbit holes and not achieve anything you need. This is where the 5-6 hour meetings come from.
  4. Content is more important than formatting. Everyone has different ideas on formatting, and in reality, it can be done when you are not together. When you are together as a group, make sure you are discussing content of the project so that you can get everyone’s input. The correct phrasing or the layout of the work can be finalised when you are not together. If you find yourself getting lost in aesthetics, just put a bullet as a placeholder and move on to the next topic.
  5. Version control is key. Appoint one person as responsible for the master document/presentation. They take everyone’s input and add it. Always save each revision with a different version number; something as simple as draft 1, draft 2 etc is fine. This avoids losing some critical changes and also ensures the correct version is submitted!
  6. Use an online collaboration tool that you all agree on. The key to group work is that a lot of it happens on your own. So you need a way of communicating and sharing when you are all dispersed. Google Slides and Google Docs are brilliant for giving everyone the flexibility to work to their own schedule. Alternatively email or Facebook Messenger groups can be useful for quick detail checks with everyone. Just make sure everyone in the group is on Facebook Messenger or checking email.

Learning this skill will help you when you go out into the workplace. You can spend up to 50% of your day in meetings and conference calls, depending on your job. These typically last 30-60 minutes and will have a running action plan through them with owners and timelines. So getting in these habits while at Uni will really help you in the workplace.


Written by:

Hi, my name is Dawn Walton and I am a 44 year old therapist that lives in the Dundee area. I'm originally from Anglesey in North Wales, but I've lived here for 17 years. My first degree was in Computing at UMIST in Manchester. Now I'm studying a Masters in Psychological Research Methods with the aim of going on to do a Phd.

I love Starbucks and Pokemon Go. So they are likely to feature in my posts quite often!

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    One Response to “Diary of a Postgrad student – tips for group work”

    1. Some very useful points about group work, Dawn! I’m just about to tweet your post from our departmental account (rather than the one I’ve put in the website link). The other thing I’d add about technology supported communication, is that it’s often best to find the tool the least tech savvy person in the group is comfortable with, rather than the latest whizzy one (however fun that seems to the one who likes it!)

      Fully agree that Google Docs etc, has made version control so much easier – (as long as all group members have good connectivity).

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