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Engineering Groups and the Biggest Loser

December 13, 2010

I don’t have cable programming anymore and past the first season of Survivor however many years ago and an occasional guilty pleasure with Project Runway I don’t watch a whole lot of reality television. So I guess it’s surprising I watched a little of this latest season’s Biggest Loser.

I don’t want to talk about what I think about the whole competition itself (though like most reality programming I feel drawn to it like people are drawn to watch a car wreck). But what I did find was interesting was they started the program with teammates. Two people competed together as a team unit. About nine episodes in they drop the partner scheme and they are back to competing as inviduals.

What I thought was interesting was the individuals’ perspective on the change. Most were disappointed. Even though the individual work counted, that second person was someone you could fall back on for support and coping.

And I started to think about my engineering groups. Usually I rail against school-based group projects. Somehow you have four people and you would think that means you each only have to do one quarter of the total work but somehow it ends up being more like four times the work for each person.

I’m a shy person. And I don’t mind working with others in the workplace, but it always came off as too forced and too social at school. But you know what? I realized I would never have met these people or formed these pseudo-friendships with them otherwise. I’m a self-sufficient person. I’d like to think I don’t need to “make friends” (don’t I have to pay some reality tv show guru for using that phrase?) That I’m there to get my degree and I honestly don’t have time to be hanging out with these people so what’s the point in being super friendly.

But it’s nice to meet up with members from groups past. And have that common ground where you struggled on the same team for a goal. Where for some reason you care a little bit about their success and you know they care a little bit about yours. Someone you can casually wave hi to or who it’s nice to see when you show up alone at the lab and recognize a friendly face.

So even though up until this point I’m usually pretty negative on how school groups function on projects, and I still think it’s nothing like the “real world”, there’s something really beneficial about it. I don’t know how you’d incorporate that better into an engineering curiculum because when I think back on the early and smaller engineering group projects I did not form bonds with those people or remember them past project completion. But there is something to having someone there who cares a little bit more about you than just anyone and knows exactly what you’re going through.

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