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School starts checking Application Essay for Plagiarism

Penn State Checking MBA Application Essays for Plagiarism

The press release from iParadigms about Penn State’s use of the service for MBA admissions quotes Carrie Marcinkevage, the MBA admissions director for Smeal:

For the last five years we’ve been seeking a way to universally screen essays, without success. This year we did see cases of plagiarism, ironically in our “Principled Leadership” admissions essay. Our strong focus on principled leadership and the Smeal Honor Code makes it important for us to maintain integrity in the admissions process. Penn State already uses Turnitin for student assignments and sees the use of Turnitin for Admissions as a natural extension of the technology.
The original post about this new service generated a lively debate about whether it’s ethical to “plagiarize” your own essays, or recycle them for multiple applications. I think the consensus was that that it was, and the folks at Turnitin say there are safeguards in their system to eliminate “self-matches” and not flag them as possible plagiarism. There were also questions about whether schools would tell applicants they’ll be running their application essays through the Turnitin service before they’re submitted, or if this would be done on a stealth basis. I think the consensus on that one was that schools should flag their use of Turnitin to applicants.

Now that at least one MBA program has taken the plunge, what’s everybody think? Will other schools follow? Will it improve the quality of applicants accepted into MBA programs if schools have a way to determine who’s taking shortcuts on their essays? Is something like this even necessary? Please weigh in.
Penn State Checking MBA Application Essays for Plagiarism - BusinessWeek
 
The irony perhaps resides in the observation that true originality tends to be frowned upon in the US, where conformity, tacit acquiesence and being a "team member" are of paramount importance. "You've got to go along in order to get along" is an old saying in the US. Difficult to suddenly be original at essay time if you've been raised in such a stultifying environment.

These worthy folk must have clear criteria of what they mean by "plagiarism." I recall reading a book on computing where the author stated that he had "come to bury xxx programming language, and not to praise it." Was he supposed to provide a footnote that he had lifted this from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar?
 

Yike Lu

Finder of biased coins.
Yes, I remember being taught certain formulaic ways of writing essays for various things - for class, for standardized tests, and for college apps.

Also ironically, I got the best responses to my essays by just writing in a way that came naturally. Ever since I dropped all the standard "intro, 3 body paragraphs, conclusion" essay writing dogma, writing has been more fun for me and for my readers whether they be teachers, admissions officers, or just random people on the Internet.

As far as plagiarism, I never realized it would be a problem for college apps because it never occurred to me to try to copy somebody else's essay. The best such essays seem to include so many personal details that it would be impossible to plagiarize them convincingly. Can you really morph somebody else's story to fit your own?
 

Yike Lu

Finder of biased coins.
Professors reusing recommendations is more an issue of truth than plagiarism. Discovery of such a practice for a specific professor should call into doubt the veracity of the recommendation. While I don't believe it should be grounds for disqualifying a student, perhaps the recommendation itself should be thrown out.

But as far as that, I honestly don't expect a professor to write a ton of superlatives in a letter and then use it for every recommendation he has to write. In this sense, it is a big tradeoff for the student in terms of a personal/convincing letter and convenience to the professor. Then again, the type of students who would get this type of letter tend not to communicate much with their teachers and generally deserve an impersonal letter.

If you know your recommender well enough and he/she likes you, I doubt you will have this problem.
 
More on the service being used by the schools to fight plagiarism
Colleges turn to software to detect applicants' plagiarism - USATODAY.com

Academics engage in it. I think Morris Kline points out -- in "Why the Professor Can't Teach" -- that only 15% of mathematical papers have any original ideas. The rest are mostly a rehash of what has been done before. Look at the plethora of books on stochastic finance -- they mostly seem to be clones of one another. Truly original work is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I suppose the purpose of these admission committees is merely to weed out the most egregious cases of plagiarism -- brazen cutting-and-pasting. But hey, this is the USA: cheap replication defines American modernity. Painstaking craftsmanship is out; cheap and fast mass production is in. The copying of ideas and paragraphs is just one small aspect of a broader phenomenon.
 

Yike Lu

Finder of biased coins.
But hey, this is the USA: cheap replication defines American modernity. Painstaking craftsmanship is out; cheap and fast mass production is in. The copying of ideas and paragraphs is just one small aspect of a broader phenomenon.

If you have the time/money/patience to have every item you buy and use painstakingly designed and hand-crafted, be my guest. Are you also a hopeless romantic?

This is not a black and white issue, rather there's a continuum of choices, trading cost/time for quality. And each item in question is different.

I buy cheap mass-produced IKEA furniture because honestly, I could care less about having the most exquisite finely crafted desk or chair. It's sure nice to look at but... why does that matter to me?

Now on the other hand, I spend time building relationships e.g. with my recommenders because I DO care what they have to write for me. By the same taken, I spent time carefully writing my essays for grad school because I knew they were very important.

This is simple rational/critical thinking. I don't think the US education system is unique in its failure to teach this.
 
Checking ALL application essays (not for plagiarism!)

Hi,

I actually overheard the conversation of a Cranfield MBA student and a friend on the tube yesterday - he was saying that they now check all the students Essay submissions (not just application essays) for plagiarism using an online tool. The students don't actually submit their essay to the prof, they upload it to this online plagiarism checker instead!

Sian
BusinessBecause.com
(get real MBA application essay examples for ISB, IESE and ESADE by joining as a member on BusinessBecause.com)
 
I thought plagiarism checking has been in for years.. Apparently I was mistaken... It has been years since the arXiv archive flags for potentially plagiarized sentences/paragraphs when you upload a paper in the archives.

btw if you aren't familiar w/ it you can go to http://arxiv.org/ for the entire archive and http://arxiv.org/archive/q-fin for the quant finance archive. The papers are all free to download (hosted now by Cornell University). The authors directly upload papers into the archive which are usually done around the same time they submit their papers for peer review. The downside is.. well the papers aren't peer reviewed, but they are typically of the same quality you find in journals. People upload it to the archives mostly to claim priority in the event the peer review process takes months and somebody else published a similar paper in the meantime.
 

DominiConnor

Quant Headhunter
I have worked as a professional writer, and even then it is hard to avoid expressing the same thing in the same way. Because I've also written code for lexical analysis I am sceptical that they can reliably avoid self matches.

I'd even bet that since one is asking kids to bullshit, the set of bullshit they can invent is not only finite, but quite small, since they are all trying to say pretty much the same thing.
So I believe people will be be unfairly treated as if they stole the bullshit.

Also parents and schools can help generate nice bullshit.

Is that cheating ?
Could you catch it ?

It's certainly not fair.

I have to say I find the whole idea of application essays to be bogus.
 
I'd even bet that since one is asking kids to bullshit, the set of bullshit they can invent is not only finite, but quite small, since they are all trying to say pretty much the same thing.
So I believe people will be be unfairly treated as if they stole the bullshit.

I have to say I find the whole idea of application essays to be bogus.

Couldn't agree with you more. It's part of the US educational bureaucratic set-up. Redundant and a complete load of bollocks. Haven't seen it in England. One is forced to feign an enthusiasm one doesn't have. "Explain why you want to do an MFE." Well, Christ, because I'm tired of being an unemployed science/engineering graduate and though I know bugger-all about finance, I hear there's some dosh in it. But nope, gotta invent an elaborate cock-and-bull story about how one has always been intrigued by quant finance and how one hopes to make a meaningful societal contribution, blah blah blah. What a crock.

The issue of plagiarising bothers me as well. Most things I say and write are probably borrowed inadvertently from other sources -- I can't distinguish between what I concoct myself and what inadvertently I'm taking from something I read a while back but have consciously forgotten. For example, in 1990 Saddam Hussein promised the "mother of all battles." The expression "mother of" entered the English language -- I recall, inter alia, a BBC2 Newsnight presenter using the phrase in the mid-'90s. In an essay in the US, I would have to write: "To paraphrase Saddam Hussein, this promises to be the mother of all tax cuts (Saddam Hussein,1990).
 
Couldn't agree with you more. It's part of the US educational bureaucratic set-up. Redundant and a complete load of bollocks. Haven't seen it in England. One is forced to feign an enthusiasm one doesn't have. "Explain why you want to do an MFE." Well, Christ, because I'm tired of being an unemployed science/engineering graduate and though I know bugger-all about finance, I hear there's some dosh in it. But nope, gotta invent an elaborate cock-and-bull story about how one has always been intrigued by quant finance and how one hopes to make a meaningful societal contribution, blah blah blah. What a crock.

Well, perhaps both the university admissions and the potential employers are aware of the true sentiment. However, they feel that being able to express ones motivations more diplomatically, or in a more refined way that masks the true intent is also a valuable skill in the corporate culture?

I think I would appreciate an elaborate and well written lie than a blunt and boring tale of truth... At the very least, the former cared enough to add a diplomatic flare to their tale..
 

Ken Abbott

Managing Director
I interview dozens of quants and quants-lite every year. Those of you who don't really have a fire in your belly - I have bad news for you. You're not fooling anyone. It's usually quite obvious. Even when it's not immediately clear, it comes out after a few minutes.
 
Well, perhaps both the university admissions and the potential employers are aware of the true sentiment. However, they feel that being able to express ones motivations more diplomatically, or in a more refined way that masks the true intent is also a valuable skill in the corporate culture?

*Shrug* -- Where does the deceit stop? Universities are lying to prospective students on what they have to offer and subsequent job possibilities; students are lying to equally cynical admissions committees; corporations lie to prospective job applicants and their current employees, and lie to consumers via mendacious advertising; politicians and government officials lie because that's, well, their job. Everyone seems to be lying to everyone else. Pontius Pilate's age-old question comes to mind: Quid est veritas?
 
*Shrug* -- Where does the deceit stop? Universities are lying to prospective students on what they have to offer and subsequent job possibilities; students are lying to equally cynical admissions committees; corporations lie to prospective job applicants and their current employees, and lie to consumers via mendacious advertising; politicians and government officials lie because that's, well, their job. Everyone seems to be lying to everyone else. Pontius Pilate's age-old question comes to mind: Quid est veritas?

Hmm.. perhaps lying was a strong word. But surely being less than truthful for the sake of acceptability of what one says is nothing new? What one says has a certain level of noise on top of the true intentions, so there are kernels of truth if you look hard enough (like a cryptographic key expansion protocol..). I assume the people/institutions who get ahead are those who can sense the true meaning behind the actual words they hear. I think everyone, to some extent, censors what they really want to say in favor of social conformity.

Surely there are times at work when you have to work with co-workers who are not the easiest people to get along with.. but I would imagine most people would feign team spirit for the sake of efficiency/productivity?
 
Hmm.. perhaps lying was a strong word. But surely being less than truthful for the sake of acceptability of what one says is nothing new? What one says has a certain level of noise on top of the true intentions, so there are kernels of truth if you look hard enough (like a cryptographic key expansion protocol..). I assume the people/institutions who get ahead are those who can sense the true meaning behind the actual words they hear. I think everyone, to some extent, censors what they really want to say in favor of social conformity.

Surely there are times at work when you have to work with co-workers who are not the easiest people to get along with.. but I would imagine most people would feign team spirit for the sake of efficiency/productivity?

These are deep waters you are leading me into. I took part in an FT discussion on lying in resumes some years back. I made the point that there's no strict line of demarcation between truth and falsehood. It's a slippery slope from the unvarnished truth to undue emphasis, exaggeration, embellishment, and sins of omission to outright falsehood.
 

It might also behoove universities to collectively ask themselves about their standards of schooling if college graduates can't write a simple f***ing essay. That is to say, if they can't make a list of pertinent ideas, tie them together conceptually, and flesh out the outline into a coherent, grammatically correct, and smoothly flowing piece of writing.

Postscript: Though it has to be said that asinine essay topics like "principled leadership" also encourage conformity of thought and expression. I wouldn't know what to write on such a bs topic.
 
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