I am starting to think about graduating from a PhD and a few years back I got a disciplinary offence.

Basically, without full details, I was giving some advice to students on Facebook, another student in the class complained that I was giving certain students an unfair advantage and the University charged me with misconduct as I could have potentially damaged the University's reputation if gave bad advice.

My initial punishment was that this offence would be automatically included on my reference letter. However, I appealed and my punishment was reduced to "it will only be included if the future employer asks for it".

Would a University specifically ask if I was involved in any disciplinary offences?

To be more clear about the advice I was giving:

This was a facebook setup by that students on a masters programme and each year the students enrolled onto the course and were added to the facebook page. I had studied the masters a year earlier and alumni stay in the group. This was not an official University group.

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    The whole scenario seems bizarre to me. Where is such a thing happening?
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 12:06
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    What was the advice that was given by you? In Germany, helping other students by older ones is perfectly fine (as long as you do not solve their coursework for them, of course). Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 12:26
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    I cannot imagine a university accusing you of misconduct for posting on a private facebook page information about how to write a dissertation. See my answer below. Were you in any way associated with the university in a capacity other than student at the time (like TA, employee, mentor etc?) Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 12:35
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    Perhaps. Were you a TA for that specific course, or just a TA for an unrelated undergrad course? Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 12:53
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    Interesting. As a TA you are an employee of the university, and therefore a representative of that university. I suppose that the university could discipline you for that. However, since your advice was for students who were not in the course you were a TA for, I don't think you're going to have a hard time explaining to an employer what happened. I think you'll be fine Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 13:07

1 Answer 1

  1. To answer the question directly - it depends on the employer. However, if the employer has no reason to suspect that you did something wrong, it is unlikely that they will specifically ask "please provide details of any misconduct that this student has faced". That being said, it really does depend on the employer. I know that anecdotes are not data, but personally my alma mater was only contacted to confirm that I had my degree and nothing else.

  2. It is unclear how this information would have been put onto the reference letters in the first place. If you approach your supervisors directly, would they be obligated to follow the university's advice? If not, then you should find out from your university the specific circumstances for how this information will be revealed - what, specifically, must the employer ask for and how will the information be presented?

  3. Your misconduct case seems strange, so there must be more to it than you are letting on, otherwise the university is in the wrong. Were you a TA for the course or otherwise employed by the university at the time you counselled the students? Were you acting as a representative of the university? Did you give them advice for how to pass a confidential exam that you had prior knowledge of? For example, if you knew that this year the test would be the same as last year, and that information was given to you in confidence, then you would be in a breach of conduct. However, if you talked about the test you took last year and were under no obligation to keep that a secret, you did not commit misconduct.

If it comes up in an interview you're in smooth sailing - you just need to answer the question "why did you do X" with a good, solid response. This doesn't mean to sweep it under the rug, it just means to show what you did, why, and what you learned from it, then how you moved on.

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