The last few weeks have been a blur of intensive project work. We’ve had two programming projects, one individual and one group.
Simulating Relativistic Decays
The first programming project was for the relativity module. We had to simulate the energy distribution of neutrinos from a set of particle decays. This individual project was an interesting test of applying what we had learnt in the module, combining programming skills and careful consideration of the scenario. Since the project was assessed automatically, this required a lot of scrutiny to the specifications given for variable names and the units values were presented in.
Statistical Application and Group Tensions
While the first project went quite smoothly for me, the second was rather bumpy. We had to write a report in groups where we applied the methods of statistical analysis learnt to simulated Higgs Boson data from the LHC.
However, shortly before the report deadline, we realised we were at 175% of the page limit. I had adopted a leadership role in the group and thus took the responsibility for cutting down the report. In the process I choose to mostly remove the contributions of two members, whose work repeated much of earlier sections of the report and contained numerous unaddressed errors. Nobody objected.
After the project deadline, these groups members decided to attack me, one claiming I was “pretentious” and “had zero ability for teamwork.” He lamented being “stuck with me”. The irony of insulting his teammate for being bad at teamwork was clearly lost on him.
Initially, I took this feedback quite hard. It was true that I had made the (justifiable) decision to cut their work. It was true that one of my comments had been vered into being apologetic to the point of being patronising. However, after I apologised for this, this teammate did not relent. Instead of apologising for his insults when I pointed these out, he doubled down.
Eventually, after discussing with my Dad, I realised the truth. There was nothing I could have done. This guy wasn’t mad because of something insensitive I had said. He was mad because I dared to comment on his work, to point out how it was flawed. He had been hiding in our seminar group for over a month, almost never contributing, unmuting his mic mainly to proclaim his presence and claim his grade credit. He was an insecure hanger on and someone had finally called him out on it.
Though emotionally stressful, this has been a valuable experience for me. Leading a group is hard, in part because you end up being responsible for making difficult decisions and upholding a minimum standard. Sometimes people aren’t onboard with you and you can’t do too much about it. My other two groups mates appreciated my effort and input.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure how to approach such a situation in future. Perhaps reaching out to teammates earlier, asking for their input on the project before we start working and setting clear goals for our work together, could serve as to make my teammates aware of the expectations I have for the project and vice versa.
In response to comments, the author would like to clarify that:
I did try to discuss the situation with the other student and apologised for my part in it, but was unable to reconcile with them as they remained angry and did not engage with my perspective on the situation. The purpose of this blog post is not to rag on them, but rather to reflect on my own mixed feelings regarding the situation, gain the strength to move on and hopefully better handle similar situations in future. I do not detail this in the original post, but the event definitely caused me significant hurt and anxiety, I am not always as confident and collected in private as I may appear in public. Writing this blog this year has been a balance between exploring these parts of myself and not exposing myself beyond what I am comfortable with, as I am aware that some people will use my openness against me, particularly online, where they are anonymous.