Academic Integrity: Role as a Graduate Student

Although academic integrity is the foundation of a sound and moral education and, therefore, essential to all facets of the academy, the role of graduate students needs special consideration. The issue of academic integrity affects graduate students differently than undergraduate students for two reasons:

  1. As teaching assistants or instructors, graduate students often find themselves in the position of having to enforce academic integrity in the classroom, while at the same time having to cope with the same issues that often lure unsuspecting undergraduate students into violating integrity rules, such as time management issues and readily available sources such as the internet;
  2. A violation of academic integrity by a graduate student can affect many more people than the student him/herself.

Some elaboration is in order. Many graduate students serve as teaching assistants in undergraduate courses. In that capacity they might be involved in proctoring exams, grading exams, grading homework assignments and papers, teaching laboratory sections, and teaching lectures to the point of being completely responsible for an undergraduate class.

Independent of the level of their teaching assignment, they might have to cope with violations of the academic integrity rules. They may notice students copying answers in exams to finding duplication in homework assignments and plagiarism in papers. Unlike faculty, whose experience might allow them to judge if an incident, such as a brief and cursory look to the side, may be a violation or not and act accordingly, graduate students only have their own undergraduate experience to guide them.

The fact that in many sciences a large percentage of graduate students are foreign students, who have received their undergraduate education at institutions outside the US, magnifies the problem because many countries have different standards as to what constitutes an academic violation (this is especially true for plagiarism).

As active researchers, graduate students have responsibilities that exceed their own personal realm. For example, while an incident of plagiarism in a term paper may affect only their grade, the same incident in a research publication will certainly affect their research advisor and potentially colleagues at other institutions.

While faculty advisors are most likely familiar with the content of cited articles, only a careful reading of both, the citations and the manuscript, would allow them to find incidents of plagiarism.

Although the corresponding author, who most often is the academic advisor of the student, is first and foremost responsible for the integrity of a publication, the workload of most faculty often does not allow them to re-read all cited articles in a manuscript to check for potential plagiarism.

The potential consequences of more grievous academic misconduct are well documented and can include the loss of funding, the closure of a laboratory and in all instances tarnishes the reputation of the involved parties.

It is, therefore, imperative that faculty advisors and their graduate students have an open discussion about academic integrity and ethical conduct in research. A publication by the National Academy of Sciences - On Being A Scientist - can give helpful guidance to both the student and advisors on this issue.

For these reasons, we urge all graduate students to openly discuss expectations and rules pertaining to academic integrity with their advisors and the faculty members in charge of their teaching assignments. Graduate students should not wait for faculty to address these issues with them, but they should proactively seek out the help and guidance of their mentors.