Collaboration is Key!

As a senior in college, about to graduate with an engineering degree, I’ve come to actually appreciate the dreaded “group project” – and trust me, working with others can be very challenging. But on reflection, I can really see how they also build key skills in collaboration and communication, that are especially important in STEM fields believe it or not.

In classes: working with different people, even if you all have the same major, can offer different perspectives, ideas, ways of thinking that you wouldn’t have thought up alone. The benefits of working in a group are not just division of labor – although that’s also important, as you quickly learn that one person can’t do everything without burning out – Group projects also teach the art of compromise (and it is a tough one to learn).

One of my biggest projects in my undergrad has been my senior Capstone project: a more practical application of the things we’ve learned in our undergraduate classes. For me in particular, working in an interdisciplinary group and coming up with our own idea for a product, even with all my experience working in groups, it was a bit mind-opening to see what could be done with everyone offering different skills.

It let me see how other majors approach the same sort of problem from different angles, with different concerns. It also opened my eyes to how you never really know where which skills will come into play, going into a project. Despite being an engineer myself, I learned to lean a lot more on my colleages who had deeper expertise or were more comfortable with actual manufacturing – instead, I found myself unexpectedly using a lot of my intersocial and organizational skills; understanding that this was an area that I excelled in, that my teammates in turn had less experience with.

For our group in particular, our chosen project of making a new device and app that would potentially be brought to market required a large range of skills: some people were devoted to marketing and aesthetic design, some were focused on the coding of the app and device itself, some were focused on customer outreach and feedback, while others focused more on making the device itself.

Everyone did their part, but communication was absolutely key to make sure the rest of the team was kept up to date on your own progress, as well as making sure your aspect’s concerns were known. For example, if someone on the coding team knows that it’d be practically impossible to code for some function, then it’s key that they communicate that to the marketing team before they claim that function is an important feature. Or if someone conducting interviews with customers learns that they absolutely won’t want a product that’s too heavy, it’s important that that gets passed along to the group members handling manufacturing so they know not to use heavy materials.

Outside of normal class projects, like for this group, STEMComm and Charged Magazine, I’ve seen how through collaboration you can learn and be exposed to so much more than you would normally – from reading the articles on new topics from my teammates, to learning about the varied projects research labs completely removed from my field are making, and presenting that to the public.

And even outside of a school environment, out in the real world, you can find some pretty nifty examples of science happening from collaboration.

Take the ongoing “#BlueSoup” saga over on microbiology-Twitter, where a microbiologist shared her amazement at how some old soup she had in the back of the fridge had turned blue – then, through encouragement of her fellow scientists, decided to take a sample of the soup to take back to the lab, to find out just what bacteria or microbe caused the color change. And from there, other labs requested samples, different experiments were conducted, DNA is being sequenced, and now several researchers are involved and collaborating on this interesting little question – potentially even working towards publishing their findings in the future!

Collaboration is so very important for many things in life, and especially in STEM fields – so for any aspiring scientists, try not to shy away from learning it!

Currently studying Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech, and has a passion for puzzles, biology, and just all sorts of quirky science facts