The Big P: Plagiarism

In my third year of university, I was accused of plagiarism. That’s right, “the big P word”, and there it was sitting in my inbox.

And even just reading those ten letters in size 12 font, felt like my time at university had just become insignificant, tarnished and worthless.

I was dry mouthed and breathless, I can quite frankly say that I hope never to feel the way I did reading that email again. But the worst thing about it was that I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone, or rather shouldn’t tell anyone about it.

It’s a university taboo – the first rule of plagiarism, is you don’t talk about plagiarism. I didn’t even want to utter the word in a hushed tone to the people at the desk of the school office when I went to find out what had happened, where I was sat down and the process was explained to me.

For those of you that might not know, plagiarism falls into three ranking categories – low, medium and high. Low cases being a mistake in note taking and high cases being quite literally taking someone else’s essay for your own.

After the process of what was to come was described to me, I made a vow to myself that I wouldn’t tell my friends or anyone around me what I was going through for fear of being judged, looked at differently or even branded a cheat.

But I soon broke that vow, because every time someone politely asked me how I was, this sort of confession came tumbling out of my mouth: “Yeah I’m doing alright, might lose my degree but totally fine.”

It wasn’t until someone told me that a friend of a friend of theirs had also received the same dreaded email in their inbox that I looked more into it. It turns out plagiarism is incredibly common, and just having spoken to someone who had been through what I was going to was enough for me to catch my breath for five minutes.

But even getting to this person was similar to trying to connect with someone in the Secret Service. No one wants to be known as having gone through a plagiarism accusation but I feel like the taboo needs to be removed. It is not okay to plagiarise, but it is okay to talk about it.

I made a mistake. I messed up. In my haste to enjoy my Christmas and spend time with my family and friends I didn’t correctly reference my notes and so this mistake became part of my essay. Ahead of my meeting and in a sort of effort to prepare, I placed my case in the low to medium category, only reaching medium because I am indeed a third year and I should know how to correctly cite an essay by now.

In the week that led to my meeting I completely lost myself, I clung to company for dear life, too scared to be alone with my thoughts. I went to bed thinking of plagiarism, I woke up thinking of plagiarism, and I completely lost my appetite.

It felt like I had let down my parents, my personal advisor and even the seminar leader who marked the essay, and going into that meeting was like being sent to the head teacher’s office, but much worse.

However, that small room was only filled with people who wanted the best possible outcome and for me to understand where I had gone wrong. Upon walking out of the meeting the person I had taken in with me remarked: “That felt like that scene from Good Will Hunting, ‘It’s not your fault.’” Though indeed it was my fault.

I walked out feeling supported and was aware of things that needed to change. I was given my outcome the day after my meeting and it was decided that mine was a low-level case and I was to keep my mark but seek help from LTS about how to correctly cite my essays.

The reason I decided to write about my experience is so that anyone reading this who is going through, or has gone through, what I did can feel like they are not alone. The best advice I would give is to go and book at a meeting with Advice at the SU.

They provided me with the best possible insight into my case but were also incredibly supportive. I would also say talk to people about it.

I even told my boss at work in a fit of tears because I could not stop thinking about it. Again, she, like all of my friends, colleagues and university staff that I spoke to, only ever gave me support.

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February 2021
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