I'm a research assistant in an university.

I'm advising some students, in the capacity of co-advisor with another colleague, to write a work which is necessary for them to graduate and which will add points to the final marks they get.

They have sent the work in some time ago, but I didn't have time to read it until today.

I started reading it and was honestly quite poor: bold claims without citations, general statements over and over, the few papers that were cited were cited in too much details. Also some formal problems: inconsistency in citation style, quite a few typos, inconsistency in formatting and layout, quite elementary english (I'm not saying mine is good).

So I started to carefully review their work: commenting where citations needed to be inserted, telling them to insert them; commenting the out-of-scope parts, telling them they were out-of-scope; fixing the grammar now and then, planning in my mind a more general response where I would tell them how to improve and what was expected, for instance not to talk in details about a single paper but rather to express an overview about what the literature has said and done.

Suddenly the style changes drastically: the english is now perfect and scientific.

Since it's more than one student doing this work, I though that they had split the work among them, and the latter student was better than the former.

By continuing to read some other things don't square. The citation style is now consistent. As there are changes in the substance too: they now compare papers among one another, they tell a whole story by citing papers, the flow of the discourse is congruent with itself.

I thought that this new student was substantially better than the former, but then a new thought came into my mind, and I checked since well it can't harm to check.

They have "copied" whole paragraphs from published papers.

And by "copied" in double quotes I mean that they have changed some words, or added some useless specifications in parentheses, or changed the order of the words, so that the kindergarten teacher wouldn't realize the passage is copied.

I felt really angry and also physically ill, as I have spent quite few hours reading their thing. I also feel teased, duped and laughed at. I fell that what I'm doing has no sense anymore.

I don't know exactly what to do.

I sent an email to my colleague and to the professor. My colleague said that it's "common" for these things to happen and that we will "talk to" them at the next meeting (she used an expression which in my language means "talk to" but like in an angry and reprimanding way).

The professor has yet to answer.

I don't know if I'm still supposed to follow or advise them, and what my role would be consistent with the fact that I can't imagine seeing them again in the face, and honestly I'm not willing to help them anymore.

  • 2
    Have these students been taught that plagiarism is a serious offense? Your colleague's comment that such plagiarism is "common" suggests that the students still need to be taught (or perhaps re-taught). I think you, your colleague, and the professor are in a good position to teach them. Of course they will have to delete all the plagiarized material and rewrite that part of the paper ethically. What additional punishment should be imposed is something that you, your colleague, and the professor should discuss and agree on before meeting with the students. Jan 3, 2022 at 5:05
  • 7
    You seem to take this very personally. Why? Your colleague's advice seems appropriate. Imperfect student work is not so rare, and your role is to teach them how to improve. Jan 3, 2022 at 9:20

3 Answers 3


Do not take this personally. These students are not teasing, duping or laughing at you. They are trying to take the easy road to a good grade. They did it in a very obvious way. Either they do not know that this isn't allowed, or they do not care. They wasted your time, sure, but they've wasted their own time even more. And they did not do this to you specifically.

Your co-advisor said that you will talk to them. Listen to their explanation, figure out a good punishment if appropriate and if they seem uninterested of dishonest in their explanation, discuss with the professor and your co-advisor whether to stop the advising.

Finally, talk to your professor about the fact that you take this personally and how you can learn to let this go.

  • 'figure out a good punishment if appropriate' OP has managed to catch (and hopefully put a stop to) this before the plagiarized work is submitted for summative assessment, i.e. before any actual misconduct has taken place, so I can't see how punishment can be appropriate. Jan 4, 2022 at 13:32
  • 2
    @DanielHatton Submitting a plagiarized draft hoping you won't be caught doesn't sound to me like "before any actual misconduct". It's fine to be more lenient with a draft if the assumption is that this is a learning moment, but I'm also not feeling very convinced that undergraduate students working on a thesis-style "final project" are so honestly clueless about what plagiarism is.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 4, 2022 at 16:36
  • @DanielHatton Misconduct has already happened. They tried to submit this and OP spent time on this. I'm not saying that a harsh punishment is necessary, but it can be considered.
    – Jeroen
    Jan 5, 2022 at 9:48

Since it seems you are a graduate student: This is your supervisor's responsibility. It's good you already informed your supervisor. Ask your supervisor to address the problem.

It is also possible your supervisor or someone else in the hierarchy already provided you with instructions on how to address this situation. Do not make up a new method if an existing one is available. Follow the procedure your university has established.


This behavior is a serious breach of the academic code of conduct.

If the document were submitted as a finished product the proper way to deal with the problem would be to refer it to the appropriate disciplinary body at your university. The minimum punishment should be failure for this work.

But it's just a draft, and you are just an advisor. So it's hard to decide what you should do (which is why you are asking here).

They need to understand how seriously they have erred. That what they did is "common" is no excuse. The angry "talking to" in your question in your language might be "give them a talking to" in English and may be the best you can do under the circumstances.

When you confront them, start by telling them how serious a problem they have. Document the sources from which you know they have copied. I would not give them an easy opportunity to explain why they did it. Tell them you have referred the matter to your professor. Tell them that if you were their professor you would fail them for this work. Tell them that if this were officially submitted they might be thrown out of school. You might conclude by noting how lucky they are that this is just a draft and you are only an advisor, so they have a chance to mend their ways and never do this again.

Perhaps they can even learn something that will save them from future grief.

Here's what I ask my students to read and paraphrase in writing: https://www.cs.umb.edu/~eb/honesty/

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