Three students and I were assigned a small (~14 hours of work) group project. Because there was no effort on their side to meet and work, my e-mails regarding their progress remained unanswered and from previous experience I know that their quality of work is much lower than mine, I decided to do it myself and already spend around 10 hours doing ~2/3 of the work. The reaction of the others was something along the lines of "Wow, thanks man. This looks great. You're the man!"

Later I asked them to help me out with the rest because I had another assignment due and thus my time was limited but the contributed work was much less in quantity than what I asked for and also of very low quality, hinting that they did not bother reading the assignment thoroughly or did not really spend time actually thinking of something substantial to contribute. As it stands now I will have to do the remaining 1/3 by myself as well.

Because I had a question for the lecturer I was writing him an e-mail and one of the sentences was

I already did most of the work but we need to...

then I thought whether it would be better to write

We already did most of the work but we need to...

The reason I even mention it, is that it is very close to the submission deadline and I do not want him to think that I/we only started now. My intent was not to slip by this information and blame the others.

Is there any reason to be "diplomatic" and actively hide the fact that I did everything myself?

I am mostly interested in the impression I will leave on the lecturer. On the one hand I do not feel like I owe the others anything, on the other hand I also want to avoid the lecturer seeing my behavior as tactless or arrogant.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 15:18

11 Answers 11


Personally I would dodge the issue using

Most of the work is done, but we need to...

I don't think it will really matter which option you go with, but that way you don't have to worry about it.

Anyone setting a group project knows that it is fairly likely someone will end up doing all the work. If they don't take any action to avoid that (and it sound's like they haven't in this case), then presumably they don't really care.

I understand that you want to get the credit for doing the work. But I agree it might come across as tactless to point out the situation in your email. It might be more productive to separately have a conversation with the lecturer about why they haven't taken steps to avoid the situation occurring.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 15:20

I have been on both sides of the fence.

As a student, I was once part of a trio where the two other members were useless. Not "self-fulfilling prophecy"-useless but "dumb as a rock"-useless.

I did all the work and stated clearly to the TA that it is 100% my work and that they are idiots. I specifically said that I am not looking for special treatment but want to highlight the ownership of the work.

This later (in academic life) translates as "do not add to your paper co-authors who did not do anything, just because you are under the pressure to do so". Surprisingly, the latter is met with nods of approval, while pointing out student leeches is not.

As a teacher, I had twice the case where someone came to me saying that they are the sole author of a two and three-members team. I asked them to highlight how they can persuade me that this is the case. I did not have a difficult situation, in both cases the "real author" knew everything, while the others were clueless. He got the right mark for the exercise (both were good) and the others got zero. I made sure to document the whole story though.

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    I agree with this answer from both a student and instructor perspective. As an instructor I have on numerous occasions awarded different grades to the students doing the work and the ones just being dragged along. In our department rules this is specified as how this should be handled (Everyone should be graded individually) and this was also communicated to instructors from department leaders. I realize that the academic culture differ in different regions so this is from Sweden.
    – lijat
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 16:45
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    When I was a student, one of our instructors had us detail what each group member did on a project, signed by all group members as part of the submission. He also asked for private one on one evals of your group members. I liked it so much, this is what I do when I assign group projects now...
    – ivanivan
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 18:43
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    +1 to this answer BUT: giving the others zero is unfair. You should give them a chance to re-complete the assignment by themselves. While the student who did all the work may have good reason to have done so, this kind of policy allows students to threaten and take charge of a group -- "do your part on my timeline and by my rules or I will do all the work myself and submit it to the instructor and tell them you did nothing." Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 14:30
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    In other words, students in a group have no right to expect that the others in the group do the work in a particular way or on a particular timeline; the others in the group might rightfully be upset that they can't do the work when they want to, and do the quality of work that they have time to do. The only way to avoid all of the madness is to allow students a way out, allow them to switch groups, or to re-complete an individual assignment on their own if something goes wrong in their original group. Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 14:30
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    @6005: there is a whole spectrum of cases. The ones I had (as a teacher) was with students who were true leeches and they deserved a zero for not putting in the smallest effort into the assignment. A few more like those and they would have ample time to redo the exercise when they fail the year. There are certainly cases where the one doing the work is the "bad guy" in the team but (from my limited 5 years teaching at the uni) this is a rare case. I rather had lawful-good students, to use the D&D terms. But yes, a specific case like the one you mentioned would have been handled differently
    – WoJ
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 14:34

You specifically ask what the lecturer will think, so I'll address that first - though I think that's actually a red herring here.

I have not lectured myself but I have managed people in a business environment, and analogous situations come up: I think the response will depend on the way you raise the issue, and on the lecturer's busyness at the time of receiving your email. It may just appear to them as a dispute between students, and one they don't desperately want to get involved in (this kind of work creates these kind of disputes, and most groups will resolve the problems themselves). So the lecturer may think (justly or not) that you are a bit of a nuisance. Equally they may think you have a just complaint and have sympathy with you.

I think the lecturer's response in this situation will depend heavily on how you have tried to resolve this issue yourself before bringing it to them. If you bring the issue to them without having first discussed it with your group you may (justly or not) look immature and lacking in social skills. Also I think the response you get will depend on how openly you broach it - subtle hints like the one you indicate may just look petty if they are noticed at all: they will probably be ignored: lecturers have heavy workloads and don't tend to seek out issues where they don't need to. An honest and straightforward complaint, backed up by your having made a reasonable attempt to resolve this with the group will get a better reaction.

I don't think the lecturer's response should be your biggest focus here though.

We had a similar situation in a course I recently completed: two out of four of us literally did all the work for a substantial project. My perspective is: don't get hung up on credit, the credit is a tiny portion of the value of doing these things. By engaging you pick up more knowledge and experience, and you will get the benefits of that all the way down your career.

And if the injustice still really bothers you (and honestly it's hard to avoid feeling that way) bear in mind that this is a small portion of the credit required for your course. The knowledge you gained by actually engaging with this assignment will benefit you in other assessed parts of the course where you will work alone. If they get the credit now, they'll almost certainly lose it later.

The ideal thing to do is to be open about your feelings about work sharing with the group, as early as possible. Some social groups make this easier than others though. And in some cases (as in mine) you can have that conversation (and you can have it as strongly as is possible without falling out with them), and still end up doing all the work. Different people want different things out of a course and are willing to put in different levels of effort. Sometimes social pressure overrides that, sometimes it doesn't. That's all you can take away from this really. And you need to honestly judge your ability to have that discussion with them without souring things before you try to have it.

But you will have to work with these people again, and see them again, and you may be in a situation in the future where you could interview for a job at a company where one of them works. Better they remember you as the hard working person than the person who made them feel bad, or "ratted them out" (as they will see it).

So in short - be tactful, there's nothing to be won by doing anything else, and if you need to feel there's some justice in the situation remember that they lose out by not really engaging. That isn't a platitude: 2 years into your career university module credit counts for nothing, knowledge and the ability to work carries you. These people are not accumulating knowledge or learning to work.

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    While this is a good explanation, it is not an answer to my question. I asked: "What will the lecturer think of me when I write him?" Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 9:58
  • Sorry - I'll add to answer that. It's hard to answer that specific question though - it will vary between lecturers.
    – DanBennett
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 10:18
  • Thanks for the addition. Your part about the lectures reaction emphasizes the way I "bring up the issue". This is not really a problem. Specifically in my situation I came to terms that I have to do it myself if I am to submit a certain level of quality. The lecturer is also aware and repeatedly told me that I am probably bored in class cause he is teaching comparatively simple things for my knowledge level. My problem was really just if I should sugarcoat it or not in compliance with social norms since I am in Asia (see tags). Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 13:17
  • I'm not sure how that changes things - there is an issue here you have not raised with him previously - that you have done all the work - and you are concerned about how he will react to you saying that you have done all the work. How you raise that issue with him affects how he will react to it. You can do it in a "subtle" way that might seem petty, or you could just be upfront about it. Also I'm not sure why you want to raise the issue. What is your goal? You must have a desired outcome, otherwise why do you spend so much thought on this?
    – DanBennett
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:02
  • I agree that the information about me doing it myself is communicated either way. As far as I can be objective, I don't think I have a hidden agenda or desired outcome. I just want to know how a brief mention might affect my image on the lecturers side. I want to know if I should "censor" myself next time or whether it does not matter. Again, the original intent of the e-mail was to inquire something else and not inform him about the work load distribution. The mention of me have done a lot of work already was necessary to ask my actual question. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:14

I could be completely off base with all of this, but some of your statements are concerning. From your question:

from previous experience I know that their quality of work is much lower than mine, I decided to do it myself

And one of your comments:

In order for my group members to produce the same quality I expect from me I would have to spend hours teaching them and also would need to motivate them immensely to keep working.

Have you considered that maybe you're the problem? It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. You believe your teammates to be incompetent, therefore they are. It's not easy, but you have to learn to trust people to do their work.

Back to the first quote: "I decided to do it myself."

It sounds like you took it upon yourself to start the work and do it all, and now you're upset that they didn't contribute. That's not fair. You never even gave them the chance.

So should you tell your lecturer all this? From this point of view, no. Your team didn't pull their weight, but it sounds like you didn't give them the chance. You have no right to be upset about it.

Take this one on the chin, and for the next project schedule a mandatory team meeting. In that meeting, figure out the project requirements, break them down into pieces each team member can do, then assign everyone work with a deadline before the project due date. If they don't pull their weight here, then you'll have a legitimate complaint.

  • 13
    1.) I did give them a chance but they did not answer my e-mails. 2.) They barely contributed after my second request . 3.) This is not about software development. 4.) What is a "mandatory" meeting? I don't have authority over them. 5.) I am NOT asking whether I can go and complain to the lecturer. I am asking whether I should actively hide/sugercoat it. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 13:53
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    There is no such thing as a "mandatory meeting" between students. A student doesn't have the authority to compel their classmates to do anything. And I disagree with your assessment that the asker gave their classmates no opportunity to contribute. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:24
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    @DavidRicherby This is why the group agrees on it. It's not hard... "Hey guys, we need to meet for X. When is everyone available?" I think the word mandatory is taken too literally here. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:26
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    @ChrisSchneider Well, you know, if you say "mandatory", people will assume that you mean mandatory. If you meant something else, you should have said something else. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:28
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    @problemofficer, Authority isn't the only way to lead. My experience is that most people in these kinds of situations aren't actively trying to take advantage of others, but rather they follow the path of least resistance. If someone takes up the mantle and does all the work, they roll with it. The grade here is secondary (honestly, the grade is always secondary.) Your professor is doing you a favor by giving you a 'safe' place to learn how to navigate the opportunities and pitfalls of collaboration.
    – Dan Bryant
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 15:05

Talk to your team first.

Consider that you may have the wrong impression of your teammates. Low quality of work in an academic setting may indicate that they do not fully understand the material rather than simply not putting forth the effort.

Remember that your impressions of each other work both ways. I once was part of a project team with a "star performer" who took the entire project on himself before we met to split up the work. He no doubt thought the rest of us were slackers, but did not give us the opportunity to prove otherwise. While you seem to be better at communicating your intentions, your teammates might still feel overwhelmed by your drive to succeed. Imagine you are struggling in a course and, after much labor, come up with something that mostly meets the requirements of the assignment. Then your teammate swoops in and rewrites all of your work because he wasn't happy with it. You would probably feel slighted and resign yourself to letting your teammate finish because any work you do, he's probably going to redo himself anyway.

To fix this problem, you should have a talk with your team about what still needs to be done. For a larger project, you would want to lay out in writing who is going to be responsible for what part of the project. Only encroach on these responsibilities as a last resort, if the project is for some reason only graded on functionality. If possible, have group project sessions where you can help each other out when someone is struggling with their assigned part. Since your particular project is small in scale, consider completing the remaining work only in group meetings. This will improve yourself in the eyes of both your teammates and your professor, as you will be seen as a helping hand rather than a self-made victim.

Be honest with your messages. Don't feel you need to shield your teammates from their lack of work, but also don't flaunt your own achievements. If you did your work, you can take credit for it. If your teammate skips your work meeting, call them out on it. You want to show your professor that you tried to facilitate a team effort, but it fell through due to the lack of commitment on your teammates' part.

If you are concerned with the grading, talk to the professor about how they will be grading the assignment. Most professors will grade individually to some degree, so bring along the "contract" to show your professor what part you are accountable for.

  • While this is a good write-up it does not address the specifics of my question. 1.) The question is NOT whether I should "tattle" on my team. 2.) The team mates expressed almost no desire to work, even before I did anything. 3.) This was a small assignment and documentation of the division of labor would have been "overkill". But what I take from this, is that I should to strive to practice my team management skill in all scenarios, even when I think that there is no time. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 16:41
  • @problemofficer Updated a bit to better match your points
    – Kys
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 17:01

More often than not the purpose of group assignments is as much to prove that you're capable of working in a team as it is to show you can handle the subject. Or at least, that's the case over here.

Keeping that in mind, you have a moral choice to make:

1) Claim the glory and admit that you did all the work. The "justice" part is that they'll get told off for slacking, the downside is that any good grade you might have gotten for this assignment could be scaled down because you failed to work as a team.

It would be far from the first time a lecturer punishes the person who carried the group for not being enough of a team leader to delegate their responsibilities.

2) Stay quiet. Your grade will be decided on the quality of the product, but your slacking teammates will get the same grade and most likely do the same thing next assignment, because hey, it paid of.

So the question is, what's more valuable to you? Teaching the slackers a lesson or getting a good grade?

(Note: This is under the assumption that the work is graded in one form or another)

  • 4
    1.) The work is graded. 2.) In order for my group members to produce the same quality I expect from me I would have to spend hours teaching them and also would need to motivate them immensely to keep working. I don't see how this is my problem, considering that this is not a management course. If the lecturer would punish me for that I would perceive that as extremely unfair. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 9:55
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    Even though it is not a management course, most lecturers feel obligated to include this skill as something to grade on. I'm not saying it's fair, but I'm afraid this might definitely be something that weighs in on it. They'll most likely bring in the argument that they'd rather see a mediocre product that everyone had a hand in instead of an excellent one that was made by one person. That said, the purpose of a school assignment is that people learn from it. If it's something everyone already knows how to do by heart, the exercise is useless.
    – Patrick
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 10:11
  • @problemofficer, Yes, group grading is usually unfair. But the alternative is to dig down into what happened. Listen to people's excuses. Give zeros/Fs to the members who didn't do anything (despite the many excuses they have and all the whining they do). When instead, you could just wait to see those non-performing members flunk the midterms and flunk the final anyway. Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 20:23
  • So you mean the alternative would be to do your job as a lecturer and design proper task definitions and actually talk to the students? Wow, how horrible. Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 3:31

I would hide it. Makes everything simpler and people will figure out who did what.

Paul McCartney wrote and recorded "Yesterday" without the help of any of the other Beatles. Yet it was released as a Beatles song written by Lennon-McCartney.


In such cases I usually separated from the group and submitted the project myself. You did not act like this, so it is better to write a "we", because the lecturer can not evaluate inner group problems.

He just faces the fact that you and the other team members will tell him different stories related to the fact why something was not working out as expected. In such a case it is maleficial for you to give your mates a possibility to move resp. to you.


From previous experience I've found that telling the lecturer is worth it. I was in multiple situations at uni where this happened.

By telling the lecturer they were able to subtract some of the score from each of the slacking members and split that across those that did do the work.

As a result of this I've gotten 60% plus in assignments where others in the same group got <50%.

I know this isn't much, but at uni level 60%+ is the second highest mark (2:1).

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    I don't understand the math behind this system. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 16:22
  • So, what would you recommend OP do then?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 19:46

I believe it is morally imperative for you to Hide the fact you did everything, use "we" when discussing the work.

You are part of a group. Whether your group mates were lazy or incompetent or not, whether you're the problem here like some people suggest - those are interesting philosophical/interpersonal questions to ponder after the grades are set, either on your own or with your group-mates. Once you joined the group you undertook collective responsibility and you should act accordingly and not break up the group front.

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    Choosing to join the group was mandatory, therefore I don't feel like I owe the "system" anything and don't feel like I need to be responsible for the collective. Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 2:31
  • You did not indicate to your group-mates, for the beginning, that they would be "on their own" and outed if they didn't work hard, up to your standards. So while I may accept your argument in theory - in order to shirk the collective responsibility, which you would definitely be entitled to, you would need to make "due notice", which you have not.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 7:10
  • @einpoklum: Bad answer. Try again.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 18:54
  • @einpoklum I am failing to see the moral imperative for what you describe when behind being assigned to a group of people who ignore your attempts to contact them about the work that you all have been given, apparently do not work at it at all and leave it all up to you. Making due notice of 'Hey, if you don't do anything and leave it all fall on my head, I won't pretend it did not happen' sounds ridiculous at best since in any normal human contact, this is implicitly so. You also do not address impression on lecturer part of OP's question at all. Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 10:14
  • @Joshua: Not following.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jul 4, 2017 at 10:49

I have been in this situation a lot, particularly in my last master year, where group projects were literally piling up.

One thing you need to understand is that, in any group work (at school or at work), there will always be people working more than others, and everyone will get the reward. Why? Because in a project, what matters is the completion of the project, not of your part.

I suspect my own professors tried to teach us this lesson, because I know other students who reported the kind of issue you report, and noone did anything, in fact the projects that were unfinished were still blamed: if a project fails, no matter why, it's the whole group's fault, you included even if you did your part of the work.

Indeed: why assign a group project when you can have individual assignments? This might serve to enforce training in group work. And group work's goal is to not only do your part of the job, but working together to complete the whole work. Managing dissensions and colleagues not working enough is unfortunately part of any group work, so you have to know how to handle it.

Concretely, I think two ways to approach this, depending on your objectives:

  • Report it to those in charge: this might (but not necessarily) get you sole credit for the project and punish your colleagues. Ideally, this is only fair to do that. Downside is that if the professors wanted to get you to train in group work, you will clearly show you failed, and also probably you won't get a good mark if the group work is unfinished (even if you completed your part: what matters is the project, not what you did).

  • Let it slide and do all the work yourself: if you are interested in having good marks, this is the best way to go. Downside is that you might have a LOT of work to do, but the bright side is that you can ensure the work is done well, and you can shine during project presentation (if you have one scheduled), knowing your project better than anyone else. So even if you let it slide, you can show you did most of the work without telling it directly, which is way more appreciated by everyone (both your colleagues, professors and superiors in a professional setting). Another advantage is that you will get a lot of skills in a short period of time (at the expense of sleep...).

Also, there is a 3rd way: balancing the work. Often, students have different skills and they do not necessarily excel for all kinds of projects. If you have several projects, what you can do is that you can arrange with your colleagues to form the same team in different projects, and share the work depending on each member's skills and affinities: you might end up doing most of the work for project A, but one of your colleague will do most of project B since he is more skilled with working on B field, etc.

The only requirement for this 3rd way is that you choose colleagues that are able, and that you upfront discuss and concur on this solution (if you discuss later on in the project, it might not end well as you experienced...). If you have lots of projects, this might actually help you speed up the completion, by assigning adequately to the most pertinent member the work to be done. And bonus, this is what a good manager should do, so that's also a good training if you want to lead projects later on :-)

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