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How screwed am I?

  1. Jan 23, 2009 #1
    I got A in an engineering class last semester (I am a physics major). But then recently, the professor found out that I plagiarized various parts of the final research paper for that class. The final paper was supposed to discuss a topic of choice using materials found in peer reviewed journals, applying analysis learned in class. Let's just say that in many places in my paper, I was literally "using" materials from the articles instead of coming up with my own words to present what I digested. There is no excuse for what I did. I was extremely wrong and stupid.

    And now I have to pay dearly. I am already very lucky that most likely the professor is kind enough not to seek official disciplinary action from the school against me. But very likely he will fail me retroactively for that class. A bgi F.

    I have got nothing but A+'s and A's in all of my classes so far. I am in my junior year. Counting this potential F, my GPA now will be 3.82. This is probably the most devastating experience I have ever had in my life. I am feeling hopeless and desperate. What will a F in my transcript do for my grad school application? Before this nightmare began, I was dreaming about going to a top 10 grad school. Now is that even realistically possible? Is my hope of going to a top physics program completely shattered? Can I even get into a decent program? Assuming that there will be no record for why I got this F but simply the grade "F" for the abovementioned class and I will get as many A's as possible for the semesters left to buffer the effect of this F, how will admission committees react to this strange, alarming and overshadowing F in my transcript? Will they weed me out instantly upon looking at this failing grade?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 23, 2009 #2
    ha i wonder how many of those other high marks you actually deserved.

    honesty is the best policy. if it comes tell em everything that happened. come up with a very convincing remorse speech though.
  4. Jan 23, 2009 #3


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    Is re-taking the class an option?
  5. Jan 23, 2009 #4


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    Score high in the PGRE and with the right SOP you still have a shot at top 30/15. Youre SOP is going to be critical.
  6. Jan 23, 2009 #5


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    All things considered, you got off pretty light. Probably because the prof thinks you've got promise (and didn't plagiarize/cheat yourself through the rest of your courses). Take this as a lesson: DO NOT CHEAT / PLAGIARIZE! If you can keep your marks up, and your nose clean (so to speak), you'll probably be okay. Assuming you can continue getting high marks, they'll ask you about that discrepant mark you had in first year. At which point you can say that you were young, dumb, and uncertain and plagiarized. And that you learned the lesson (and hopefully, these are true!)

    Depending on who you talk to, this might actually be a plus. But you can never do anything like this again (and avoid expulsion / academic committee / harsher penalties, etc).
  7. Jan 24, 2009 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    I think you are substantially "more screwed" than most of the others seem to.

    If the admissions committee finds out about this, you are in deep, deep trouble. Who would want to take on a student on a research project with a tarnished ethical history? There is just too much risk.

    What do you think your letters will say? Do you think they won't mention the reason for the F? And if you don't mention it yourself and the admissions committee reads about it in the letters, what do you think their reaction would be?

    Ice109 brings up another point - once the committee knows the reason for the F, they don't know if the other classes where you got A's were because you have a solid grasp of the material or because you just didn't get caught.

    When I was a graduate student, on the first day I had to sign a big stack of paperwork - I wouldn't conduct research on humans, I would comply with the drug-free workplace rules, and so on and so on. One of them said that I would always conduct research in an ethical manner and that I had always done so in the past. Support was contingent on this. What will you do when faced with such a letter?

    I not only don't think a top 10 graduate school is in the cards, I don't think graduate school is in the cards period.
  8. Jan 24, 2009 #7


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    Are you guys being serious about these possible punishments for plagiarism? In highschool we would just get a slap on the wrist :uhh:
  9. Jan 24, 2009 #8


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    An update after you apply would be nice for anyone in the future with your problem.

    Also talk to your adviser about it. This forum is like WebMD if somebody tell you that you have AIDS I wouldnt believe it until I talked to my regular doctor because he knows enough about my background to give me a personalized advice. Your adviser has a good idea of whether you would get into your undergrad university PhD program so his advice would be a big hint on your chances at your current institution.
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2009
  10. Jan 24, 2009 #9


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    In kindergarten it wouldn't get even that far. But these times are long gone.
  11. Jan 24, 2009 #10


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    Get into business. Apply to a Chinese tech company. Tell'em how you got your F and the doors will swing wide open :biggrin: (brilliant and dishonest, what more can you want ?)

    No, seriously, the problem with being dishonest is that you can get caught. Now that this is "official", the problem is that it will be hard to justify taking you onboard anything where some form of ethical conduct is expected (or at least, where one has to pretend that ethical conduct is officially supported, even though in practice people don't mind).

    However, it is difficult to estimate in how much you really were dishonest. If it was just a matter of putting in the words literally, instead of reformulating them, then the only thing you violated was copy-right (which protects the form, and not the content). If you were not claiming to have done original research, and if it was obvious that the *contents* of the material was coming elsewhere from, but it was the difference between copying the words literally, or just rephrasing them, I don't see this as an act of dishonesty (but just of laziness).
    In fact, to "plagiarize" is to *reformulate* slightly without changing the essence of the content (which is what you didn't do and were expected to do).

    So I'd say you merited your F for not having done the work correctly (you were supposed to read, digest, and reformulate, and you copy-pasted it, which made it impossible for the professor to know whether you actually read it and digested it, or didn't even read it), but in how much this was actually dishonest is not clear.

    But maybe you are not telling us everything, and maybe you *claimed* certain ideas there to be yours, while they came from elsewhere. I would consider *that* far more serious than just the "choice of words". If it was clear that the *contents* wasn't yours, but just a matter of how it was written down (rephrased, or copied), I find that personally not such a dishonest thing (but of course, a badly done homework). If you claimed the *ideas* to be yours, then you have shown true intellectual dishonesty, which is difficult to sell afterwards.
  12. Jan 24, 2009 #11


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    Back when I attended college, the faculty acted "in loco parentis" and if I had done anything like that, I would have reasonably expected to be expelled immediately. Over the past ~40 years things may have changed to the point that you can prostrate yourself before your prof (and the dean of the college) beg forgiveness, and re-take the course, but if I were in their places, I wouldn't let you off that easy.
  13. Jan 24, 2009 #12


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    I can't say specifically how this will affect your cicumstances and chances at getting into grad school, but academic dishonesty is not a minor thing. There are avenues for recovery, but the road is long, and essentially you will now be required to proove that this was a one-time deal. That isn't easy in a competative world.

    As I went through school in the first lecture of every class I took, the professors were required to warn us about plagarism. From what I've seen there was a whole lot of it that went around. I'm sure most people in first year undergrad have seen "that copy" of the physics assignment that circulates through residence. And when it's two in the morning and your assignment is due the next morning, it can be awefully tempting to essentially photocopy it in your own handwriting. (When I taught labs I actually had students hand in copies of the pre-lab that were word-for-word identical - obvious technical errors and spelling mistakes and all). The problem is that even if you get away with it, that kind of thing only gets you so far. The further you go in academia, the harder it is to "fake" anything. Eventually you have to face the music.

    Further, with the technology available to students these days (I never had an online "physics forum" going through undergrad) plagarism is, I suspect, more rampant that ever. To copy a paper from a journal it's as simple as: hightlight, cut, and paste.

    I think, as a result, many schools will bring down the hammer that much harder when people do get caught.
  14. Jan 24, 2009 #13
    I've heard many anecdotal reports of academic misconduct resulting in a ruined career. I don't think I've ever heard of someone recovering from an ethical violation on their record. I'm curious if anyone else know of such a story though...
  15. Jan 24, 2009 #14


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    I'll play the devil's advocate and maybe give some (possibly false) hope.


  16. Jan 24, 2009 #15
    wow. harsh.

    give me a break with this doom saying. fess up, put on a good show, and almost all will be forgiven. trust me you'll be fine.

    we live in a country where second chances are par for the course.
  17. Jan 24, 2009 #16

    Andy Resnick

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    My problem with your situation is that you seem to be more upset that you were caught rather than understand why what you did was inexcusable. Some of the other comments in this thread are likewise disturbing.

    I am partially sympathetic to the concern that "everyone else is cheating", because grade inflation and academic misconduct are very real phenomena. Holding yourself to a higher ethical standard than is normally required by society is part of the cost of being a researcher.

    Part of growing up is accepting responsibility for your actions- not complaining that the punishment is too harsh.
  18. Jan 24, 2009 #17
    Thank you for your reply,

    I would be lying if I tell you I am not upset all at the penalty. But that's what I pay for my poor judgement. I learned my lesson. I am more upset at myself for doing such horrible thing.
  19. Jan 24, 2009 #18
    yeah on the sociological side the the pressure to copy work is immense.

    consider situations where a possible majority of students in the class are working together, none of them is actively "cheating" on the homeworks, however if one person figures out one of the problems and immediatly walked all of his friends through the problem, how is that different from somebody looking up the solution on the internet and using it to walk through a problem?

    similarly if everyone is getting some help through some of these sources and doing extremely well on the homeworks then most professors will think the problem sets are to easy and make them harder/ longer.

    I've had courses where the work load (time it takes to complete the weekly problem set) has tripled over the course of a semester because of what I believe to be this effect, and not just because the material itself became harder.

    so for students who are stuck without this aid because they are shy/etc. either violate academic honesty by finding the solutions online to help, or start failing homework assignments and thus get bad marks.

    personally I've taken the latter root in my courses, however on test time I'm always top notch in the class. however due to the homework grades i'm left with a B or so.

    and in an era where 3.0 is no longer considered an average grade but rather a mediocre grade those homework grades start mattering alot.

    ^PS I do believe problem sets and homeworks are important and I do expend a fair amount of time and effort on them as in an upper division or grad course they include alot of things that a professor can't put on the test as nobody would finish.
  20. Jan 24, 2009 #19


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    I agree that is why I think his SOP will be critical because it will be where this has to be honestly addressed. He really should try to get as many people as possible to look his SOP to make sure he comes across as truly repentant. Talk to your adviser if he is in the physics dept or talk to a professor in your physics dept about the incident and grad school.
  21. Jan 24, 2009 #20


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    That is a problem which nobody seems to address especially since it really can drop you down a grade or two in undergrad/graduate class . I really think that you shouldnt be allowed to work as a group on problem sets too because of that effect and because it makes the instructor look for more obscure material to make the problem sets or to make them longer creating a greater workload for grad students.
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