My hatred of group projects began in the third grade. I can be very precise about this because it was one of the most traumatic developmental moments of my life. Like my traumatic moments, stripped to its bare bones, it was pretty silly. But to third-grade-me it world-shattering. It shaped how I felt about projects, but more than that it shaped I perceived other people and developed my sense of ownership over that in which I have invested.
Here's the scheme.
At the end of project day, we got to take our projects home, and I was deliberately squeezed out by the other kids who developed a plan for taking a few pieces separate and having a rotation of having the model at home. I got no turn in the rotation. They got the teacher's blessing by taking all the credit for the work, while I stood to the side. Stunned. Crying.
From then on, group projects were to be avoided at all costs.
Over time, the sting of that experience softened, and by the time I was in college I didn't hate them with quite the same passion, but I still dreaded them. Rather than credit or ownership, it was carrying the load that wore me down. I remember a series of group geography projects in which I was the only one in my group who knew roughly where London and Paris were and knew that Egypt was still a country, not just something "from Bible times." I wasn't just producing the work, I was having to remediate their education.
Group projects, it seems, are either hateful or wearying.
Grad school forced me to change that, though. A research project cannot be a one-person job. A thesis is the work of the entire committee. Solitary work was a non-starter. Avoiding group edits or contributions to to my thesis was a non-option. In the end, my thesis had my name on it. In the end, it defined my academic career. In the end, it established my foothold in the world of scholarship.
And yet, in the end, it was no longer the research I had done or the thesis I had written.
It was the research we had done, and the thesis we had produced.
Sometimes the contributions were valuable. Sometimes the edits, corrections, and suggestions made sense. Sometimes the shifting of my theoretical framework were welcome. Being forced to soften my conclusion? Not welcome. Neither was getting back an entire chapter back with one comment: "This is too poorly written for me to even read and comment on." Neither was being forced to include data from researchers I didn't know or didn't trust.
I had to learn to separate my work from our work. I had control over my research, and I had to learn to be satisfied in that. I could write the thesis the way I wanted to before giving it to my committee, and I could be proud of that. Once I had done my part, and it was in the group's hands, I had to to realize that it was no longer mine. It was ours.
And, in the end, I'm proud of the thesis we produced, too. Is it the thesis I would have written on my own? No, not entirely. Is it true to my essential vision for the project, though? Yes. Is it better? Maybe; they think so. And the truth is, it doesn't matter if it's better or if it's worse. Because, even though it's my name on it, it's the product of all our combined efforts.
Now, as I prepare to query Sublimation to agents, I'm glad that I've had that experience. A novel that is published out of a publishing house is a group project, too. I can write the novel I want and be proud of it. But, in the end, the novel that hits the shelves will be the product of our combined efforts, even though it's my name on it.