Monday, April 11, 2016

Waiting for TurnItIn

My new grad student plagiarized parts of his research proposal. His matches procedures written by my previous student in her dissertation. I already warned him once, very sternly that This. Will. Not. Happen. He either didn't care or forgot to correct it. That's bad enough but I know there's more. The writing style is more sophisticated in some paragraphs than others. When in doubt, I upload the paper to TurnItIn...

...Which is taking its own sweet damn time to analyze the document. I want to know so badly what he's done. This shit bugs the hell out of me when it's a freshman cutting and pasting but when a grad student does it, I get obsessive. I've yet to determine what the punishment should be so I guess the extra waiting provides me with time to figure that out. I've narrowed it down to a few options:
  1. Yell at him. I haven't yelled at any of my grad students before, so that would have an impact, I expect.
  2. Dismiss him from my group. It wouldn't be a big loss but it could sully my reputation as a kind, supportive graduate mentor.
  3. Turn him in for academic dishonesty. I'm not sure this charge would stick since he's only writing a draft, not the final document. Kicking him out of the program wouldn't bring tears to my eyes but it could be a big hassle of paperwork.
  4. Dissolve him in hydrofluoric acid. Now I'm getting creative. This would require some extra chemical waste containers, for sure.
  5. Take him out for a drive south of the compound to see the gators. Of course we'd get close, very close, so that he could see the native Florida wildlife up close. If, by chance, he slipped into the swamp, I would try my best to save him, I swear I would. And nobody would cry more than me at his funeral.

Decisions, decisions.

- Beaker Ben

44 comments:

  1. Feeling your pain.
    Here? Senior. "About to graduate."
    Hope the gators are hella hungry.

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  2. I'm guessing you land somewhere in the #2-#3 range. Those will be messy and time-consuming, but not quite so messy as #4 (or 5), which you've presumably also ruled out by posting them from a potentially-traceable IP address (see, as we keep insisting, this blog actually does ultimately protect students from our worst impulses!).

    While #1 is tempting, and would certainly be understandable, I don't think it would do much good. It's either going to go in one ear and out the other (just as your earlier strong admonition apparently did), or he's going to feel aggrieved/victimized by your being mean and yelling. And you might actually feel worse for yelling. Of course you'd probably eventually feel bad about dissolving him or feeding him to the gators, too.

    I guess that's the argument for #s2 and/or 3 -- they'll be painful during the process, but less painful in retrospect (well, as long as you don't spend all of the time involved only to have him slip by on a technicality. Then all you've got left is refusing to write him a letter of recommendation -- or writing a very cleverly-worded one).

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  3. "The student writes 'unbelievable' research proposals."
    "The proposals were deceivingly well researched."

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    2. It was difficult to distinguish this student's proposals from those of the best in the field.

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    3. This student has achieved a mastery of the literature.

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  4. Based on what's been written here over the years, for graduate-level chicanery, if the student continues on you will some years from now look upon this as "an early warning signal that should have been heeded."
    It need not be such a bald challenge as "CHEATER! CHEATER! CHEATER!" but rather, "I gave you advice as to how to proceed, and you went and did this. This is extremely poor judgement and terrible scholarship. Goodbye."

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    1. This. A student could possibly, just maybe—if everything broke the wrong way—get to the beginning of grad school without really internalizing how seriously the academic community takes the whole issue of plagiarism. But to ignore a direct warning shows something deeper than mere ignorance.

      You don't need to break his career, but if you go easy on him and he shows up on retractionwatch.com in a few years, you're going to kick yourself.

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  5. I got stuck here: "my reputation as a kind, supportive graduate mentor."

    A reputation like that could lead to your attracting more than your share of students with... issues; I've seen it happen to colleagues. Perhaps a bit of sullying the rep is in order.

    If letting him go from the group is too drastic, perhaps a furlough while you reconsider whether he is a good fit.

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  6. Control-F "stapler"
    No, not a single result
    I am disappoint

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    2. *twitch* did someone say
      "stapler"? My Bostitch is a
      staple gun; 'nough said.

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    3. I didn't even realize this was a haiku at first. <3

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  7. If you do #1, let him know you are considering #2 or #3. Scare the living shit out of him. "One word and I'll know it. One word and I'll bring the whole house down on your head."

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  8. You're limiting yourself to only one of these? Remarkable restraint.

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  9. Gather together all the other grad students in your group (without the plagiarizer) and ask them, "Has it not been made clear to you that you should not plagiarize?" And then ask, "Is there any reason why any one of you believes that plagiarism should be tolerated?"

    Assuming you get the answers you want, then tell them that the plagiarizer is out of the group. This way you get rid of the guy and you send a message to the others and you let them feel responsible for the decision.

    On the other hand, if they don't give you the answers you want, then you need to have a come-to-jesus talk with them all (including the plagiarizer) and document the shit out of that.

    On the third hand, is it possible that you didn't actually tell the plagiarizer not to plagiarize? A lot of my students look the same; I've been known to mix them up. You need to be certain (whatever "certain" means) that you didn't do this.

    Good luck. I hope you let us know what happens.

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  10. Pennsylvania PennyApril 12, 2016 at 4:14 AM

    Maybe I'm living in the golden haze of my own remote college days, but why on earth should a graduate student need to be told not to plagiarize in the first place? I vote for #2—throwing him out of your group—and making it clear that your supportive, nice-guy rep is abundantly available, but only to people who are prepared to do things the right way.

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    1. Haruko Obokata's defence of her plagiarized work included that she didn't know it was wrong.

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  11. Hey, don't be cruel to the poor, defenseless gators! Such unwholesome fare isn't good for them, you know.

    I therefore vote for (4). Say, if you mix the HF with liquid oxygen and burn it with either liquid hydrogen or jet fuel, it would be spectacular. Of course, be sure to have the fume hood on at full blast when you do.

    Seriously: never mind your reputation as a kind, supportive graduate mentor. Dismiss this fuckwad at once, before you get a reputation as a cream-puff whose science can't be trusted because your students are getting away with plagiarizing. What will come next for this sleaze, outright fabrication of results? That wouldn't look good if it turned up in a publication.

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    1. P.S. Don't yell at him. Modern students are so insulated from reality, if you yell at them they won't even know enough to be afraid.

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    2. Fear. Of. God. Whatever it takes. Yelling. Talking softly. Brandishing a machete.

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  12. I would do #3. Even if it doesn't stick, you then create a paper trail in case he does it again. Also, in that he plagiarized another student, you have to think about protecting the innocent as well as the guilty.

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  13. If you do #4, make sure you don't repaint your bathroom afterwards: the detectives may then want to remove sections of your sanitary drain for testing. They won't find anything, but it is quite inconvenient.

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  14. Waiting not so patiently for your full report on what turn-it-in said!!!!!

    :)

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  15. Grad students who are problems right from the beginning are not worth the inevitable trouble down the line. They can be a terrible albatross at grant renewal time. I say terminate with extreme prejudice. Document it, confront him calmly (making him aware that it's no longer simply a matter of cheating or grubbing for grades, but at the level of graduate research it messes with _your_ career), and dismiss him from your group. Because (I think?) s/he had not yet turned in the proposal -- it had not yet left your desk(?) -- it may not require dismissal from the program, but you should take the trouble to spell out that future path for this student.

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  16. Shoot shim in the knees and leave to rot in desert.

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  17. Dammit, I've been checking this site repeatedly throughout the day. Does the kid live to see another day, or does he sleep with the fishes?

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  18. As part of my graduate assistantship, a professor I barely knew had me check for plagiarism a chapter submission for his anthology. He handed me the chapter and the textbook written by the superstar of that particular subfield.

    I found that the chapter was about 90% plagiarized from the leading textbook in the field, some of it rather expertly combining sentences from various chapters to blend it into a fantastically creative bricolage. I had only ever seen this done by dumbass undergrads before. By the way, the author of the chapter was the author of the book. Lazy idiot plagiarized himself. (He was apparently supposed to submit something original. Go figure.)

    - Anon y Mouse

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    1. If he was the author and he rephrased and blended the text so creatively, how exactly did he plagiarize? He basically wrote what he knew and that was the product of his own mind. If he really wrote the book himself, he can probably talk about it at length. If you could get him to wake up in the middle of the night to answer questions or give you a lecture about the book, he would probably be able to do it. Would that be plagiarism? If yes, how so? If not, why is it wrong to do essentially the same thing, but in writing?

      Plagiarism is not the same thing as copyright infringement. I can see how, without plagiarizing from an academic standpoint, the author could need permission to use existing text, if he does not own the copyright to his own work. Or, it is my understanding that the chapter was supposed to be published and therefore copyright must have mattered.

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    2. Oh, honey, nice try, but you really don't get how this works.

      - Anon y Mouse

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    3. Self plagiarism is a thing, as the kids would say. It won't put you in the worst of the nine circles of hell but it's getting warm there.

      Self plagiarism is laziness and a disrespect towards the readers, editors, and publishers of the work you are preparing. If you have nothing new to say, then maybe you don't have anything worth saying at all. If you are smart enough to be the superstar of the field, you are smart enough to have some new insight or new perspective on your work. If not, then you're wasting everybody's time.

      Retelling your favorite joke is one thing but writing the exact same content is another. Experts don't memorize the explanation of a topic. That's what novices do. An expert should be able to write at length without repeating the exact same text, excluding a cliche here or there.

      Sorry to keep everybody in suspense. I will meet with the student tomorrow evening. I'm leaning towards kicking him out of the group but he may leave anyway due to his failures in other aspects of his work.

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    4. Ben, that's as cogent an explanation of the problem with self-plagiarism as I've ever seen; I can add nothing to it. So I'll just have to steal it.

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    5. "Ben, that's as cogent an explanation of the problem with self-plagiarism as I've ever seen; I can add nothing to it. So I'll just have to steal it."

      I see what you did there.

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    6. Meh.

      Academic misconduct by re-using material is thing. But it's not plagiarism (self or otherwise) in my book. Simply can't be because plagiarism means taking credit for someone else's work; I'll never accept that nonsensical phrase.

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  19. Whisper quietly in his ear while caressing his cheek softly with the plagiarized portion of the research proposal.

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    1. That is an option which I hadn't considered. I'm a little disappointed in myself.

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    2. Even though you're not touching him directly, make sure you wear nitrile gloves. Gradflake cooties have been known to pass through paper.

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    3. FINGERLESS nitrile gloves. Like an academic biker.

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  20. Bated breath...

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    1. Ben said "tomorrow evening" yesterday, so Imma lay off this site until 11.59 pm EST tonight.

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