I am a PhD student, and have just finished the last part of my course requirement. My last assignment is to review several other student's term projects from a seminar course.

One of the projects I have been asked to review is rife with plagiarism. More than 75% of the paper is plagiarized, from over two dozen different sources, including academic papers, stackoverflow.com, and wikipedia. I have reported all of this to my professor, along with a detailed summary of which parts are taken from where.

However, some of the paper appears to be plagiarized from the student's own earlier assignments, in a different course. It's fairly obvious that this is the case because they first plagiarized the assignment description to summarize the problem they wanted to study, and then provide an answer to said problem, including answering discussion questions that are on the assignment, but somewhat unrelated to their main topic.

I know the professor who taught the earlier course well. Should I contact him directly? Should I suggest to my current instructor that the earlier professor be notified as well? Which course of action is more appropriate?

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    I'm just curious: Will the term project papers be publicized? At my university we wrote summaries of what we've done. We hadn't to follow formal scientific guidelines, but those papers weren't meant to be publicized anyway. Or are you talking about PhD students?
    – user8050
    Aug 5, 2013 at 13:36
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    @Chris These are Master's students, but they are in a PhD level course. For instance, the project guidelines suggest that an "outstanding" project would be publishable at a top conference. Aug 5, 2013 at 18:25

3 Answers 3


If you've spotted plagiarism, you have a duty to report it to a responsible authority. Just because the student is a fellow graduate student in your department does not absolve you of the duty. However, the politics of the situation can make things much more complicated, because it may lead to intra-departmental conflict, which is most certainly not a good thing.

I would believe the correct initial approach is to notify the professor of the current course of the current and past plagiarism. If you feel that no appropriate action has been taken, then you can consider notifying the instructor of the past course; however, the actions that can probably be taken are somewhat more limited than for a class where the final grades have not yet been assigned or have only recently posted.

How far you want to pursue this matter, on the other hand, depends on how serious you believe the transgression is. If the plagiarism is serious enough that it calls into doubt the student's ability to be an independent researcher, then further escalation—perhaps (in order of approach) to the graduate "officer" for the department, the chair of the department, or the dean for graduate students—may be necessary, if your initial efforts don't lead anywhere. This is, admittedly, a rather severe course of action, and one which may cause problems for you later down the road. So I would also recommend talking to your advisor as well, and solicit feedback as to what are the consequences of pursuing this.


The other answers make it sound like it is your bounden duty to hound the plagiarist, yea, even unto the ends of the earth. My feeling is different in this case.

As I understand your question, the project was assigned for a course, and you are assisting the instructor of that course (call him or her Prof. Smith) by reading and evaluating the papers, in a role similar to that of a teaching assistant. You should certainly report your findings to Prof. Smith, and be willing to answer any further questions they may have, but your responsibility ends there. It is up to Smith to decide how to handle the matter and whether to pursue further sanctions, consistent with the institution's policies.

Regarding the student's self-plagiarism of past assignments (say, from Prof. Jones's course), again, report your findings to Smith. If appropriate, Smith can discuss it with Jones directly. It's not clear that the student has committed misconduct with respect to Jones's course, only Smith's.


This is very serious, just noting the extent of plagiarism in your question:

One of the projects I have been asked to review is rife with plagiarism. More than 75% of the paper is plagiarized, from over two dozen different sources, including academic papers, stackoverflow.com, and wikipedia.

and from the student's own work. To my way of thinking, this is wilful and blatant plagiarism, possibly due to laziness, and maybe desperation.

Just to add to what aeismail suggested, I would seek the faculty/university's rules and procedures for dealing with plagiarism and follow them to the letter - there must be a documented protocol to follow in situations such as this.

It may get awkward within the department, but putting the seriousness of plagiarism aside, they have put you in an uncomfortable position, something I am sure you don't need at this stage of your studies. Also, remember that they chose to plagiarise (at 75%, it is very likely a choice), so they have, in a way, chosen to bear the brunt of the consequences.

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    Indeed, it certainly seems wilful and blatant. For instance, multiple consecutive pages of the paper are taken verbatim from a single other publication, including typos, grammar errors, and broken cross references. Aug 5, 2013 at 18:28

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