Please click here for the German version!
(My own photograph – however, please note that this is the master’s gown, not the doctoral gown)
… but here I am. Well, there is something that is getting on my nerves quite a bit, something that may appear peculiar for anyone who’s not German. But here we go, let’s give it a try.
So, this isn’t about just any kind of plagiarism, but plagiarism concerning doctoral theses. In Germany, there is quite a discussion revolving around that since quite a few highly positioned politicians lost their PhDs because it was uncovered they – allegedly – cheated and took large quantities of text from other sources that they did not cite. I did not read any of these theses nor did I check their references, so I cannot comment on the individual cases. Since the debate has been going on for a while and is quite lengthy, I can only recommend this article in the Guardian by Timothy Garton Ash: Is there a doctor in the house?. It gives a good summary of what happened.
However, discussion does not stop with these singular cases. The thing is that many German media outlets seem to publish more and more articles on how doctoral theses in general are not worth much these days – or at all.
And this is why I feel the need to finally say something.
What do I think about this?
First things first, I am a full-time PhD student. And when I say “full-time”, I definitely mean it – writing a doctoral thesis is a 24/7 project for me. It’s a project I love, however, it takes lots of time that I don’t have for other things, like for my hobbies. There are strict deadlines I have to make – the conference where I present my work won’t be postponed because I didn’t get my paper ready. Anyway, as said before, I love what I am doing.
I don’t plagiarize. Apart from the fact that I generate my own dataset and thus cannot steal any data, I already learned in high school that one does not steal ideas/writings/etc. from others. And I also learned how to reference others’ thoughts and work correctly. So, what’s the problem? I write a paragraph, I reference one or two sources, depending on the type of citation with quotations marks or without. That’s it and it’s not something that is worth discussing. Referencing is just a routine that every first year student is familiar with.
I guess there is hardly anyone who is on vacation 365 days a year, and that also includes me. As mentioned before, I am not lying on a beach somewhere, but work on my thesis every day. PhD students are not lazy, they are not partying all day and night, and they do not get their results and their certificates handed to them on a silver plate. I cannot speak for every single PhD student, of course, but all the PhD students I know are taking their work very seriously, and it’s irrelevant whether they are full-time or part-time students. Writing a doctoral thesis is not easy and it’s not some task one does while watching the telly.
Last but not least, I do not strive for a PhD in order to just put these few letters on my business card (which is quite a thing in Germany). Much of the media coverage these days implicitly suggests that PhD graduates are just craving for validation, and nothing more. No, for me, that’s not it. I want to stay in the academic world, to become a lecturer and more, so the PhD is a stepping stone on this way. But even if that wasn’t the case, if I wanted to get out to the “real world” after the PhD, that would be solely my decision. Also, being a full-time or a part-time PhD student is not a quality indicator for doing great research. Anyway, I would not do all this just for a few more letters on my business card.
It makes me sad to see that the media (in Germany, at least) are conveying the picture that a PhD is not of much worth. And why is that – because a few politicians allegedly plagiarised? Okay, fair enough, but what about the masses of PhD students who are working hard for their thesis and their goals for three or more years?
I don’t plagiarize. And I am tired of hearing people say the following: “Don’t plagiarize, okay?” Meant in a playful way or not, this is neither witty nor funny. I work hard on my thesis, and I do not want flowers or a nobel prize for that. But am I asking too much if I want these offending words to stop and a bit of appreciation for what I am doing?