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revoked degrees hypothetical question? [serious question]


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[serious question] hey everyone, i'm new to this forum! :] so not really sure how this works , btw is this forum completely anonymous?

I'm in Canada by the way- currently in undergrad psychology- i definitely wanna do grad school one day

in one of my undergrad essays, i noticed there was a single sentence in the essay that was missing a citation, perhaps the TA didn't catch it at that time or overlooked it as being a minor issue (was being merciful to me?)
I wrote a very general statement about a social psychology theory that most social psychologists know about, but I didn't cite that sentence: The TA already marked the assignment, the course is over, and I have a final grade already on my transcript. I do not have any academic offence labelled on my transcript.

I didn't use a citation for that sentence, because I thought I didn't have to cite things for basic/fundamental theories known to most social psychologists
just as most physicists wouldn't really cite E= MC2 by Einstein. also at the time i wrote the essay, i was suffering from severe mental health issues, and anxiety, and depression, and lots of things like that, i didn't have the mental resources to fully reflect upon whether or not that one sentence would be considered common knowledge (no citation would be necessary in this case) or would be considered as uncommon knowledge (citation would be necessary in this case)

Because i felt so guilty about this, I contacted the TA and asked the TA about whether i should have cited such a sentence. 
The TA said I was not in trouble, but the TA did tell me that I would have to cite such a sentence in the future so does that i mean I technically did commit plagiarism, but the TA overlooked it as being a minor issue and thus, did not bother to escalate this issue any further to higher authorities and did not bother to convict me of an academic offence?

my dream is to attain my master's and PHD one day,
and let's hypothetically say that i do end up getting my PHD one day

I'm just worried years down the road, they'll look back to what I had submitted for the course, and realize that this sentence did not have a citation
->because of this one missing citation in undergrad, would all 3 of my degrees- bachelor's, master's, and PHD- be revoked?
or would only my bachelor's degree be revoked but i would get to keep my master's and PHD?

I haven't slept in days, and this is seriously eating away at me... some much needed wise advice or comments please?
1) so did i technically commit plagiarism, but the TA overlooked it as being a minor issue and thus did not bother to escalate this issue by reporting it to higher-up authorities (ex. Dean) and did not bother to convict me of a plagiarism offence? what's going on? i don't know what to think of this anymore...
2) if I do get a PHD in the future, would all 3 of my degrees- bacehlor's, master's, and PHD be revoked, because of this one missing citation in my undergrad essay (during my bachelor's)?
Or would only my bachelor's degree be revoked but I would get to keep my master's and PHD?

 

Edited by elemosynarical
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Not every missed citation is plagiarism. As you say, frequently things that are "common knowledge" aren't cited. As long as the wording was yours, I wouldn't consider what you describe plagiarism. 

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In any case, I can't imagine that this essay will be in a place that anyone would see it.  Maybe in a Turnitin database to catch someone else's plagiarism, but that's it.  It's not like you've faked a degree and put it on a job application or your web page.

BTW, not to step too far into someone else's competence, but if you're still seeing someone about depression & anxiety, you might bring this situation up with them.  There's no way it should have to be eating at you this way.

 

 

Edited by Concordia
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You don't have to worry about this incident. The only thing you should keep with you is to remember to ensure your citations are correct in the future. Like others said though, I would consider what you did a mistake, not plagiarism. In addition, every school will treat incidents like this differently. 

If you were in my class and forgot a citation for a sentence, I would probably make the same decision as your TA and just tell you to remember next time. However, even if I did decide to escalate it for whatever reason, the penalty will be very minor. You might lose a tiny percentage of your grade for that essay for a mistake like that (depending on the length of the essay and how critical that sentence is to your work).

To me, forgetting a single citation is just a mistake, no different than a spelling mistake or a grammar mistake. In a writing class, it could be a big deal, since the purpose of assigning these essays is to practice your citations / spelling / grammar / writing. But in a non-writing class, I would not even grade for spelling/grammar/citation style unless there are so many mistakes that it makes it hard to read. 

Finally, your course essays are not public domain. No one else can read what you wrote in your essays and your school is not allowed to release your work to other people. Unless you have submitted it somewhere for publication, no one will see your course work.

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11 hours ago, Eigen said:

Not every missed citation is plagiarism. As you say, frequently things that are "common knowledge" aren't cited. As long as the wording was yours, I wouldn't consider what you describe plagiarism. 

I asked the TA whether that one sentence should have had a citation, and the TA said yes, i should cite sentences like that in the future
Isn't that technically plagiarism but the TA let go of this incident as if it were something very minor?

Edited by elemosynarical
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8 hours ago, TakeruK said:

You don't have to worry about this incident. The only thing you should keep with you is to remember to ensure your citations are correct in the future. Like others said though, I would consider what you did a mistake, not plagiarism. In addition, every school will treat incidents like this differently. 

If you were in my class and forgot a citation for a sentence, I would probably make the same decision as your TA and just tell you to remember next time. However, even if I did decide to escalate it for whatever reason, the penalty will be very minor. You might lose a tiny percentage of your grade for that essay for a mistake like that (depending on the length of the essay and how critical that sentence is to your work).

To me, forgetting a single citation is just a mistake, no different than a spelling mistake or a grammar mistake. In a writing class, it could be a big deal, since the purpose of assigning these essays is to practice your citations / spelling / grammar / writing. But in a non-writing class, I would not even grade for spelling/grammar/citation style unless there are so many mistakes that it makes it hard to read. 

Finally, your course essays are not public domain. No one else can read what you wrote in your essays and your school is not allowed to release your work to other people. Unless you have submitted it somewhere for publication, no one will see your course work.

Thank you for your advice! your advice definitely reassured me 
also,
let's hypothetically say I manage to get a PHD one day
if people found out about a single missing citation in one of my undergrad essays, would they revoke all 3 of my degrees- bachelor's, master's, and PHD, or would they only revoke my bachelor's degree but I would get to keep my master's and PHD?

Edited by elemosynarical
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58 minutes ago, elemosynarical said:

let's hypothetically say I manage to get a PHD one day
if people found out about a single missing citation in one of my undergrad essays, would they revoke all 3 of my degrees- bachelor's, master's, and PHD, or would they only revoke my bachelor's degree but I would get to keep my master's and PHD?

None of that is going to happen. There are procedures for dealing with plagiarism and none of them would ever lead to the loss of a degree over one sentence in one paper, let alone three degrees. Not to mention the fact that it's entirely unclear how anyone would ever find this paper and want to pursue anything malicious because of it, and what university official would ever agree to entertain such a low-level complaint long after the degree has been granted. If it helps you, though, cases of very low-level plagiarism I've seen have involved nothing more than a reduction in grade in the relevant class for a first offense. Since you've actually gone to your TA, you also have a very good defense for having tried to rectify the situation in time and in good faith. Again, none of this is ever going to happen! You have done your best to deal with a mistake, and you've been told by the TA not to worry. Take them at their work -- don't worry! I understand that this is causing you anxiety, but you really need to put it behind you. You are causing yourself more harm with all this anxiety than an actual academic honesty procedure would.  

 

1 hour ago, elemosynarical said:

I asked the TA whether that one sentence should have had a citation, and the TA said yes, i should cite sentences like that in the future
Isn't that technically plagiarism but the TA let go of this incident as if it were something very minor?

Technically any use of a source without proper attribution is plagiarism. That said, discussing commonly known facts is often done without citation and that's perfectly fine. Even if you did leave off a citation you should have had, this is such a tiny offense, and your TA has exercised their discretion and have decided to let it go, since it's a one-time incident and very minor. This decision sounds entirely reasonable to me, I would have done the same. As they told you, just don't do it again. 

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6 hours ago, fuzzylogician said:

None of that is going to happen. There are procedures for dealing with plagiarism and none of them would ever lead to the loss of a degree over one sentence in one paper, let alone three degrees. Not to mention the fact that it's entirely unclear how anyone would ever find this paper and want to pursue anything malicious because of it, and what university official would ever agree to entertain such a low-level complaint long after the degree has been granted. If it helps you, though, cases of very low-level plagiarism I've seen have involved nothing more than a reduction in grade in the relevant class for a first offense. Since you've actually gone to your TA, you also have a very good defense for having tried to rectify the situation in time and in good faith. Again, none of this is ever going to happen! You have done your best to deal with a mistake, and you've been told by the TA not to worry. Take them at their work -- don't worry! I understand that this is causing you anxiety, but you really need to put it behind you. You are causing yourself more harm with all this anxiety than an actual academic honesty procedure would.  

 

Technically any use of a source without proper attribution is plagiarism. That said, discussing commonly known facts is often done without citation and that's perfectly fine. Even if you did leave off a citation you should have had, this is such a tiny offense, and your TA has exercised their discretion and have decided to let it go, since it's a one-time incident and very minor. This decision sounds entirely reasonable to me, I would have done the same. As they told you, just don't do it again. 

Thank you fuzzylogician, hearing such advice from you calms me down very much. The sentence was a commonly known social psychology theory, but the TA told me I should cite such a sentence anyway in the future
I am grateful for your thoroughly responding to my inquiries. 

ur right... they probably wouldn't revoke any degree, let alone THREE DEGREES,
but I will say that I am worried about one other scenario, this my last question i promise:
let's say i do end up getting a PHD one day, but then the TA 4 or 5 years later decides to go back to my undergrad essay,
and give me a 0 in the course because the TA is in a bad mood (ex. somehow gets into a car accident or an unfortunate life event happens to the TA)
--> in that case, my undergrad GPA would be lowered

and then if the university where I did my PHD finds out that my GPA was lowered below their admissions requirements, EVEN AFTER I GOT accepted into the PHD program, they would revoke my PHD or somehow punish me?

P.S. I'm sorry of my anxiety disorder symptoms are manifesting...
I really don't know if I'm sane or not... but I do know that I tend to worry about a lot of things...

Edited by elemosynarical
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1 hour ago, elemosynarical said:

I'm just a bit worried right now because technically speaking, the TA does have the power and authority to revisit a past essay and convict me of a plagiarism even after a course has been long finished and give me a 0 on the assignment
or if the TA is super strict, perhaps the TA might even give me a 0 in this course
-> in either scenario, an academic offence notation would be noted on my transcript and this would eliminate any possibility of grad school

my GPA is barely meeting the grad school requirement right now, and getting a 0 for this assignment, or a 0 for this course even, would instantly ELIMINATE ALL prospects or my chances of getting into grad school

I did go actually email my TA about this missing citation thing,
and the TA did tell me that i'm not in trouble and that i should cite such a sentence in the future

I guess i'm worried that the TA might suddenly become angry for whatever reason at some point in the future, and then direct that anger towards me, go back to my old essay, and then convict me of a plagiarism offence
I know that anger can be a scary thing, when a human being is angered, and if that anger is directed towards another person, sometimes bad things or hurtful things can happen...

P.S. sorry if this is just my anxiety disorder symptoms manifesting... lol

Just responding to the "the TA might go back and raise this issue ... leading to the end of all my hopes and dreams" part. 

Even in the very VERY unlikely case that the TA goes back and pursues this further, and in the EXTREMELY unlikely case that this is pursued by the university, and in the INCREDIBLY unlikely case that you're found guilty: 

(a) you will have representation and will be able to show that you talked to the TA and they assured you all was well, so this has to be vindictive

(b) you will be able to show that this is unprecedented, one-time, out of character and rare, and also pertains to a case where the fact you discuss is well-known, and one could easily argue that it didn't need to be cited in the first place, or at least it's in the gray area of citations, even if the TA now says that you needed to cite.

(c) let's imagine you're found guilty -- most likely you'll be let off with nothing more than a "don't do it again" type warning, because again this is oh so minor. One step up, we're talking some reduction in grade, but it's not likely to be a zero -- again, this is a tiny tiny issue, not something that puts the validity of the content in question. Anything more than that is frankly an extreme over-reaction. Likely, in the very very(!) unlikely case that anything happens, it'll just be a longish and anxiety inducing process, but you'll emerge perfectly fine on the other side. 

(d) even if there is some finding against you (have I mentioned that this is incredibly unlikely?), that doesn't necessarily entail an official notation in your transcript. Deans tend to have discretion, and this is -- again -- a tiny tiny offense, if it's an offense at all. 

(e) even in the now exponentially unlikely event that everything goes unbelievably wrong and you actually do end up with some note in your transcript, that too will not be the end of your career. You'll have to disclose it and be honest about it if asked, but you'll deal with it by writing a short and mature explanation of what happened in your SOP, and having a LOR writer intervene and add a short explanation of their own, supporting you and explaining how tiny and out of character this is. 

(f) a GPA slightly below the requirement is also not the kiss of death, necessarily. First, there are lots of schools out there with lots of different requirements. Second, schools are entirely within their rights to ignore cutoffs if they see something special in an application. Third, even if we imagine that it takes you a bit longer to eventually earn a PhD because this means that you'll need to get an MA to work on your GPA and research experience, MAs will be more lenient so you should again be fine. 

So, even if all the worst-case scenarios possible actually happen, WHICH IS INCREDIBLY UNLIKELY, all is still not lost. All it will mean is a more roundabout way to the goal, but we encounter obstacles all the time. You'll put on your big-boy pants, and you'll work your way back out of the hole. 

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15 minutes ago, fuzzylogician said:

Just responding to the "the TA might go back and raise this issue ... leading to the end of all my hopes and dreams" part. 

Even in the very VERY unlikely case that the TA goes back and pursues this further, and in the EXTREMELY unlikely case that this is pursued by the university, and in the INCREDIBLY unlikely case that you're found guilty: 

(a) you will have representation and will be able to show that you talked to the TA and they assured you all was well, so this has to be vindictive

(b) you will be able to show that this is unprecedented, one-time, out of character and rare, and also pertains to a case where the fact you discuss is well-known, and one could easily argue that it didn't need to be cited in the first place, or at least it's in the gray area of citations, even if the TA now says that you needed to cite.

(c) let's imagine you're found guilty -- most likely you'll be let off with nothing more than a "don't do it again" type warning, because again this is oh so minor. One step up, we're talking some reduction in grade, but it's not likely to be a zero -- again, this is a tiny tiny issue, not something that puts the validity of the content in question. Anything more than that is frankly an extreme over-reaction. Likely, in the very very(!) unlikely case that anything happens, it'll just be a longish and anxiety inducing process, but you'll emerge perfectly fine on the other side. 

(d) even if there is some finding against you (have I mentioned that this is incredibly unlikely?), that doesn't necessarily entail an official notation in your transcript. Deans tend to have discretion, and this is -- again -- a tiny tiny offense, if it's an offense at all. 

(e) even in the now exponentially unlikely event that everything goes unbelievably wrong and you actually do end up with some note in your transcript, that too will not be the end of your career. You'll have to disclose it and be honest about it if asked, but you'll deal with it by writing a short and mature explanation of what happened, and having a LOR writer intervene and add a short explanation of their own, supporting you and explaining how tiny and out of character this is. 

(f) a GPA slightly below the requirement is also not the kiss of death, necessarily. First, there are lots of schools out there with lots of different requirements. Second, schools are entirely within their rights to ignore cutoffs if they see something special in an application. Third, even if we imagine that it takes you a bit longer to eventually earn a PhD because this means that you'll need to get an MA to work on your GPA and research experience, MAs will be more lenient so you should again be fine. 

So, even if all the worst-case scenarios possible actually happen, WHICH IS INCREDIBLY UNLIKELY, all is still not lost. All it will mean is a more roundabout way to the goal, but we encounter obstacles all the time. You'll put on your big-boy pants, and you'll work your way back out of the hole. 

Oh thank you fuzzylogician you are so wise! I shall take your wisdom with gratitude!

this my last question i promise:

let's say i do end up FINALLY GETTING MY PHD one day, but then the TA 4 or 5 years later decides to go back to my undergrad essay,
and give me a 0 in the course because the TA is in a bad mood 4 or 5 years later (ex. somehow gets into a car accident or an unfortunate life event happens to the TA and so the TA gets into a really bad mood)
--> in that case, my undergrad GPA would be lowered to let's say a GPA of 3.1 and now, my GPA would no longer meet the minimum admissions requirements for the PHD program EVEN AFTER I'VE BEEN ACCEPTED TO THE PHD program and EVEN AFTER I have already begun my PHD research or EVEN AFTER i have already finished my PHD

and then if the university where I did my PHD finds out that my undergraduate GPA was lowered below their admissions requirements, EVEN AFTER I GOT accepted into the PHD program , would they eventually revoke my PHD or somehow punish me because my undergrad GPA was lowered beneath the PHD admissions requirements EVEN AFTER I GOT ACCEPTED INTO THE PHD program and even AFTER I've already begun my PHD research?

my goodness! my mind always comes up with all these complicated scenarios!

Edited by elemosynarical
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Wow. No, that won't happen.

First, your TA won't even be at your university 4-5 years from now. TAs are graduate students and they graduate at some point and leave. TAs also don't tend to remember their students that well years after they're done teaching them; I guarantee you that they've already forgotten about your question, and there is exactly zero percent chance that it'll suddenly pop into their head 5 years from now. 

Second, something would have to be seriously wrong with the university for it to entertain a complaint about a minor infraction do to with a student who's graduated a long time ago, and even more seriously wrong if they go through a process to find you guilty and impose a sanction. The Dean is a busy person, trust me when I promise you that the last thing they want to do with their time is try to work their way through an old complaint that doesn't make any sense from a former TA who's apparently lost their mind after a car accident. 

Third, even in the now impossible scenario that your grade changes, once you're in a PhD program, you're in. No one is going to care if your grade changed slightly. When you apply, you'll report your grades as they are, and that's what the university will use to make its decision. That will be what matters, not retroactive changes (and in fact it's entirely unclear how your PhD institution would ever even learn of a proceeding at another institution; such a matter wouldn't normally be reported to other institutions, you have a right to privacy). And once you have your PhD, you're done. Seriously, no one is going to know or care about this one grade from your BA. Revoking a person's PhD is so incredibly rare; it happens when a person makes up their entire dissertation data or commits some other serious fraud, and even then it'll only happen after lengthy proceedings. It will NOT happen because of such a minuscule issue with one undergraduate class. 

 

I seriously feel like I'm missing something. Are you planning to kidnap this TA's dog or ding their car five years from now? Why are you imagining these oh so unlikely revenge plots? 

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2 hours ago, fuzzylogician said:

Wow. No, that won't happen.

First, your TA won't even be at your university 4-5 years from now. TAs are graduate students and they graduate at some point and leave. TAs also don't tend to remember their students that well years after they're done teaching them; I guarantee you that they've already forgotten about your question, and there is exactly zero percent chance that it'll suddenly pop into their head 5 years from now. 

 

As an actual TA in a Psych department, I would like to add that quite literally no one cares about students' essays after the semester is over. If we do care, its because we think they'd be good RA's or project students.

And @elemosynarical if a TA is in a bad mood 4 - 5 years later and is still in academia, they'd probably be channeling their inner Reviewer #2 rather than looking up an old essay.

Edited by Oshawott
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On 5/23/2017 at 1:18 AM, elemosynarical said:

P.S. I'm sorry of my anxiety disorder symptoms are manifesting...
I really don't know if I'm sane or not... but I do know that I tend to worry about a lot of things...

I'm not a clinical psychologist and not diagnosing anything but I think you're making the correct attribution because the worrying and rumination being exhibited here is far beyond typical responding. It's not about your sanity, but it does seem that you're disproportionately worried about what seems to be a trivial incident.

I'd echo the earlier advice about bringing it up with your professional, if you have one, because it will also help you cope with similar situations in the future. For example, a recent movement in psych is automated tools that check the stats of published papers for errors. If you're constantly worried that a little stats mistake will cause a paper to be retracted or sink your career that'll be paralyzing.

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