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May is a second-year graduate student preparing the written portion of her qualifying exam. She incorporates whole sentences and paragraphs verbatim from several published papers. She does not use quotation marks, but the sources are suggested by statements like “(see . . . for more details).” The faculty on the qualifying exam committee note inconsistencies in the writing styles of different paragraphs of the text and check the sources, uncovering May’s plagiarism.

After discussion with the faculty, May’s plagiarism is brought to the attention of the dean of the graduate school, whose responsibility it is to review such incidents. The graduate school regulations state that “plagiarism, that is, the failure in a dissertation, essay, or other written exercise to acknowledge ideas, research or language taken from others” is specifically prohibited. The dean expels May from the program with the stipulation that she can reapply for the next academic year.

  1. Is plagiarism like this a common practice?
  2. Are there circumstances that should have led to May’s being forgiven for plagiarizing?
  3. Should May be allowed to reapply to the program?

“Exploring Plagiarism. The Many Twists & Turns” is Part 9 of our “On Being a Scientist” series, where we explore the culture and practice of science within the context of society. Stay tuned for Part 10 of our 13 part series of articles.

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