Dealing with Academic Misconduct by Graduate Students

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UBC Calendar

All incidents of suspected academic misconduct must be reported to the Dean's Office in the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. There may be prior instances of misconduct on record at Grad Studies that should be taken into account when determining an appropriate course of action. See UBC Calendar / Review of Allegations. For graduate students registered in programs in the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, "Dean's Office" means the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

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Definition of Misconduct

Academic misconduct that is subject to disciplinary measures includes, but is not limited to, engaging in, attempting to engage in, or assisting others to engage, in any of the actions described below.

  1. Cheating, which may include, but is not limited to:
    1. falsification of any material subject to academic evaluation, including research data;
    2. use of or participation in unauthorized collaborative work;
    3. use or possession in an examination of any materials (including devices) other than those permitted by the examiner;
    4. use, possession, or facilitation of unauthorized means to complete an examination (e.g., receiving unauthorized assistance from another person, or providing that assistance); and
    5. dishonest practices that breach rules governing examinations or submissions for academic evaluation (see the Student Conduct during Examinations).
  2. Plagiarism – submitting or presenting the oral or written work of another person as his or her own or failing to provide proper attribution, in submitted drafts or final works.
  3. Self-plagiarism – submitting the same, or substantially the same, essay, presentation, or assignment more than once (whether the earlier submission was at this or another institution) unless prior approval has been obtained from the instructor(s) to whom the assignment is to be submitted.
  4. Impersonating a candidate at an examination or other evaluation, facilitating the impersonation of a candidate, or availing oneself of the results of an impersonation.
  5. Submitting false records or information, orally or in writing, or failing to provide relevant information when requested.
  6. Falsifying or submitting false documents, transcripts, or other academic credentials.
  7. Failing to comply with any disciplinary measure imposed for academic misconduct.


All the actions listed above constitute serious academic misconduct. The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies is responsible for holding all graduate students in its graduate programs to the highest possible standards of academic conduct. This duty applies to the full spectrum of student academic activities, from coursework (both graduate and undergraduate) to the dissertation. The UBC Calendar, in its chapter on Policies and Regulations, assigns certain responsibilities to the “Dean's Office”: for graduate students, these tasks come to the Dean's Office in the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. Therefore every case of suspected academic misconduct must be reported to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, following the outline below.

Investigating and Documenting Plagiarism

The section "Investigating and Documenting Suspected Plagiarism" further down this page describes some resources for investigating suspected cases of plagiarism, and some useful tools for detecting and documenting the plagiarism. It also outlines the documents the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies would like to receive along with notification in every case.

General Principles

Any instructor who detects or suspects academic misconduct in course work should act quickly to gather evidence. When the evidence seems to support academic misconduct, the instructor must notify the student as soon as possible about his or her concerns, and invite the student to meet to provide his or her perspective. At this early stage in the process, it is important for the instructor to be prepared to receive information from the student (and others) with an open mind.

Every case of academic misconduct, whether in coursework, comprehensive exams, a thesis, or a dissertation, must be brought forward to the Dean (or designated Associate Dean) of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. It is important that notification be made even if the instructor considers the incident minor, as this may help to identify a pattern of misconduct.


An instructor who detects or suspects academic misconduct in course work must notify, in writing, as soon as possible,

  1. the student (who should be invited to meet the instructor),
  2. the student's academic supervisor (if applicable), and
  3. the graduate advisor (or department head) in the student's graduate program.

If, after giving the student an opportunity to respond to the allegations of academic misconduct, the instructor is satisfied that the student has committed academic misconduct, the instructor may make an academic response to the student's offence.

For academic misconduct in a course assignment or examination, the instructor may, for example, assign a mark of zero to the offending paper or examination. However, an instructor cannot give the student a zero on the entire course unless the plagiarism occurs in an assignment or examination that is worth 100% of the final grade. Also, the instructor cannot “discipline” the student with a suspension or expulsion from the university. Only the President has the authority to discipline students. Students are not normally permitted to re-do assignments, as that would give them an unfair advantage over those who have not committed academic misconduct and do not get an opportunity to revise their work.

The instructor should consult and inform the graduate advisor (or department head) and the student’s supervisor about the instructor's response, and the matter must be reported to the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.


Anyone who detects or suspects plagiarism in a draft or final version of a student's thesis or dissertation must notify, in writing, as soon as possible,

  1. the graduate advisor (or department head) in the student's graduate program, and
  2. the student's academic supervisor.

If the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies has not yet sent the student's dissertation to an external examiner, the graduate advisor (or head) and the supervisor must notify the student of the allegations of plagiarism and provide the student with an opportunity to meet. Then they should refer the case to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, as outlined below.

Special care is required when apparent plagiarism is discovered after a doctoral student's dissertation has been submitted for final examination or after the student's program has been completed. In such cases the alleged plagiarism must be immediately reported to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. The Dean (or designated Associate Dean) will collaborate with the Graduate Program to determine an appropriate course of action.


In the steps outlined below, “The Dean” means “The Dean and Vice-Provost of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (or designated Associate Dean)”.

  1. The Dean will inform the student about the allegations of academic misconduct and schedule a meeting to discuss them. The Dean will alert the student's disciplinary faculty (through the Associate Dean responsible for graduate education) that an investigation has begun.
  2. The Dean will interview the student and possibly others, including the course instructor, the graduate program advisor and the student’s supervisor. The interview should produce answers for all the questions on the “Statement of Case” form prescribed by the President's Advisory Committee on Student Discipline (PACSD), and such other questions as seem relevant to the case. The student may bring a witness or advocate to the meeting. The student will be asked to provide a written response and explanation to the Dean shortly after the meeting.
  3. The Dean may then choose to refer the case to the President's Advisory Committee on Student Discipline (PACSD) for a formal disciplinary hearing. The next paragraph offers some information on the ensuing process. In other cases, the Dean may consider a letter of warning to the student to be an adequate response. The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will then inform the PACSD of its decision (with rationale); copies of the letter of warning will be sent to the PACSD, the Dean's office in the student's disciplinary faculty, the graduate advisor responsible for the student's program, and the student's academic supervisor.


The President's Advisory Committee on Student Discipline makes findings of fact as to what has occurred and whether it constitutes academic misconduct. Where academic misconduct is found, the President then determines what penalties, if any, will be imposed given the circumstances of the case. Members of the PACSD are appointed by the President on the recommendation of University Counsel. The Committee usually sits in panels of four or five (often including a graduate student). The most important circumstance considered by the Committee is the student's state of mind at the time of alleged academic misconduct. The Committee must decide whether the misconduct was intentional or due to ignorance and, if it was intentional, whether there were any potentially extenuating circumstances.

Penalties may be imposed singly or in combination. The most lenient penalty is a formal letter of reprimand from the President. Other more severe penalties consist of a mark of zero in a course, a notation on the transcript that academic discipline has been imposed, a period of suspension and, in exceptional cases, permanent expulsion from UBC. In some cases, students are permitted to apply to have transcript notations removed two years after graduation. Suspensions vary in length. The Committee reports its findings and recommendations to the President, who then provides a decision to the student in writing.


An allegation of academic misconduct is extremely serious, so all steps taken in this process must be fair, both in appearance and in fact. Here are some principles and suggestions to help with this.

  1. Clarity: Clear and timely notice to the student is very important. Notice should be in written form, but if you decide that it is best to contact the student in person or by phone to arrange a meeting, follow-up with an email.
  2. Impartiality: When investigating your suspicion that academic misconduct has occurred, keep an open mind. Pursue avenues of information that might lead you to a different conclusion than your initial suspicions.
  3. Factuality: When meeting with student, clearly present the allegations to the student by reporting the facts. Do not include any editorial comment or judgments about the student’s character. Allow the student to provide you with their side of the story – prompt them for information or documentation that might support what they are telling you. Explain the process that will follow and ask them if they understand. Refer them to resources/supports on campus (e.g., GSS Advocacy, UBC Ombuds Office).
  4. Timeliness: Delay can be fatal to any process. Make sure you act quickly upon first identifying the suspicion and then keep the process moving until you can hand it over to the next phase. Respond to student inquiries and requests promptly.
  5. Documentation: Keep a written record of all communications.


Online tools like Turnitin and Google can be very helpful in determining the extent of copying of the work of others. Anyone accusing a student of plagiarizing written material is encouraged to use them.

Verbatim Copying

The online service Turnitin does a strict comparison of text, revealing identical words, phrases, and sentences in documents you supply. It may also suggest other sources that have significant overlap with the student's submission. UBC has a site license for Turnitin so instructors can use it at any time.

To apply Turnitin, obtain electronic copies of the student’s course assignment or thesis/dissertation and the original document(s) from which they are alleged to have plagiarized. Then go to and follow the instructions for setting up an account.

Once you have authenticated your session, you can upload your electronic documents for checking. (Occasional users will benefit from Turnitin's “Quick Submit” option, which a user must turn on explicitly by modifying his/her personal profile. Turnitin's standard mode receives incoming documents from students in courses, which calls for administrative overheads not required by a single scan.) The electronic scan takes time to complete: a list of pending and completed jobs is available on-screen, and the Originality Report becomes available after some time.

If you have questions about using Turnitin, please contact the UBC Learning Technology Support Hub/Turnitin.

Re-phrased Work

If the student has re-phrased someone else’s work, Turnitin may not detect it. You will need to go through the student’s work and the suspected source document(s), and highlight areas, paragraphs, and/or sections that are similar.

Supporting Documents and Resources

Workers in the G+PS Dean's Office appreciate receiving copies of the student’s work and the original sources with clear notes on their relationship. Highlighting the two documents with corresponding colours is the preferred way to present this information. If you are comparing the student’s work with more than one source document, use a different colour of highlighter for each source.

If the Dean of G+PS refers the case to the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Discipline for a hearing, G+PS will be required to provide supporting materials including a copy of the marked student’s work, the “Statement of Case” (on a standard form made available by the PACSD), and the names of one or two witnesses (normally including the faculty member who investigated the alleged plagiarism). Each witness will attend the Committee’s hearing along with the Dean (or designated Associate Dean) of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. The student will also be asked to attend the hearing and may be accompanied by an advocate or support person. The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will count on the student's graduate program to collect materials that substantiate its belief that the student has committed academic misconduct. These will form the bulk of the “Statement of Case” submitted to the PACSD.


Each graduate program’s handbook and every course syllabus should include a section that defines plagiarism, outlines its significance, and describes the possible consequences of plagiarizing. Every graduate program's educators should know that they are obliged to report cases of suspected plagiarism to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, as detailed above.

Programs are expected to discuss plagiarism with graduate students at the beginning of their degree programs at UBC, and in supervisory committee meetings and courses.

Course instructors and graduate student supervisors must understand the importance of instructing students on the correct methods of citing or referring to the work of others in their particular field of study.

Additional Information

  • UBC Calendar: Academic Honesty and Standards
  • Official materials online at the office of the University Counsel including
    • the “Statement of Case” form,
    • the “Statement of Response” form, and
    • a document specifying the “PACSD Rules”.
  • The Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard A. Posner, 2007, Pantheon Books (a division of Random House), New York.


UBC subscribes to Turnitin, an online system that compares written material with the Web and with other material submitted to its database. Faculty, staff and students can upload submissions and check for duplication of material in other sources and possible plagiarism. Please go to Turnitin on the UBC Learning Technology Hub website.

For further information, please email