Plagiarism: Mischief-making, Poor Scholarship or Ignorance?

Rewind, 25-30 years ago, no global internet, no responsive search engines, no searchable databases and very few had access to learning materials, academic papers, thesis and textbooks. Then, if you had an assessment, you used a physical library, read old books and wrote assessments within the limitations of your educational environment and infrastructure. Fast forward to 2020, now we are all learning virtually, the internet is global, even in the most hard-to-reach areas and education is becoming universal.

One thing has not changed within that timeline; poor scholarship and sometimes mischief-making in the classroom/learning environment. This poor scholarship and mischief-making is the focus of this article today and is known as Plagiarism in education, academic and publishing settings.

Plagiarism has been defined as “presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition.” University of Oxford (link)

plagiarism

Synonyms of plagiarism. Source (https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/plagiarism)

Plagiarism this phenomenon is almost as old as I can remember and is usually known by different terms depending on where you are in the world e.g. exam malpractice, cheating, dubbing, being smart etc. I first encountered this term during my first degree and I realised how serious this act is how severe the consequences can be. In some environments (no name calling here), these behaviours were/are enabled by poor academic quality in an institution, lack of tools to verify cheating, stealing or creative transference of someone’s work presenting as the work of another. Some of us might be all too aware of the “handout” or “small textbook” culture in some academic institutions in the world.

These are text re-packaged from the efforts of others with no acknowledgement of the original sources. This is plagiarism, dishonest and frankly illegal behaviour. Why do people plagiarise? There are many reasons why this happens and the University of Nottingham lists several reasons why students and people generally do this (see full article here)

  • Bad time management skills
  • Unable to cope with the work load
  • “The tutor doesn’t care, why should I?”
  • External pressure to succeed
  • Lack of understanding
  • “I can’t do this!”
  • “I want to see if I can get away with it”
  • “I don’t need to learn this, I only need to pass it”
  • “But you said work together!”
  • “But that would insult the experts in the field

Perhaps, you might recognise some of the phrases or reasons among this list and it is important to recognise that plagiarism is not always international however irrespective of the intentionality, recklessness or naivety; it is a disciplinary offence University of Oxford (link).

What is the impact and what are the penalties?
Evidence shows that students who plagiarise, cheat or commit an academic offence always believe they can get away without consequences. These days it is much harder to cheat or plagiarised submitted work. This is something that has also impacted people outside education including writers, politicians, researchers etc.

Some of the examples of the real life consequences of plagiarism include

  • Guttenberg plagiarism scandal refers to the German defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg who had copied large sections of work for his research without attribution or citing the work in 2007. This led to him resigning from his position and he was also stripped of his PhD (Columbia College, Canada: link)
  • In Korea’s Summer of Plagiarism, a blog article written by Jonathan Bailey (link), there were several cases of plagiarism, which included authors, Minister of Health, several government officials leading to calls for reform in the publishing industry.
  • Newspaper editor at the New York Daily News was fired for plagiarising parts from another article published in another newspaper The Daily Beast (link)

These are just some examples and just a quick online search would reveal many cases and examples. Academics have lost jobs for plagiarised work, Vice-Chancellors dragged before court, authors taken to court and lost revenue, with some facing jail time for work they plagiarised 20, 30 years in the past. This highlights the importance of doing your own work, acknowledging the work of others, learning good scholarship and staying away from trouble.

What is the impact for students?
For students, the consequences of plagiarism include: reduction of assessment marks, failure on course component, damaged reputation, poor job references, failure of an academic year, ejection from the course or the University or College. The consequences can go from light to very severe.

Very often, students who plagiarise or commit academic offense fail to realise the impact can be wider than what happens in school, college or University. You could be refused a job if you’ve been found to plagiarise in College or University. You could also be refused formal references from previous tutors or mentors etc.

These might appear harsh, however, do ask yourself, would you be pleased to be attended to by a doctor, a nurse, dentist or surgeon if you found out they cheated their way through college?

In addition, if you found out your boss at work, the Director of your organisation or the person who decides your promotion or future at work is only in their position because they cheated their way through their degree. I bet you would see that as a travesty! Therefore, the consequences are usually greater than the act in itself.

How do you avoid plagiarising or committing an academic offence?
In an article Avoiding Plagiarism by the University of Leicester’s Student Learning Development Centre, several steps have been suggested (Read the full article here)

  • Fully reference and acknowledge the work of others
  • Use your own words and develop your own writing style
  • Organise and structure your work in your own way
  • Don’t be afraid to express your own views

Several Universities provide plagiarism-checking software for students to check essay submissions, reports, thesis and other academic work for poor academic writing, poor citations or elements of unacknowledged work. Some examples of these tools include Turnitin, Blackboard SafeAssign etc. you can also find some free software online including examples like Grammarly.

Where can you find help or advice?
The links provided in this article or any good University would have free advice on how you can avoid plagiarism and there are many examples you can learn from with scenarios. It would be really, valuable to embed yourself in this activity especially now if you are a student or researcher with little knowledge of this. We will share articles on good writing and good academic writing on the hub soon however if you are new to academic writing, you can start with our previous article

Better still get in touch with us on any of our social media platforms or by email at info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com

So, every time you are faced with any writing, academic or non-academic, remember these steps

  • Read widely
  • Understand the concepts and context
  • Use your own words, do not copy and paste
  • Cite and acknowledge any and every author you have referenced.
  • Use a plagiarism checker
  • Smile

This article was written by Dr Emmanuel Adukwu (Tweets @EmmanuelAdukwu). He is a leading academic at a UK University with significant experience supporting students at undergraduate, masters and doctoral level. He is also the co-creator of the Aspiring Professionals Hub. If you enjoyed reading the article, do leave a comment at the bottom of this article. Also, don’t forget to appreciate the efforts by following our pages on InstagramTwitter and Facebook. Thank you.

If you have enjoyed reading this article. At APH, we pride ourselves with making accessible information to a wide community of readers globally for FREE and we welcome new writers and content from readers and writers from all over the world. If you have a story to tell or you would like to write for us, get in touch at info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com

A guide to writing the personal statement for your university or college application

Let’s face it, you are probably one of those who following the prolonged lockdown, you’ve had lots of time to think about everything including your life, experiences and of course, your career. Perhaps the pandemic has given you that fresh sense of purpose to pursue that undergraduate, masters or doctorate degree you have been putting off for a long time. If only, applications were so simple and you do not have to write that personal statement as well, I feel you!

The personal statement happens to be very important in the university recruitment process as it helps provide information about you beyond the structured application forms and is a good chance to “sell yourself” and showcase your talent as well as providing the recruiting institution with intelligence on the type of support you might need if you are offered a place.

To my knowledge, in the UK, US and some other countries, the personal statement can be used as evidence or support document for scholarships. For practice based courses such as Nursing and Midwifery, Allied Health courses, Medicine and Surgery, Education etc., the personal statements are particularly important in the candidate selection process as some of these programmes have caps on the numbers of students they can enrolled on the programme each year.

What makes a good personal statement?

A personal statement is only as good as the thought that goes into it, the originality of the written statement and the quality of the written material.

What do I mean by this?

Before applying for any course at University or HE at any level undergraduate or postgraduate, it is important to give a lot of thought to it. This is because higher education is getting more and more expensive with a continuous rise in tuition fees. In addition, the job market continues to evolve which impacts the types of degrees on offer and also determines the types of programmes created to match future skills. These days, I expect applicants and their families (if young adults) to ask themselves some key questions. These questions should form the basis of the application and eventually enables the personal statement when you decide to write it.

  • What is my career goal?

You might have heard this question as a child “what would you like to be when you grow up.” If you are reading this article, I would like to think you are now “grown up” and aware of your career interest(s).

  • Which University offers the course I am interested in?
  • What level of study suits my level of experience?

This question is particular important for those who have alternative qualifications such as OND/HNDs, or those with a Bachelors considering a Masters and thinking of furthering to a PhD. Did you know that you could undertake a PhD without a Masters? I bet some of you didn’t – Well, I will be waiting for my Palm wine or Chardonnay from you for this gem of an information.

  • How will I fund my studies? Will my family be paying? Will I be taking a loan?
  • Am I ready for the commitment?

University study can be fun but it MUST take something from you for it to fulfil its purpose. It should not be a “walk in the park” or so easy without pushing and testing your limits.

If you have pondered on these questions, and started your application, then you are ready to start your personal statement. The following points are a guide to helping you construct your unique statement.

Firstly, you need a structure. Some applications might require you type it into a online document while others will expect you to send a word or PDF document.

  • You must have a title e.g. Personal Statement for MSc Nursing and Midwifery at Saturn University. You will need to include your name and your application number (if available) so they can link it to your application
  • Your personal statement should have like any other essay, an introduction (who you are), the body of the essay (why you have applied) and the conclusion or summary (why you deserve or should be considered for the place).

Then you need to think specifically about the course or programme you have applied for.  

  • Why you have applied for the course. For example, a statement “ I have applied for the MSc in Magic Recovery Mechanisms at Houdini University because……
  • Why have you chosen to apply to the University e.g. Houdini University is the first in line of Universities that…..or…Having read through the brochures or spoken to the programme team, I found the magic at the University to be the best magic programme/course at the Universities I considered etc.
  • How is this course relevant to my experience or your career interest? Here, you can think about your career interests, goals and how the course aligns to it.
  • What skills do you have and what do you hope to gain from the course?
  • Why is a place on this course important to you?

Finally, I recommend you include what you will bring to the course/programme. This could be some of your own experience in a previous job, degree, volunteering or anything of relevance that would help the selectors get a strong sense of who you are.  This could also be your personality, your zest fro life and your passion for learning etc.

Remember, the statement needs to be original. It serves no use copying the statement of others but you can learn from that of others. In addition, typos, errors, poorly written statements, bad grammar would reduce your chances of getting a place on the course. You might be a high flying candidate but a dose of humility always helps, so do not make yourself appear as a jerk to the selection panel so get a second opinion on your statement before you submit to ensure all errors and mistakes are minimal at best.

Remember, your originality matters. Image source Khamkhor on pixabay

With this, you are good to go and good luck with your applications.

This article was written by Dr Emmanuel Adukwu (Tweets @EmmanuelAdukwu). He is a leading academic at a UK University with significant experience supporting students at undergraduate, masters and doctoral level. He is also the co-creator of the Aspiring Professionals Hub. If you enjoyed reading the article, don’t forget to appreciate the efforts by following our pages on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Thank you.

Oh and do not forget to leave us a comment and share with others who might benefit from this article!

Related articles

#UniAdvice – Choosing the right Masters degree for You (link)

#PhDChat – So You Want to do a PhD (link)

PhD Candidate? Develop a Career Plan or Stack Shelves…

After several conversations with some  PhD students recently, I was struck by one common thread, the lack of awareness or astuteness in planning or developing their own careers and lack of confidence in seeking help. Note, in this article, I use candidate and student interchangeably!

PHD labourSo why this article?

Many PhD students whilst studying for a higher degree approach their careers in a manner no different from undergraduate (UG) students i.e. they typically wait to the end of the PhD and then panic stations which manifests itself in last minute CVs, poor application outcomes and pressure to make career choices.  With a PhD comes high expectations and sadly poor post-PhD career outcomes. Thus, it is imperative that PhD candidates understand the importance of the PhD.

As a PhD candidate, you need to view your project as a form of Project Management – think about it, you are given an idea or a project, you investigate challenges around the idea, often work with different stakeholders (sponsors, supervisors, other students, graduate school, community, peers at conferences etc.), proffer solutions and produce a report which you are expected to and usually defend to an expert committee.

Salary Negotiation 101 – Are You Ready for Your Next Interview?

Editor’s note – Over a decade ago I was at an interview and got asked the question “how much would you like us to pay you?”. This question came in halfway through a deep dialogue about technical issues and to be honest, I choked. I had come in for one interview and ended up with three (I’ll share another day!). Although I thought, I had been prepared for this question, I had not been as prepared as I should have been. As a result, I felt I didn’t do myself justice. In my conversations with many students, graduates and early-career professionals, it is evident many are unprepared for this question before and after interviews. In today’s article, Mr Paul Mutengu (PM), shares some pointers on what to be aware of with regard negotiating salaries. Enjoy reading – EA

Negotiating salaries are not the easiest of conversations to hold yet so crucial to ensuring we earn what we are worth. Everybody’s experience and approach will differ, but some principles apply, and these tips might help you as a guide – PM

Know your worth

#MYPHDSTORY: The extraordinary cocktail of pregnancy, postpartum depression, sleepless nights and studying for a PhD.

Editor’s noteA big part of a PhD candidate’s identity is often centred around the PhD. One of the first things (sometimes the only thing) we discuss with them is their research. It can sometimes be easy to forget that just like everyone, a PhD is only one aspect of any candidate’s identity. PhD candidates are people first.  Friends, partners, siblings, employees, business owners, spouses, parents etc. All stakeholders – PhD candidates, supervisors, institutions etc. need to have this at the centre when we engage, supervise and provide support. Our #MyPhDStory articles provide a platform for postgraduate researchers to share their authentic lived experiences with our readers. In this article, Frances shares her experience of having not one but two children during her PhD and other expected and unexpected events during her PhD journey.

I am writing this article few years after the successful completion of my doctorate studies in Microbiology.  I  currently work as a public health microbiologist in California, USA.  I got married in the first year of my two-year Master’s program in Massachusetts. At the time, my husband was living and working on another continent. That same year, I applied for doctorate studies in Alabama, and I was offered a place. A few months after getting married, I became pregnant. Being pregnant in itself wasn’t a problem as I felt fine, however I experienced some challenges. I experienced a spectrum of emotions; embarrassment, the appearance of being unserious, stigma and later on, the occasional forgetfulness, tiredness and of course, heaviness. At this point, living away from my husband became very challenging and towards the end of the pregnancy, depression struck! a cocktail of loneliness and hormonal changes.

%d bloggers like this: