How to stay out of trouble: Academic Integrity

May 1, 2018

One of the most amazing things about college is that you'll have the opportunity to join a community of scholars where you will get to contribute your voice to the conversation. That privilege, though, comes with a responsibility to uphold our policies around academic integrity. This feels like a tall order. How can you contribute in a place where some of the brightest minds are up at the front of the classroom?

The important thing to remember is that you are a unique individual who brings a one-of-a-kind perspective to everything you do, so by definition, your own work is your contribution. You don't have to solve the world's biggest problems on your own; you just need to offer your own thoughts about ideas you encounter and explain how you support your perspective by citing the work of others, do your own homework (or cite your collaborators if collaboration is permitted), give your own answers to exam questions, and write using proper citation.

There are lots of reasons students violate academic integrity: sometimes they are unaware of the rules of citation; sometimes they collaborated with classmates in ways that were not permissible. Sometimes violations occur because students are worried, or behind, and take a shortcut in order to finish an assignment rather than talking with someone about getting some extra time. Please remember that there are lots of people here to help, and that we'd always rather help you do your own work!

Where do you learn about our policies and how they’re applied? 

  • Rights, Rules, Responsibilities, which spells out Princeton’s principles of academic integrity, gives examples of plagiarism and describes the procedures that are followed in cases of alleged violations of policy.
  • The chair of the student-run Honor Committee will send you a letter explaining how the Honor Code applies to all in-class examinations at Princeton and you will complete the Honor Code Compliance form as part of matriculation. The Committe on Discipline, which is separate from the Honor Committee, handles all out-of-classroom assignments, which include papers, problem sets, and take-home exams.
  • During Orientation week, you will participate in a session on Academic Integrity/Academic Success, where you'll discuss some case studies that illustrate common situations where violations occur and explore ways to get support so that you can do your best.
  • You’ll receive a booklet at the Academic Integrity/Academic Success session called Academic Integrity at Princeton, which goes into great detail about types of violations and shows you how can avoid them. Read this carefully.

There is much to digest in this material and in the coming weeks your RCAs, Peer Academic Advisers, directors of studies, deans, and Writing Seminar instructors will give you opportunities to ask questions. Many of you may have done your college preparation abroad, where practices and expectations regarding citation can be very different, so please don't hesitate to ask if something is unfamiliar.

Appropriate collaboration is a particularly tricky area. If your class allows collaboration on assignments, make sure you understand its limits. Usually, the syllabus will specify the nature of acceptable collaborative work in a course. If you have the slightest doubt, please consult your instructors. Here is a short video where students, professors, and administrators discuss some of the issues that you should be aware of when it comes to collaboration:

Our best advice is to avoid putting yourself in situations that sometimes lead to plagiarism. Start your work early. Keep your sources separated from your notes. Don’t share your code or data, even if you believe it will not be copied. Do talk to your professors and preceptors about questions that you might have regarding using sources properly, even things that you have written previously. Lastly, if you find yourself up against deadlines, and panic sets in, contact your director of studies at your residential college for help. Accepting a grade penalty for a late paper or assignment is much, much better than risking a year’s suspension from the University and a permanent blemish on your academic record. You'll find that everyone at Princeton is quite willing to help: we know that it can be challenging here, and we hope that you can use that challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow!