I was eating food in Govind Bhawan’s mess this June, around the same time when the M.Tech. dissertations of final year students were due. Most of the students think that I am student so they freely talk to each other about their escapades. One of them said, “Mine was only 50%.” Another said, “Mine just passed at 20%.” Yet another said, “Mine matched 100%.” I was curious to what they were talking about, so I interjected and asked them. They were discussing how much of their M.Tech. dissertations were copied directly from the internet (that the plagiarism software at IIT Roorkee library could find).
I was an examiner for M.Tech. seminars this year and I was aware of how these students make their reports for the seminar, so I commented, “It only takes you a couple of hours to make these reports.” One of the students commented, “Sir, it takes us six.” Six hours to write a report 30 pages long. The nonchalant attitude of the student showed how he was not even slightly afraid to admit it.
It really saddens me to see this sorry state of affairs at IITR. If you ask any of the students, why don’t they write their thesis on their own. You would get an answer that nobody is going to read it anyway, so what is the point. First of all, how can you expect someone else is going to read it when you yourself have not written it, or even read it for that matter. Secondly, even if no one else is going to read it, what about the practice that one gets while writing a technical report. Why waste paper for this futile exercise where no one benefits, except the paper mills at the cost of lives of trees?
Any exercise that one does as a student is meant to train him in various things that will be useful to him in the outside world. Writing a report, technical or otherwise, cannot be avoided whether you work in the industry or academia. Let us say, that a company hires you from IIT looking at your wonderful credentials, e.g., 9.0 CGPA. After a few weeks of work, your boss asks you to write a report on an experiment that you just conducted in the company. You cannot google a technical report an experiment that you just conducted. You have to write it yourself. But, since you never completed this exercise while as a student, you will be thoroughly embarrassed in front of your boss who had great expectations while hiring you. This brings a bad name to not only you, but also to your advisor, your institute and your department.
It is high time that the students realize that they cannot copy other people’s work and claim it as their own. When one writes a report, even if it is just literature review and not one’s own work, one is supposed to digest the material and write it in one’s own words. Then that exercise has some benefit, otherwise it is not “Literature Review,” it is “Literature copy and paste.” Doing the kind of copying that goes on here, even in a course report, can get you expelled from the institute in US, what to speak of doing it in a dissertation.
To improve the current situation, the students should understand why an exercise is given to them and how it will be helpful to them in their careers. They should practice, not using copy and paste function for any kind of academic writing, whether it be a term paper, an assignment or dissertation. It will greatly improve their understanding ability because they will now have to exercise their thinking muscles which were being used in copy-pasting and devising new ways of beating the plagiarism software. Your energy can be used in more constructive ways.
We, faculty, also have to take steps to improve this situation. We should make it clear to the students in the beginning that any kind of plagiarism will be unacceptable to us. I have told my students, that they cannot copy-paste even one statement from anywhere. They have to write it in their own words. And, if we find our students not complying with this simple request, we should take strict action against them. And, if such infractions are repeated, then we should be strong enough to say “Goodbye” to them. We do not want our name or our institute’s name to get spoilt because of such cases.
Let us all together improve the standards at IIT Roorkee and bring glory to our institute.
I request all (especially the students) to participate in this discussion so that we can improve the situation in our department and institute. If you have alternative methods of evaluation of projects, such suggestions are welcome as well.
PS: Please do not use names of students or professors in your replies.
I like to blog about various topics ranging from education in IITs to social issues in India and US. All opinions and views presented here are my own and not of my employer.