Perceptions of Plagiarism by STEM Graduate Students: A Case Study


Issues of academic integrity, specifically knowledge of, perceptions and attitudes toward plagiarism, are well documented in post-secondary settings using case studies for specific courses, recording discourse with focus groups, analyzing cross-cultural education philosophies, and reviewing the current literature. In this paper, the authors examine the perceptions of graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines at the University of Florida regarding misconduct and integrity issues. Results revealed students’ perceptions of the definition and seriousness of potential academic misconduct, knowledge of institutional procedures, and views on faculty actions, all with a focus on divergences between US and internationally-educated students. The open-ended questions provide anecdotal evidence to highlight personal experiences, positive and negative, aimed at the faculty, international students and undergraduates. Combined, these findings outline an important part of the campus academic integrity culture at a major American university. Recommendations for local actions also are discussed.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    One respondent reported a state of mind over a plagiarism offense that led the authors immediately to contact an appropriate university office out of concern for the respondent’s mental health. The reporting action also required completing an “adverse effects” form with IRB. The authors don’t know how many corrective avenues the respondent had attempted, but the survey afforded an opportunity. The respondent’s comment has been stricken from the dataset.


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The authors are deeply grateful for the guidance, mentoring and expertise of Dr. Donald L. McCabe, who not only permitted the adaptation of his survey, but also served as an external consultant on the NSF Grant project, Gaming Against Plagiarism, EESE IIS #1033002.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michelle Leonard.

Appendix: Survey Instrument

Appendix: Survey Instrument

Response data available at

Perceptions of Plagiarism in the Academic Environment


[affirm consent to participate voluntarily]


Have you been informed about the University of Florida Honor Code regarding academic honesty?




If yes to question #2, where and how much have you learned about the UF Honor Code policies?

  Learned little or nothing Learned some Learned a lot
Graduate orientation program    
University of Florida website    
Program Director or Advisor    
Faculty (e.g., discussed in class, course syllabi, or course outlines)    
Other students    
Other (please specify)    

In the past year, how often did any of your professors discuss policies concerning:

  Never Very seldom Seldom Often Very often
Guidelines on group work or collaboration      
Proper citation/referencing of in-print sources      
Proper citation/referencing of internet sources      
Incorporating another’s course lab data as your own      
Incorporating another’s research data as your own      

Please mark how serious you think each type of behavior is.

  Not plagiarism Trivial Moderate Serious
Working on an assignment with others (in person) when the professor asked for individual work     
Working on an assignment with others (via e-mail/chat) when the professor asked for individual work     
In a course requiring computer work, copying another student’s     
program rather than writing your own     
Incorporating another’s course lab data as your own     
Incorporating another’s research data as your own     
Paraphrasing or copying a few sentences from a book, magazine, or journal (not electronic or Webbased) without citing them in a paper you submitted     
Paraphrasing or copying a few sentences from a book, magazine, or journal (electronic/Internet)     
Without citing them in a paper you submitted     
Turning in a paper written and previously submitted by another student and claiming it as your own work     
Quoting another author in your own work without citing them in a paper you submitted     
Copying material, almost word for word, from any written source and turning it in as your own work     
Turning in work done by someone else     
Turning in the same paper for another class     
Copying and pasting directly from several different sources and combining them to create a paragraph for a paper     
Accidentally or purposely adding/deleting/changing words in a quotation     

How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?

  Disagree strongly Disagree Not Sure Agree Agree strongly
Plagiarism is a serious problem at UF      
Investigation of suspected incidents of plagiarism is fair and impartial at UF      
Faculty members are vigilant in discovering and reporting suspected cases of academic dishonesty, specifically plagiarism      
Faculty members change assignments on a regular basis      
The amount of course work I’m expected to complete is reasonable for my year level and program      
The degree of difficulty in my assignments is appropriate for my year level and program      
The types of assessment used in my courses are effective at helping me learn course concepts      

Has someone ever taken credit for, or plagiarized, your work?




Have you ever reported another student for plagiarizing an assignment?



Q9. :

Did you complete your undergraduate degree in the United States?


No. If no, in which country did you complete your undergraduate degree?


Please select your primary department [from a drop-down menu].


Do you use a bibliography/citation management tool? (e.g. RefWorks, EndNote, Zotero, ProCite, Mendeley)




Please share any personal experiences you encountered with plagiarism. [open-ended response]


Do you have any other comments about plagiarism or academic honesty? [open-ended response]

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Leonard, M., Schwieder, D., Buhler, A. et al. Perceptions of Plagiarism by STEM Graduate Students: A Case Study. Sci Eng Ethics 21, 1587–1608 (2015).

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  • Plagiarism
  • STEM
  • Honor codes
  • Research misconduct
  • Academic integrity
  • Graduate students