Back in October, I came face to face with a huge decision. I guess the unpleasant thing which happened was only a contributing factor, suggesting that I am a bit of a university reject anyway. I never managed to settle or feel comfortable in student life after maturing and freshers was out of my system…
I would first like to point out that, I am not writing this post to seek attention and sympathy- I simply wish to create awareness to students and stress the importance of autonomy during your studies- any studies.
It just so happened that this negative experience happened to push me in the right direction, however I’m aware that for others, this would have been a much worse experience, provided university is their main priority in your life. This would have been a complete nightmare.
After a whole Summer of soaking within the positive rays of my coaching journey with The Coaching Academy, I was aiming high and ready for business!
…However, there was that little dark cloud which would essentially slam the breaks on my coaching career development for a considerable amount of time- my final year of university. The thought of going back was like pulling on the strongest, most painful bit on a wild Mustang… But I chose to ignore this feeling and place my coaching development on hold.
“I began to hyperventilate, my palms got clammy and my head started spinning with confusion- how could this be happening? how could they accuse me of this? I never cheat! I work alone! I don’t understand!”
I was checking my emails before heading out to my job at Pizza Express at the time, when I got an email through my student inbox, entitled “Academic Misconduct” (well that was all I saw). It was a formal, scary, threatening, important bold lettered email informing me that I was invited to attend a meeting as I was involved in a case of “academic misconduct”. I couldn’t read the email properly as panic had struck and as I learned on one of my training days for coaching, panic= stupid.
All logic went out of the window and the only words that sunk in was “cheated”, “use of another student’s work” and “discipline” and any other serious words. I began to hyperventilate, my palms got clammy and my head started spinning with confusion- how could this be happening? how could they accuse me of this? I never cheat! I work alone! I don’t understand! I was now a crumbling mess, slumped in front of my laptop in my empty home, panicking.
The course I was doing was Counseling & Psychotherapy, so thankfully, I was emotionally aware of what was happening, however, controlling it was a different matter. I was operating from an internal 6 year old child, scared to leave the house without adult supervision. When I managed to compose myself, I texted one of my closest friends on the course, hoping he would respond immediately. I then emailed a tutor and forwarded the scary email to ask what this was about as I could make no logical sense of it…
“I passed first time, with a first at 82% and my highest grade achieved in anything so there was no way I could be punished if someone else chose to use my work, right?…”
My friend was worried that he was involved, as we had worked closely on the project, but I was confident it wasn’t his work that was involved. By now I had concluded that somebody must have copied my work and this was backed up when I got a response from the tutor confirming that someone who was resitting over the Summer had used my work and copied the ENTIRE reference list!
I was infuriated! Yet at the same time, I was relieved that it seemed clear that I wasn’t the one who cheated as my grade was final- I passed first time, with a first at 82% and my highest grade achieved in anything so there was no way I could be punished if someone else chose to use my work, right?… WRONG!
According to the “Academic Misconduct Panel”, I was just as guilty as the cheating, lazy rogue in question. Apparently, by sharing your work with a 3rd party, even though it is complete, graded and final, is an act of “academic misconduct” and punishable by stripping the original artist (me) of my highest grade I’ve ever achieved and awarding me a ZERO for the entire module… Just let that process for a minute. My original work was used by another student, which he disrespectfully chose to present as work of his own (i.e. PLAGIARISM) which is technically an illegal act and in the mean time, drags down myself with said plagiarist to receive the exact same disciplinary.
“…these stone individuals just sat there while I ran out of the room in a state of hysterical panic, failing to provide any follow up support.”
SO, I skipped the whole build up to and experience of the meeting itself there, as I wanted to get to the point quickly, but I will stress that this was one of the most unpleasant and intimidating experiences of my life which I was completely unprepared for. I am not good with being put on the spot and I felt powerless, as they towered over me with their ridiculous leading questions- I got lost in their industrial jargon. As most of us will know, especially those of my own generation, anxiety is a well known state, affecting certain people when they lack confidence in particular situations.
Before the meeting, I had mentioned in the email responding to the “Academic Misconduct Panel” (AMP), that I am one of those people whom is prone to anxiety. Did they choose to take note of this- NO of course not, as these stone individuals just sat there while I ran out of the room in a state of hysterical panic, failing to provide any follow up support. This is a university in the 21st Century!
“It hadn’t even registered to me at this time what this person had dragged me into.”
The reason I chose to attend that meeting alone, even though I know I do have tendencies to panic in extreme situations, is because I felt so confident, knowing I was an original artist (as were the students whose work was made available to the whole year group on a university system called Blackboard for academic reference) and felt secure as the author of the original piece of work, knowing I was not, in any way guilty… Apparently, sharing with the AMP that it is common practice to share work on our course and even tutors ask us to share work with others, was not enough for them accept that perhaps we had been misguided. But hey, you know, I was a silly little girl on my own whom hadn’t taken their advice in the original email to seek support for this meeting, when I thought it would be ludicrous to even find me guilty in the first place- why would I waste time with that. I even thought this meeting was a waste of time. I guess time spent devaluing and humiliating decent students is never a waste to these people.
The person whom had copied my work was at the meeting- not in the meeting, but awkwardly sat outside with me as we awaited their decisions. It hadn’t even registered to me at this time what this person had dragged me into, so the anger had not set in. All that lay there was confusion, disbelief and a slow bubbling heat of anxiety, yet to surface within me.
I was fortunate that my tutors were therapists and were able to provide me with the support I needed- once I’d found my own way to them after pouring my heart out to my Dad on the phone, whose rage had transitioned to me and allowed me to wake up to this ridiculous reality of a situation. The tutors were so warm, I became more emotional and I have my personal tutor to thank for being so understanding and empowering me to seek advice with an appeal against this inhumane decision.
In the heat of the moment when I fled from the room with those robotic, steel eyes upon me, all I wanted to do was leave and never come back. I wanted to shed that painful bit and gallop across the open plains and away from this brick prison of a city. For the sake of the time and effort I put into writing my masterpiece, I felt it was at least worth a try to clear my name. Even though my tutors assured me that they knew I deserved that grade.
The next few weeks of my life were a huge challenge, an internal constant battle of fear and the will to find confidence initiated. I have, within me, 3 main individual personas: Penny, my business lady- a confident, bold brunette with a mind of her own and will to succeed. There is Rebel, an emotional, spontaneous, messy-haired wild child whom seeks the first escape route to a simple life in the natural world. Then there is Heather- my inner child and core self. Heather is naturally an introvert, shy and content. Only with the assistance of Penny and the emotional drive of Rebel, is she able to push her boundaries.
Over these past few weeks, Rebel had ridden away into the wild on the back of a stallion and Penny had driven off in her new Cadillac like the Lady Penelope Pit-stop she is, leaving Heather behind- a small anxious child, without a clue how she was going to get through this….
So I relied on Dean, my family, my friends and a lovely lady from the Student’s Union to help me write up an appeal and get it all presented and submitted to the strict instruction of the Student Disciplinary Board! I got it all written up, checked out and submitted, including valuable evidence.
Listening to myself…
“As a very future orientated person with a coaching nature which has been embraced all Summer, I needed to find a solution to this rut.”
I guess with all that was going on, Rebel and Penny doing a runner and my work being very understanding by cutting down my hours and giving me a less responsible role, I was able to clear my head and finally listen to Heather and ask her how she was getting on…
I had made attempts to get back into my lectures, however, I simply wasn’t able to function, knowing there was a huge possibility that I may have to, at some point, resit another paper. I guess this is where Penny stuck around- she has no intention of wasting time and was very proud of her ability to motivate Heather into achieving that grade in the first place, therefore was not willing to waste time doing it all again. It was good enough for a high first on the initial submission, there is NO POINT to doing it again. This is what I love about Penny- her pride and I just wish I could allow her to be fully fledged externally. This is the challenge with introverts, finding a way to externalize things.
“I needed to take back my control.”
So there was that battle. Another thing I could not stop thinking about was, what would be happening if I wasn’t at uni? As a very future orientated person with a coaching nature which has been embraced all Summer, I needed to find a solution to this rut. The thought of getting a full time job to support the rent and drop out of uni had been in the back of my mind for a long time now. I knew I didn’t want to be a therapist anyway, so why was I completing this degree?
Listening to nature…
It was on my final attempt to attend a lecture when I put this anxiety to rest once and for all. I was tired of being nervous all the time and randomly bursting into tears because I didn’t know where I was going in life. I’d had enough of not wanting to leave my home alone in fear of being consumed by my thoughts and panicking in crowded trams. I needed to take back my control.
“…as the train doors closed in front of me, I physically felt an overwhelming wall of negativity push me back onto my heels.”
I was catching the tram with Dean to the train station to go to university, as he was heading downtown. I remember being in a constant state of anxiety that morning, holding back tears and feeling a lump in my throat. I clung to Dean’s arm on the tram, like a child reluctant to part from it’s parent on the first day of school.
I knew I was running late. I started to run to the platform and then, as the train doors closed in front of me, I physically felt an overwhelming wall of negativity push me back onto my heels. Without thinking, I turned on them immediately and walked away from the platform edge, not even watching the train move away, out of my life.
It was like I was a cornered animal, making a break for it. It was like an unconscious presence had taken over my body and instructed me at gun-point to “move away from the train-do not look back!”
After finding Dean, as an emotional wreck and telling him that I could not go back to university, I decided to walk home. I finally had space to listen to myself and quietly reconsider if this was the right choice or not. It was a dull, drizzly Autumn day, but the multi-colored leaves glowed beneath my feet as I look down in admiration. All I could see was leaf… leaf… leaf..leaf. Leave.
If I was doubting the decision by myself, I knew that nature would some how show me the answer. I do believe that in times of great difficulty, the universe will guide us- you just have to find a way to listen. I guess to me, nature is my religion and what I turn to for signs of hope and emotional support. Every time I have turned to nature, she has never failed me. I decided to leave university and I have never looked back from that day. I was like a new, fresh horse chestnut breaking free from her shell, searching for ground in which she would grow her potential into a stunning tree.
Taking back control and moving on…
The decision to leave university allowed my inner self to celebrate the release of anxiety and the denial which has contaminated my system for so long. The denial began, I guess, during the first Summer break and I began looking for other courses to take while at university- so I guess this course was never really my priority in life and why leaving my course was choice. I understand that for many students, their degree is everything and a main contributing factor to them achieving their dreams.
“To me, I guess I won, as I was able to walk away and achieve something more important to me…”
I received an interview and job offer in the same week I made this decision, which I suppose, just confirms everything. The job was full time and would secure my living, this was all I wanted to achieve at this point in life.
I still had not received word of my appeal. I was unable to attend the meeting due to my full time job and the university had learned of my official withdrawal from my course. I did not receive the letter until mid January, even though they supposedly sent it out in December. You may or may not be surprised to discover that the Disciplinary Panel rejected my appeal. They basically ignored all the evidence and all I had stressed due to the fact that I did not make an effort to take the support they suggested in the original letter- isn’t that the point of an appeal?
Perhaps, on some level, I knew I was never going to win, because they didn’t really care what they put me through or how we were influenced by each other on the course, I had broken a rule and that was that. Perhaps they didn’t think I would care, now that I have left the course. My tutors were the ones that I worked with and knew me and they knew me as a student whom achieved 82% on that paper. To me, I guess I won, as I was able to walk away and achieve something more important to me- creating a foundation for my future family life and moving on. The picture within my imagination of my future was clear once again and I felt the freedom to chase it with no painful bit holding me back.
Share this message…
“Plagiarism is a crime and universities should be treating students as artists/ authors, not partners in crime for simply providing their work for academic reference to other students.”
I know, since sharing with my peers, that I am not the only student to go through this. Students continue to share work out of the goodness of their own heart and are dragged down by disrespectful morons whom take advantage of hard workers.
Others have approached me and said the same thing has happened to them and that they have had to use their own valuable time, to redo a perfectly acceptable paper because of the stupidity and thoughtlessness of a plagiarist, dragging down successful students for their own selfish crime. I admire the determination of these students and I know that they will be successful no matter what the obstacles.
If you would like to share your experience, please feel free to comment or email me directly. I feel for you and the system should be protecting good students and original artists- not dragging them down with the criminals stealing their work. Plagiarism is a crime and universities should be treating students as artists/ authors, not partners in crime for simply providing their work for academic reference to other students. Plagiarists should not be allowed a chance to resit the year or retake a paper- they should be dismissed. This just proves the university is more interested in another year’s worth of tuition fees from said individual than justice for the original author and risk this happening to other students in future.
So, there you have it. This is my experience and an insight into the crescendo of a reason for me to decide to leave university at the time that I did. I would never phrase this as dropping out as this is such a negative term and implies failure. I decided to leave my course because I wanted to achieve other things…
Thank you for taking time to read this post. I also wish to thank my close friends and other students on my course for their supportive feedback when I shared this with them.
Feel free to share, comment and follow my blog. Stay positive and listen to yourself.
All the best,