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Vanshika Saxena's TeamWork experience

Vanshika Saxena

Vanshika Saxena, UG, Computer Science.

I made a general application for the programme, indicating which sorts of projects I would be interested in (e.g. Technology, Research, Marketing). Once I was accepted, I attended some induction webinars on intercultural communication and other useful stuff, before being put into a team and allocated a project with an organisation.

It’s worth noting that while we could state our preferences, there is no guarantee that we would get a project that met all of them, so I went into it with an open mind. In my case, the project did seem quite random, but it became apparent over the course of the project that I could still apply my area of ‘expertise’ and interests to the topic at hand.

The topic itself was about looking at how college athletics would be affected by some major legislative changes in the US, which now allow student-athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness. I focused on the use of data analytics in sports and how AI-based solutions can be used to address the opportunities and challenges presented by this change. In other words, I had much fun playing around with social media analytics tools!

While I focused on tech stuff, my teammates – who study History, Industrial and Labour Relations and HR Management among other non-STEM stuff (‘twas just me, the lone STEM student) – focused on other aspects of the topic. Together, we put together a pretty comprehensive document that approached the topic from different angles.

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of this project was the process of working together. As an international team based in the US, the UK and China/Hong Kong, we had a whopping 12-hour distance between our easternmost and westernmost teammates. For whole team meetings, it was inevitable that someone would be groggy from having just woken up, and someone else would be winding down to go to sleep.

What I learnt

The program is called TeamWork for good reason. I think the best thing about taking part in the programme is what I learnt from the process of working with an international, multi-disciplinary team, which presents its own unique challenges. It’s teamwork on steroids!

Here are my main takeaways from the programme:

  • Working with multiple time zones. BTC? UTC? ETC? I may have studied maths as part of my degree but calculating time differences is another branch of mathematics entirely. My advice? Just stick to UTC for everything.
  • Getting to know the team remotely. It feels harder to get to know one’s teammates online. I think it’s important to allocate some time in meetings (e.g. like the first 10 minutes) to just catch up with each other casually to ‘bond’, as we otherwise had the tendency to get straight to work.
  • Collaborating in a multi-disciplinary team. While respect is important in any teamwork in general, I think it’s especially important to respect people who have different disciplinary backgrounds – I learnt so much from listening other people’s perspectives, which were so different (but complementary) to my own.
  • Intercultural communication. Understanding how culture affects how someone may behave in a team is something that I find really interesting, and I think it’s something to be aware of – without applying stereotypes.
  • Dealing with ambiguity. Due to the nature of our project, which involved following an issue unfolding in real-time in the news, we struggled to define our project outcomes until we were over half-way through the project. This was an exercise in balancing planning with flexibility.
  • Finding value in everything we do. To be honest, our project’s topic was not something that I initially found interesting (I’m not a sporty person, nor American!). That said, I immersed myself in the topic and committed to project. Towards the end, I made the topic work for me as I found an angle that incorporated my own interests. I wholeheartedly believe that there’s something we can learn from everything we do if we stay inquisitive and keep our minds open – even if it doesn’t seem to have much value at first.

So, with those takeaways in mind, I would recommend taking part in the programme to anyone who gets the opportunity. While I did this at the end of my third year, I would also really recommend it for those in their first or second year as it’s a fantastic experience that builds teamwork skills. Plus, it’s really unique opportunity to meet some cool people at different universities and build international connections.

To quote Shia LaBeouf, “Just do it”!