by Michelle Guillemard
Many health writers are well aware of the concerning issue of PhD students requesting the services of professional health writers to write assignments.
As it turns out, many of us have been approached by PhD students of various academic levels who have had no shame in asking us to write their essays and papers.
It’s an increasingly common practice – one that’s not limited to medical writing, either.
The business of helping PhD students
Recently, an Australian woman dubbed a “university cheating mastermind” by the media was revealed to have built an entire business enabling students to cheat their way through university.
According to the journalists who uncovered the scandal, the MyMaster website formerly allowed students to pay to have their university essays written by experienced graduates.
The owner of the business used her accounting degree to build the lucrative ghostwriting service, aimed at Chinese international students.
It wasn’t only for PhD students, either – it was estimated that as many as 1000 international students used the service – many of whom had difficulties with the English language.
PhD students and outsourcing websites
Also, let’s not forget Freelancer – a key player in this burgeoning minefield. Just this morning, while writing this post, I spotted half a dozen ads from PhD students looking for writers to complete their assignments.
It may not be ethical but it’s happening. Following the MyMaster scandal, the same newspaper published a short piece profiling freelance writers who happily and unashamedly write assignments for students.
The article says that writers are drumming up business using popular classifieds website Gumtree, promoting their ghost-writing services and being inundated with new business.
Because the students know what they’re doing is wrong, many are using fake names to avoid being caught.
Is it ever acceptable to work with a PhD student?
If you get approached by a PhD student to work in a tutoring capacity, you may wish to consider the work if you think the request for help is coming from a genuine place. Perhaps the students just want a fresh pair of eyes or a new perspective.
The challenge is toeing the line between providing useful, constructive and educational advice versus writing the assignment or providing the student with an unfair advantage.
For me, the line is too blurry. That’s why I prefer to avoid working with PhD students – and I find it the best way around this is to tell any who approach me that I have a no-student policy.
Or, you can take note from the gold-standard response by Australian medical writer Sarah McKay:
“Thanks for contacting me. I’m at capacity so unable to take on work at the moment. However, was I available I have a strict ghost-writing policy, and as someone who has also completed a Masters and PhD I’m strongly and ethically opposed to writing reports or completing assignments for students. I imagine your university has strict policies in place to avoid this practice too. Personally and professionally I’d advise you to write the review yourself. ”
Have you been approached by a student to write an assignment? How have you handled it?