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The Research Class


The administration at my online Social Work program decided to change the hosting format, right before the new school year began. The previous format for our classes was a bit stodgy, yes, but you could find everything you needed. The new format is not just new to the students, but also new to the teachers, and there hasn’t been any time to work through the bugs and figure out how to manage the new layout. So it’s a mess.

And maybe that would have been okay, if I were taking a less stressful class to start the semester, but I’m in Research One, and each assignment involves group collaboration and has to be finished in less than a week. I have bad memories of working in groups in high school and college, and having to either do all of the work myself, or spend all of my time gently, nicely, pushing my classmates to do their share of the work, or editing their attempts before the rapidly looming deadline. Some people think that ten o’clock the night before it’s due is the perfect time to start working on a project. I don’t. I really, really, really, don’t.

I want to use my insight and imagination and empathy and creativity, and none of those are allowed for a research class. It’s all about formatting and organizing other people’s work. I feel like a marathon runner forced to do finger exercises for hours on end, in a seated position. Every once in a while I may be allowed to move my whole hand, but rarely.

I want to scream. I want to throw things. I resent that it feels like the online faculty at my school is running a secret experiment on us – testing the impact of unpredictable stressors on student work quality and psychological wellbeing (I wrote that to my teacher in an email, and he seemed to take me seriously instead of getting that I was, sort of, joking).

My anxiety about the Research class and the new online format is making me obsessive. I’m overworking and under-coping. I feel a desperate need to control everything that feels chaotic to me. I can’t find restful or fun books to read. I can’t find anything decent to watch on TV. My mind just keeps filling the gaps with more work.

I need to take a nap and rest and recover and focus on other things, but my brain keeps telling me to re-read research articles, and do more searches, and try more databases, and do the whole group assignment by myself. But I know myself, even if I managed all of that, I’d just start obsessing about the reading and possible assignments for next week. It would never end.

It’s frustrating to have to see all of my flaws so clearly – my impatience, and rigidity, my temper, and need for control. I don’t want to know that there is so much still to fix.

For relief, I’ve been watching for the feral cats in the yard, and communing with them as much as they will allow. Hershey actually let me within five feet of her the other night, but then she scooted under the maintenance shed (her palatial estate). I also had a chance meeting with the neighbor-dogs, George and Zoe, and it made me unreasonably happy for a few minutes. Zoe barked a lot, and Cricket stared at her, in silence, as if this behavior, this barking at nothing, was completely alien to her. Then George clapped his front paws at me and asked for pats and a hug, and I willingly obliged. Zoe stood in her perpetual ballet first position and allowed me to pet her too. I even got to walk with the baby next door – or with his nanny, who was holding him as he slept – for a few minutes, and breathe in the utter, unspeakable cuteness of him.


Hershey, hiding out.


“Are you taking my picture again?!”


Zoe and George

But mostly I work. I read and summarize and research, and I attempt to keep my emails to my fellow group members polite and reasonable. I try to follow the conflicting instructions from the teacher, and the disorganized new formatting, but all I want is for the class to be over, and for all of this self-knowledge and hitting-my-limits to end.

Cricket is doing her best to distract me by barking at every moving thing, and Butterfly has doubled up her requests for scratchy sessions (for my sake, of course), but it’s not enough to calm me down. Clearly, I don’t have enough dogs.


“I’m doing this for you, Mommy.”


“I work so hard to protect you, Mommy, and you never adequately appreciate my efforts.”


“We do not need another dog, thank you very much.”



About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

70 responses »

  1. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    How I hate group work….good luck!

  2. I was never a big fan of group work unless you get lucky and everyone else the same enthusiasm. I hope you get a good group.

  3. Oh, Rachel–I can so relate. With my job, I was totally rigid and controlling. No one could help because no one could do it like me, thank you very much. And then I was out of work for 6 months this year on medical and when I came back, my job had been divided among my department because the work had to be done. You know what? I don’t care. No, they don’t do it like me, but it is getting done and I have moved onto other things. And then I come home to Teemu and Parker. I wish I could tell you it will be alright to let up a bit, but I know that is easier said than done. My husband does notice; however, that ever since I returned to work, I come home in a really good mood. The stress of what I was doing to myself had finally let up. Good luck with the class.

  4. Faculty take themselves way too seriously especially the hoops they set up for their students to jump through. Thank God for Cricket and Butterfly and their (non)sensible natures to keep you sane through it all. I am going to a conference on centering prayer this week. I will keep you in those thoughts!

  5. Work? Oh yeah, I seem to recall what that was like. Don’t think I liked it much. He he he.

  6. Have you read Susan Cain’s QUIET, Rachel? It made me think about forcing introverts to work in groups–not playing to their strengths!

  7. I can relate, I detested group work at school. If I could I’d Fedex you Jack, Lulu and Stanley to help with the organizing and sorting, they like to help. 🙂

  8. Oh, I am so sorry! That kind of control is poison to creative people, and I don’t blame you one bit for being so frustrated! I hope it gets better, soon.

  9. Sometimes you need to revise your flight plans. I do that all the time.

  10. I, too, have always hated group work for the very same reasons you do. I regret to say it but I am stressful just reading about your projects and the life of being a student again. I wish I could offer words of support and encouragement at best or comfort at worst, but alas, I am unable to offer either. I do, however, agree that you need another dog.
    Bless your heart – and good luck.

  11. Pingback: The Research Class — rachelmankowitz – Vacation and travel

  12. I hate group work as well. I also figure if a student hasn’t learned how to do group work by college, they should be sent back to high school. I’d rather finish it the first night, and tweak it for six nights after(when possible), but yes, I find many others are willing to wait until two hours before d-day. Alas, This Too Shall Pass! Keep at it.

  13. I’ve never done group work, so I can’t comment with much meaning. But I wish you luck in all your endeavours!

  14. I never really hated working in groups but my son gets stressed over it. He’s a junior in high school and he gets all his work done the minute it’s assigned. I hear your words and they sound so similar to his complaints. Unless it’s a group he can choose (and it hardly ever is), he hates it. As for faculty making life more difficult for students, yeah, been there. This too shall pass. Just do your best to muddle through it and it hopefully it will just be a bad memory.

  15. The only group work I ever did really was at school, and that was definitely not a good time for me. I can work as part of a team, as I did in my analytical job, but I managed my own time to meet my deadlines and discovered I had good time management skills. It helped that I was left alone to get on with it!
    You’ll get there Rachel. Your cute girls will keep working with you to relieve your stress. Dogs (or other pets) just hold that kind of magic.

  16. I’m with the majority it seems as I have despised group work for as long as I can remember. First because I prefer to work alone and secondly I don’t like my work/input being contingent n others schedules. This is grad school – me would think the powers to be would have formatted prior to the semester.

    • Wouldn’t that have been wonderful?!

      • I have to wonder about who makes many of the protocols within the educational system as a whole, but especially in a masters program. For those in grad school, we’ve already earned a bachelors degree as opposed to students entering as an undergrad fresh faced from high school. Many are motivated by professional and academic goals and often have years of work experience under our belts. It’s extremely frustrating as one assumes at this level the nonsense is behind us; say in grade school? This is just my own personal opinion but I feel that masters degrees are more versatile than doctoral degrees.
        Hang in there honey! At the end of the day we have our dogs and with them as our trusty “steeds” ~ we’re golden!

      • I dream of being treated like an intelligent human being who can be trusted to do my work. Alas….

      • It’s almost dehumanizing…..

  17. Totally agree! Group work is over-rated and highly stressful. Take care of your own needs and be honest with anybody who isn’t pulling their weight. Love, Pip and the boys

  18. Get out of my head Rachel! I have never worked in a group where I wasn’t doing most of the organization and work. I can’t stand it! Even as a little girl I can remember the frustration of working with people who refused to carry their load. Fifty years later I have to say nothing has changed. And don’t even get me started on technology. A perfectly lovely day can go to a very nasty place when your relationship with technology becomes complicated. Just when I get used to using something, the powers that be feel that an “upgrade” is needed and BAM I am in technology hell. It is diabolical. I have always said that we need a new word for the type of anxiety and frustration we feel when technology lets us down. But unplugging is not an option if we want to navigate the world, so we are between a rock and a hard place. I think you are handling it very well…dogs are the way to go. Always.

  19. I do wish this course were looking more promising

  20. You’re right, we can never have enough dogs or cats or birds etc etc. We definitely need the company of animals to overcome rough patches. It’s such a wonderful world with so much diverse life around us 🙂

  21. Maybe you’ll want to set yourself some limits…thereby satisfying your need to ‘do it all, yourself’ and also preserving your sanity. And yes, I bet this sort of chaos is (on some level) deliberately designed by the teachers. In your field you will encounter situations where you have no control and where your boundaries are stretched to breaking. I’m glad there are four-foots around you to defuse some of the tension and give you a little bit of peace. Best of luck!

  22. I had the misfortune of taking a course required for certification in Connecticut that was filled with 18 year olds(to my 55). We had a group project too. One student produced nothing, one plagiarized. This in a group of four! My heartfelt sympathy and reassurance that this too will pass–as will you.

  23. Hope you’re having a wonderful Labor Day weekend!

  24. You brought back the horror of class projects. I think teachers must assign these projects because they are sadists. Or, perhaps its because they don’t want to fail anyone, and this type project ensures the miserable student will be there with the great student and receive the same grade. Quite frankly, I have always hated the idea of “carrying” another person who ought to be (as an adult) better at organizing his or her time. They need to learn it earlier in life rather than later.

    Sadly, this kind of sloppiness can be found in work life also.

    I had the experience of producing a 60 page government report with one other experienced person, and a clerk and we got the job done in a few months (the clerk produced the “pretty” version of our statistical tables.

    2/ Enter a new, young inexperienced boss who wanted me to head a team of new young employees and teach them the business, and it took over a year to revise this report with me doing most of the work.

    3/ After I retired it took the new “team” 5 years. Oh I could go on. But my message is this teamwork often sucks, depending on the team members!

    And the above should help explain why there are so many failures in government today.

  25. Thank you for sharing what your going through here – it’s a coping therapy unto itself to unburden ones “stuff” like you are going through here. It seems to me that the cats and dogs know you need special help right now – they always know don’t they? It’s all about energy. Love and hugs to you…make sure to BREATHE!

  26. Even in the midst of stress & overwork, you manage to come up with a charming post. How do you do it?

  27. I think your response to your own response is eminently sane. You can see so clearly what you’re doing to yourself that that in itself is a kind of control. All these things pass. You just have to stay afloat.

  28. Ugh. I hate when they “improve” computer systems/programs/whatever. We are about to go through that tomorrow with my employer. UGH! It amazes me how they never seem to have any clues as to what (and inevitably will) go wrong. “What, you mean when we hooked A to B it made C stop working? Who would have thought?” UGH. Apparently not you geniuses who MADE every switch over to the new system.


  29. Enjoyed this post with your openness. Very desirable riptide writing style and it allowed me to “be in the moment” as you expressed it. Hang in there with your school program. I worked in the social work field for 39 years. It’s a journey for sure but only a part of the book of life. We’ll enjoy watching you progress.

  30. The one thing you can always count on is change. Good luck, Rachel.

  31. Oh boy, what stress, indeed. Wishing a speedy (and successful) end of the class! And a big pet to your doggies for taking care of their mom so well ❤

  32. Three Pups and a Couple of Kitties

    I love that Hershey, Zoe, George, the baby next door, and of course Cricket and Butterfly are on the job and doing their part to help you get through this class. Hang in there, you’ll get it done! ~Margret

  33. Hope to hear how the work is going.

  34. Sounds like science, everyday ^_^


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