Sometimes, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery Aaron Burden via Unsplash

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Perhaps … if this is about someone copying your carefully-curated wonderfully thought-out library outfit of the week. Annoying as it might be to see someone wear your combo of long denim midi skirt and cropped tank top, it’s understandable. Let’s face it, in an English lecture, it probably wasn’t your original idea to begin with. Less understandable, however, is if you realised that the supervisor who praised your work had decided to copy it verbatim into their own academic article. In this case, imitation is not as much a form of flattery as it is a bold-faced attempt to rip-off a more junior individual.

“Things are allowed to be nuanced and feelings are allowed to be complicated”

Students at any university crave validation from their academics; at a place like Cambridge this goes double. And why wouldn’t they? One of Cambridge’s biggest selling points, beyond the gowns and gothic buildings, the punts and the prestige, is the fact that you get to work with top academics in a field that you (hopefully) love. Hearing that your essay this week that you probably churned out half-asleep after a night in the bar is actually “not all that bad” from an academic who is at the top of their game is pretty validating. I would say it gives me the warms and fuzzies, but let’s not go that far. Regardless, the obvious truth is that students, especially those looking to go into academia themselves, look up to academics.

Yet this admiration shouldn’t be exploited, as in the case of Dr O’Reilly. There should not be the assumption that students, wanting to be praised and wanting to try and get a foot into academia – a prospect that is becoming increasingly difficult as a result of job cuts and salary slashes– will let their superiors take them for granted and assume they won’t complain. Maybe it was ‘accidental plagiarism’, a genuine mistake. It is worth noting that the same ‘accidental plagiarism’ for undergraduates usually leads to a failed paper and the possibility of being booted off the course. But in that case , an assumption was made that ultimately the student wouldn’t really find out - or care for that matter. That ‘mistake’ was repeated again through threatening this paper with bogus legal claims, once again assuming that students would accept this behaviour from an authority unquestioningly and unflinchingly.

“When you sign your name in the matriculation book, you’re not signing an NDA”

The mindset that led to the case of the plagiarised essay is not solely found in academia. Rather, there’s a culture of ‘be grateful, you owe us’ found throughout the University. We, the students, are led to believe that no matter how rough the situation gets, we’re at Cambridge, so really we’re the lucky ones. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful. I am undeniably lucky. I’ve spent the last few years having some really incredible conversations with truly brilliant academics who’ve inspired me to go and do things I didn’t think I was capable of doing. I’ve spent the past few years gallivanting around a beautiful city, getting involved in countless societies, and all-round having a good time (don’t ask me if I still agree with this statement in three weeks’ time. If you see me crying in the Seeley, mind your business). I spent a large portion of my time at home encouraging starry-eyed sixth formers to come here, which, unless I was a sick child-hater, I wouldn’t do unless I really loved this place. However, I’ve also spent the last few years being unceremoniously turfed out of my crumbling room every eight weeks, watching supervisors being horrendously underpaid, and witnessing a massive student mental health crisis.


Mountain View

Plagiarising professor stays in post and threatens student journalists

When you sign your name in the matriculation book, you’re not signing an NDA. As a student, you can both feel immensely grateful towards the University and the experiences it’s given you, and still complain and ask for change. Things are allowed to be nuanced and feelings are allowed to be complicated. But ultimately, if this whole essay plagiarism debacle has taught us anything, it’s that students shouldn’t be afraid to question those in higher authority to them.