Apr 2, 2021 | LIFE | Advice Column | Illustration by Bibi Powers

Dear Dr. Catherine de la Poudre,

I am a sophomore in a computer science class that has a block-length partner project. We picked our groups on the first day, and not knowing anyone in the class, I chose a senior who I thought seemed competent and easy enough to work with. It’s only first week, and I am already noticing some really big red flags. He is condescending and rude (he even has made remarks about my social life outside of class) and micromanages me when I try to contribute to the work. I really want to learn all that I can from this class, and I’ve tried to emphasize that to my partner when he starts trying to just do the task himself instead of letting me find the answer, even if it may take slightly longer. I totally get that he has prior computer science experience and may have a better handle on the project, but how he is acting goes beyond what someone may call “acting as project lead.” I should also mention we share our screens when working in this program for our project, so he can see me fumbling through my code; I think this must trigger some of his desire to take over. How do I deal with this issue?



Dear Error-Detected,

Group projects are tough, especially when you have to work together for weeks on end. I really commend you for noticing something was off earlier and deciding to confront it rather than letting the issue reach a boiling point during fourth week. (I think we’ve all been there …) I also think it’s important to recognize that your approach so far has been awesome — emphasizing that it is important to you to complete the task instead of handing it over to your partner so that you can ensure you’re learning just as much as you would with a less experienced partner.

But, it sounds like this approach isn’t working well, because you are continuing to feel put down and controlled. Something that stood out to me in your note was the fact you two are sharing screens and attempting to work simultaneously.

Watching you work and make mistakes may be causing your partner a bit of anxiety, or a similar feeling which leads to desire for control. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner some questions about his motives for wanting to be in control; you never know what could come from such a conversation.

You should ask your partner how he would feel if you worked in 20 or 30-minute shifts, so he can take a break from watching the screen while you work and then contribute during his turn. This way, you are still collaborating, but only one person is in the driver’s seat at a time.

Additionally, I would be proactive by going to office hours. There is nothing wrong with giving your professor a heads up about what you’re dealing with. Chances are other students have dealt with similar issues in prior classes, and your professor may have good advice for how to approach the project when accounting for a difficult partner.

Telling your partner how you feel and giving your ideas for improving collaboration will be helpful to you both during this project and in the future, well beyond Colorado College.

Good luck!

Dr. Catherine

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