I was caught cheating on an exam, how can I minimize the damage?

  • I got caught cheating in a two-hour engineering exam consisting of 100 multiple choice questions which was done online through the moodle e-learning software. I feel like my life is almost over.

    Having not studied well and having no time to study, I decided to cheat. I know there are no excuses for cheating. Before the exam I dug up research about moodle exams, and it turned out you can take the exam anywhere you want to as long as you have the quiz password. Taking advantage of this, I went up to my engineering library and asked a close friend who was taking the exam to send me the quiz password before he starts.

    What I had prepared:

    • Calculator (was not allowed during the quiz).
    • Printed material (consisted of more than 200 pages).
    • Google search engine (on a laptop ready to help).
    • Whatsapp (to ask questions for a friend who took the quiz last year).

    As I sat down, I did the first 50 questions, suddenly the quiz froze and moodle told me:

    you are not allowed to take the exam from this location.

    While I was leaving, one instructor responsible for the course (there are 5) came and found me. She accused me of cheating, took my mobile and made come with her to a huge office where two instructors searched all my mobile (took the name of my friend who gave me the password), and started talking to me, asking for all details of this crime. They took and confiscated my phone and looked at everything: Whatsapp conversations, all my emails, and images. The instructor took the mobile from my hand without asking me and kept it with her. It seems that the instructors are going to report me as well as my friend who sent me the password for the exam.

    The university's Student Code Conduct said that cheating will result in one of the following: a Dean's Warning, Suspension, or Expulsion. If any of that happens, my future is over. A dean's warning will cancel my financial aid. A suspension would be for at least two years, and coming back would require a lot of work. An expulsion will be definite.

    I've learned the lesson about cheating, now how can I fix this? How can I prevent the five instructors from reporting me? It's obvious that I should speak to them, but what should I say? What can I do? My future is almost over, but many of you are teachers and instructors here, what can I do to fix this?


    EDIT: Wow, it has been almost 3 years. I would like to update on how I dealt with the situation.

    Lesson: It was obvious to never ever cheat under any circumstances, and it was not whether you'd get caught or not.

    Consequences: I received a Dean's warning but the financial aid wasn't revoked. However, I couldn't stay in the department as engineering was not for me and I was even ashamed to stay in the university.

    What happened next: I transferred to an ABET-accredited Computer Science institution and I graduated with distinction in 2.5 years. It was extremely stressful as I had taken 6 major courses (18 credits) in one semester, but I had to do it.

    Future plans: I'm going for an MSc in Computer Science in St Andrews next year.

    Not an answer, but at least you're in an engineering degree. Financial aid probably isn't as important as you think it is, since student loans are laughably easy to pay off as an engineer. If it comes down to it, just take out the loans and finish, and be glad that this mistake only cost you a few tens of thousands of dollars. I've seen people fired for lying to their managers, and that would end up *much* more expensive.

    This question is posted via an account associated with your real name and location. Cheating is wrong and if a future employer or university asks about it, answer honestly. But consider whether you want this question associated with your real identity (at least the way you've framed it, still qualifying your actions with justifications).

    I feel like the right way to ask this question would be a couple sentences just saying that you cheated and maybe a few details about how it was planned beforehand (as in, not a spur-of-the-moment looked over someone's shoulder during the exam). The amount of detail on why you did it is making everyone suspect (rightly so) that you aren't really internalizing the honor code.

    All the previous comments have been moved to a chat room. Please carry the discussions on there.

    This certainly does not excuse the cheating in any way, but am I the only one who thinks that a warrantless search on a cell phone by an educational institution is an autocratic, and quite possibly illegal tactic?

    @RobertHarvey If I ask you for your phone and you say yes, it's perfectly legal. You have the right to say no, upon which my taking it would be theft, but you similarly have the right to say yes. Police searches work the same way - without a warrant, they can **ask** me if they can search, and if I say yes they'll come in and look around.

    "The instructor took the mobile from my hand without asking me and kept it with her" - so not done with positive consent. Furthermore, if someone in authority gains consent by deceiving you as to your rights than that *might* be improper even if a search with consent would have been proper. It's at least possible that the instructor has botched the arrest, so to speak. As to whether there's any benefit in playing that rather shabby card, depends on the procedures. It might lead to the university ignoring the phone evidence but still having enough to "convict" without that.

    The "moderator moves comments to chat" has to be one of the most annoying features of SE.

    @MartinArgerami a >9000 comment wall of text below a question/answer is a more annoying flaw of SE.

    Unlawful arrest, violation of privacy, unlawful confiscation of private property - and everything only because they were too lazy to prepare normal exam. It looks for me, your university can have bigger problems than you. You've broken only internal regulation, they've probably commited the criminal offense.

    @DanNeely: in my experience, the "wall of comments" is hidden behind a "show x more comments" text that is easier to access than a chat room (with a different text format, to add) and does not hamper browsing through the answers.

    @РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ: At least in the US, the courts have ruled on many occasions that universities have fairly broad rights in upholding its internal code of conduct, as they are acting _in loco parentis_. So the actions of the instructors would likely viewed as reasonable within the context of upholding the code of conduct. (If they had no reasonable cause for action, that's another issue.)

    @aeismail oh I see, the US are soooo different that I should not judge them according to European standards... On the other hand, the question doesn't specify that it was happening in the U.S. so why the assumption it was the case? Is that site U.S. only?

    @РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ: My point is that it is generally a bad idea to assume that things work across national boundaries. What's legal and normal in your country might be considered entirely inappropriate or even illegal in another.

    @aeismail I do not believe a university in the U.S. has the right to seize a cell phone without consent unless they have probable cause that a crime has been committed and that it likely contains evidence of said crime. Cheating is dumb and will get you suspended, but it's not a crime. You could conceivably get the instructor who confiscated the phone arrested if you so desired.

    You were detained, searched, and your property was confiscated by your school? What country is this?

    Next time make sure you lock your cellphone with password (what a rookie). Next time install moodle on your system first and see what it can do... Next time do not involve other people (students). Your life is not over; Don't let there be a next time; Suck it up;

    @aeismail If in the US, could OP appeal the cheating accusation under a precedent of illegal search and seizure, and at least free his/her friend hypothetically(phone evidence)?

    @committedandroider: Not a lawyer, but I suspect that the university's need to protect the integrity of the educational process would outweigh search and seizure issues.

    19 answers? How much different advice could there possibly be?

    Of course they know from where you took the Moodle test. I had the same situation with an exam on Moodle, being unprepared and all, but I tried my best not to fail too hard (which I unfortunately did). Fortunately, I passed the course due to my high grades on the laboratories. Cheating is pretty dumb and believe me no one would ever employ a cheater.

    I loooooooooove it when people come back and tell us what happened! I guess you could make an argument that it makes the question even more useful, but I'm upvoting for the human satisfaction from knowing how the story turned out. And congrats to OP for overcoming this (yes, self-inflicted) setback!

  • Dronz

    Dronz Correct answer

    6 years ago

    I've learned the lesson about cheating, now how can fix this? How can I prevent the 5 instructors from reporting me. It's obvious that I should speak to them, but what should I say? What can I do? My future is almost over, but many of you are teachers and instructors here, what can I do to fix this?

    From the way you wrote this, it seems to me that in your current mindset, you have not yet learned the full lesson. I say this because the second sentence above seems to me still in the same mindset where you are trying to control and engineer a result to essentially beat the system and get something better than your own actions have generated. That is not full understanding of learning that that whole approach is not appropriate. You're treating the system like an adversary, acting in a victim mentality, and trying to manipulate your way out of it. You have some lessons to learn about humility, honesty, surrender, and building integrity from the ground up. I would suggest accepting those.

    I would suggest it may help for you to consider you may also be wrong-minded when you think things like:

    If any of those happen, my future is over. A dean's warning will cancel my financial aid. A suspension, will be at least for two years and coming back requires a lot of work. An expulsion, will be definite.

    The "my future is over" fear is what led you to cheat in the first place. As your professor kindly observed, you didn't need to cheat in the first place, and it got you into far worse trouble than doing your best would have. Indeed, I think your future looks darker if you don't take full responsibility now. I would be more optimistic about your future if you lose your financial aid and have to leave that university, but actually learn your lesson and continue at some other institution.

    Your future will depend on your mindset, your integrity, and how you do your chosen field of work (including how you feel about yourself and how you relate to your work). These things are built upon each other like the bedrock, foundation, and upper levels of a building. If your mindset is full of panic, it will undermine your integrity. If your integrity is unsound, it will undermine your work. Seriously. This is practical and not empty moralizing.

    So, realize that if you really want to be an engineer, you can do this, even if you need to go to another university. Even if it takes another 2 or even 4 years. Then, restore your integrity by being completely honest about everything and taking full responsibility for everything you caused and continue to cause. Don't try to cover anything up, make anything sound good, look good, nor avoid looking bad. You will feel a lot better about it all when you let go of resisting and admit everything. Your instructors know all about it, and will notice any attempt to make this better for yourself, so even if you were going to cling to being a desperate manipulative person, it would be best to surrender and fully admit everything, and be as honest as possible in everything you do. If you can really learn these lessons, then it may actually make sense to give you some leniency. If you're still resisting, then it wouldn't be doing anyone any favors in the long run, to do anything less than suspend you.

    The good news is, this lesson is FAR more important than the engineering content you were studying.

    +1 This is a wonderful answer and hits on the bigger picture for the OP. The first paragraph is spot on.

    I was wondering whether anyone would mention the fact that the instructor didn't think that he/she needed to cheat to pass (though it might not be an exact quote)

    I agree with the gist of this answer. However, I think the awkward truth is that the following may not be the right advice for everybody: "Don't try to cover anything up, make anything sound good, look good, nor avoid looking bad.". All good people do those things. It's true that most people in the OP's position should get that out of their mind - but for people whose social behaviour relies more on "System 2" than is typical (in Daniel Kahneman's words), that may be a counterproductive over-simplification -- and the OP's wording makes me wonder if they fall into that category. Be good :-)

    To be clear: *anybody* who could write what the OP did *clearly* needs to get well out of the "how can I work around this" frame of mind. Just not completely, because life always involves some of that.

    I disagree with this answer. He should simply get a zero and warning (unless this is repeated). From an outcomes standpoint, a productivity standpoint, forcing a student to move to another university and spend 2-4 years redoing all courses, or spending tens of thousands of dollars redundantly is economic waste. Is, not seems to be. If he were employed, he probably wouldn't be fired. He would, in most cases, be warned. How many times he could do this would depend on how otherwise valuable an employee he is. If he is a poor researcher, fire him; otherwise warn him. Anything else is unreasonable.

    @GuidoJorg I wasn't saying what the university should do with him, and I wasn't suggesting that it would be better for him if the university expels him, or if he loses his financial aid. I'm saying he needs to notice that he is still attempting to control and manipulate the situation at this point, and let go of that approach for now. Even from a strictly practical short-term tactical approach, this would be the best approach, because the university is onto him and will notice any attempt to manipulate - it will only worsen his result.

    The OP does not take responsibility for cheating. They just want to avoid the penalties of having been caught. I would hope that they are reported - I would not want to hire them.

    @Dronz I wish I could give +1s for individual sections of your answer. I especially loved the last sentence, that OP has an opportunity to learn a very important and valuable lesson. I am not optimistic that she will but, thankfully for everyone, your answer is going to be on this site for us to revisit and chew on from time to time.

    @user15282 I disagree with you completely. He is seeking to be an engineer. Dishonest actions and then further trying to cover them up _kills people_ in engineering. You would almost certainly be dismissed immediately from any serious engineering company for such actions in a job and, in some situations, you could also face criminal prosecution.

  • First, in light your question title, let me offer some encouraging words. Your life is not over. Cheating is an academic transgression; unless your situation is very unusual, you have not committed a crime. Take a breath, realize that this is a problem that you need to address as an adult, and part of that means being sober and reasonable.

    Of course this is serious, and will likely have severe consequences regarding your future as an engineering student--but it is not the end of the world. It is essential for your own sake that you learn from this experience. Understanding why this was a poor choice is probably more important than your engineering degree.


    You should not try to fix this. The fact is, your instructors are there to help you, and they are still trying to help you. They are understandably frustrated and disappointed by this situation.

    You should be honest to yourself about the choices you made. This could happen to anyone; it doesn't happen to people who think about and understand the consequences. More specifically, my advice to you is:

    • apologize to your friend for coercing him into helping you cheat
    • understand that your cheating was not justified in any way; do not offer any excuses
    • admit everything and be as honest as you can with your instructor

    Of course, that advice is predicated on you understanding that your cheating was a poor choice, and not merely unfortunate because you got caught. It's not clear from your question if you've made this distinction.

    In the stereotypical view of cheating, you struggle because you aren't willing to put in the time and effort to learn, and you misrepresent your abilities through cheating on an exam, quiz, etc. It is easy to see this is dishonest; it's a form of lying.

    Say that we take you at your word and that your description of the course as an "unreasonable amount of work" is completely true, accurate, and without embellishment. Let us further suppose that cheating is the only way that a qualified, hard-working student could earn a passing grade in this course. Cheating in this instance is not better, it is even more dishonest.

    Here, by cheating and earning a passing grade, you misrepresent the abilities of the honest students in the class, and interfere with the instructor's ability to assess learning and make necessary changes to the course.

    Well I don't really understand why this is getting upvoted. His life as he was seeing it is getting stripped from him for nothing, he's asking for a solution that has a reasonable chance of working and your answer is "Don't worry it's for your own good that you won't become an engineer my poor little kid \*hug\*"... wth ?

    @Wicelo I included the first paragraph because the original title included the phrase "my life is almost over." I think any remark like this should be taken seriously. I would summarize my response as: Don't do anything rash Be honest and don't make excuses, as anything else will make your situation worse.

    Personally, I believe the first paragraph is a key point, and I upvoted (at least partially) because of it. Yes, the OP made a mistake that will have serious consequences. But that does not mean that their life is almost over. It does mean that their life may not be what they had originally anticipated. @Wicelo

    @Wicelo SRSLY? The kid deliberately worked out a scheme to cheat and you think he shouldn't get booted? Are you perhaps not aware there's a reason for exams in the first place: to separate the competent from the not-capable? If the course was that hard, he should have dropped it in the first place and taken some lower-level courses prior to retaking. Sheesh.

    @Wicelo I think the point is that accepting the punishment is the way to minimize the damage. By accepting that wrong was done, and facing up to the consequences, that is the path that will most likely lead to the transgressor learning from the mistake and becoming a better person.

    Being potentially tens to even hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt with no way to repay it might as well be life over. A college degree is pretty much mandatory in most fields. It really does sound like only *slightly* hyperbolic. Is what he did terrible? Yes it is. Should a single bad decision ruin someone's life? Not usually. It is entirely reasonable that he would hope for a warning and that a reasonable person would give him a failing grade and being (quite reasonably!) closely watched the rest of his career, as sufficient punishment rather than immediately expelling him.

    @CarlWitthoft they also separate the competent-at -cheating from those who are not

    While I skimmed the answers here and the original post is locked, it seems odd that no one has mentioned hiring an attorney. The school has a range of penalties that may be imposed for cheating; it is not necessarily the case that this instance merits the most draconian punishment. There may be dozens of cheating cases at the school. Cheating may be endemic in a particular professor's class but rare elsewhere. An attorney will make sure that all mitigating circumstances are heard. There is a greater chance that similar cases that merited lesser punishment will be considered.

    @Wicelo the point is that it is not 'for nothing'. If you cheat in real life the consequences are usually that you'll end up in jail. It doesn't really sound like he has learnt that cheating was bad but that getting caught was bad.

    @Wicelo - I'm astonished your comment got upvotes. *"...stripped from him for nothing..."* Nothing?? Really?? As an aside, I find it odd that the O.P. allegedly "didn't have time to study" but did have time to "research Moodle exams" and "print out 200 pages of references." I'm sure there was ample time to study in the days and weeks before the exam for just about any student who had their priorities in the right place.

    @user26732 I can't imagine what good hiring an attorney would do, which is probably why no one has mentioned it. The O.P. cheated and got caught. End of story. It's a violation of university policy and will be (or at least _should be_) punished according to university policy. It's not a criminal offense (not in the U.S., at least, and I would assume the same is true in most places,) so there's no criminal charge to defend and not much an attorney could (or should) do.

    So everyone who commits an offense should receive the maximum penalty? No mitigation? No evidence showing how similar cases were treated? No plea for leniency? They tried this in England for over 500 years, you know. The sole penalty for felony was death. Didn't work out. An attorney would help perform triage. Just because he's guilty doesn't necessarily mean that he should have the book thrown at him. Attorneys are used outside court, in case you were unaware.

    @reirab is there an attorney equivalent in a university, one that could arbitrate the penalty?

  • To the comments: The OP knows he cheated - he's asking what he can do to improve his situation. Clearly, there are good and bad ways to deal with it.

    I haven't been on an AD board myself, but I have caught cheaters. From my experience, the best thing you can do is the following:

    1. Admit everything.

    2. Apologize. Make it clear that you understand how and why cheating is wrong.

    3. Do not under any circumstances give excuses for your cheating or blame others for it - as you do in this question. You chose to cheat, no one put a gun to your head.

    I did (1) and (2). The instructors asked what are my excuses, why did I do that, and I told them.

    To add to this I would explain the financial aid situation so that the board can carefully apply penalties so that there are not any knock on effects. Writing someone a warning that gets financial aid withdrawn is effectively expelling them and probably not the intention.

    I would also consider, as part of two, why your instructors should believe you won't attempt to cheat again. If you felt such a need to so blatantly cheat, should they trust you won't do so (even if less brazenly) again? That might not be an easy question — it's a major breach of trust, and it might be hard for them to ever trust you again.

    @georgechalhoub then your "excuses" should be explained succinctly and factually, not, well, so that it sounds like you're making excuses. This is a *really* important point by the way. Your excuses are not going to change their perception of the situation, nor is any ounce of desperation of your situation. A far more adult/pre-engineer processing these facts accordingly will set a professional tone from which you may reach a passable agreement.

    @StrongBad and just why shouldn't a cheater be expelled, or at least suspended for a year? I fail to see the upside of letting this slide.

    @CarlWitthoft it seems unfair if the effective penalty depends on if you need financial aid or not.

    @StrongBad Whoever provides the financial assistance has determined specific criteria to decide who should receive it, with presumably many more applicants than they are able to provide assistance to. To not give a Dean's warning to the OP, when the protocol says that he should definitely get one, is to deceive the provider, and to deprive other applicants.

    @jwg I think the point is that the board would now have full knowledge of the penalties they're applying. If they had a discussion that went "we want to penalize him, but certainly not _expel_ him!" they might want to know that (I have no idea if such a conversation is likely to take place). But if they do want to expel him, financial aid probably won't change that. EDIT: it also seems unlikely that the board being annoyed by a note about OP's financial situation will make things substantially worse for him than they already are.

    You forgot #4: **Accept the consequences of your actions.**

  • What you did was actually pretty severe as far as cheating goes. Sometimes cheating could be explained by a brief moment of weakness. For example, suppose you take an exam and discover that it is far more difficult than you expected, so you make an impulsive decision to take a look at your neighbor's answers. That's still wrong and deserving of punishment, but it could at least be viewed as a foolish choice brought on by panic, which could make it easier to forgive. On the other hand, you planned and carefully prepared in advance to cheat effectively, and you even recruited a friend (who is apparently not so honest himself but might not have done anything wrong if you hadn't brought him into your plan). It's pretty much the worst case scenario for cheating.

    I don't think there's anything you can do to keep from being reported. There may not even be much you can do to affect the punishment. However, what I hope for from students in cases like this is genuine introspection.

    By this I mean going beyond a superficial account of rules and motivations. There are a lot of standard things you can say: your fear of punishment will keep you from cheating again, you recognize that you were cheating yourself out of real learning, you understand how unfair your actions were to your honest classmates, etc. These should all be true, but they are fundamentally unsophisticated. Essentially, they are what society tells eight-year-olds who are having trouble behaving. It doesn't inspire a lot of confidence when someone announces "Oh, now I finally understand what my elementary school teacher always told me."

    Instead, I hope a crisis like this will provoke some soul searching, not just repeating standard answers. What sort of person are you? Could your family or colleagues rely on you, or will you someday pull the rug out from under them when your long-term dishonesty is uncovered? Could a stranger rely on you? Are you the sort of person who acts with honor even when he could get away with cheating, or the sort who always puts himself first? Who are you, and who do you want to be?

    The point is that many cheaters have elaborate rationalizations and excuses (I see some tendency in that direction in your question). They convince themselves that they aren't actually dishonest people, just trapped in difficult or unique situations. When caught, they try to repair their self-image with as few changes as possible: they learned what not to do in this situation, or they view it as a one-time mistake unconnected with the rest of their life. When I see someone doing this, I worry that they are on a dangerous path in which they will blindly follow the same old habits and patterns in other cases. I'm confident that you have the potential to be an honest and trustworthy person, but what you did in this class is not a good start in that direction.

    I don't want to coach you on what to say or how to say it. It's a deeply personal matter, and in any case I don't want to help you pretend you've had a deeper learning experience than you actually have. However, I'd really recommend thinking about the big picture of your life, not just this one incident. It may help to discuss it with a relative, mentor, religious leader, etc. In the end, you need to convince the university that you've learned more than just a cost/benefit analysis of cheating, so that they have faith that you could benefit from a second chance. I don't think you will, or should, escape punishment, but it's in your own interests to try to learn and grow as much as you can from this experience, and it can't hurt your prospects if the administration sees that you are doing so.

    *"It's pretty much the worst case scenario for cheating."* Only thing worse I can think of is stealing the questions and/or answers before the exam starts. This would make it a criminal offence. I fully agree with your answer.

  • You were caught in flagrante delicto. You were accessing the exam with illicit material in an unapproved location and were caught while the exam was in progress.

    Reading what you have provided, I believe there is essentially nothing you can do to prevent the instructors from reporting you. Given the extent of your infraction of the code—after all, this was an intentional violation, not an accident like forgetting a citation in a paper—it's hard to see how they can avoid reporting this. Think about it this way: if you do not get reported, who can be reported?

    Letting you off the hook also sends the wrong message to you and to your fellow students about the importance and strictness of the honor code.

    I'm afraid you will have to live with the consequences of your actions. (Was the benefit from cheating really worth the consequences of possibly being caught?)

    +1 Given the behavior of the OP, why even have exams. Having read the OP it may affect the way that I interview college students: looking for this flagrant cheating attitude will not be easy though..

    Exams are hardly realistic: When I worked in industry and told to solve a problem, they didn't say "Sit by yourself, talk to no one, do not make use of material of a related nature"

    @jim: I wholeheartedly agree with your view of examinations' lack of realism. Unfortunately, we as educators need means of assessing _individual_ learning. How do we honestly know who's done the work in a group without direct observation? And how do we do this realistically for a class of 50 or 100 students?

    @aeismail Yes, of course there is some need to assess individual learning, and suppose the issue is the best way to do this.

  • One normal engineering course at my university had an unreasonable amount of work: each week we would have like 5 quizzes (1 labview quiz, 2 class quizzes, 1 computer lab quiz, 1 graded report). The course merging with another 4 courses (Electric Circuits - Differential Equations - Statistics - Chemistry) caused a lot of pressure.

    The material of the engineering course, was overwhelming, incredibly lengthy in unreasonable amount of studying required.

    Outside of the question of cheating---and you are clearly in the wrong there---this suggests that you may not have mastered the material from the previous courses to the level expected of you.

    Engineering school is hard, but it is not impossible.

    If you come out of this with the option to continue your studies (either at your current institution or elsewhere) you might want to consider either or both of ...

    1. Going back and re-doing some of the preceding material until you are deeply conversant with it and able to handle the concepts and calculation needed fluidly and without much difficulty. Just being sufficiently prepared will reduce the load from the subsequent course.

    2. Recognizing that engineering is not for everyone and it might not be for you.

    In any case, I'd like to remind you that the job you are studying toward is one where a mistake or a cut corner can have life-threatening consequences. Your instructors are right to take this very seriously and you should too. Think carefully about this. Do you want that kind of risk hovering over your work?

    +1 for the bigger picture of engineering itself, something the OP does not demonstrably grasp.

    An issue which I see frequently among students. In math, physics and likely engineering, other sciences and even liberal arts courses, the material builds on itself. Ultimately if a student receives a C in a course, the student is probably not fully prepared for the next course. This makes the next course in the sequence harder than it is supposed to be. A large portion of my tutoring is in fact developing a stronger foundation before the student can understand the current topic. I'm getting off topic. See http://chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/18175/discussion-on-specific-ethics-question

    If the course is really so difficult, every student is in the same situation. Usually, the instructor will recognize this and curve the grades at the end. If it's particularly difficult for you, there is often other recourse, such as reaching out to the instructor/TAs/other students and even dropping the class. It's best to realize this before an exam and when you realize is often the difference between succeeding and failing.

    +1 For _where a mistake or a cut corner can have life-threatening consequences_.

    +1 also for "life-threatening consequences". As a practicing engineer now, the idea of stamping a design I don't understand and having it fail is pretty terrifying. Go spend a little time on Google learning about engineering disasters - e.g. the Hyatt-Regency walkway collapse - and let it sink in what happens in the real world when an engineer "cheats". You're better off getting suspended now than going to jail later for "cheating" a.k.a. professional negligence. Harsh but true.

    The *life-threatening* part is completely hyperbolic. Scheming to beat an online quiz doesn't tell you that the cheater would contribute to a communication breakdown like in the Hyatt-Regency collapse, or that they'd cut corners, or that they would make more mistakes in their work.

    The "life-threatening" line was not meant to be the focus here. It does have a degree of reality to it and I lay it on all my advisees so that they will think--that's not the kind of thinking that anyone else can do for your, after all. But in the questioner we have a young person who made a bad decision under pressure. With luck he has learned his lesson, but a bit of introspection is, in my opinion, warranted.

    @brichins this is hypothetical but if you were in OP's situation, wouldn't you just report that the design wasn't ready at that moment and get an extended deadline? I wish that OP and students like him/her had that option to extend the deadline but these deadlines aren't granted unless they have an extenuating circumstance

    @committedandroider This is an academia forum, so sure, asking for an extended deadline is _possible_, both in school and in the workplace. However, as you noted, in school it's not likely to be granted. This is also true in the workplace - an internal company deadline can slide a little, but deadlines to deliver a project to a client often cannot. The fines and/or lawsuits for failing to perform can be huge - I have worked on large public works projects where the fees for late completion were $50-100K _per day_. Good luck getting your manager to sign off on missing that deadline by a week.

  • There are two issues here that I see. The first is the punishments seem to be designed such that a Dean's Warning is relatively light. Without section 5 which outlines the punishments that can accompany a Dean's Warning, one cannot be sure. I guess is if outside factors, such as financial aid, would greatly magnify the penalty, the committee who oversees these things might be wiling to work with someone who has been caught cheating. The second issue is that the event you describe are so egregious that the committee wouldn't try and move directly to suspension or expulsion. If the committee is trying to figure out how to suspend you, then asking for a lenient application of a Dean's Warning will not go over very well.

    As with any case of academic misconduct, you need to find someone who is on your side and understands the system. A lawyer arguing from a legal perspective is generally not the best first approach. You should check with the student services office for help.

    +1 for the last paragraph. Most institutions offer some sort of "public defender" service for students facing disciplinary action. I would encourage anyone in such a situation, regardless of guilt or innocence, to seek this sort of expert assistance.

    In particular, many U.S. schools have a "student advocate" in the student affairs office, who can give impartial advice and is familiar with the university's procedures.

    I missed this answer, but I commented on the OP in a comment thread above as follows: The school has a range of penalties that may be imposed for cheating; it is not necessarily the case that this instance merits the most draconian punishment. There may be dozens of cheating cases at the school. Cheating may be endemic in a particular professor's class but rare elsewhere. An attorney will make sure that all mitigating circumstances are heard. There is a greater chance that similar cases that merited lesser punishment will be considered. –

  • You can not prevent them from reporting you, and attempting to prevent the report would only reflect worse on you and your character. This is your opportunity to demonstrate humility and integrity.

    Do not make excuses, do not lie. Own your mistake and be ready to say why it was wrong, and the impact to your instructors and to your classmates. Consider that engineers design, construct, certify and maintain critical infrastructure; they must be held to the highest standards, to protect human life, and why integrity matters. To illustrate, look back at Roger Boisjoly, the engineer who tried to prevent the Challenger disaster, and the engineering manager who was cowed into making a decision against his better judgement.

    Expect disciplinary action. Whatever the disciplinary action, thank them for it, as it will be a valuable learning opportunity.

    Be sincere, be gracious, and move forward. Begging,feeling sorry for yourself or attempting to shift blame will only make you look worse in the eyes of the school, in the eyes of your peers, and eventually in your own eyes.

    You will get through this, even if it changes the trajectory of your career. And who knows? You might find your passion in something else other than engineering.

    +1 for `You might find your passion in something else other than engineering.` I spent several years as a civil engineer who was gradually doing more and more software tools - I am now a full-time software developer, making a higher salary with less stress and fewer work hours. I've had a rough road (ha) getting there, but I enjoy where I'm at and my engineering training and experience continues to be valuable.

  • A long-term plan is something you need to think through.

    It probably looks like this: -- maybe not exactly as that would be arrogant -- I've left out what to do about where to live, whether to stay and work in the local community or create a clean break, etc -- though obviously your personal lifestyle is going to be affected by what happened and how you handle it. Your life is not over. It is merely more difficult. Step up to the challenge.

    1. Accept that you deserve to be suspended or expelled. If you are instead given a second chance, great! or not. Aren't you burned out by this point? Most people would be. This incident also doesn't sound minor, at all.
    2. If you are lucky, your friend(s) who helped you cheat will get the Dean's warning level of punishment. I say "if you are lucky", because a normal person would feel absolutely awful, for a long time, for damaging their friends' reputation and career. Don't try to lobby for your friends.
    3. If you haven't already done so, tell your parents, and apologize to them or anyone else personally bankrolling your education.
    4. Get a job and pay your own bills -- assuming your financial aid, loans, work-study, and/or family pays your current bills. Your family, rich or poor, will see this as a sign of maturity. Now obviously the best jobs want degree holders and are concerned about grades and honesty. Don't apply for jobs like that, you'll wind up beating yourself up over and over about what you did every time they reject or worse, be tempted to lie and cover it up. Now the workplace is hardly angelic, there are obviously bad jobs working for dishonest people. Try to avoid those as well. It looks like you could do some computer freelance work. Actually marketing yourself and finding customers is harder than the programming part. Consider trying that for a while.
    5. While working for a living, hit the books and the free online course sites. There are good free online courses from top engineering schools: i.e. Caltech, MIT, Stanford, etc. Cut yourself some slack by not officially signing up - trying watching all the lectures and doing the readings. Then start doing some of the assignments. Answer forum questions or Stack Exchange questions about the material.
    6. As you gain demonstrated proficiency in the coursework you were once struggling at, build a portfolio. Like the computer program portfolio I see attached to your profile page. Stuff you are interested in and good at.
    7. By this point you should be good at something that wouldn't be obvious from your former transcripts. Find academic allies who can help you develop. Write profs of online classes where you think you are doing well. You can sometimes get a certificate, or a promise of letter of recommendation this way.
    8. Use the portfolio when writing your new university applications a few years from now. To get back into a university you should diversify the applications across schools. A few years and all these steps will make an application more acceptable. Though you may still need to address the earlier incident, by this point you will not only have an idea of what to write or say but can demonstrate your new-found passion and ability. By this point you should also have made at least one ally who can write a decent recommendation letter.

    Good luck with this journey.

    +1 and I really love this answer for its practicality and realistic preparation for not the worst but perhaps just second best life outcome.

    Good practical advice. To the final steps I would add: be prepared to honestly explain in new applications/interviews what happened when you were previously at college. I also think you should mention that this strategy has a low probability of success - most people who try to educate themselves to degree level while supporting themselves financially through full time work don't succeed.

    @jwg It depends on the degree and institution. I used to teach a lot of night-school MBAs for Georgia State in Atlanta. The day school undergrad crowd had a diversity of ages. It was clear that many people were working and attending part time. When I taught in Asia it was entirely a different story, a conveyor belt of young minds with the occasional exchange student --- almost none of whom were employed, where aid and grants paid their way. The top tier in the USA has become so expensive that paying your own way through work is pretty laughable, but there are still plenty of state schools.

    @Paul Particularly like the last part of point number 5. Paying back by helping other people will do alot to help him rebuild his confidence and sense of worth. It helps me every day. +1

  • I've learned the lesson about cheating, now how can fix this? How can I prevent the 5 instructors from reporting me.

    I want to discuss why the university has such strict policies against cheating, and why this situation must be reported.

    The first problem with cheating is that it degrades everyone's degree. When you start working for a company on graduation, your degree represents certain skills that you are assumed to have learned in getting that degree. If the company finds out you don't have these skills, in the future they will assume that anyone who graduates from your program might not have those skills. If cheating is taken lightly, then your degree becomes meaningless, because no-one will know what skill-set it actually represents.

    This leads into my second point: getting an engineering degree sets you up to become a professional engineer, a position of great responsibility. I'm not exaggerating when I say that people's lives will be in your hands. If you misrepresent your skill-set, you will be put in situations where you don't have the knowledge to do the job properly. If you haven't learned integrity in your undergrad, when put in such a situation you may complete the project anyway (this is like cheating in the real world). If you do this, whatever system you're designing may fail, and this could get people killed. That is why integrity is of the utmost importance in engineering programs.

    If you have truly learned your lesson, and you understand these two points, then you will understand that cheating was wrong not because you got caught, but because that type of behaviour ultimately puts people's lives at risk. But as others have said, your life is not over, and it is not too late to change. If you learn your lesson now, and carry yourself with integrity from this day forward, you will make a great engineer.

    It is especially important that you show this integrity over the next few days. This means not trying to cover anything up. The instructors have to report you; if they don't, they are also committing an offence. If you have truly learned your lesson, and can demonstrate this, then hopefully your punishment will be lenient.

    If you want to be an engineer because it fits into some life plan (it gives you status, money, whatever), I think you've got things all wrong. Be an engineer because you want to help people. If you don't end up being an engineer, that's fine; there are lots of other ways to help people, and I'm sure you'll find one that you really enjoy.

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