In Students We Trust
February-2017 (by Jana Rieger)

If I were to ask my colleagues what they thought was the number one ‘research’ crime committed by graduate students, I’d bet their answer would be plagiarism. It’s a formidable word – one that students are reminded of at the beginning of the first class of every new semester. As a graduate student supervisor, I’ve seen glimpses of students’ plagiarism in my career – beautifully-written sentences amongst patchy jagged verse.  

But in research for my novel, A Course in Deception, I learned that there may be a different issue that deserves more attention. And it all starts in the lab. It appears that supervisors should pay equal attention to numbers generated by their students as they do words.

In an article by Debra Parrish in the journal, Science and Engineering Ethics, data fabrication and falsification were the number one crimes committed by graduate students. There’s everything from fabricating data for an abstract to fabricating data for a dissertation.

As supervisors, it’s impossible to watch over everything that our students do in our labs. And I don’t think it’s advisable to hover if we are to develop young independent thinkers. There must be a level of trust and understanding between both parties. The good news? It’s only a very small percentage of students who engage in these dishonest behaviors. According to Parrish, there were only 21 cases reported in a ten-year period where just over one million students would have been enrolled in graduate programs.

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