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professor accused me of plagiarism... distraught

withincosmoswithincosmos 3 replies2 threads New Member
Very distraught and concerned right now - finished my final exam for Astronomy (introduction course) at my school yesterday. It was 50 multiple choice and 1 essay question. My professor sent me a message this morning saying
"There is a problem with your answer to the essay question on the final exam. Much of your answer was apparently taken nearly verbatim from another source during the closed exam. Before proceeding further, I wanted to give you a chance to explain the situation."

I did not cheat. The question, which was to describe stellar evolution of a low mass vs high mass star, simply is a systematic question. It's a step-by-step process, so I explained to him I understand that in a question of this nature it is possible for essays to sound similar. I also mentioned to him that in the past I have lost many points on his exams in my essay questions specifically so I wanted to make sure that this final question was as detailed as I can recall so that I can do well in his class and convey that I understand the concept of stellar evolution. -- This is my third astronomy (intro) class I've taken. I took one in highschool, to which I was a top-performing student. I learned about stellar evolution then. I took an intro astronomy class in community college, to which I was also top-performing and again, learned about stellar evolution. That class did not transfer to my current university, so I was required to, again, take an intro astronomy class. This is a basic, conceptual, step-by-step question (stellar evolution of high vs low mass stars) that I have been well-versed in for years. I've learned this content repeatedly. I told him all of the above and that his class only furthered my knowledge I already had on this. I don't know what "source" he's talking about, but in a question of this nature - the life cycle of something - what does he expect? I made sure to be super detailed because he always has docked me points in previous essays for not being detailed enough. And now I get accused of plagiarism - that my essay is similarly worded to an outside source. I am extremely nervous and he has not answer my message yet; nor, knowing this professor, even if he doesn't go through with his (false) accusation, I dont even know if he will let me know. I just dont want to be wrongly accused of a concept that I have known for years, and when explaining, of course - can sound similar to other peoples explanations.

I have yet to hear a response, but I did tell him if he wanted to talk further to please let me know... I'm hoping this works out favorably as this is causing me so much anxiety knowing I did not cheat and there's nothing more than my truth of words I can say or do to prove that.

Please let me know what you guys think might happen, if you've been in a situation similar, or what you would tell the professor...

-sincerely, a very upset and honest college student.
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Replies to: professor accused me of plagiarism... distraught

  • theepicragertheepicrager 17 replies0 threads Junior Member
    Hey man, I know that its really though being accused of something that you didn't do. To be honest, if the professor refuses to listen to reason and still decides to punish you, I would take it up with a higher authority, because you don't deserve to be punished for simply trying to answer the question in a detailed manner. Since you posted this 2 weeks ago, I'm curious - did anything happen?
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  • PublisherPublisher 11376 replies152 threads Senior Member
    OP wrote:

    "...in the past I have lost many points on his exams in my essay questions specifically so I wanted to make sure that this final question was as detailed as I can...."

    OP's professor wrote:

    "There is a problem with your answer to the essay question on the final exam. Much of your answer was apparently taken nearly verbatim from another source...."
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  • PublisherPublisher 11376 replies152 threads Senior Member
    OP wrote:

    "I did not cheat."

    I assume that you are telling the truth. It should help if you can show that it was reasonable to expect this type of question on the exam, therefore you memorized the steps from a source that you studied before the exam.
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  • juilletjuillet 12812 replies164 threads Super Moderator
    I understand that it's possible to have an answer that is relatively similar to a published answer somewhere, especially for something that's at least partially procedural. However, it is kind of difficult to give an answer that is *nearly verbatim* unless you're 1) copying from another source or 2) perfectly memorized the source exactly the way it was written and spat it out on the exam.*

    BOTH of those are plagiarism, in different ways. I have often surprised students by noting that their usage of another source's exact words is plagiarism - even when they have technically (usually incorrectly) "cited" the source.

    It...only matters a little if you memorized the words rather than copying them. Most professors, when asking for essays, want students to use their own words to summarize what they learned, not regurgitate exactly what a source says. I believe you when you said you didn't reference another source during a closed-book exam. But what you *may* have done is used too much verbatim language from the source you were learning from in your essay.

    If it were me, I probably wouldn't penalize a student for this right off the bat - because in my experience, most students don't realize that this is a form of plagiarism. I usually explain to them why it's wrong, what I expect from them instead, and then give them an opportunity to rewrite it.

    However, it's ALSO possible that this is just a big misunderstanding. If that's the case, you did the right thing by explaining what happened and perhaps the professor is simply looking more carefully at your answer and deciding how to proceed.

    *
    *Yes, even if the knowledge is "systematic" or "basic." I've graded lots of student essay answers on "basic, systematic" knowledge in my field - the content is indeed similar, but the form and structure is not. There's a difference between "similar because that's just the answer" and "nearly verbatim when compared to another source."
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  • bopperbopper Forum Champion CWRU 14507 replies106 threads Forum Champion
    I would tell him that you have taken astronomy in HS and CC and this is your third time taking a basic (?) astronomy course. Tell him that you did not copy this information and would be happy to talk to him and if he needs to orally question you on this material you would be happy to be able to talk about it. You would be happy to use a second device (phone) with camera showing you did are not reading while you talk to him. This way if you show you understand the material, then they will know you didn't cheat.
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