Sucheta Dalal :Beyond plagiarism and the new student
Sucheta Dalal

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Beyond plagiarism and the new student  



October 25, 2002

The recent kerfuffle over a university professor and his student plagiarising research papers had me do a Net search to check how rampant is plagiarism and cyber-plagiarism in India.

I do know that lifting from the Net is rampant, journalists do it, students are bound to do it and obviously a lot of academics are also doing it.

In fact, there are entire Web sites devoted to helping instructors catch plagiarised work (www.plagiarism.com).

If plagiarism is so rampant, how does one classify all those innumerable requests I get from students trying to get me to do their project work? I guess one would say it is beyond plagiarism.

It also got me thinking why I hit the delete button each time I see a new request. Of course, it is blasphemous to say so.

After all, helping students is supposed to be like motherhood, you are supposed to go all soft and gooey that the little ones actually need your help.

Many writers in fact do devote extra attention to answering student e-mails. I used to too. But I was cured of such stupid sentimentality within a few months after my e-mail ID started appearing at the end of my columns.

Let me clarify that I do not dislike all messages from students. I am amused at childish outbursts (of the kind that I was inundated with after I wrote that Sachin Tendulkar should pay up the duty on his expensive Ferrari) about my columns.

I also think letters from teenybopper guys and gals who want to be my 'friend' are kinda cute. Unfortunately, almost 80 per cent of the student e-mails that I receive are ingenious ways to get their homework assignments done by me. Like I said, that is beyond plagiarism.

If you simply want to plagiarise, the Net provides plenty of ready help. A how-to guide says that all you need to do is a Yahoo! or Google search by typing in 'free term papers' and it opens the gates to Easy Alley.

A subject search and some finishing touches for a customised finish give you a near perfect paper on a subject of your choice. There is also help such as 'Top Ten Research Hints,' or if you run out of subject ideas there is the 'Idea Generator' leading on to 'Data Resources.'

Don't get the wrong impression. I am not knocking the Net as a research tool. It is the best, and obviously, life has never been better for students.

But using the Net as a useful tool is obviously too much trouble. And what happens when there are no ready reports to meet your specific requirements? Or when a Google search does not provide ready information that can simply be spliced together?

For instance, when a professor asked his students to do a review of my book on the securities scam (The Scam: From Harshad Mehta to Ketan Parekh by Debashis Basu and Sucheta Dalal), one bright spark decided that it was too much trouble to read the book in order to write a review so he wrote to me instead saying, quite frankly, that he didn't have the time to read the book so "cud u send me a review of your book urgently?"

Clearly, he was in too much of a hurry to even couch his need in a polite request.

I wrote back to ask for the name of his college. He shot back --"Rizvi College, but I don't know how it is relevant."

True, indeed. The college is irrelevant, because I have had requests students of a variety of B-schools, including the IIMs.

For instance, there were these girls from Pune whose assignments were obviously due yesterday. Their panic and hurry to get instant answers was so palpable that I quickly deleted the mails before I began to feel sorry. In any case, the data they were seeking would probably need me to do a week of hard work at a good library.

Student requests are essentially of two kinds. Some at least take the trouble to pen a dozen earnest sounding questions that cover their entire assignment.

Most couldn't care less. I once sent a student a paper that I had just presented, simply because I was struck by the coincidence of him asking for information on the exact same subject as my paper. I told him to quote the source if he did use the stuff.

Not surprisingly, I didn't hear from him again, not even so much as a 'thank you'. But I did get a thank you after six months - because it was accompanied by a demand for another paper. I hit the delete button.

The thing that really gets my goat is when the requests are made in Internet shorthand. I firmly believe that the first lesson that business schools need to teach students is that if they want to wheedle something out of a person they need to write full sentences and run a spell-check.

A 'please' and a 'thank you' -- for what is clearly a favour -- also won't hurt. And if you want a response, don't write this:

"dear Mam,

we are the students of tkmim organising a national seminar on "strategic issues of disinvestment policy".

so we request you to give an article for our sovnier which is going to be released on 25th november 2002.

For further contact, kindly provide your address

yours faithfully"

Or this one from Harita:

"Hi

I am a MBA student and as of now am writing a paper on solutions for the ARC.

I wanted some information on the business model followed by the ARC's/ Also the models used to value teh NPA's and the asset reworking strategies,

Also if you have any material on the ARC's. Can you pls fwd it to me

SInce you have wriiten articles on the topic related to ARC I presume that you have knowledge on this and so any help on any of these topics would be really v v helpful to me. Also could you mail me any inputs on what you feel are the problems faced by teh ARC's and the problems for the same.

Thanking you"

About 3,000 words from me would probably do the trick for Harita, don't you think? Then there is Nisha who has an assignment on the Tatas.

"Hi, I am nisha doing my 2nd yr management studies, I am doing a research analysis of the Tata group can u give me your opinion on the future of the group a decade from now. I will be obliged. Thanks"

Like I said, hitting the delete button to such casual and cocky mails has become such a habit that these are samples only from the last fortnight or so.

But let me end with some good news for students. Many a times your teachers are no better when it comes to plagiarism.

Here is what I picked up from a Net on professors who cheat.

  • A professor of the Cardiology Department of Safdarjung Hospital (New Delhi) plagiarised the thesis of his postgraduate student and published it under his name in the Journal of Associated Physicians of India.
  • Two professors of Poona University's microbiology and chemistry department were suspended and stripped of their headships for plagiarising a research paper in Analytical Biochemistry. It was published in the Indian Journal of Microbiology. The duo had earlier plagiarised a research paper of two foreign authors.
  • A professor of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research lifted a chapter from his student's thesis and published it in his name in Current Science journal.
  • The head of Delhi University's geology department lifted material from a thesis sent to him for evaluation, and published it verbatim in the Journal of the Geological Society of India.
  • An Indian Institute of Management sacked a professor for plagiarising material from a book titled Quantitative Technique for Managerial Decisions.

-- Sucheta Dalal



 



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