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I am currently a master's student in the second semester of my first year. I have just returned to graduate school after taking several years off due to the pandemic. Last semester I had two classes that required book reviews. The book I picked met the criteria for both classes and at the time, I figured "work smarter, not harder" so I turned in the same review for both classes. I received good grades from both professors and nothing ever came up about it. Today, approximately 4 months later, my current professor mentioned how using the same work for two classes is considered self-plagiarism. The moment she said this my stomach dropped and after looking it up on the school's academic misconduct policy, I realized I had messed up big time. Now, I am at a loss about what to do. Do I come forward and admit my mistake? Do I vow never to repeat it and hope it doesn't come up? I consider myself a highly ethical person, I have never plagiarized in the past, and this topic never came up in my undergrad. Please give me some advice!

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    Is it self-plagiarism? The work is yours and you didn't sign off on the copyright. The main problem is that it goes against university policy, which specifies that you must not use previously submitted work. Otherwise, you are getting a 'free' ride. Mar 9, 2023 at 4:52
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    Juts a clarification: you intentionally self-plagiarized, without knowing it was against the rules. Its still your work, so while you probably should have checked, its not the same as just plagiarism, as you are not claiming someone else work to be yours. But don't build your defense (if you need to) with the word unintentionally, because it was intentional, the unintentional thing was to break the rules, not self-plagiarize. I agree with Michael's answer anyway. Mar 9, 2023 at 10:40
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    I think there's a question worth answering: was it really an instance of "work smarter not harder", or rather an instance of "I'm trying to find a way to avoid doing work which I have to do"? The difference may be slim, but still...
    – Spook
    Mar 10, 2023 at 8:32
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    Plagiarism is a serious matter. Now that you are aware of it: You should write a cease-and-desist letter to the copycat and demand a compensation; perhaps he could invite you and your partner to a posh restaurant downtown? Be stern and let him not get away with it! ;-) [I know your concern is with the double use university rules but I could not resist.] Mar 10, 2023 at 15:29
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    By any chance, the academic policy wouldn't have been updated in the last 4 months, would it?
    – Vilx-
    Mar 11, 2023 at 17:03

4 Answers 4

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First and foremost, please stop panicking.

Second, you have no reason for questioning your ethics, because you were not aware of the rules.

There exist things that are obviously gross -- like forging lab results or plagiarising other people's work. Cheating on exams is not good either. All this is evident, and there is no need to explain to anyone how wrong these things are.

The use of the same work for two classes is less obvious a misdemeanor on the part of a student uninformed about the rules. In my opinion, what you have done was a mistake, and not an act of deliberate cheating.

So, whatever your decision, don't castigate yourself too harshly. Calm down, to begin with.

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    Ethically you are correct. From a quasi-legal standpoint, ignorance of the rules, as promulgated in the misconduct policy, is no defence because such a defence would create an incentive for ignorance, and because that aspect of guilt is difficult to prove. Of course, the harm of self-plagiarism is less serious (does not misrepresent the author's ability, and does not expose anyone else to accusations of plagiarism based on the duplication) and so one would hope the punishment would be significantly less severe.
    – user234461
    Mar 9, 2023 at 14:22
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    @user234461: True, but conversely, making zero allowance for ignorance of the rules creates the incentive for people in OP’s position to cover up good-faith mistakes, which leads to its own problems. Which is why many institutions have some amount of sympathy towards ignorance of the rules when it’s reasonably plausible, while certainly not accepting it as a universal get-out clause. I’m aware that some institutions are absolutely zero-tolerance, but in the cases I’ve heard of, that’s a well-known part of the school’s culture and very clearly communicated to all students.
    – PLL
    Mar 10, 2023 at 12:11
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    you have no reason for questioning your ethics, because you were not aware of the rules I would argue that "being ethical" doesn't necessarily means "always follow the rules". Even if it wasn't in the rules, I would say that it's not the nicests of things to turn in the same work as two different solutions to two different assignments in two different classes. Now, I'm not saying that OP is "the worst person ever" but I wouldn't say either that Op is free of moral charge just because they didn't knew that specific rule.
    – Josh Part
    Mar 10, 2023 at 18:25
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    @user234461: The reality is knowing the rules is no longer possible in the general case; and we must make reasonable allowances for not knowing the rules in passing judgment. The digital age has created the ability to promulgate rules beyond all sense so that a lifetime is needed to read them.
    – Joshua
    Mar 11, 2023 at 5:13
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Nothing. If there are two assignments that are similar to the extent that the same text can satisfy both and that text is your own work, then all you need to do to get completely clear of any plagiarism accusations is to explicitly say in each text that it was also submitted to another class (plagiarism is using the ideas without proper reference, not just reusing them; if we weren't allowed to reuse the ideas (our own or somebody else's), the science would come to a screeching halt in no time) but even that is necessary only if somebody around you believes in "self-plagiarism", which, IMHO is an oxymoron. It is ridiculous to expect that you will come up with two completely disjoint in terms of ideas, conclusions, trains of thought, or even passages texts when writing two reviews for the same book. Most of the stuff would be the same or, at least, similar anyway. So, I see no ethical problem with submitting the same work for two classes if it can satisfy all requirements and if it is your own. The rule that you cannot do it can be put forth by the university for other reasons or "just because", but trying to base it on the plagiarism considerations or any ethical issues is an abuse of the notions of plagiarism and ethics as well as of the common sense IMHO.

So just relax for now and continue studying.

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    It is ridiculous to expect that you will come up with two completely disjoint in terms of ideas, conclusions, trains of thought, or even passages texts when writing two reviews for the same book sounds like OP chose the books to review and realised they could just choose the same book for both. Had they known the rules, they should have chosen different books. So, I see no ethical problem with submitting the same work for two classes if it can satisfy all requirements and if it is your own But this is not the rule at OP's and many other institutions.
    – MJeffryes
    Mar 9, 2023 at 12:02
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    For the ethical part the question should be: What was the goal of the assignment? Usually it is not to create some work with any usefulness, but rather to verify the abilities of the student. The work itself is usually only marked by the professor and afterwards thrown away/never read again by anybody. So if the intent of the professors was primarily to check is abilities, he has done nothing wrong ethically.
    – Falco
    Mar 9, 2023 at 14:28
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    @Falco I disagree. When I give homework to the students, the goal is never to grade them. The goal is to make them learn stuff.
    – Stef
    Mar 9, 2023 at 15:50
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    @Falco While perhaps you could arguably fulfill the goal of the assignment while violating rules, I think the violation of rules is still ethically problematic. Mar 9, 2023 at 18:45
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    @Falco That's assuming you have a correct understanding of the intent of the rule, which is a difficult assumption to make in general. Mar 11, 2023 at 12:41
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I mostly agree with Michael_1812's answer: This is relatively low on the scale of seriousness of academic misconduct, and you weren't aware of the rule, which mitigates somewhat. However, you are now aware of the rule.

While you have so far 'got away with it', it's entirely possible that it is discovered later on. If that were to occur, your excuse of not knowing the rule may not be believed. It's always better to own up to a mistake before someone else discovers it.

I would suggest you speak to a member of staff about this. If you have a 'personal tutor' or similar who is responsible for your welfare, they may be the best person to speak to. Otherwise, you may directly speak to the two instructors concerned. In my opinion, owning up to such an error would reflect extremely well on you.

Based on my personal experience, such an infraction would not be harshly punished, although you may be scored zero for either or both the assignments you submitted, and it is possible your university policy requires some formal reprimand. However, the consequences are likely to be worse if it is discovered rather than admitted to.

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    I'd imagine the worst that would happen if he came forward is that he'd be asked to create new work for one of them... It would be obscenely harsh to award a zero grade for an infraction this minor that was confessed to long after the likelihood of being found out was passed Mar 9, 2023 at 18:30
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    I agree with this. If you are in the UK, there is a process of final external moderation that happens. If this has already happened for your marks, you may find that they're all finalised and you don't face consequences. If this has not happened there is a possibility that the moderator might discover your accidental error, which is really really not what you want.
    – les_h
    Mar 11, 2023 at 14:56
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So far you have two kinds of answers here. Let me summarize. One sort of answer (that I agree with) is that you have no real ethical concern if you honestly didn't know it was a violation. It was technical, but not intentional, plagiarism.

The other sort of answer (that I also agree with) is that the ethical question being settled doesn't lessen your risk if someone learns of the "violation - not violation" and complains about it.

So, I suggest that you think about the risk and whether you should come forward (hat in hand) and explain to people what happened and vow to "sin (not sin)" no more. That requires something about your knowledge of the professors involved.

No one here can really help you balance that risk since we don't know either the people or the procedures. My best guess is that you are safe to ignore it, but I don't know.

In terms of your own feelings of self worth, I think you can relax. You made a mistake that didn't feel like a mistake when you made it. Life is life.

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    It isn't technical or any other kind of plagiarism. It was a violation of the school's policy against repeat submissions of the same work.
    – Ben Voigt
    Mar 9, 2023 at 21:56
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    @BenVoigt, that may be. It might also have been a personal opinion by that other professor, not a statement of policy. OTOH, policies need to be promulgated to be known and therefore valid. I think a lot of places fail to do that effectively.
    – Buffy
    Mar 9, 2023 at 22:00

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