a student tried to pay me to do his schoolwork

A reader writes:

I’m a UK freelancer doing a relatively specialized job (I help businesses put together formal proposals and respond to tenders) so, aside from managing clients into giving me what I need (information to do my job), I don’t often need to address professional etiquette with others. However, this week I had a situation and I’d really like your take on both the request and my response to it.

A chap, let’s call him Sedgewick, contacted me for a quote for a piece of work. On first glance, it appeared to be straightforward and so I worked up a quote based on what he had asked me to do. I was moderately concerned that there was very little in the way of company information and the document he provided clearly used sample names, job titles, and other information, but it’s not totally unusual. Some companies are just cagey about the information they give out at first, and part of the work I do does involve creating sample answers to sample questions, which a business can then adapt and reuse in future proposals.

After some probing, I discovered that Sedgewick is a university student and that his assignment brief was actually to critically evaluate and further develop this sample document. He wasn’t asking for additional tutoring or generalized advice and guidance; the marking criteria made it very clear that what he had asked me to do was the same as what he would be marked on.

This morning, I emailed him the following:

Hi Sedgewick,

Many thanks for clarifying the purpose of the work. My usual work involves assisting existing businesses to win contracts through tenders and my quote was based on the assumption that this was either a live tender or an amalgamation of several tenders from which a library of standard answers could be developed for ongoing use. Both of these types of work are quite usual; both apply to existing businesses.

However, as this is a university assignment, I will not be able to assist you. The assignment brief makes clear that its purpose is to measure students’ own knowledge, skills, and abilities in critically evaluating and redeveloping a tender. Looking at the marking scheme and its various components, it is clear that my involvement would encroach on that purpose, making it extremely difficult for an assessor to mark authentically. Ethically, it is not something I am comfortable with.

I would also note that by outsourcing some or all of the work, you may be putting yourself at risk of a very low or zero score, as the assessment criteria does note this range for “evidence of serious academic misconduct”, which the involvement of a professional third party to complete the assignment may very well represent.

I appreciate that you wish to gain high scores in your studies and that external tutoring is often a positive way forward. However, I would advise that in the first instance, your course tutor or equivalent is the most appropriate person to address any concerns with, as they may have suggestions for external support that is structured in way that does not blur any boundaries or pose a risk to your marks.

All that said, there are a great many free resources available on the web; my own site has several years’ worth of guidance, tips, and observations on bid writing and evaluation, and many other tender services companies also offer the same. It may be worth exploring some of those resources as well to gain further insight into bid structure and industry norms which may help you with your assignment.

I wish you the very best in your studies and future career


I’m hoping any response is either extremely professional and polite (with maybe a side order of penitence) but I’m assuming there’ll probably be no reply at all.

Do you think my response hits the right marks? I wanted to make clear that this is not the way I do business and (hopefully) give him a head’s up that this is not an appropriate way to gain marks on his course.

I also wanted to have something in writing, date stamped and clear in my refusal so that, in the event that he gets someone else to do it and is then found out, any investigation will very clearly show that I have not and would not take payment to do someone’s course work for them.

Should I do anything else? A few people have suggested I inform his course tutor – on the one hand, I’m not so offended that I think it’s worth making a fuss about; it’s just another WTF? moment in freelance life. But on the other hand, do I have an obligation to do so, if it’s possible he will try to complete this or other course work through fraudulent means?

I don’t think that you have any obligation to pursue this further. He asked, you said no, you told him off (rightly so), and that’s that. He’s free to either learn from the experience or continue to try to hire people to complete his schoolwork for him, and you aren’t obligated to take further efforts to stop him or expose him. (You’ve already spent far more time writing him an explanation that most people would have!)

But I also think you’d be well within your rights to forward the exchange to his school if you wanted to. You certainly don’t have any duty of confidentiality toward him.

Personally, I’d let it go here. But if he replies back to you and is snotty, then I don’t think anyone could blame you for forwarding it along at that point.

{ 264 comments… read them below }

  1. Big10Professor*

    Oh, students, your professors are not fooled by this stuff. We’ve seen every trick in the book thrice over, and we know when you are cheating.

    1. Joseph*

      The dead giveaway here would probably be the style. A professional freelancer specialized in writing these proposals is going to produce writing which is very noticeably different in polish and quality than an inexperienced student.

      1. Aurion*

        Seconded. I would bet money that the OP’s response is of significantly higher calibre than the student’s writing and anyone who has even TA’d for a semester or two could spot the differences with their eyes closed.
        Experienced writers have a very practiced air to their writing–their writing is more organized, concise, thorough, and overall much more polished.

        Let’s face it, if the student were so practiced that their writing would blend with the OP’s, they wouldn’t be doing this.

    2. Jake*

      You may think that professor, however, as a big 10 grad, I can tell you I witnessed 25 cheaters get away with it for every 1 that was caught. Don’t be so sure that you understand the magnitude of this type of thing.

      1. M-C*

        Totally agree with Jake here. And a professor needs some shred of evidence in order to be able to act on their hunch that something is amiss..

        1. Almost former academic*

          Yep, if a professor knows the student isn’t capable of producing that level of work but can’t definitively prove it was plagiarized their hands may be tied, especially without support from the department/university administration. OP, please, please, please report this student. I’ve recently seen students able to get away with massive cheating because professors had no hard evidence and the school didn’t want to make a fuss.

      2. Students*

        My academic advisor openly did not care. He didn’t consider it “part of his job” to mark down cheaters, he just accepted it and marked it accordingly.

        I was pretty disappointed in him for that. It reflects poorly on schools (and professors) to turn out incompetent graduates. When there are curves, and for many lower-level classes there were, it punishes honest people with lower grades. Unfortunately, a lot of professors felt the same – it was far easier to ignore the cheating, give passing marks to the bad students that complain loudly, then to actually hold them accountable for their actions.

        1. Kathlynn*

          yeah, I once read a article written by a professional assignment writer, and all the assignments he’d written. For med students, nurses, and more. Scary stuff, and he pointed out that these students didn’t get caught. (this article was written about 10 years ago, so I don’t remember where I read it)

          1. K.*

            There was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about five years ago, written by someone who made his living writing for a custom essay company largely doing academic work for other students – often from proposal to finished product. He does entire masters’ curricula. I remember a line about how he wrote an entire master’s thesis.

            1. Plagiarism Essay*

              This is a late response but that essay was by Nick Mamatas, if anyone cares to google it up.

          2. Julia*

            Doesn’t suprise me considering some of the doctors I have been ‘treated’ by. What I don’t understand îs how that person can do al that and a) see no problem with it and b) not be scared out of their wits every time they have to go to the hospital.

        2. Jake*

          It’s funny you say that. In my experience, 90 percent of the cheating I saw was in curved classes, and in lower level classes. By the time 300 and 400 level classes rolled around, the assignments and tests became increasingly difficult to cheat on.

          1. Aurion*

            I used to know someone (an engineering student) who openly said that the entire engineering class cheated on their homework because no one really understood it so basically all the homework was, er, crowdsourced (as in, all of them copied from the one person who did understand it, not that there was a study group where everyone worked on it together). People who were shirty about it got cut off from the “engineering network”. And all the exams were stupidly difficult and curved heavily. Whether that only applied to 100 and 200 level courses or higher, I can’t say (we’re no longer friends).

            My science classes had curves, but as far as I know we didn’t have this so-called network. I always wondered what kind of engineers came out of that program (or maybe it was just her and her cohorts). She did graduate at the end…

            1. Jake*

              I have an engineering degree from the #2 school in the country for my field. I an confirm with absolute certainty that most students in my program did exactly what you describe for all their 100 and 200 level physics, mechanics, computer science, etc. classes. I’d guess 60% routinely cheated on homework, 20% on projects and 10% on tests.

              Funnily enough, I’ve only seen anybody get caught on a test before.

              1. Aurion*

                It’s easier to catch plagiarism for writing because writing style can be so distinct. For more mathematical/theoretical/formulae-driven assignments that’s harder, especially when they can claim a study group. I have no idea how they would cheat on a test though.

                Genuine question, because I’m curious: what kind of engineers did they turn out as? Or are they fine because school doesn’t map very well to real engineering on the job?

                1. Joseph*

                  “Genuine question, because I’m curious: what kind of engineers did they turn out as? Or are they fine because school doesn’t map very well to real engineering on the job?”
                  I’d say it depends on the reason why they were cheating.
                  >Some people don’t know it and just cheat to cover it up. These people probably won’t last very long in the profession and are unlikely to pass any required post-college licensing exams.
                  >Some people cheat because they just don’t feel like doing 27 homework problems when they already know the stuff. These people could go either way, depending on whether they can fix their laziness/boredom issues.
                  >Some people’s cheat by working in a dedicated group but still are learning. These people honestly might be even more successful than people who did the assignment solo because outside of college, engineers very rarely work alone.

                2. AcademiaNut*

                  I did a physics degree, and group work was standard. The point of assignments was to learn the techniques, so if you learned them by working in a group, and exchanging information on how to do problems, that was 100% okay and supported by the faculty. You could, as a result, get by dishonestly (simply copying, rather than understanding how the problem was done and working through the calculations at the end yourself). However, assignments were worth ~10-20% of the final mark – incentive to do them, but not enough to get a decent mark, and if you copied, you’d be nailed on the exams that made up the other 80% of the mark. So there wasn’t a strong motivation to ferret out assignment cheaters, unless they were stupidly obvious about it (and some were).

                  Two other motivations for wholesale cheating – the student actually understands the material reasonably well, but doesn’t have time to spend 10-15 hours per class per week on assignments for five classes, in addition to 20 hours a week of lectures plus studying for exams. Or everyone else cheats, and you can’t be honest and get a decent grade.

                3. bearing*

                  Engineering degree here. Group work was encouraged on homework assignments, even to the point of copying it verbatim from the one student who’d worked it out. It was not cheating; it was the means by which we learned from each other, and I think it was effective. Most of our grades were from exams, anyway.

                  I remember that we were always really annoyed when we had to take a class from another department that considered homework groups to be academic misconduct.

              2. the gold digger*

                I don’t know if this is true, but I heard that at Texas A&M, they don’t give partial credit on engineering tests. The philosophy is that it doesn’t matter how great your math is, if the bridge falls, you fail.

                1. SarahTheEntwife*

                  That seems like such an absurd rationale — in the real world, you get to (and in fact *should*) have a whole team of people double-checking each other’s math and making sure it’s right, and often simulations and such before you get to the “bridge collapse” phase, rather than an artificial time-limited test.

                2. SusanIvanova*

                  I went to A&M and never heard of that. But people do like to tell stories about us – we even tell them ourselves.

                3. Chairs*

                  I hated the finance classes I took in college for this very reason. Now that I do it for a living, I love it. It’s a lot more pleasant and a whole lot less stressful to build a DCF when you can be reasonably sure that someone will look at it after you and point out that you missed a sign change, or your discount rate is end-period instead of mid-period.

              3. blackcat*

                As someone who now teaches service courses to future engineers, I consider collaboration on homework valid. Write ups must be done by individuals, but I do not care if they listen to someone else explain the problem and then write it up in their own words (and I do require words, in addition to “showing work”). For the most part, students will learn better by talking to each other and working in groups. That also more closely mirrors what they will actually do after school (how many people do complex calculations and don’t ask someone else to look it over in a job?).

                I police cheating HARD on tests. People who were free riders on the homework will tank the tests, which will tank their overall grades.

                1. Jake*

                  Collaboration and cheating are completely different.

                  The idea that free riders will tank the test is invalid. It’s all about opportunity cost. If I spend 4 hours a week doing homework for an easy class that I understand regardless of the homework, that is 4 hours a week less I can spend studying what I need to study.

                2. blackcat*

                  … and I guess I don’t have a problem with that? I guess I should amend what I said to say, “The free riders *who don’t understand the material* will tank the tests.”That is true.

                  If someone doesn’t need to engage all the deeply with the homework to learn, I’m ok with that. I write HARD tests that require a very deep level of understanding to do well on, and the homework is designed to scaffold students in developing the skills I will be assessing on the tests. It is not terribly common for a student to clearly not engage with the homework and still do well in my class… maybe 1 of every 15 or 20. And I wish those 1 out of 15 or 20 could simply sit for the final without having to take the course and pass out of the requirement, but I don’t write those rules.

                  And what I’m talking about–outright checking work/discussing methods, doing the calculations collaboratively, etc–*is* considered cheating on the homework in many classes. It’s that way in enough classes that I have a big block of text in my syllabus being very clear that these are my particular standards for what I expect on homework, noting that this may be different from what happens in other courses, and that my standards supersede more generic university policy.

                  BUT–and this is a big but!–I’m in a STEM field where I can reasonably assess what I want students to learn within a sit down test. A lot of other courses aren’t that way, and most of the grade has to be out of class assignments.

              4. The Strand*

                A friend of mine who graduated from the #1 engineering program in his country told me the same thing, that it would be crowdsourced, with each person taking notes on a different part of the class and sharing that with the group. That is also how many legal study groups operate. It gets into cheating territory when one person answers individual assignments for the group, but crowdsourcing the study notes is greyer. So is multiple persons doing separate segments of a group assignment. There is honestly too much work, and faculty may or may have designed material that can truly be group work in the sense of people creating it collaboratively, not in different chunks making a new whole.

            2. Izzy*

              My university’s economics department was notorious for this sort of behavior. Supposedly the professors all knew and didn’t care. It was bizarre. I could never understand how students were supposed to then go do their post-college jobs if they wouldn’t do the work in introductory courses.

              1. Jake*

                In our program, it came down to the advanced classes only needed you to have a base understanding of the introductory courses, so cheating through the intros didn’t hurt you that bad.

                My friend who was a chemistry major experienced the opposite, if he didn’t have a mastery of the intro classes, he’d have failed.

                1. Aurion*


                  Perhaps it was different for engineers. I studied chemistry, and the synthesis problems in later years definitely relied upon you knowing the theory and reactions you learned in earlier years. No one stopped to remind you about saponification or Grignard reactions.

            3. Engineer Girl*

              Someone that cheats will always claim “everyone” is doing it.
              That said, collaborating on homework isn’t really cheating. Either the student learns the material or not. If not, it shows up on the exam. You can’t fail the exams and pass the class.

            4. Bryce*

              Croudsourcing was encouraged in my physics classes, since the problems were about spotting how to approach it and repetition we still learned how to do them. Where I tended to come down on it when it came my turn to TA was when it was blind copying. There were signs like everyone making the same mathematical errors, getting the same wrong units on results and the like. Someone else figuring out how to approach the problem is a lot different from someone else giving you the answer.

        3. Photoshop Til I Drop*

          A huge part of how high school teachers (in my area, anyway) push back on plagarism with whiney snowflake students and their “give my kid an A and shut up” parents is to explain that college Will Not Put Up With Your Nonsense. Hearing that is not true really, really bites!

          1. Another Mel*

            It really, really depends on the program area of study. My husband is an engineer – group work for home work was normal and encouraged. My undergrad was in social sciences – not at all tolerated. My masters is an MBA and initially I wouldn’t collaborate because I was under the impression that was cheating and not allowed, then it became apparent that the quizzes in some of my classes (done at home) were expected to be done in a group or at worst the prof didn’t care so on those – I stopped caring and finally participated in the group work. We also pooled study notes for some of our finals – honestly it was necessary and not a problem with our professors. So it really depends.

        4. SystemsLady*

          I guess not caring on homework is one thing – when I was in college there were a lot of answer books floating around, but it was with long form engineering problems where you had to do work to be believable anyway. I saw more using it as a learning/check the process tool than outright cheating, still not the best but I could see not wanting to fail the student.

          But on reports or tests? Yeesh.

        5. Anon for this one*

          Um-professional academic advisor here, and I have to point out that outside of some pretty specific roles, it’s usually not part of our job to handle disciplinary issues. Even faculty advisors usually have limited authority to address that kind of concern unless they’re also teaching the class. Advising is a field where “other duties as assigned” can get pretty broad, but as a profession, it’s not the norm for the advisor to be who you go to for that. It sounds like your advisor didn’t convey a very good attitude about helping you address a concern (which IS part of our job), but if someone brought a cheating complaint to me, I’d have no authority to do anything but pass it along. Now it’s possible that your advisor functioned in a different way than what I’ve seen, but in general both students and staff often don’t really understand what academic advisors do, so I’ve taken flack for not doing things that I had no standing to do in the first place more than once.

      3. Anonymous Educator*

        Just because a cheater got away with it doesn’t mean it’s obvious. Could be the professor can tell it’s fake but doesn’t care. Could be the professor knew it was fake but didn’t have enough proof for there to be disciplinary action. Or the administration doesn’t back the prof. on plagiarism consequences.

        1. Jake*

          Then shame on the school and/or professor for showing students that cheating pays. All that does is devalue the honest peoples’ degrees.

          1. Big10Professor*

            Homework is like 10% of the grade in most classes. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that students who cheat on their homework are not going to do well on exams. There’s a limit to how much time I am going to spend confronting someone over a homework assignment if I can just fail them based on their exam grades anyway.

            1. Jake*

              I can appreciate that stance from a practical standpoint.

              The frustrating part about that attitude is that a lot of the cheaters are also some of the smartest, and they still do fine on exams, or they also cheat on exams (I will admit I rarely witnessed exam cheating).

              At the end of the day, I learned the material, and I was well prepared for my career, so I really don’t have anything to be bent out of shape about. That being said, can you at least understand why watching students get an A- while cheating would be so frustrating for a non cheating B+ student such as myself?

                1. Jake*

                  That logic doesn’t pan out. If I spend 4 hours a week doing homework for an easy class that I could cheat through in 30 minutes, still know just as much about the subject and spend that extra 3.5 hours a week studying a subject I struggled with, I’d leave knowing more. However, that would just reinforce the idea that cheating does pay off.

              1. Big10Professor*

                Personally, I don’t care whether or not students do the homework, so I don’t include it as part of the course grade. I expect students in a quantitative course to act like adults and determine how many problem sets will help them learn the material.

                But it is still my experience that students seem to think cheating is much more prevalent than it actually is, and that they think professors don’t know about it when we do. I have had students in my office unhappy with B or C grades complaining about someone cheating, when I had already failed that person and removed their scores from the curve.

                1. SystemsLady*

                  This matches my experience with professors, some of whon said a lot of this out loud (and also had 10-15% weight on the homework, not to mention half of the homework grade was the work shown), for the record.

              2. Lindsay J*

                If they know the material, why does it matter if they cheated on the homework or not?

                (Cheating on the exams is obviously unacceptable.)

                That’s honestly one of the things that I hated about college. I was told all in high school that in college all of my grades would be based on test scores and essays, and that sounded like heaven to me.

                Instead I still had to deal with stupid grades for showing up to class, turning in homework, etc. If I am smart enough to know all the material without doing the stupid homework, or sitting in class while a professor reads directly off of a powerpoint, how is it benefiting me (or anyone else) to be forced to do homework to practice it or to spend my time sitting in class when I could much better spend my time doing other things like doing work for other classes, working, going to the gym , networking with other students, sleeping, whatever?

                1. Jessen*

                  Because if too many students coast through the homework and then bomb the tests, the university will come after the instructor. And a lot of 18 year olds will do exactly that.

                2. Emma*

                  If your classes are lectures, then yeah, attendance grades are pretty silly. But if, like mine were, your classes are discussion based, then by not showing up, you negatively impact others’ ability to learn. If only the people who struggle to understand the material show up to class, then the professor has nothing to work with in terms of in-depth discussion or raising advanced points.

        2. Anonymous Educator*

          Sorry. I should have said Just because a cheater got away with it doesn’t mean it’s not obvious.

      4. Big10Professor*

        You know, I found out from one of my undergrads that they thought I was oblivious to cheating. The thing is, when I bust someone, I don’t announce it to the entire class, I quietly fail them. In fact, FERPA prevents me from announcing it. Do some people get away with cheating? Absolutely. Do more get busted than you know about? Absolutely.

        1. Jake*

          While I don’t doubt you bust people, I do know if my classmates got caught. They cheated on over a dozen classes and never retook a single class.

          In addition, gpa is pretty easy for anybody to determine considering we constantly reviewed each other’s resumes and portfolios. Had they failed any of the classes I know they cheated in, considering they cheated as a matter of routine in over a dozen classes, I’d easily know. Could they fudge gpa? Sure, but they sure can’t hide failing prerequisites because then they wouldn’t still be in my classes! You can’t hide the fact that in a 200 person physics class, I know of around 30 that cheated on every homework assignment (of the 50 or so that I knew in the class), and of those, they all moved on to the next course. The only time I saw one of our known cheaters fail a class is when they were publicly caught cheating on a test.

          Based on conversations I’ve had with old high school classmates that went to different schools and fields of study, I doubt my observed cheating is limited to my school or program, although, I will admit that engineering seems to have a slightly larger percentage of cheaters than other disciplines.

          I still maintain the stance that cheating is way more prevalent than you know or admit, unless you’re teaching junior and senior level specialized classes.

          1. Anna*

            I think it’s somewhere in between. That cheating took place is true; that it was taking place as frequently as you say it was…I’m not sure you know that for sure. That the professors always caught them isn’t true; that the professors didn’t catch them as frequently as Big10Proffesor says…again, I’m not sure they did. Somewhere in the middle is what was actually happening, I’d guess.

        2. sstabeler*

          I sort of think that’s funnier, actually- they think they’ve got away with cheating, only to get a great big F.

        3. LibraryChick*

          I definitely agree with your sentiment. The university where I work is very aggressive about rooting out cheaters. Do we miss some of them? Probably. The thing about cheaters though is that they seldom try it just one time. That usually gives us ample opportunity to catch them. Sometimes we have students transfer in who get the shock of their lives when they find out that cheating is no longer an option for them. Here we do not hesitate to drop the culprit, and bar them from ever returning.

    3. Melee*

      Yeah, but this stuff can be hard to prove (professor parents here). I think OP should forward this to the professor. A lot of times my parents have had to let cheaters get away with it because they know they’ll lose on appeal otherwise for lack of proof

    4. Emma*

      Wow, the comments here are representing an academic culture which is *miles* away from the one I worked in in NL and UK. In 5 years of studying law, I knew of a couple of outright cheaters, and a handful more who plagiarised a lot because they failed to grasp that copying someone else’s ideas wholesale is plagiarism, even if you change the wording and restructure the argument (this was usually down to people not being anywhere near confident enough to put forward their own novel assessment of whatever the issue at hand was).

      But cheating wasn’t widespread at all… and anyone who was cheating wouldn’t even think of admitting it, even to other students, perhaps excluding really close friends. I have done more online tutorials on How Not To Plagiarise than I care to remember, including several that I dashed through at quarter to midnight, because I hadn’t realised that the course I was doing required me to go through one before I could submit the midnight-deadline assignment.

      I can’t even imagine how you could plagiarise an entire dissertation, how would you handle the meetings with your supervisor…? (Obviously sections/chapters could be plagiarised or you could use someone else’s data without credit, or something like that, I’m thinking of the comment above along the lines of “Buy a masters’ dissertation, ready in 1 day!”)

      1. leukothea*

        I’m someone who attended a small, highly regarded liberal arts college in the United States’ Midwest area. The college is still associated with a church (!), and has a strict honor code. I was studying Latin, Greek, and History, and was in very small classes, usually between 6 and 12 people. Discussions during classes were intense, and everyone was heard from; if you hadn’t done the reading it would become apparently very quickly!

        Perhaps for all those reasons, I never heard of anyone cheating. I would have been literally shocked to silence if someone I knew had admitted to it, and I probably would have dropped the friendship. The “everyone does it”attitude isn’t at all true in my experience. Then again, I’ve never attended a class with hundreds of people in it, where students can get by relatively anonymously.

  2. Landshark*

    I think you did what you had to do. I freelance as well as teach at a college, so I have to turn down anything that even remotely hints at foul play or else it also risks damaging my career (no one wants to hire the teacher who lets students cheat). If anything, your script is even more polite than mine. If you have the college name, it wouldn’t be amiss to report it if you felt the need, but in my experience, you may not have that and it’s not necessary to do so as a next step. You did the right thong, have a good script, and can comfortably move on.

    1. Landshark*

      The right thing*

      I normally leave typos be, but the right thong was just too weird to leave.

      1. EmmaLou*

        But I’d think the right thong would be important. I read a story about a girl whose mother wouldn’t let her buy a thong. So she knit one herself. Out of wool.

  3. addlady*

    You did good. Let him have the second chance that you so graciously gave him; if he trashes that one too then he can reap his own consequences.

    But also, why you? When there are literally paid services that will do students’ schoolwork, why you? He is not smart on many, many levels and will probably reap the consequences of that.

    1. sstabeler*

      course tutors are often aware of the main paid services that will do your work for you, and can spot them. he probably thought he was being clever by finding someone new.

    2. Vizzini*

      Why him?

      1. If the class is advanced level enough, the “buy an essay” sites may not have anything appropriate. I think this is especially likely since the assignment gave the students a document to review, critique, and enhance.
      2. Much of the work from those “buy an essay” sites has been added to the databases of plagiarism sites like TurnItIn. If the class used that service, buying an essay online can be very risky.

      The “buy an essay” sites are hilarious. They’ll give you a quote for a 200-page PhD dissertation with a 1-day deadline. 100% guaranteed not to be plagiarized.


      1. OhNo*

        I hope if anyone does actually buy that PhD dissertation, they get it delivered in an un-editable PDF written entirely in Wingdings.

        Anyway, these are all good points and the student was probably operating under a similar thought process. The OP showed a lot of integrity in turning this job down, and incredible professionalism an kindness in their response. Here’s hoping the student learns from the experience.

    3. themmases*

      Huh, I thought it was kind of a smart way to go about trying to plagiarize– if there is such a thing.

      If you hang out on any academic sites you will see plenty of spam for those paper-writing services. Most of their web copy is not just riddled with grammatical and spelling errors, which would be bad enough; they’re also trying and failing to be subtle about it and it’s clear that writing skills aside, whoever is running them is really not all that bright. Those sites are also well-known by educators and usually re-selling papers that will certainly be caught by services like iThenticate. They are actually just (completely deserved IMO) scams on the students.

      Going to a legitimate freelancer gets you what the plagiarism services only claim to: an original document created to spec by a literate professional. The OP comes across as an unusually thorough person, and at first this student seemed odd but plausible even to them. It’s quite possible someone else wouldn’t have caught them.

  4. Interviewer*

    This is an amazing story, and OP, you were so much kinder than I would have been.

    I bet this student has contacted other consultants in an effort to get this assignment done, and it’s possible those consultants are not nearly as ethical. You may be doing his teacher a great service by letting him/her know about this exchange.

    1. Landshark*

      There are plenty of unethical consultants I’ve seen. I do my freelancing through a site that allows freelancers to pick bids posted by clients. I see plenty of less-than-subtle attempts at requesting plagiarism and they do get taken. The funniest part is that they ask for 0% plagiarism through an online checker (for the sake of trying to hide) even though it’s actual plagiarized work.

      I’ve tried to edit a paper written by abother freelancer (I didn’t know this when I accepted the job and I only edit to the same degree a student could get at a writing center because I don’t agree with doing someone else’s work) and it was godawful, by the way. I told the client to redo certain portions because they were cited wrong and I didn’t have the sources and the plagiarism came out. Job canceled ASAP… but they probably found someone else anyway. And I didn’t have the college’s info to report it, which is the worst part…

      Tl;dr: unethical freelancers will totally do your assignments, but they’re usually terrible at what they do. Just do your own work.

    2. K.*

      You can go on the writing gigs section of Craigslist right now and see ads posted by people who want their schoolwork done, and they’re not subtle about it either – they come right out and ask. “Need a 3-5 page paper on [topic] by tomorrow. $20.” Not only are you cheating, but you’re a slacker and you’re cheap!

      1. Mabel*

        I do tutoring in the side -usually professional adults, but occasionally college students – and I have had requests from people who wanted me to do their assignments for them. And they were usually at the last minute (i.e., the assignment was due the next day). I am very uncomfortable with this, and I always turn them down. I did have an ongoing student once who – after we had been working together for a little while -wanted me to do a online exam for her. I wasn’t about to do that, but I did work with her on each question until she was able to figure out the answers herself.

  5. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    It’s rather common – there were term paper services in the Boston area in the 1970s – two students at the barnyard (our local term for Harvard) were bagged as they submitted the same term paper for the same section of a 100-level course.

    There also have been instances of wealthy people paying others to perform their degree work for them. In fact, it’s known that some, uh, “international” students with financial means hire others to take their work.

    1. M-C*

      No need to look at ‘international’ to find examples. Dubya’s ghostwriters were still to be found all over Yale when I was there..

  6. MillersSpring*

    Your email is far longer than I would have afforded him. I would have limited my reply to only that I could tell it was school assignment, therefore I would not be able to help him. The advice about this not being the way to earn good marks in the class likely will fall on deaf ears.

  7. Jess*

    I think at this point Alison is just making these letters up. This letter is very stereotypical. Most of her letters also appear to be written the same way. She needs click bait

      1. babblemouth*

        If Alison had the time to invent and write all these letters, I feel she would make more money writing a fiction book or TV series script about terrible people in the workplace…

    1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      That was unnecessary. If you don’t like reading her website, then don’t read her website.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What a weird accusation, and particularly on a relatively run-of-the-mill situation in the OP’s letter.

      Do you know how long it would take me to make up letters? It would take far longer to make things up than to write the answers to things people send me.

      1. OwnedByTheCat*

        Given that often the OP also comes back and engages in the comments, as do you, one can only surmise you are also posing as the OP and having a conversation with yourself. It’s the only obvious answer!

              1. Chinook*

                Nope – it has to be her nieces. I bet she pays them by the word to come up with something.

          1. Moonsaults*

            It’s a regular one-woman show up in here!

            I bet you’re also “Jess” as well…oh my.

          2. Oryx*

            Maybe “Alison” is fake, too. Like, you’re not a real person but a whole team of writers who pretend to be one single person answering all the letters and the comments. OMG MAYBE I AM ONE OF YOUR SOCK PUPPETS.

          3. MoinMoin*

            I wish it was all you. I would beg you to become a novelist and I’d read everything you ever published.

          4. Julia*

            You have such a a great imagination! All the novels of the week you present here are also written by you under a pen name!

      2. Wendy Darling*

        It seems like it would be way more work to make up all these letters than it would be to just sit back and let it all roll in.

      3. Big10Professor*

        I thought this was a weird attempt at humor in accusing you of ghostwriting on a post about ghostwriting.

      4. So Very Anonymous*

        Actually, we are all the creations of the freelancer who did do this project for the student.


    3. Marmalade*

      I don’t agree with your accusation about Alison making letters up but I did wonder if this OP was pretending to be British. The language reads a bit like an American stereotype of a Brit.

      1. Bemused Brit*

        Ah ha ha! No, I am definitely British! As I understand it though, Alison does change spelling to the American version, so I was prepared for that (and yes, I do use words like ‘chap’ in real life!)

          1. Marmalade*

            Ah that makes more sense! It was the American spelling combined with the choice of Sedgewick as a name that made me wonder.

      1. Catalin*

        @Bemused Brit, that truly is a splendidly polite letter you sent to the slacking student.

        Also, what are ‘tenders”?

        1. Aurion*

          I think it refers to “request for tenders” which is when a company invites suppliers/vendors to submit a bid for supplies/services. In this case, I think Bemused Brit is helping the suppliers/vendors construct their bid.

          1. Catalin*

            So is it like a request for proposal? That’s when a purchaser (like the government) issues a request for vendors (companies) to write up proposals for labor.

            If so, damn that’s hard work.

            And I now want chicken. Sorry!

        2. Bemused Brit*

          Thank you!
          Not chicken! When an organisation wants to find a supplier for something, particularly if they’re publicly funded like a local council, they have to follow a strict process to narrow down potential suppliers so that everything is ‘above board’ – the process is called ‘putting something out to tender’ (although it is also often called bidding….)
          It involves a lot of paperwork for the supplier to complete, from the details of the products/services they offer to information about their staff and internal processes, as well as cost. Many suppliers are better at doing their day job than they are at writing about how they do what they do, so then they hire me to help. I work mainly with small businesses and they’re often up against huge corporations for the same contract, so they need to put together a tender response that can beat the big guys with all their many resources. I love it when we (me and my clients) win a tender against a bunch of big competitors!

    4. LolCat*

      It’s OK, sweetie. There are lots of other websites out there that are more your level, since this one is apparently beyond your understanding.


    5. Catalin*

      I was an OP this week, I guarantee she’s not making it up.

      Also, Sedgewick? You really think American Alison is going to have Sedgewick on the tip of her tongue?

      And by the way, she doesn’t need “click-bait”, her stories are spreading across the internet on their own. Maybe a title here and there gets reworded, but every author does that.

      Mind the floor, kid, ’cause you’re tripping.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Well, full disclaimer, my dad’s dog was named Sedgwick! But I didn’t know it was a British name.

        The fake letter accusation came up with both of the two recent posts that went viral (the manager who wouldn’t let her great employee go to her college graduation, and the interns fired for petitioning about the dress code). A bunch of people around the internet were sure one or both of those were fake and were just intended as clickbait, just what Jess is saying.

        They certainly could have been made up by the letter-writers; I have no way to guard against that, other than my own BS meter which I’m sure isn’t infallible. But the suggestion that I myself am making things up is just bizarre to me — ethics aside (I’ve literally never made up a letter, not once), it would take so, so, so long to do that, and require so much creativity that I don’t have. It would triple or quadruple the time I’d have to devote to the site (writing answers is easy; thinking up this many questions would be hard), to say nothing of then having to pose as OPs in the comments. It just seems like a really poorly thought out accusation.

        (The other piece of this is that it assumes I want the kind of traffic clickbait brings, which for the most part I actually don’t — that viral post period caused a huge amount of work on my end, both in comment moderation and in keeping the site from breaking under the strain. It’s true that it does make ad revenue go up, but not enough to pay for the time that consumes.)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Just to be totally up-front, it’s not that I don’t enjoy higher traffic — of course higher traffic is nice and it would be disingenuous of me to say otherwise. But I care about the kind of traffic, especially since the comment section is such a big part of the site. Higher traffic that’s here because of something viral-ish = not all that fun.

            1. Landshark*

              FWIW, I like that the graduation one went viral because I found the site! But I can imagine not all of the traffic is coming back and much of it is trollish.

        1. VintageLydia*

          That reminds me. From what I understand that week or so was moderation hell (though thankfully short lived.) You’ve said before you don’t want more moderators here full time which I understand. We police ourselves pretty well and you rarely need to step in. But have you considered temporarily deputizing a few regulars when things get crazy? You could vet them in advance and activate them as needed. And things being what they are, you’ll never need them after you vet them, lol.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            People have suggested it, but I think it would probably take at least as long to screen, train, and supervise that as it would to do it myself. (But that just could be the “it’s my baby and no else can touch it” syndrome that I have about the site.)

            1. animaniactoo*

              You’re absolutely right. It would take just as long to screen and train them. For the first few times worth of when they’d be needed.

              If supervising them after that takes the same amount of time, you’re probably not doing it right. ;)

              1. Marty Gentillon*

                One thought about that, you might consider setting things up so that regulars can flash things for moderation, rather than doing the moderation themselves. It might save the mods some work and speed moderation during rushes.

        2. Kyrielle*

          If you ever did want fake letters, I bet you’d have an easy time hiring a couple people to write them. Maybe moonlighting from one of the plagiarized term papers sites. ;)

        3. BRR*

          i think my favorite thing about this is your counter argument is basically “it’s way too much work to make up letters.” Maybe I’m just really tired but this is very entertaining to me.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Ha, well, yes. I don’t love having my integrity insulted, but I figure they’re strangers so I’m not going to dwell on that part of it. Plus, I hate accusations that make no logical sense.

        4. Mela*

          Buzzfeed also picked up the one about the guy who wrote the letter to his gf’s boss because them having drinks on a business trip was him “encroaching on his personal life”

    6. N.J.*

      Actually, I recall this poster name being around the past few years or so on and off. A quick search of the website confirms that “Jess” had been a commenter for awhile. Let’s afford this individual the same courtesy that the OP has afforded the knuckle headed plagiarizing student and treat him or her kindly with our disapproval, despite how churlishly he or she has expressed it. Jess, if you have a valid critique related to the evolution of Alison’s site, you need to express it at such. An example. If I go to a restaurant for years and years and suddenly eat something I don’t like there, I’m not going to gain much ground by saying “This food is crap, you suck, this place is going downhill.” If I can articulate what has changed, how it has changed, what my taste is and what specifically I don’t like, in a respectful manner, I may have success in effecting change. Maybe the site doesn’t fit your needs anymore. Maybe the types of questions posted have changed. It’s hard to say. AAM is still a high quality, engaging site with world class commenters, that core has never changed. Neither has Alison’s thoughtful and thought provoking advice. The commenters are not crazy, they are passionate. Yeah, not everybody agrees on everything, but any other website would have devolved into name calling, cursing and lawlessness (in the sense of not following general commenting guidelines and etiquette) by now. I will reiterate, if you have a point, make it, in a civilized way that respects basic courtesy and decency. Don’t shit where you eat, so to speak.

      1. Mabel*

        And sometimes the same name is used by more than one person (I didn’t used to be Mabel, but I didn’t want any confusion between [my old name] and [someone else using the same name]).

        1. A Good Jess*

          Yeah I am relatively new and have commented (even this week) as “Jess” but you can be darn sure that I’m coming up with another name to use from now on!

        2. N.J.*

          Yes, but the point of my comment is that we shouldn’t assume someone is a troll just because that person is being a jerk. Calling this Jess a troll, along with the comments of Bye Jess and Bye Felicia, is funny and maybe even well deserved, but it’s not going to encourage actual members of this commenting community, if they have a legitimate complaint, to speak up. Jess was still being ridiculously hostile, but this commenter implied specifically that they had observed AAM posts over time and had a bone to pick. So some folks assuming this Jess is automatically a jerk with nothing to say doesn’t get to what I felt was the heart of the situation: someone who is likely a somewhat regular commenter didn’t like the posts lately and took the nuclear option when expressing that and everyone ate him or her alive. That’s why I pointed out he or she might be a regular and I pointed out what a jerk Jess was being.

      2. Jess*

        I’m Jess and I’ve posted under that name off and on for ages, but I didn’t write the above comment. There’s another Jess I see posting sometimes too. So many Jesses!

  8. Ellie H.*

    This is the most polite and nice response to this that I could possibly have imagined and I’m so impressed. In general, I give people the benefit of the doubt and am very sympathetic to people who are desperate and do the wrong thing. But academic dishonesty is the one thing that I completely lose my shit over, especially people who seek it out in advance like this such as by buying test answers from others, keep a drawer of papers/old tests in their fraternity or sports team locker room, paying for others to write their papers, stuff like that. And I think that those who write papers for others for money are basically the lowest of the low. (I do have sympathy for ESL speakers from countries where plagiarism is not always thought of in the same way, which happens sometimes, and for students with serious psychological hardships, situations of unreasonable family pressure, and stuff like that, but not for situations in which you can tell that someone really made a choice to do the wrong thing.)

    Again, I am so impressed by this thoughtful response and I hope that it motivates the student to re-think his approach and seek out help if he needs it (which whatever I would have written in such a situation would be unlikely to do, probably). I probably would have been stronger about this being completely ethically unacceptable, even combined with your advice of how to seek out help and the value of being evaluated honestly, but that’s it. Very commendable!

    1. AndersonDarling*

      If everyone was scolded in such a thoughtful, kindly, intelligent manner, then the world would be a better place.

  9. Jess*

    Alison you deleted my comments about how downhill your website has gotten. I used to come here for actual work advice, now all you have to offer is outrageous made up letters that help no one. Also your commenters are insane. And stop linking to articles from 5 years ago.

    1. Hana*

      “This letter does not directly apply to me therefore it helps no one. I am not fed a regular flow of actual work advice that applies to me, therefore these letters must be outrageous and made up.” Jess, please examine your entitlement.

    2. Corinne*

      No one is obliged to provide you with what you think perfect advice is. You are not owed anything. You are not entitled to certain content. Go away.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I didn’t delete it. It’s above, and I responded to it. I don’t know why you think the letters are made up (as well as the responses in the comments from OPs, I guess?) but if you’re not into the site, luckily you don’t have to read it.

        1. Juliana*

          Ooh, generating controversy as clickbait through accusations of clickbaiting?!

          Alison, you’re so devious ;)

          1. Hana*

            Honestly click bait for/on what, though? Does this site get advertised on other sites? Seems like it’d be less effort to just bait people with “you won’t BELIEVE what this job seeker did to an OFFICE PLANT (poop emoji)” or “denied a promotion for YEARS… this REAL LIFE ending will SHOCK you”

            1. Kyrielle*

              “These two secret tips for dealing with people that will CHANGE YOUR LIFE” (talk to them, and set boundaries, heh).

            2. Dot Warner*

              “When this woman saw what her coworker was using to clean the kitchen her jaw DROPPED, and so will yours!”

      1. Anna*

        I feel like I can pretty well guess all I need to know about this person based solely on their comments.

          1. MoinMoin*

            Which makes Jess insane also. But can we trust that she’s correct about us being insane if she’s insane?

    4. Catalin*

      If the site has gone downhill, why will there be a thousand rebutting comments to your trolling by midnight tonight? And on a Friday afternoon as well?

      Surely you should be over at Yahoo trolling Ryan Lochte by now.

      Oh, and we’re not insane. Or maybe we are, but we’re the people who would hire you (or rather, not).

    5. Gandalf the Nude*

      What bizarre timing for a comment like this, too. We did have a run of scandalous (but believable, I thought, and definitely entertaining) letters for a while there, but I thought this week’s content was closer to AaM Classic ™.

      Plus, one of the things I appreciate about Alison’s writing is that even when the letter writer is in an unusual situation, she’s usually able to inject her advice with something that’s useful to folks who will never live that particular scenario.

    6. snuck*

      I have found, after some years here, I can play a game of predicting a lot of the time what Alison will say… so many of the situations have come up before, in a slightly different way, or maybe it’s just that now I know her style.

      I have also found that after years of reading this site I have a much better idea of how (mostly American, but generally many) work places work… and it’s shaped some of my view of the working world differently – so now I can generalise my work encounter skills even if I haven’t had direct experience in particular environments/roles/ situations.

      If I was still using this specifically for work advice I’d probably find it less helpful now except in the rare scenario because over time I’ve learnt a lot of what’s on offer here. Maybe that’s what Jess is trying to say… the site is no longer of the quality she needs.

      I will say also that over time as the site has gotten bigger with more people, and a more polished/coordinated approach that it is more formal and has a bit more control over it. Maybe Jess doesn’t like that vibe as much.

      It has changed, we’ve changed, things change.

      1. snuck*

        (And I’m still here because there is still things to learn, a little voyeurism, information to share, ideas to examine and frankly it’s a great cafè to watch the world walk past. There is much here that is useful, many interesting views, and I learn more every day)

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        And I think, really, that’s what it should do. That’s really my hope — that over time regular readers will take a way a certain framework/body of knowledge/way of thinking about work stuff. If reading enough here over time it has shaped the way you think and operate at work, that’s a huge thing … and I think when that happens, the site necessarily feels less useful at that point. It can still be interesting and entertaining but by definition it won’t be as useful, because you’ll have absorbed much/most of it already.

        I don’t know, just musing. But that’s my guess.

        1. Rater Z*

          You almost have to keep hitting the same things over and over because, as time goes by, a new crop of young (and not so young) readers find this blog and are reading/learning the material for the first time. I cam across it perhaps 9 months ago and really got on the mailing list six months ago and have spent more time than I need to reading the old stuff you bring up each time.

          On Friday, this past week, I mentioned to my niece that it might pay for her to read the blog. She just finished night college with a degree in HR and is ready to look for a new job — she said she hadn’t been job hunting is about 16 years. She didn’t seem enthused over Friday’s column but I encouraged her to keep looking at the blog and to dig thru the list of articles that appear on the right side of the blog. (I may have really gotten her interest up by telling her about all the candidates for the worst boss of the year — her reactions were spot on for someone with schooling to do HR.)

    7. Dot Warner*

      Well, I am zany to the max. :) But seriously, if you stopped liking the site, there’s this new thing you can try called Not Reading It Anymore. Variations on this include Reading Some Other Site and Just Getting Off the Computer, Already.

  10. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    What I actually came here to say, before the rude interruption, was to the OP: stop wringing your hands over this. Academic dishonesty exists; all professors know about it. (I’ve worked in higher education for fifteen years.) For a student to approach you of their own free will is not your responsibility, especially as you called him out on it and declined. Yes, the exchange should go to the school; but I highly doubt it’s going to be the first notice they’ve been notified for this student. They already have the procedures in place to deal with him.

    1. Anna*

      …I’m not sure that means the OP shouldn’t send it on to the school. If anything, I think it means they should. The OP has exactly no idea who has or hasn’t contacted the school. If the OP wants to follow up on it, they should.

      OP, if it were me I would have CC’ed the instructor or the dean or someone. You could let it go and there would be nothing wrong with it, but it’s the kind of thing that galls me enough that I’d close that loop.

      1. Melee*

        Yes! I said it above, but it can be hard to prove plagiarizing even if the professor knows it’s not the students’ work. OP should forward the exchange.

  11. Blurgle*

    The OP is a better person than me: I would have written the professor – or at least begun my letter to the student with, “Dear entitled, spoiled, pampered little privileged brat: do your own damn work, do it well, and learn from it.”

    1. Catalin*

      “Dear lazy bum, money cannot buy you everything. Do your own work and earn a grade.”
      “Dear over-scheduled stressed-out super-student, pare it down before you give yourself an ulcer. 30 hours is too much, drop this class.”

      1. Bemused Brit*

        Yep, this is what was boiling my blood a bit. It’s taken me 27 years to learn how to do what I do and I’m still learning and I have to fight to keep my business going like everyone else does. Using me to short circuit his studies – and assuming I’d be fine with it! – is either pretty disrespectful or extremely naive.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, it was–and your letter was extremely polite, classy, and even helpful. I’m leaning toward naive–it’s possible Sedgewick is overwhelmed and hoped he could fudge this assignment to make it through a class. But as you pointed out, it’s his own work that counts.

          Of course, if he replied to your reply and acted like a snot-faced arseweasel, you’d be justified in telling him to piss off.

        2. Chinook*

          The years of experience in professional writing shows in your response to Sedgewick. If he is smart, he will take it as a wake up call and a second chance at actually learning from his education.

  12. Not Karen*

    OT but: OP, I am very impressed with your command of language. You must be very good at your job.

      1. Bemused Brit*

        I love you both (and everyone who has made nice comments)! My work has a summer lull every year and even though I know this, inevitably I start thinking I must be The Worst Writer Ever and whyamidoingthisjobwhoamikiddingIshouldjustgiveupnowandliveinahole – so thank you for the confidence boost!

        1. Nanani*

          In field the lull is in spring, and I know exactly how you feel.
          It always passes though!
          *freelancer high-five*

  13. Bemused Brit*

    OP here! Thanks Alison for answering. I’m away visiting family at the moment so replies may be a bit hit and miss but I’ll try to drop in as and when I can.
    During dinner last night I asked family what they thought and got a unanimous “dob him in!” – this was from one ex college lecturer (mum), one current mature student (brother) and someone who works for a top UK university (partner). My brother felt that the timing was such that it must be coursework for either a masters (full time or whilst working) or a PhD, as coursework for anything else would have been submitted by now. I don’t know that it makes much of a difference other than perhaps a student that far along should know better? My brother was particularly incensed, given how hard he is working on his own studies!
    So I’m still mulling it over but I think I am starting to lean towards letting his university know, even if it does make me feel like a busybody!

    1. Lee*

      I think it’s easy for someone who didn’t receive the letter to say “dob him in!” and possibly ruin this person’s life. People make mistakes. ::shrug:: Your response to him was adequate enough IMO and if he’s as dumb as he appears, something or someone else will do him in.
      Also I would honestly ask myself, if this person killed themselves over you forwarding this, could I really be okay with how I handled it? Of course, I always tend to look at worst case scenario, and I know from experience that’s not always the case.

      1. motherofdragons*

        1. Cheating would be the thing that ruined the student’s life. Not the OP’s reporting of it.
        2. Maybe that whole what-if-that-person-killed-themselves scenario works for you, but it’s really extreme and wouldn’t even be the OP’s fault IF it happened. What a horrible thing to hypothetically feel guilty about!

        @Bemused Brit – FWIW, I would forward the email to the school if I was in your shoes. I put myself in the place of someone in academia, and I would definitely want to know if one of my students was hiring out work on assignments.

        1. Myrin*

          Cosigned on everything. I’m also hesitant about this “ruining his life” phrasing in general – depending on several circumstances, the only result of the professor finding out about this might be a failed class, which hardly equals a ruined life. Even if it’s some graduating project, meaning the student would fail his entire program and need to drop out of university – well, that is sad and shitty, but plenty of people stop their studies all the time (e. g. for health or financial reasons or simply because they want to do something else) and their lives mostly aren’t ruined, either.

      2. Oryx*

        What? No. The OP wouldn’t ruin this person’s life — the cheating student would ruin his own life.

        And I’m not even addressing your suicide bit because I just can’t even with that.

      3. animaniactoo*

        Well there are others to consider too. Like “What is the likelihood that this will lead to a series of events that would convince this person to kill themselves?” “What is the likelihood that getting away with this (by going to somebody else and managing to get them to do it) will by a bigger problem for somebody later down the line?” “Can I live with not having tried harder to prevent that?” “What is the likelihood that this person will follow my advice and just do their own work?”

      4. SevenSixOne*

        I absolutely agree. OP does not know Student well enough to know whether this is a one-time lapse that’s totally out of character or part of a long pattern of bad judgment. Someone in the first situation doesn’t deserve to have his life ruined because of one major mistake, and someone in the second will dig his own grave soon enough.

        1. animaniactoo*

          It’s highly unlikely that his life will be ruined. Have to take a different path maybe, but that’s a long way from ruined. And with thinking that “they’ll dig their own grave soon enough” – how will they dig it if people don’t report the issues when they happen? This is not like watching somebody else’s hours. This person directly interacted on this subject. So it’s more along the lines of “Jane laughed to me that she’s been shorting her hours, and boss doesn’t know about it. Should I tell boss that Jane said this to me?” In which case, the answer is “Yes, and stay out of it after that and let boss choose how to handle it.”

          1. animaniactoo*

            (fwiw, I’m fairly neutral on whether this should be reported or not, it’s up to the OP. I just disagree with your reasoning.)

        2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          My favorite case of cheating — and it was a BIG one – and was very costly for the man involved – look up Dr. Charles Van Doren.

          Literature prof at Columbia.
          From a prominent academic family.
          Went on a game show (Twenty-One). Won a lot of money (over $100k in 1957 money).
          Was hired at NBC-TV as a “special consultant” or something. ($50k/year, great money for its day)

          Now the rest of the story —
          Was caught in the game show scandal.
          Lost his job at NBC.
          Resigned at Columbia.
          Spent the rest of his career working as a research consultant for an encyclopedia company.

          Yeah one cheat can break someone’s life for the worse.

          After the scandal – he shunned the public spotlight. I was pumping gas in a station in Massachusetts, I thought I recognized the driver…. he said “you can’t possibly know me”, irritated. Then I said “I know who you are! You’re Dr. Van Doren!” — his face showed alarm, he drove off after paying for his gas.

          1. Anna*

            He is also the reason there are very strict rules about games shows now, so hey! He has a legacy!

            Although in the grand scheme of things, game show cheating is probably the least costly form of cheating it still doesn’t change the fact that what he did was wrong.

        3. Elsajeni*

          I disagree. You’re right that OP is in no position to know whether this is a one-time lapse or part of a pattern — if it is part of a pattern, Sedgewick is unlikely to come back to the OP for a second try — but I don’t think that’s a reason not to report it; that’s how you end up with a situation where, as long as Sedgewick has the basic sense not to keep asking the same people to help him cheat, he never gets caught, because each person in sequence thinks “Well, maybe this is just a one-time lapse.” The professor who assigned the work, on the other hand, is in a better position to know whether Sedgewick is a usually-trustworthy student who panicked under pressure, a slacker who’s been caught trying to cheat three times before, or somewhere in between. And professors are capable of discretion, too; there’s no reason to assume this will ruin Sedgewick’s life if it’s reported.

        4. Anna*

          Someone in the first situation should have it called out because that will prevent it from happening again. Someone who has gotten away with it has managed to do so exactly because nobody called them out.

          The OP doesn’t need to know the exact circumstances of this human’s life to know cheating is bad and that it’s not crazy if the OP wants to report it.

      5. gingerblue*

        What? No. OP should absolutely feel free to turn this student in. You cannot run your life on wild speculation that someone might possibly maybe kinda think about killing themselves if they’re crossed in any way. (I mean, what else would you apply that logic to? Should I not feel free to turn down a date in case the asker feels so rejected he kills himself? What about job applicants–am I automatically required to accept everyone who applies, just in case they’re on the verge of suicide if they don’t get the job?)

        OP, I’m a college professor in the US. I have no idea how plagiarism accusations are handled in the UK, but here, a first incidence of cheating is not likely to tank someone’s college career, much less ruin their life. Penalties vary from school to school, but possible outcomes here might include things like having a highly embarrassing conversation with the dean, a hearing in front of a student judicial board, failing the assignment, failing the class, or being required to do community service work. Most places will take into account things like whether the student is a first-semester freshman who is still hazy on where the appropriate boundaries of collaboration are vs. a senior who absolutely should know better, how blatant the cheating is, etc. It generally takes multiple infractions for a school to progress to anything like suspension, expulsion, etc. Someone trying to hire a freelancer to their work is *not* a hapless ingenue, and if you report them, you’re likely to be confirming a pattern.

        So if you know how to contact the school and want to, by all means, do. If it were my student, I’d be grateful to hear about this. You’re under no obligation to protect this student from the consequences of his behavior.

        1. Simonthegrey*

          This. I’m an adjunct professor in the US. I have a lot of discretion about what I can do if I suspect plagiarism (I can allow the student to revise if I think it was unintentional, either for full or for partial credit; I give them an F on the assignment but not report it; I can give them an F on the assignment and report it to the academic dean; I can give them an F for the course and report them to the academic dean). In general, since i work with high school students taking college classes, I tend to be more lenient and allow rewrites for partial credit, but I have failed students for plagiarism before. When I was a younger teacher, I used to feel guilty about that failing them, but I have realized through time that the student fails his or her self. If they came to me struggling at any point – in finding sources, in getting started, in citing, even in understanding a source – I would gladly go out of my way to help them.

      6. Joanna*

        While I’m general very in favour of being mindful of people’s wellbeing, you’re not morally culpable if someone makes a bizarrely dramatic over-reaction to reasonable steps you’ve taken to hold them accountable for their wrongdoing.

        And who knows, you could be doing a good thing for them. Perhaps a course of action that will result in them failing a university course might save them from much more dire consequences of doing something criminal at work one day.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Well, if he’s a lazy student wasting a space in the class, then the school can deal with him appropriately. If he is overwhelmed and was hoping you’d bail him out, then the professor and perhaps his adviser (is that what a course tutor is?) could help him get back on track.

    3. Ellie H.*

      I said above that I have very extreme feelings about academic dishonesty. I work at a university and both my parents are professors and have experienced students cheating/plagiarizing multiple times, I know first-hand how awful a situation it creates for professors, the hugest part of this is the moral qualms: how bad is this? are there mitigating factors? does the student fully understand the situation? how unfair is it? will this ruin the student’s life? is it worth ruining the student’s life? It is such a morass. Again, I have incredibly strong feelings against it and wouldn’t hesitate to denounce someone verbally if I were confronted with it first hand.

      However, I *would not* turn in this student to his university. The reason is that you do not know for a fact that he has cheated yet. It is possible that he will be deterred by your email into not cheating and when he is older, be very grateful that he didn’t do so. Is this likely? Maybe not, I have no idea. But you don’t know and you already have qualms. I think that in the case where you are considering whether or not to involve yourself in some situation and are really on the fence, the better choice is usually going to be to not get involved.

    4. Chinook*

      “I don’t know that it makes much of a difference other than perhaps a student that far along should know better?”

      If it is for a higher degree, it is worse because, not only should they know better, but the higher you guy, the more focused your classes/assignments should be on stuff you need to know. An undergrad may be stuck doing a class to fill a pre-requisite that they really may never need but the higher degrees don’t have as much “fluff” that can be forgotten. Plus they hold more weight professionally.

  14. Bianca*

    Unfortunately a lot of freelancers, particularly freelance editors, go through this. Lots of students want to hire out their papers to be written. And not everyone’s moral compass is as strong as OP’s.

    I think the response was perfect, personally I wouldn’t really want to go further and get myself embroiled in a scandal with the school. It isn’t your obligation to make sure he doesn’t cheat by some other avenue–just that he doesn’t cheat with YOUR work.

  15. Cautionary tail*

    In addition to my day job as a teapot superhero, I’m also a PhD who teaches graduate level courses in advanced teapot management at night, on the weekends and online. I love to have students do a little online introduction of themselves at the beginning of the semester. In addition to sharing, it also gives me a writing sample as a baseline. I love /sarcasm/ it when a student can’t use grammar properly to describe themselves, perhaps the topic on which they are the most knowledgeable, and yet when it comes time to write a paper on a topic they’ve never addressed before they turn in something worthy of a PhD dissertation.

    Students, I can use Google just as well as you can and when I copy-paste your first paragraph into the search engine it gives me the paper you copied from. Even when you changed some words, Google does the equivalent of “Did you mean this text?”


    1. Language Lover*

      Ha! Yes. I’m not surprised that students still think they can out “Google” their profs.

      I used to teach foreign language classes. I loved it when students would turn in written assignments using grammar that was beyond their level or use sophisticated verb tenses that even I would have felt hesitant using. (Oh you chose to use that past tense? Not the one we taught. Or the one that is spoken. But rather the one that is pretty much only found in literary novels. Okay. Sure.)

      Google made it easy to turn suspicion into hard evidence. It was always a bummer, though, because I thought I had given them plenty of time and attention where plagiarism wouldn’t have been necessary.

      And that’s just plagiarism. When students used Google Translate (or other translating services), it was only worse. Not only did I get nonsensical translations, I was disheartened to discover that it was obvious they didn’t even go back and read through their translation to see if any English word didn’t translate.

      1. Nanani*

        If they can’t tell Google Translate got it horribly wrong, they have learned nothing from your class and should not get a passing grade, so in a way you still get to evaluate them?

        GTranslate, and clients who want to “edit” its output instead of paying for a full proper translation, is the bane of my multilingual existence.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Using GoogleTranslate (because he didn’t want to deal with the production manager and getting translations through her) is the reason our former packaging manager is former. We still laugh about that sometimes.

        2. Language Lover*

          “If they can’t tell Google Translate got it horribly wrong, they have learned nothing from your class and should not get a passing grade, so in a way you still get to evaluate them?”

          Definitely. Except they didn’t even bother to re-read the translation to see if there was something amiss in either word choice, grammar or find those instances where GTranslate didn’t know how to translate a word so they left it in its original form. Not only did they cheat, they were lazy cheats! That somehow offends me the most.

          I have a Spanish friend who works as a professional English/Spanish translator and GTranslate, as well as “friends who have studied English in school” are the bane of her existence. Acquaintances will sometimes solicit her services. She’ll give them a quote for a translation. They’ll balk and get a “friend who studied English in school” to do it or use an online translator and then want her to “just look it over” (for free, of course) to make sure it’s good. Of course it’s not good. There is studying a language and then there’s knowing two languages with enough mastery to professionally translate. It’s not free or easy. I know I couldn’t do it.

          1. Nanani*

            Oh gawd, the “I/my friend/my roommate’s cousin twice removed took a class 20 years ago” crowd =_=
            When one of those gets final approval over a translated sign, is when translators cry.

      2. Julia*

        I am fairly confident from what you wrote that the language in question is French. Am I right?

    2. Parenthetically*

      I teach high school. On a short essay, one student’s perfectly ordinary prose and below-average persuasive skill suddenly transformed into a lovely, clear, organized argument. Took me about 3 minutes to find the sites he’d copied from. It was STUNNING how adamant he was that he had just consulted those sources and the paragraphs of almost-identical material were just a coincidence. It took a private meeting with the headmaster and the student’s dad who had left work for the afternoon to get him to come around and admit to having done a copy-paste in a moment of procrastination-induced panic.

      Fortunately our school does not have a zero-tolerance policy, and so the student got infinity demerits, had to write me, his parents, and the school board apology letters, and learned his lesson. His final essay last year was exceptional and beautifully researched. But that initial “I didn’t cheat” STILL baffles me. Just the idea that I’m THAT stupid and easy to fool.

      1. Simonthegrey*

        My favorite was the student who turned in a paper about issues with the VA system (I don’t remember his original proposal, but it was a persuasive paper about how the US should take better care of soldiers) and used chunks of dialogue taken directly from the book “The Things They Carried.” Unfortunately for that student, my Vietnam War History class used that book as one of our required texts. As soon as I got into reading the paper I knew the prose was familiar, and the student used plenty of the “I” language from the book. Since this was an 18 year old college senior, I knew he had not in fact spent years in the service. When I kindly told him that the work was not his, his first response was that he didn’t know he needed to cite it since it was a book and not an article (?) and second that since he was using as illustration, he didn’t need quotes and parenthetical citation (?????). I told him that was not true, and that he could not redo the paper. He pitched a fit. I turned the matter over to the dean at that point.

        His best friend bought a paper from a paper mill, turned it in, and when i confronted HIM, he said that since there were citations in the paper then it couldn’t be plagiarized, so I forwarded screenshots of the paper mill paper and the student’s assignment directly to the dean as well.

      2. SusanIvanova*

        Reading all these stories, I wish Google had been around when I was in school. I had a teacher claim that I had to have plagiarized something because it was in present tense – well, I’d started from a timeline of space exploration and taken those short present-tense phrases and expanded them – easy to do because it was a topic I was crazy about – and didn’t even think about what tense they were in. Sounds like a teacher today would’ve tossed it into Google and realized what I’d done.

  16. PNW Dan*

    I’m a college professor. I think you’re response was excellent. In particular, I appreciate how you discuss the purpose of assignments/grades: “The assignment brief makes clear that its purpose is to measure students’ own knowledge, skills, and abilities in critically evaluating and redeveloping a tender. Looking at the marking scheme and its various components, it is clear that my involvement would encroach on that purpose, making it extremely difficult for an assessor to mark authentically.”
    Many students lose sight of why we have them do work, and see assignments as hoops that they need to jump through.

    You should consider sending the student’s instructor this exchange. This is certainly a red flag that a professor would want to know about, to keep an eye on this student.

  17. Unegen*

    Oh, boy. The only thing that could make that reply email better would be if the LW had BCC’d the dean or appropriate department head at Sedgewick’s university. (After all, that info is on the university’s public web site….)

    1. Unegen*

      And I’ve really got to either comment early or not at all; I see many others thought of this too!

  18. Marisol*

    Drop it. Don’t wrestle with a pig. I personally think that it is *more* ethical to abstain from further involvement with this person. You have taken pains to protect your reputation by having a date-stamped email wherein you explicitly refuse his unethical request…and now you want to pursue the matter further? It’s an overreach, it’s none of your business, it’s drama-seeking, and it will make you look petty and spiteful, despite any legitimate moral qualms you might have with his actions. And, worst of all: you don’t know how he might retaliate against you. Do you want some 19-year-old little sociopath starting a smear campaign against you on social media? Putting up a website dedicated to ruining your reputation? As Neitzsche said, when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. You gazed, now look away and live your clean, productive life.

  19. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Hi. This very professionally-beginning letter of decline should immediately alert you to my easy-going and comprehensive approach to denying plagiarism while making it strikingly obvious that I am both interested in and capable of turning your sorry ass in to the Dean with sophisticated exactitude. The quickening of your heart is likely subsiding at this point as your mind digests the familiar words in this second, poetic, figuration of how it feels to get caught: A profound nausea washes over you as you realize you’re not fooling anybody, kiddo. Clearly my efforts are oriented always toward mutually-beneficial understanding(s). As we part, smiling (or at least I am), you check your pockets, laughing somewhat cynically at yourself for even thinking that I might let you commit academic dishonesty, but then…your watch! Oh yes, you stole it from Grandma’s nightstand today, and come to think of it, you wrist feels so constrained and uneasy, perhaps even sensual against the handcuffs you will someday wear. This, my friend, is how your life will feel every day you try to buy your education, except stupider.
    Thank you.

  20. Troubled Teen Rick Faber*

    Don’t narc on this poor kid. You have nothing to gain by being holier-than-thou. Also, send him my way. I won’t lecture him, but I will charge him double what I would anyone else.

      1. Troubled Teen Rick Faber*

        No, but I would literally Hocus Pocus-style suck the youth out of children to be one again.

  21. SevenSixOne*

    “Don’t narc on this poor kid. You have nothing to gain by being holier-than-thou.”

    Yes. My advice would be different if OP was connected to Sedgewick’s school in any way and risked consequences for NOT reporting, but OP is a stranger. Sedgewick has so much more to lose than OP has to gain by dropping the dime on him. Take the high road and let this go.

    1. Elsajeni*

      If Sedgewick is so concerned about how much he stands to lose, he could do himself a big favor by not trying to hire people to do his schoolwork for him. Why should I be more concerned about his academic status than he is?

      1. Troubled Teen Rick Faber*

        You don’t have to care about his academic status. Not tattling to his professor isn’t about caring–it’s about not being a dick.

    2. Anna*

      That’s not what it means take the high road. There’s a reason universities take cheating and plagiarism seriously.

  22. INFJ*

    That was the most amazing “telling off” letter I have ever read. It’s so professional and articulate, which makes it all that more stabbing.

    I read the whole thing in my head with a British accent.

    And now that I realize OP only indicated being from UK, I will go back and read it in a Scottish accent. Channeling my inner Robert Burns….

  23. Hannah*

    I won’t go into detail, but I recently found out this is a thing – not plagiarizing some crappy boilerplate essay you found on the internet, but actually paying someone to research and write your papers for you. There are people like that who think (know?) they can buy anything, even graduate degrees. So the cynical side of me is saying that this student will probably roll his eyes, delete your email, and find someone else to do his work for him. But it was a nice message.

  24. Katie the Sensual Wristed Fed*

    Ugh, you guys, I hate to sound how I’m going to sound, but I’m REALLY good at writing research and argument papers. I used to be able to wake up early the morning they were due and knock out a 6-pager in no time.

    I was really tempted to do this at one point. I could make good money. But it’s just wrong to do it and I couldn’t sleep at night :(

  25. Rana*

    As a freelancer who works regularly with academics, including grad students, I think your letter was generous and thorough. My own policy is that any student wanting me to help them with their work (proofing, editing, and formatting, typically) has to have their supervising professor looped in – I CC them on everything, to make sure that the person judging their work is okay with them paying for outside assistance and everyone understands the nature of that assistance.

    I would not myself go further with this. As a former professor, I would have found such information perhaps useful as a head’s up, but not actionable. As a freelancer, I simply don’t have the time or energy to spend on would-be clients like this; I’d rather have my time and headspace free for taking care of my good clients. In your letter you are far more gracious and thorough than I would have been; good on ya.

  26. nicolefromqueens*

    OP, do it! Write the paper, take his money! Write “this paper written by OP not intended for academic use. For specialization consulting by OP, contact: your@email!” somewhere in the middle of a paragraph.

    Outing this kid
    A potential networking opportunity

    Three birds, one stone!

    (Kidding. Or am I?)

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      There’s a company in NYC that does that. They sell “model” term papers to kids from NYU and Columbia.

  27. Aimara Torres*

    I need advice on something my boss recently did to me. She texted me after work and told me to take two days off because she (whom is the manger) and her husband (which is the doctor in the office) where taking the days off. I asked her if I was going to be paid since I didn’t request the days off myself and she still hasn’t respond me. Is she allowed to do that even when she never told me when I got hired about surprise days off without pay. Or should I report her to the workforce depth?

    1. AnonNurse*

      You probably want to include this in the open thread on Fridays or send it as a question directly to Alison, as it is off topic. Good luck!

  28. Bemused Brit*

    Hi all
    Just popping back in to say thank you, to Alison and to all the commenters here for your very insightful and extremely kind comments. I wish I could have spent more time replying to people but was at an annual family gathering and couldn’t spend much time online.
    I am still undecided whether to take it any further but my next few weeks have suddenly become very busy with work (phew!) so it’s likely that I’ll end up leaving it as it stands simply due to it not being a high personal priority. The student in question hasn’t responded (no surprise there!).

    For anyone who wants to know, I am a real person, British, with the last remnants of a Northern accent (edges rubbed off by many years working on phones). I don’t like tea but I’ll never say no to a crumpet.

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