and Other Key Ways You
Benefit from Group Work
BY JUSTIN FAIR AND ANNE KONDO
As a chemistry or biochemistry major in college, you will spend years learning how to think on a molecular scale, developing problem-solving skills, building your chemical intuition, and meticulously honing laboratory techniques. It’s easy to understand the value of doing so: employers want to hire people with
these technical skills. But it might surprise you to learn that
many employers look more critically at your ability to work with
others than your grade point average! 1
In some fields, learning and practicing teamwork, interpersonal, and collaborative skills are essential parts of the experience. Engineering and information technology, for example, are
fields that explicitly teach these skills in their coursework.
But in other fields, including chemistry and biology, it’s
different. Teamwork experiences may be part of laboratory
courses, but the interpersonal and collaborative skills needed
for success are often assumed to be innate or learned prior to
coming to college.
Think back to a class you had where the professor first mentioned a group project — maybe a group paper or a short class
presentation. Which of the following best describes your initial
• Leaped excitedly from your seat and high-fived the best
friends you always work with, because group project = late-night pizza parties with lots of laughter.
• Nodded in satisfaction, because your workload just got cut
to x%, where x = 100 ÷ #group members.
• Slumped in your chair with a groan, because group project
= you doing all the work for the freeloaders who never carry
their own weight.
• Groaned, because the last thing you need is extra out-of-class work on top of your job, homework, and everything
else in your life.
• Whipped out your phone to check if it’s too late to
withdraw from the class.
Often students see teamwork as simply a division of labor
that assigns more critically valued tasks and responsibilities
to individual group members based on their respective roles,
such as team leader or reporter. But teamwork is most effective
when the roles are closer to being equal and tasks are collabora-
tive in nature. Strong evidence shows that effective group work
enhances the development of knowledge, critical thinking skills,
Think about it. You’ve probably had a range of lab partners:
everything from the questioning, helpful, and considerate to the
idle, texting-the-whole-time, and won’t-help-with-calculations.
And don’t forget about the classic type-A partner: the bossy,
do-it-perfectly one. Whom did you prefer working with?