Thursday, January 12, 2012

My First 45 days of MS Study in US

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We all remember our first – first bicycle or first day in school or first video game one has played or a first kiss. I remember vividly by first assignment, lab report and exam I gave in US after I joined for my Masters mainly because it all ended in a huge nightmare for me. 
Let me start with the assignment. Three weeks into first semester, the professor wanted us to prepare a 10 page report on a specific topic and submit it to him. He had given three books as reference to us to get more information. I could not find those books in the library (thanks to the ignorance of how to use the online catalogue of our library) and could not afford to buy a $100 book (that was the time I was still looking for an hourly job), I borrowed one of the text books from the professor itself. I referred just to that one text book wrote the assignment and submitted thinking that I did really well. The very next class the professor returned the graded assignment and to my surprise got zero – probably the first zero I got for an assignment in my entire life. Professor had not corrected my assignment beyond the first paragraph. The first paragraph of the assignment I wrote was exactly the same as the first paragraph from Chapter 1 of the book I borrowed from the same Professor. I did not put any reference to this book anywhere in the report. I never knew till then that for a class assignment you cannot copy directly from a text book that too from a text book suggested by the professor. That was how I did all the assignments for my bachelors. The professor has written “Copied”, name of the text book and page number from where I copied. This assignment carried 20% weight age and I just got zero for that – a horrendous start to my MS. 
This was just the start of more horrific things to come. After this assignment fiasco I had the first exam in another subject the very next week. The exam was on Wednesday and we (I and another Indian in the class) started preparing for the exam from Monday morning – an early start to exam preparation considering that exam is there only on Wednesday. Both of us went to library took few books related to the topic and started reading from the text book. We never bothered to learn from the class notes as we were used to read text books before the exams. I went to the exam thinking that I prepared really well and will good marks in this exam. The professor gave me the question paper for that 90 minute exam and it took me over 10 minutes to realize that I got the correct question paper. I had never seen such a question paper. The question paper had 4 pages and first two pages were a story with few drawings. It took me over 30 minutes to understand the pattern and by then all the questions looked alien to me. I was thinking all questions were “out of syallbus” or “twisted” (only to realize latter that all were so simple and application of what he taught in the class). 
I had just completed one of the worst exams I had ever written in my life. Exam got over by 2:00 PM and I though I will take some rest as night out and this question paper had made me very tired. I went home to get some sleep and my sleep was disturbed by a call from my Indian friend who took the course with me – he called me to let me know that Professor has finished correcting the paper and posted the marks. I logged in to see my marks and had got 37/100 and the class average was just over 60. My only consolation was that my friend also got the same mark as mine and both of us helped considerably in reducing the class average! 
If the zero in the assignment and or a below average mark in the exam was not enough more debacle was in waiting for me. The very next week after I completed my exam I was supposed to submit my first lab report to the third course I was taking that semester. In that lab report we are supposed to answer ten questions. I wrote answers to all those questions making sure that I did not copy even a single sentence from any text book. I could not afford to lose any more marks. I was supposed to submit the lab report by Wednesday morning but I had completed everything by Tuesday night and sent the softcopy of the lab report to the professor and the teaching assistant. 
I was on my way back to my home when I met another Indian student who was taking the same course with me. He asked me answers to few of the questions in the lab report. I told him that I don’t remember the answers correctly but will send you softcopy my lab report once I reach home. He agreed and I went home and sent him the same soft copy I sent to the professor. 
One week after I submitted my lab report, I got a mail from the professor to come and meet him. By that time I had 10 hours Research Assistantship and I thought he is calling me to give me full time Research Assistantship. I went to meet him and on seeing him I could figure out that he was very angry. He gave me back my lab report where it was marked “0” and the on side was written “COPIED” in bold and capital letters. I was shocked as I took extra effort to make sure that I did not copy anything this time. I was not sure what was happening. 
The professor was furious and told me “You and Mr X copied” and showed me the lab report of the Indian student to whom I had sent my lab report. Both the assignments look identical in all respects except the name. The spelling mistakes I made and the extra spaces between couple of paragraphs – everything was same. Now I realized what had happened. The student who had got the soft copy from me just changed the name and forwarded the lab report. The professor told me that he is going to report this to the ethics committee and I was in danger of losing the scholarship I got a couple of weeks back. I explained to the professor what exactly may have happened. The professor also talked to the other student and he accepted his wrong doing. As a punishment for sending him the softcopy I was awarded zero for that lab report but my name was not reported to the ethics committee. 
Getting two zeros and the lowest marks – this is not the way you want to start your Masters in the new country. But that is what had happened to me. I realized through theses incidence how different it was to study in India and US. That realization made me take necessary actions to conduct myself. I am sure every one who went to another country and another culture to do their education will have some incident to narrate during their initial days of stay, isn’t it?
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11 Comments:

Blogger thiru said...

Nair,
Thanks for reminding me the good old days!! he he he

Thiru

January 12, 2012 7:01 AM  
Blogger thiru said...

Nair,
Thanks for reminding the good old days!!! lol!!!

January 12, 2012 7:01 AM  
OpenID ferthelet said...

@Nair,

I have read completely your article and I've found it entertaining but, as I have no background what it's to study in India, maybe I don't fully understand it.

First of all, it would be great to read a story like this but about your Bachelor in India, in particular explaining a little bit that phrase "... for assignments in bachelor I have copied my book by the letter...".

I can just compare to my education in latinamerica, and that depends largely on the institution you study but before Internet, I think that copying text by the letter was "business as usual" (mentioning the source of course, showing that you have researched, read and maybe did a synthesis).

After Internet, that was generally forbidden, and I think, because teachers and assistants could quickly verify your texts and paragraphs. What was required in assignments was not only the synthesis, that was the first part, but the [practical] application of it, i.e. subject matter understanding.

I'm currently in Germany, finishing an specialization course in German Language and IT Projektsmanagement in German. So I think it would be also interesting to write and share my 45 Tage experience in this beautiful country.

Einen schönen Tag noch und einen guten Rutsch in neues Jahr 2012!!

January 12, 2012 8:42 AM  
Blogger Harsha Sharma said...

I feel my situation very much the same right now ... tired of working and trying ..Its hard to adjust to the US system of studies after studying in India.

January 12, 2012 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hilarious!!!

January 12, 2012 1:25 PM  
Blogger kulyash said...

thank you sir for a prior warning.

January 12, 2012 5:40 PM  
Blogger kulyash said...

thank you sir for a prior warning.

January 12, 2012 5:40 PM  
Blogger m-tech said...

thank u fr this usefu
l lesson sir

January 13, 2012 5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nair,

I hope the indian education system takes cues from this and make Research an important part of our curriculam. Book knowledge is worthless.

Prem.

January 16, 2012 7:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nair,

Great article...I was basically waiting to see this article from you since a long time.....I sincerely hope your students and the new students that come to US from India learn the fine line between group study and plagiarism. In India, copying lab reports from friends and students in the same group was acceptable and encouraged by our teachers and lecturers. I think this is the most crucial thing students coming to US need to understand. It is OK to discuss answers of questions between two students of the class but the interpretation should be different. At the end of the day, the student has to do his OWN work. An example - One student might write "Water flows from A to B by gravity”. The other student could write something like "The downhill profile of the site allows the water to flow from A to B without the need of a pump".

Readers, I am the anonymous second student in the article referenced by Brijesh. …..this was the biggest learning experience of my life and after this incident I was extremely depressed and it took me a while to get back to normal. Prior to this incident, I never copied in exams and was a A student. I did not intend to copy in the US either but for this fateful incident - this was a lab report after all I thought (looking back I have no idea what was I thinking when I gave the same report to the teaching assistant). I was completely down that my actions have affected not only my life but also Brijesh’s career. Like Brijesh rightly pointed out - I was called in and asked about the incident. I agreed to my mistake and was rightfully and promptly given 3 zeroes for the next 3 reports. I pleaded with the Professor that Brijesh was innocent and if anything I should be the one that need to be reprimanded. I was reported to the Ethics committee and was let off with a warning. My life and future was on the line and I had no choice but to study hard. After getting 3 zeroes, it was practically impossible to get an A but getting a B would also have been extremely difficult but was possible. I studied very hard, did well on every exam after that in this particular course and I ended up getting a B in this course. I remember Brijesh got a B also in this course (All through the semester I prayed Brijesh does not get affected in any way because of what happened). C would have meant probation.

It turns out, this professor was actually on my thesis committee and I remember he hugged me after my thesis defense and congratulated me for my work. I am writing this to point out that if you work hard and follow the rules here in the US, you will make it. Professors work with their students and encourage them along the way; it is up to YOU to step up to the plate.

Finally, I congratulate Brijesh for all the good work he is doing in India while also tirelessly exposing students in India to the US lifestyle and educational practices. Good Luck Brijesh!

January 17, 2012 7:36 AM  
Anonymous ayush choudhary said...

gr8 fun reading this, thank u sir for sharing you learning experience .

March 07, 2012 6:03 PM  

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