I was recently expelled from doctoral program in English for plagiarism in qualifying exam. Although it was for the lack of a citation, I attended a major research university with a zero tolerance policy. What are the chances I can reapply to another doctoral program? Specifically, I am in creative writing/poetry and I was in an English PhD program...what if I apply to a PhD in creative writing program? How do I go about addressing the plagiarism of the qualifying exam in past program, but highlight I have had numerous national publications since then in poetry and won a major book award, not publication?

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    Usually, I would ignore minor typos in the question. The OP wants to study doctoral program in English. So I put the question into my spell checker and found two typos and a question mark missing at the end. No offence intended here. But, a reminder for the OP. – scaaahu Jun 24 '15 at 3:42
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    @scaaahu well, the OP wants to study creative writing... – Kimball Jun 24 '15 at 5:41
  • Note to the OP, I edited out the typos. – scaaahu Jun 24 '15 at 8:33

My experience is in mathematics, rather than creative writing, but I imagine both fields approach this issue similarly. Issues of academic honesty have come up when I've served on admissions committees, and they're a huge obstacle to admission. A previous expulsion for plagiarism could turn an otherwise strong case into a quick rejection. In order to have any chance, you need to do several things:

  1. You have to give a convincing explanation of what happened and why nobody needs to worry about future dishonesty. This is not easy, and most people fail to write anything convincing. For example, if you write "I didn't realize this counted as plagiarism, but now that I know, I certainly won't ever do it again", people will wonder what other ethical principles you might be unclear on (and how you made it to the qualifying exam in a doctoral program in English without knowing what's considered plagiarism). If you write "I was sloppy, but I've learned from the experience and will be much more careful from now on", people will worry that being careful is easier said than done, and that this is too facile an excuse. And it only gets worse from there: if you knew it was wrong and did it on purpose, then you really have a lot of explaining to do.

  2. You need letters of recommendation from people who know what happened and are nevertheless willing to vouch for you. A letter that doesn't mention the plagiarism will probably be ignored, since the committee won't know whether the recommender even knows about it or how their opinion might change if they found out. (And it's a sensitive enough subject that nobody's going to call up the recommender and ask, out of fear that you would complain that the committee was leaking confidential information.)

I'd recommend starting by trying to recruit letter writers. If you can convince enough people to write strong letters for you, then you can take the explanation you used to convince them and incorporate it into your personal statement. If you can't secure enough letters or aren't confident in their strength, then it's not worth applying now.

I was recently expelled from doctoral program in English for plagiarism in qualifying exam. Although it was for the lack of a citation, I attended a major research university with a zero tolerance policy.

I should warn you that this sounds like a terrible basis for an explanation. It comes across like you are saying omitting citations is not so bad and your expulsion was due to an overly strict policy. Maybe that's not what you meant, but this is a delicate issue and it's important to keep from being misunderstood.

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    For that matter, I find the logic of the second quoted sentence to be obscure. I just don't quite understand the intended meaning. Lack of clear writing when clarity is crucial is another red flag for someone who is coming from a doctoral program in English. – Pete L. Clark Jun 23 '15 at 23:41
  • I presume the section after the comma was intended to be a parenthetical. At least, it makes sense when read that way, so I'm inclined to consider this an editing glitch -- a "thinko" rather than typo. – keshlam Jun 24 '15 at 3:43
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    @PeteL.Clark: The logic of the sentence makes sense if we presuppose that "the lack of a citation" is not a big deal: the OP is saying, basically, "Although it was for a minor thing that we can all agree I didn't deserve to be expelled for, I attended a major research university with a zero tolerance policy." (Of course, his/her premise is mistaken, which is why the sentence ends up being confusing.) – ruakh Jun 24 '15 at 6:42
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    @ruakh: I'm starting to feel mean for piling on about it, but: no, I find the writing obscure here and in several other places independent of one's feelings about plagiarism. For instance the OP has dropped an article in the previous quoted sentence, which makes me wonder whether he is a native speaker of English. Also he writes "I have had numerous national publications since then in poetry and won a major book award, not publication", and again I don't completely understand that sentence. – Pete L. Clark Jun 24 '15 at 7:04
  • So what would happen to someone who truly did "learn from it"? What sort of "convincing" thing could be given? – The_Sympathizer Oct 2 '15 at 2:53

I did philosophy (and have no history of plagiarism), but I think your odds of admission into a PhD program are going to be extremely low with a record of plagiarism hanging on you.

First off, you're going to need to give a much better explanation than "I didn't know" and it was only a citation miss. Both of these are things that any undergraduate student should know from their first humanities class. It does not take a graduate program to learn these things.

Second, creative works don't compensate for instances of plagiarism. Instead, they generally would compound the severity of the problem. The reason is that plagiarism is about the ability of others to trust that work you submit is your own. Regardless of any factual merit, if I learned that person X lied about what was their work in area A, then I would at a minimum doubt that the work they did in area B was their work. In other words, it raises the spectre that you've been doing this for quite some time (warranted or unwarranted).

Thus, what you need is a very convincing explanation for the university you want to go to should not view what happened at the university where you were at as plagiarism. I could imagine the following as convincing:

  1. A letter from the dean of arts and sciences (assuming you are not related) explaining that they were forced to expel you on a technicality but they believe you did nothing wrong and that the department erred.
  2. A letter from the members of your committee (assuming you are not related) explaining that they passed your exam and don't believe you've committed an academic integrity violation, but that on a technicality they were forced to file a plagiarism charge against you.

That's about it. Otherwise, there's not much you can do that will make you a plausible candidate. Maybe a letter from a psychologist explaining that you were on test pharmaceuticals that temporarily changed your personality during the time in question.

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