Standing up to fellow (graduate) students who cheat

While we’re on the topic of academic misconduct, I thought today I’d share an anecdote about one person whose memory frustrates me to this day. Unfortunately, this story is about a fellow graduate student; academic dishonesty isn’t limited to undergrads.

Enter Jones (name changed, obviously). This guy was a course-option masters student with me in my early years at Georgia Tech. He would show up at our well-established study group, sit on the fringes, and saunter over every 15 minutes. In the most stoner-like voice you can imagine, he’d mumble:

“So, like, how are you guys coming on problem 4 of this structural dynamics homework? Can I see what you’ve got so far?”

We’d occasionally give him a pointer, but this guy had no shame. Oftentimes, when we were ready to leave, he’d ask if he could photocopy one of our solutions so he could “check his work” later. Some people actually let him. This request came constantly for months, and my frustration began to grow. I had to do something.

Finally one day, I had enough and directly told him (probably not as nicely):

“Jones, I’m serious: don’t ever come to me for any kind of help again. Leave our group alone.”

He scoffed… but never asked again. I can commend him for that.

Now, let me clarify: our study group was very open and collegial. There were plenty of people who were trying hard on their own and needed support from a group. We were happy to bring in new folks, work together with them, and mutually help each other.

But this guy Jones proved he had a single-minded objective of finishing graduate school without a solitary, independent thought. I don’t think there’s anything you can do for somebody like that.

So, my advice for dealing with dishonest grad students?

  • Stop enabling them by cutting off any help you give them.

  • Call them out on their actions, directly. It might do them some good to know people see what they’re up to.

  • Warn any friends who might become the next target.

One final, anthropological note: I looked Jones up on LinkedIn – since graduating in 2005, he has worked at 7 engineering firms and has not yet earned his professional engineer (PE) license (should have been eligible 3-4 years ago). I think that’s fairly self-explanatory and supports my previous assertion that eventually these people will be found out and their poor character revealed.

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