Show motivation and be positive. Active listening, being
engaged, and accepting constructive criticism make for a good
group participant. If your heart is not in the project, that indifference can be contagious. Nonverbal signals like crossed arms and
poor posture could give the perception that you are unapproachable, don’t care, or are clueless. If you are a person who takes a
while to make new friends, know that your lack of effort may be
perceived as “snobbish.” Other people prefer to be around positive individuals. Negativity can be toxic and can squash a collaborative effort or even kill a project before it starts.
Look at things from a positive perspective. Is a deadline looming? The project will be done soon! Are there insufficient funds?
We have to be extra-creative! The more supportive members are,
the more collaboration occurs. A project can become very successful if everyone in the group is willing to assist each other. Before
you know it, your team will be crossing the finish line.
Have empathy when the situation warrants it. If you
can’t make a meeting, notify other group members as soon as
you know, and send any project comments you prepared for the
meeting in writing, in advance. Just don’t make it a habit! Lack of
attendance or showing up unprepared signals, “I don’t care.” If
someone else can’t make a meeting, cut them some slack (once or
twice). Group members might be working on other projects, have
personal commitments, have jobs or children, or have time con-
flicts with other classes or due dates. Empathy and understanding
go a long way toward building a can-do team spirit. If someone is
slacking and gives lame excuses, it is perfectly appropriate to call
them on it; part of a strong interpersonal skill set is getting every-
one to do their share.
Be respectful and humble. Remember that learning is
a lifelong process. You will find gaps in your team members’
knowledge base — and that is OK. “Bad ideas” can help good ones
bubble up, and can help you recognize when you have landed a
great one. Realize that everyone in the group has something to
offer. Two keys for any group are identifying who is best at each
task and expecting that no one person will be the best at all tasks.
The person with limited ideas during the brainstorming meeting
might be an awesome editor or a presentation wizard. Know your
limits, when to express them, and when to ask for help.
Handle conflicts in a constructive manner. All sorts of
conflicts can arise — from opposing opinions about the project
to grating personality differences between group members.
Conflicts can be displayed verbally, nonverbally, or both — and
typically stem from poor communication or past issues between
group members. That being said, conflict on scientific projects is
sometimes how fields advance. If conflict is handled correctly and
respectfully, group members can feel confident about expressing their ideas and providing constructive criticism. So encourage
team members to focus on the task at hand and be dedicated to
the success of the project. As each person buys into the project,
trust will grow.
The next step is yours
Companies have revealed that teamwork, interpersonal, and collaborative skills are more highly valued than traditional technical
skills acquired in college. Use the time you have left in school to
identify opportunities to practice these important skills and integrate them into your everyday life.
Put simply: be the group member you would want to work with.
Others will want to work with you, enhancing your marketability
and that of the degree you have worked so hard for.
Justin Fair is associate professor in the
chemistry department at Indiana University
of Pennsylvania. He has a Ph.D. in organic
chemistry and has research interests in
organolithium methodology, green chemistry, and organic laboratory curriculum.
Anne Kondo is associate professor in the chemistry department at Indiana
University of Pennsylvania. She has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and has
research interests in chemical education and physical chemistry.
1. Fair, J. D.; Kleist, E. M; Stoy, D. M. A Survey of Industrial Organic Chemists:
Understanding the Chemical Industry’s Needs of Current Bachelor-Level Graduates.
Journal of Chemical Education, 2014, 91 ( 12), 2084–2092.
2. Davidson, N.; Major, C. H. Boundary Crossings: Cooperative Learning, Collaborative
Learning, and Problem-Based Learning. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching,
2014, 25 ( 3& 4), 7–55.
What You Can Do Now
Group work offers a great way for you to begin developing your
teamwork, interpersonal, and collaborative skills — but it is up
to you to find ways to practice and fine-tune your skills. Here are
four ways you can begin building professional skills now:
1. BECOME AC TIVE IN YOUR STUDENT CHAPTER. Groups like
your ACS student chapter often feature great diversity, and you
may encounter a variety of personalities as you meet, plan, and
conduct outreach and social events. Both leadership and non-leadership roles offer opportunities to practice and reflect on your
teamwork and interpersonal skills.
2. TUTOR A FELLOW STUDENT. If your chapter offers tutoring,
for example, this can be a great way to practice and enhance
teamwork and collaboration skills. In addition, explaining scientific principles and problem-solving skills to underclassmen gives
you a chance to review previous class material and make connections between lower and higher level course work.
3. JOIN A STUDY GROUP OUTSIDE OF CLASS. Laboratory group
partners and study groups provide for both in-class, structured
group interactions and out-of-class, unstructured interactions.
These two settings will provide multiple opportunities for you to
practice teamwork, interpersonal, and collaborative skills — and
just as importantly, a chance to reflect on how others perceive you.
4. ATTEND OR PRESENT YOUR RESEARCH AT A REGIONAL OR
NATIONAL ACS MEETING. ACS regional and national meetings
are chock-full of new people and events. Meetings have posters
and oral presentations, workshops, and opportunities for networking and refining your interpersonal and collaborative skills.