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Basically, we are in group of four working on a larger project in a graduate seminar. I brought up an idea to approach a subtopic X (abbreviated as X for convenience, but if you are familiar with graphics, it's about making a 3D scene generator multispectral, currently, the generated scene only supports RGB values) within this large project, constantly in front of class, the professor, and in front of the group. I told my idea to my professor, he told me to not do this because he doesn't believe that I'll finish the idea in time (we have one month in total), instead he asked me to do something easier, but I only spent 5 days and finished the thing he brought up (which he expected would take around >2 weeks). I think this shows that I would have been more capable of finishing the task than he expected.

So I thought I could go back to topic X now. Then I found out that a team member was already working on my idea, and his approach was incredibly similar to how I explained idea X to the class (verbally, I didn't write down the approach), and he said that it was his original approach! I chose to believe him (maybe he zoned out when I was explaining my approach to the class) and told him that his approach X1 is actually kind of problematic. I explained to him why it's problematic, then in our presentation slide I added a variation of idea X, called it X2, and planned to start on idea X2 soon. The next morning he came up to me and told me that X2 is actually just X1 and so it's his idea! However, in the presentation slide, it was incredibly clear that X1 uses Machine Learning while X2 doesn't use Machine Learning at all, and I told him that X1 is problematic so why the heck would I do anything similar to X1!

Not to my surprise, I found out that he is also working on X2 now. He refuses to inform me his progress or his approach, which basically means collaborating isn't a choice. He doesn't want to communicate his thoughts/progress with me. I hesitate to communicate my thoughts to him as well, as I'm afraid that he would claim they are his ideas again. I feel this is very unfair. It was MY idea initially, I expressed strong interest throughout, and even if he might just happen to have similar approach (which I doubt it). Why can't he acknowledge that I talked about this approach in class first? If we both work on X2 separately, it will be ugly and we both might look like clowns during project demo presentations (such failure in communication, within the group!).

Should I just let him do X2 while I find something else to do? Or should I just go ahead and work on the same topic without communication (at least for the project demo presentation soon)? What should I do in this case? I would really appreciate your insights and thoughts, thank you!

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  • could you clarify a few information: the professor told you to not work on X, but the team member got the authorisation? Or did they never asked? You say you work in a group in a larger project, is there interaction in between the work you are doing and the one your team member are doing (like different module that are expected to be working together)?
    – JackRed
    Nov 9, 2023 at 11:44
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    Regardless of those answer, have you tried bringing the issue with the professor? From my understanding, you are working in a group project supervised by this professor, and there's clearly some troubled communicating in between you and another group member. A supervisor will be able to mediate the discussion, and helps you resolve the issue. You probably want to explain properly to the professor why you think you are able to work on X (despite them telling you not to) and try to explain in an unbiased ways the situation
    – JackRed
    Nov 9, 2023 at 11:45

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I would advice bringing to the professor who is supervising you. The biggest issue in group project, at every level, is communication. There is clearly some issue when trying to have a discussion with your team member and possibly the professor.

I can't say why your team member is behaving like this. I don't know what they think, and it obviously seems they are not cooperating or not acknowledging your ideas. But I have to remind you that people don't think the same way. You only know of what they said and your own assumptions. Even if you presented it in class, it doesn't mean they didn't think of it by themselves before, or even didn't start working on it before.

What is for sure is that there is issue discussing in between both of you, when trying to claim ownership about the idea.

I would advice getting someone else, preferably someone who has responsibility within this project, to mediate before both of you. This could be the professor who is supervising you.

If you can't have proper communications, bringing all your points and explaining them, as well as listening to your group member / professor arguments about why they are doing it or why you shouldn't do it, then you should seek alternative solution towards the person responsible for the seminar/course at large.

As a small point, even if it doesn't sounds fun, if it is a group project and you have assigned task by your professor, if they tell you to do A, and not B, even if B sounds really good and you try to convince them, they may still say no and you have to accept it. This can sometimes sounds unfair, especially if someone else get to work on B.

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