If I had written this last year, I would have told you that teamwork is a lie. I would have cynically argued that there are two broad classifications of people in the world: people who care, and people who don’t, and I would have observed that the people who do care are inevitably bundled up with a motley crew of do-nothings, people who prefer to stand (or rather, to sit, because standing requires far too much energy) idly by while their only driven team member does all the work. If I had written this last year, I would have told you that group assignments are pointless. I would have asserted that working independently is far more beneficial to everyone involved: nobody would be taken advantage of, and nobody would unfairly receive unearned credit. If I had written this last year, the page would have been speckled with sarcasm and cynicism, a testimony to my frustrations and a record of my inability to function on a team. It would have been an essay best stored in the bottom of a wastebasket.

Here’s the good news, though. I didn’t write this last year.

Looking back on those poor experiences, I now realize that each opportunity I’ve had to collaborate with others—whether good or bad—was beneficial to my growth as a student and as an individual. For instance, from having to complete assignments without the help of my team, I developed independence and the ability to be a self-starter. And from countless ignored texts in project group messages, I learned patience and self-control (if only I had a dollar for every passive aggressive message I drafted but never sent). From periodically assisting other group members with assignments, I learned the art of instruction and effective communication. I learned that when I have the ability to help someone understand, it’s my responsibility to do so—because one day, when the roles are reversed and I’m the one utterly confused, I hope I can count on others to do the same for me. Perhaps most importantly, though, from my many one-sided brainstorming sessions, I learned that sometimes it’s best to just shut up. Nobody has all the answers, and nobody is without fault. Working on a team emphasizes the importance of humility and mutual respect, and perhaps the reason why others don’t voice their opinions or contribute to the project is because they’ve never needed to. The simple act of asking, “What do you think we should do?” could be enough to coerce a brilliant thought or enough to promote participation from a group member.

I’m already seeing many of these lessons come to fruition in myself and my fellow classmates. Now, when I’m lost and confused in organic chemistry recitation, I can look to my group for assistance. Now, when I’m assigned a group assignment in my genetics class, I can trust my teammates to do their fair share and for the project to be a success. Now, when I message my organic chemistry lab group, I can count on timely, helpful responses. At this point, it seems everyone is more dedicated to mastering the material and united in our goal to succeed.

That’s the point of teamwork-based assignments and classes. Many can learn the hard skills of differentiation, reaction mechanisms, or computer-aided design modeling; but few can learn the soft skills associated with working effectively on a team. I’m thankful that this was included in the curriculum for many of my classes, for I don’t foresee needing those reaction mechanisms on a day-to-day basis in the professional realm; however, I do know I’ll need to know how to work on a team. Those lessons are invaluable to the aspiring professional.