Was it attempted plagiarism?
April 20, 2010 9:58 AM Subscribe
A couple of years ago I was an undergrad looking for part-time research work, and a friend-of-a-friend connected me to a PhD candidate who needed help with her thesis. I spoke to her and her request set off plagiarism alarm bells for me, so I declined the project. I always doubted whether I handled it correctly, though, and I just found out that the friend-of-a-friend who referred me is still a little ticked at me for asking the PhD student these questions and then declining the work. Did I handle this alright, or was I being a jerk?
posted by anonymous to computers & internet (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Basically, the PhD student asked me for a 3-page written report, in polished academic prose with citations, about a particular aspect of her thesis topic. When I asked her how this would be used, she said: "It will form part of a 50-page document I am writing." (Our correspondence took place via email, so that quote is verbatim.) Now, if an undergraduate student paid an outside source to directly compose a portion of their work, that is clear-cut no-bones-about-it plagiarism. So I asked her this:
"Hi PhD student,
If what you want is polished, final draft work, then I need to make sure that I'm properly attributed for it, to prevent both of us from getting into ethical and academic trouble. I'd like to speak with your supervisor directly - I would want a written commitment from him/her that what I write would be properly attributed, and I would want to discuss with him/her how much work I am allowed to contribute to your thesis. Hopefully that's not an inconvenience to you, and I'm sure, as an academic, you understand why I'm asking.
I received a curt reply along the following lines: "That is not possible, and you're making this too complicated, and I was trying to do you a favor, since our mutual friend asked." Now, I know that the PhD student's request is 100% verboten in the undergraduate world, but I don't know anything about the way research goes at the PhD level. Is it different? Is this kind of thing allowed? Was I out of line to ask these questions, or was I being rude? I suspect I'm in the right, but I know that professors frequently employ, e.g., research assistants, who I doubt are often fully credited for their work. Learning my mutual friend is still irritated at me has renewed the nagging doubt I always felt about my response. By the way, the three page report that the PhD student wanted was just the first bit of work she wanted me to do for her - she said there was much more work she could give me, presumably of a similar nature.
(BTW, if this is indeed plagiarism, I realize the risk of getting caught was quite low, but my objections were ethical as well as pragmatic.)
Anon because I don't want this getting traced back to the PhD student, especially if I was the one in the wrong.