Even at graduate school level plagiarism reaches new heights

Tenafly, NJ – Plagiarism is a vexing problem when it confronts B2B editors, but ongoing efforts to thwart occurrences at academic institutions seem more comprehensive. That impression was quickly conveyed to Ethics News Updates when it attended a National Plagiarism Week online workshop last month, “How to Keep Your Job, Not Lose Your Reputation, Avoid Getting Sued, and Not Kill People”. Event sponsors included Turnitin, a provider of plagiarism detection software, and Plagiarism Today, an e-mail newsletter covering the topic.

Vigilance and training are the weapons continually in play in academics at graduate school levels. Statistics, while somewhat dated, justify the problem’s scope. For instance, workshop leader Kelleen Flaherty cites data appearing in a 2011 Pew Research study (note Flaherty is an assistant professor in the graduate biomedical writing program at the University of Sciences in Philadelphia):

“Most college presidents (55%) say that plagiarism in students’ papers has increased over the past 10 years. Among those who have seen an increase in plagiarism, 89 percent say computers and the Internet have played a major role.”

Plagiarism.org also has historical data about plagiarism incidence at undergraduate and graduate schools.

  • A survey of more than 63,700 US undergraduates and 9,250 graduate students conducted in 2005 by Donald McCabe, Rutgers University – revealed the following:
  • “36 percent of undergraduates admit to paraphrasing/copying a few sentences from an rinternet source without footnoting it; 24 percent of graduate students self-report doing the same.”
  • “38 percent admit to paraphrasing/copying a few sentences from a written source without footnoting it; 25 percent of graduate students self-report doing the same.”
  • “7% self-report copying materials almost word for word from a written source without citation; 4 percent of graduate students self-report doing the same.”

Plagiarism is ‘significant conduct issue’

The Plagiarism Week workshop ENU attended offered a course description clearly identifying plagiarism issues at stake:

“People enter graduate school for a few reasons: preparing to go into academia, preparing for special types of employment, or advancing in their extant careers (or sometimes changing careers). It’s a given, by the time a student reaches graduate school, that they both know what plagiarism is and would never dare to commit it.

“Unfortunately, neither is true. Worse, it’s sometimes compounded by professors or mentors who are incompletely schooled in plagiarism themselves, or who don’t consider it to be serious unless it is a major infraction. Plagiarism is, however, a significant conduct issue in graduate and postdoctoral work.

“A ‘plagiarism habit,’ even if ‘only minor’ or ‘unintentional’ (due to lack of training or just accident) can, in the real, post academic world, lose you your reputation, get you fired, get you sued (or your company sued) and maybe even result in danger or unfairness to others. Plagiarism isn’t a personal thing; it has ramifications and consequences. Academic and post-academic writing require a solid grounding in ethics.”

Anti-plagiarism tactics suggested

Workshop leader Flaherty referred to plagiarism as a form of “writing ethics.” The line-up of possibilities for combatting offenses include using anti-plagiarism software, providing training for students and faculty, increasing faculty vigilance, emphasizing zero tolerance, and requiring courses in ethics.

In addition, said Flaherty, it’s important to understand today’s “culture of thinking.” Now the attitude is plagiarism “is no big deal.”

“If you’ve cruised your way through graduate school via plagiarism,” she warned, “you will not get away with it in corporate life.”