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Context: I just completed a 2-month long science research project with my friend as a partner. The project was elective and beyond our assigned coursework. We presented the work at a fair last week and won an award. My partner seemed "invested" in the project during the first week but then things began to turn. By the day of the fair, I had completed at least 98% of the project, working 6+ hours per day in the weeks leading up to the fair. We both had a similar amount of prior knowledge about the project starting out and I made an effort to learn while he can't even explain the technical aspects of the paper to me.

My partner would go to bed early while I was writing our paper until 3 AM, ignore my texts for days at a time, and create any excuse for why he "couldn't" contribute.

I would ask him to complete the parts of the project we agreed he would do. When he started missing every benchmark, I would text him asking him when he would do his part. In the beginning, he would say he'll do it soon, which never happened.

The weekend before the fair, he actually answered a different friend of mine (who I asked to text my partner). He told my other friend that "he had things to do" and "don't tell [me] I texted you". Afterwards, my partner said: "if you do, he'll keep calling me". He had no correspondence with me that weekend so I went on and worked on my own until I saw him Monday. I was also told that my friend said: "I'm lazy so I'll let [him] do the computer work".

Now that the event is over, I would like to reflect on my interpersonal exchange with the friend and what I can do ameliorate the mistake of working with a lazy partner. I am deeply invested in this project personally and will be continuing it by myself, however, I would like to know two things moving forward. I am young and would like to pursue more research like this.

In the case that I again have an extremely unreliable partner in the future, what can I do differently during the project to ensure that the project is completed effectively while avoiding that I'm spending every minute rushing to prepare a manuscript while my partner is out ignoring me?

Note that removing him from the team was not an option due to fair rules. I also wouldn't want to jeopardize our final presentation by turning them completely against me.

  • Who came up with the idea to do the project and how was it decided you would be partners? – AsheraH May 2 at 4:47
  • The project is my idea and we decided to become partners mutually. @AsheraH – limitsandlogs224 May 3 at 10:11
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I think, in situations such as yours, the biggest issue is how long you leave discussing the disparity in effort and what effect that could/should have on your respective credit for the project.

You say that you have completed 98% of the project, which suggests you could have achieved almost the same outcome on your own? It's also clear from your partner's comment to your friend, that they recognize their low effort.

I don't know what this project will mean for you in terms of public recognition and further prospects, but given the above, it does seem unfair to think that you would both receive an equal reward when you have done all of the work.

My suggestion for this project - if receiving equal credit would effectively penalize you - is to have a frank discussion with your partner around your respective contributions, and - assuming they don't challenge your assertion that you've done the vast majority of the work - they agree you should receive most/all of the credit for it.

Going forward to new projects, well there are a few things you can do to try and prevent a recurrence of this situation:

  1. Choose your partner/team members carefully. Ideally, get to know them first and learn their work ethic. Where possible choose people who will contribute the same effort as you.

  2. Plan the work up-front, and agree to divide the tasks fairly and with some kind of timescales. Have regular progress meetings so you can spot issues early and prevent tasks falling behind. Sometimes this is inevitable if things turn out more complex than originally estimated, but if so try to get a feel for what your teammate has been doing to make progress, to ascertain if the issue is with the work or with their effort level.

  3. Discuss effort levels as soon as you think it's a problem. Sometimes people have other things going on in life, or you're simply more enthusiastic about the work and/or have more free time to commit to the project. If so, you can't blame your partner for not putting in 60 hours a week, just because that's what you've decided to do. Maybe agree at the start how many hours per week you think is reasonable. If they have dropped below the agreed level, then you have cause to raise it with them. If you're simply putting in extra, well that's on you.

Despite the above, there will be times where you have to make a choice between allowing the project to fail and picking up others' slack in order to get it finished. Ideally, your team would be prepared to publicly acknowledge your greater input in these scenarios, but it's not always the case. If they refuse to accept anything other than equal credit, well then it again comes back to whether you'd rather the project not be successful to stop your team getting the credit it doesn't deserve, or you pick up the slack so everyone wins.

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