During my final semester of undergrad, my school made the switch to online classes. Even though I experienced virtual learning during that time, I wasn’t sure what to expect as a newly admitted graduate student at a school where I didn’t know any other students. My worries quickly subsided, as the staff and faculty at McIntire were incredibly supportive and helped ease the transition to the new hybrid learning environment.
Here at UVA, McIntire offered both in-person and online options to attend class this year. For me, four of my six courses were offered through this hybrid system, which allowed me to learn in-person with my professors or tune in via Zoom at class time. My other two classes, which were strictly virtual, gave me the flexibility to join from different locations around Grounds or from my apartment. This semester, finding time to escape my apartment was key, which is why I enjoyed being able to take my online-only courses from different spots, whether from a study room or the graduate student lounge.
In terms of classwork, the M.S. in Accounting Program is known for its distinct emphasis on group work and collaboration. Meeting and connecting with people solely online can definitely be a challenge; making meaningful connections with people you will spend hours learning and contributing to assignments with is a whole different story. Luckily, the faculty dedicated several assignments during the first weeks of class to team-building exercises that allowed us to grow closer to our groups.
Whether it was virtual escape rooms, fun networking meetings, or working together to virtually survive an arctic plane crash, our group has done it all together and really began to grow close with each other. Fast forward a couple months, and I can confidently say that my experiences with my group members have been awesome. In fact, we frequently hang out as friends outside of class time and work on projects together.
The students, faculty, and staff here at McIntire really helped make the transition to graduate level virtual learning seamless. Through my experience and all that I learned during this first semester, I came up with a couple guidelines that I follow in order to be the best group member possible and build strong relationships in a virtual setting:
Communication is key. In my opinion, this is the most important factor in building strong relationships and contributing to your team in a virtual environment. Things change, and they change quickly, so it is crucial to over-communicate everything with your team, which helps your entire group understand you better. I would much rather communicate something twice, and have my entire team understand, than communicate once and fall short on an aspect of our meeting or group work.
Be accountable. Next is the importance of accountability. Nobody enjoys working with groupmates who do not uphold their agreements or do not fulfill their portion of an assignment, so having established expectations around accountability is important. This starts with honest expectations and doing your part in order for any work to be completed. While your portion of the work might not always feel reasonable, the best thing you can do if you are unable to fulfill your requirements is to return to the first tip and communicate with your team how you feel.
Be prepared. Everyone has a different definition of what it means to be prepared. For some, being prepared means simply logging in to a work meeting, whereas others view being prepared as studying beforehand, understanding the topics, predicting potential questions people will ask, and playing out the entire meeting beforehand. For this reason, it is a great idea to set expectations early on as to what it means to be prepared. For my group, we had a rule that being prepared means you have read the case or assignment ahead of time, worked through as much as you could, and arrived at our meetings ready to complete the next steps together.
Do more than just the assignment. While work is certainly a priority, I would argue that the relationships and network you build while completing the work are just as valuable, if not more, than the assignment itself. Part of being an effective group member is getting to know your teammates, so having conversations while working on assignments is a great way to build your network and strengthen your relationships with others. Some of my best and funniest memories with my group have happened while working hard on a project and asking random questions to start a conversation, which has helped me learn more about my groupmates and their lives outside of class.
Looking back on my first semester of graduate school and the hybrid environment, I have to say that it was a much more positive experience than what I once expected. The faculty and staff helped play a great role in making sure everything was accessible in both online and in-person formats, and I was able to learn very effectively while in class, regardless of the physical environment. I learned the importance and value of being an effective group member, and I know that the transition to my full-time career next year will be very smooth, given all the exposure to group work and team collaboration I had at McIntire.
The emphasis on group work has really led me to growing and developing as a person and professional. Through it all, my group members and I have built lasting relationships that will help us become even closer friends over the next semester and into the future. Using everything I have learned during the fall semester here at the McIntire School of Commerce and considering these four tips provided above, I know I have built the skill set required to become an effective group member, which will allow me to build strong relationships and further advance my career.