There’s something about group work at Imperial that just brings the best out of people, isn’t there? It’s like a cross between Ocean’s Eleven and that scene from the Power Rangers where everyone teams up and combines into a giant robot penis.
I think everyone knows how shit group work is, because my department does its best to hide the fact that a piece of work is to be done in a group until the very last moment, as if there’s a small chance some of us will just quit the degree if we find out too early. But eventually, with a crushing inevitability, the group work will come. It will find you. And then the process goes a little something like this.
First, you’ll find your go-to partner. The one person you can rely on not to urinate a little between the pages of the report just before you hand it in. You’ll look at each other across the lecture hall and just give a little nod, like you’re in an episode of Hustle or something. It actually makes you look like someone’s tugging you off underneath the lecture hall desks, but you think it looks cool, so that’s fine.
But that’s just two people. You know what they say about two - it’s company, and this shit isn’t about cuddling in front of the fire. Oh no. We want a bloody group, don’t we? A big manly group. So you need three more people. This starts off pretty simply, because you tend to just discover another pair like yours. There’s usually something slightly off about them at first, though. You know the sort of situation - it’s like when someone you thought was normal introduces you to someone they ‘knew at secondary school’ and they look like an axe-murderer who discovered Jesus, and then rediscovered axe-murdering in the middle of a communion session.
Problem is, it’s slim pickings because everyone else you know has sodded off into a group of their own by now, so you hire the crazy and crazier two-pack. Four people. Now this is looking good. This is what we’re after; a big manly group. But there’s a bit missing, we need five people! Five is the manliest number possible. And what does every man needs? He needs a massive dick. So you go and find one. It’s not like you actively go searching for one, it’s just that you find yourself unable to lie about group work. So when the most useless, feckless pile of skin shaped like a student asks you if your group is full, you just say no. Mostly, this is out of a desire to just get the five people and start work, but it’s also partly because you know you’re going to end up with an arsehole like him one way or another, because all the good group members have gone. It’s the Year Seven football tournament all over again.
So you’ve assembled the Special Needs X-Men. Congratulations. Now it’s time to start work! Hey, I’ve got an idea, why don’t we distribute the work according to our relative strengths and weaknesses, and conduct regular meetings to review work and co-ordinate our efforts! No? Okay, just pick whatever you want to do and we’ll meet again in eight weeks’ time.
Time passes. Wars are fought, companies rise and fall, governments strive tirelessly to improve the lives of their citizens. You download the latest episodes of Dexter and think about buying an electric toothbrush. It sounds like a good idea, but you stop using it after it begins to make noises like a cordless drill.
After a few weeks of ball-scratching you get down to work, complete a few tasks and finally get ready to meet your group. Hooray! Everyone’s worked really hard in the last week or two and you’ve got a lot of things to put together.
Oh no wait, it’s all got to be done in the next twelve hours. And a report. That’s okay, though, because you’ve given the report to the guy who’s “really good at writing”. He’s got an A Level in Advanced Words or something. Cool, man, cool.
Eleven hours and fifty-eight minutes later, you finish picking out the last of the misplaced full stops and missing capital letters from his work, and hit print. You shuffle it together with the project work, put enough staples into it to kill a rhinoceros, and throw it in the general direction of your tutor.
But it’s okay, you’re so often told, the real working world is like this all the time! Why is it like this? Because the real working world was educated in the same half-arsed, unguided ‘group work’ environment you were.