The worst part of my job

I finished grading a round of papers only to discover a documentable plagiarism case. I hate having to deal with that kind of thing. I hate having to give the stern "You’re looking at an F on the assignment, a very unpleasant meeting with the dean of students, and academic probation" lecture. Even more than that, I hate it when these cases disrupt my usual working assumption that we’re all adults and I don’t have to yell at anyone for intellectual dishonesty.

I told them at the beginning of term that plagiarism is easier to detect than they might think, and that if they can find a paper on the web, so can I. Apparently, not everyone was listening.


9 Responses to “The worst part of my job”

  1. Mike says:

    Can I ask how you discovered it?
    For me, the tipoff is usually the apparent change in style. And the sad part is, the plagiarism often happens at the end of the semester because they’re panicking about all the work they have to do, and they don’t realize — no matter how many times they’re told — that they do have a style and a voice, and by the end of the semester, the teacher probably has a pretty good sense of that voice.
    My very first semester teaching, I had a student use the word “myriad” in an essay. It was a total tipoff, and it startled me so much that I mentioned it to another teacher who was also grading papers in the grad lounge. “Huh,” she said. “You know, I had the exact same thing.”
    It turns out that it was a rather popular paper. I have to wonder what students think of themselves, and us, sometimes: not only do they not have an individual style, but teachers don’t talk to one another?

  2. Julie says:

    I have just finished a Masters at a university here in Sydney. Many many of the students are young folk from Asia where jobs are so competitive that higher level western degrees are much sought after.
    In class many of these students struggle to string three words of English together, whereas their written submissions are not only erudite but also literate. It annoyed me immensely.

  3. Rana says:

    Ugh. I hated that too. I usually proceeded on the assumption that the student was just quoting improperly and gave them a chance to re-do it, then averaged the grades. (Some were, indeed, just dumb, not dishonest, and pathetically grateful to not be flunked outright.)
    However, there was one time too egregious to warrant even that much consideration: the student who submitted a paper that was (a) off-topic and (b) identical (except for the intro) to the one she turned in to one of my colleagues that same term. Not quite plagiarism, exactly, but definitely dishonest. To top it off, she tried to claim she hadn’t really done this but was “confused” and turned in the “wrong” paper (recall the intro — hah). After a semester of this kind of thing, I was really sick of it, and cut her no slack. Feh!
    I hope your talk with your student works out better.

  4. Amanda says:

    Mike, the tipoff was more or less exactly as you described: I started reading the paper and thought “Hmmm, *this* doesn’t sound like X’s other papers.” I Googled a key phrase or two, and sure enough, there was the source.
    I think maybe students don’t think about their professors ever comparing notes. I once heard a story about two professors in my department who both received the same paper from the same student who was taking both of their classes. But what the student didn’t know was that the two professors in question are married to each other!

  5. wolfangel says:

    Is “myriad” that uncommon a word?
    In my last year of undergrad, I was taking all grad courses plus one undergrad spanish (intermediate). Most of the people in that course were first years. It was interesting to talk to them about their experiences with plagiarism: they all did it, regularly, and penalties were nonexistent to invisible to so light you wouldn’t notice.

  6. Michelle says:

    Found your new blog. I’m late, as usual! I like this streamlined look. Very clean.
    I’ve considered, while considering teaching, that unpleasant aspect which is much like parenting and much like supervising: policing. The act itself is irksome.

  7. Mimi says:

    My “favorite” experience with plagiarism involved a student who asked me one week what a “cyborg” was (although I had assigned Donna Haraway and discussed it at length the week before, and this in a class all about bodies and technologies) and turned in a theoretically dense paper about the epistemological and ontological implications of Haraway’s body of work the next week.
    How stupid do students think we are?

  8. Rana says:

    I suspect they simply _don’t_ think. 😉
    (And congrats for being able to take undergrads through Haraway — that’s a challenging text!)

  9. jb says:

    We’ve had a lot of probs here with essays downloaded from the net here in Sweden. A recent case went to the university committee where a lawyer questioned the student. Afterwards, having been suspended for three months, she cooly asked what she needed to do to get her credits.