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Helping other students

  1. Sep 14, 2014 #1
    I'm taking higher level math and statistics classes right now, and a few of my peers asked me for answers to homework. Reluctantly, I gave hints and answered direct questions, unless they asked, "What is the answer?". I'm beginning to doubt whether or not I'm doing the right thing.

    Without thinking, my usual response is to help others. I guess on an unconscious level, I want people to like me.

    My thoughts are that I shouldn't help them. I don't expect to ask them for any help, and classes are getting harder. In a sense, I am competing with them, and in that context it makes no sense to help them.

    I'm not sure what to do, and I think this will happen again.

    In situations like this, what do you think is the best action, and why?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 14, 2014 #2


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    Don't help them with a full solution. Give them a couple of hints if they are stuck, but giving them the full answer is cheating and they don't learn anything.
  4. Sep 14, 2014 #3


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    I don't see why you couldn't answer "What is the answer?".. Maybe they've done the work and want to see if they've arrived at the same value or perhaps they expect to do the work at a later time and want the final solution so they can compare it when they do it.

    If they asked you for the full solution, that's a different matter.. I'm not sure if in this case you should give it or not.. Maybe giving 1 would not be as bad as others make it out to be. Some people like to have 1 "example" as to understand that type of exercises better... Some books even provide exemplary exercises.
  5. Sep 14, 2014 #4
    I didn't think about it that way. I'm glad that I did post this question.

    EDIT: I'm guessing that in my situation you would help, but why?
  6. Sep 14, 2014 #5


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    Most problems have symbolic answers though.
  7. Sep 14, 2014 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    That is easy enough to take care of. "What did you get?" "I got the same thing."
  8. Sep 14, 2014 #7
    Its a delicate balance. In the end you are in competition with every one of them. Helping them can hurt you. On the other hand you cannot go it alone and you should be collaborating with others. Ideally you can find a group you can work with and everybody pulls weight. That's tough to do. It only get more and more competitive as you go on.
  9. Sep 14, 2014 #8
    I like you're thinking. Yeah, I'm in a MS program, so most people who do ask are in the same major and will be competing for the same summer internships, etc. I don't want them to fail. Besides grades, the only thing I can think of to get a leg up is programming skills. Seems people want stats guys to know SAS, or R.
  10. Sep 14, 2014 #9


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    Collaborating is generally okay.

    Academic dishonesty is where they are copying your work and presenting it as their own.

    At the master's level, I would hope that anyone in the program would be above blindly copying your work. That doesn't mean that it's impossible, of course. I would recommend avoiding this kind of scenario at all costs as it could jeopardize your academic career.

    In collaboration there is a balance of give and take. Again at the master's level, your colleagues should be beyond the level of needing to be spoon fed the answers to the problems. With respect to assignments, they should bring to the table their own solutions and hold up their end of a dialogue on the work. Personally I think it's fine if one guy doesn't get the answer to a question or two and needs to be walked through it - particularly if this happens both ways. But if that same guy starts relying on the walk-through to get the assignments done on a regular basis he's no longer collaborating. He's catching a free ride.

    Use your judgement. If something doesn't feel right to you, then there's probably a good reason for it.
  11. Sep 16, 2014 #10
    Remember that your co-students can also help you in your career later. It helps to be that smart guy who helped them so much later when you ask your old contacts if they know of any openings. It should also be enjoyable to get an opportunity to talk about your subjects. I know that it's some of the few times I get mouth diaré.
  12. Sep 21, 2014 #11


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    Helping others understand is the best in the long run. If you help by teaching how to solve the problems, it will probably increase your own understanding a lot. And if these people are after the solutions, then it will show on the exams either way. It is also just a good thing to be helpful towards people in general, if your known as a helpful, smart guy you will get your rewards in the end. Of course there is a limit when people just take advantage of you when your a nice guy, but you have to judge if that is the case.
  13. Sep 23, 2014 #12
    Go with your instincts to help them out with hints, and lengthy tutoring (if necessary.) Make the world a better place, not a dog eat dog hell! Note, just giving them the answer is not helping anyone. You need them to get to the answer themselves, in their own way, even if it means sitting down for an hour and engaging in Socratic dialogue until they get the answer. If they are just lazy people who want the answer to copy down in five minutes then they will not bother you again. If they engage with you and "see" the answer, you will be their hero, and it's nice to feel like a hero. Other benefits may accrue (free meals, ...) but just making their day better should be enough of a boost for you.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2014
  14. Sep 23, 2014 #13


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    When I was an undergrad I was always helping my fellow students. In most cases it increased my knowledge of the subject, as you have to truly understand a topic to teach it well.
  15. Sep 23, 2014 #14
    This. Also, in classes where the homework isn't graded, I typically just give the solutions out. My opinion is that in that case, it's no different than having the professor work it out, or looking at a solution in the book. Plus, if they want to just copy it down and not learn how to do the problem, it'll show on the test.
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