Papers, Please


Today I find myself in an unusual position. To begin with, if anyone ever tells you that I plagiarized a paper or doctoral dissertation, you can be sure they are lying simply because I’ve never authored one. I don’t have a university degree of any kind and there are no academic papers with my name on them.

But that doesn’t mean that I’ve never written one. The truth is that when you’re hungry and don’t have a job, you’ll do almost anything for money. I really don’t know how many academic papers I’ve written over the years for other people (who paid me to do it) but I imagine it’s quite a few. To be completely honest, it was some of the most enjoyable work I ever did.

There are several reasons why people don’t want to write their own academic papers. Sometimes they have a large course load and don’t have the time or energy to keep up with all of their assignments. Other times the student is just lazy. Sometimes they truly don’t understand the material or find it too difficult. Occasionally you’ll encounter a student who thinks of writing assignments as a menial task beneath the dignity of someone wealthy enough to pay someone else to do the work.

I’ve certainly met all types but one thing in common is that all the students who ever paid me to write a paper want the grades, the marks and later the diploma. They all want the certification from the university that they’ve officially “learned” the requisite subjects. Whether for personal glory or for bragging rights or for an opportunity to make (more) money while doing less work, they damn sure want those diplomas. And for whatever reason, writing a particular paper is an obstacle between what they can’t/won’t do and what they want/need. All I ever did was step into the gap and facilitate.

The money was useful but I always enjoyed writing those papers. I think you know by now I really love to write but I also love to learn. I never got a diploma awarded for any of my work but whatever research and effort went into writing that paper stayed with me. I wrote papers on subjects I had never previously studied before in my life, everything ranging from Women’s Studies to the history of the Peloponnesian War. It was great stuff. Obviously I wouldn’t have done it without the money but for me writing papers was always about the (self) education.

Certainly half the difficulty in writing a paper is the writing itself. It’s not an easy task for some people to write (anything) and it takes a lot of practice and perhaps a bit of artistic talent to really gain a knack for it. On top of that however you have to be conversant with your material and really understand the subject at hand and have enough enthusiasm for it to muster the energy to write about it. And it’s this second part, the enthusiasm for the subject, that I often found lacking both in students for whom I wrote papers as well as students that I knew who wrote their own papers.

But why though? It’s obvious enough reading extracts from Victor Ponta’s doctoral dissertation that he has no enthusiasm or love for the subject. And he’s far from unique in that regard. This is exam season in Romania and I constantly hear moaning and groaning from students who are studying.

Why is studying such a chore? Why is learning such a drag, such a downer, such a depressing and awful thing? Christ sometimes I feel like Abraham Lincoln with his shovel doing math by firelight after a long day of chores. Yet for almost everyone else around me, learning is some kind of torturous exercise only occasionally interspersed with a temporary respite of a subject that is genuinely interesting.

I guess I just find it strange that all those years I was a student who was never given any kind of diploma or document and took to education purely out of pleasure (and as a chance to make a little money on the side) while the Prime Minister (and thousands of his ilk here in Romania) never once loved his education and instead ginned up words in order to receive the diploma and the prestige that comes with it.

And you know what the weirdest part is? I never plagiarized those papers that I wrote for other people. Why would I? To begin with, if they’re paying me and I stole from other authors and the professor caught them, I’d be in big trouble. Secondly, it’s far more rewarding and fun to write it yourself, to shape the words, to line up the ideas in a coherent and moving way and to know that someone, the professor if no one else, would be casting their eye over it and hopefully be pleased and possibly even inspired and joyful that the spark of learning had been kindled in the minds of (at least) one of their students.

So, odd as it is, not only will you never see my name on a plagiarized academic paper but if you ever somehow discover the academic papers that I secretly wrote for other people, those won’t be plagiarized either. Kind of surreal when you think about it.

If you want to remove all the plagiarizing and cheating in schools then quit awarding grades or diplomas. Then the only people who will be students will be the ones who want to learn for learning’s sake. Worked for me anyway :)

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6 Responses »

  1. This is not directly related to the Ponta issue, but there’s a much broader discussion going on about the education system everywhere, since it’s basically the same with minor improvement here and there.

    For one, the system is disconnected from reality, you learn one thing in school and another is needed on the job market.

    Second, the way we go through the system is a linnear progression with higher expectaions put on us and we also expect more and more from getting the diplomas and then we find out that the real world works very differently.

    Third, the way we learn things now is done in a very antiquated and boring fashion. The children and young people are not tested and selected based on what their real interests and skills are. Everyone is forced to learn the same things at the same rate regardless of differences between people.

    I also found the writing of my final papers a CHORE and it was very boring. I had no enthusiasm at all because there was no enthusiasm in the way we were taught. The professors also seemed to lack it. Going through the whole system is just a chore, learning should be fun not like going to jail. :P

    Interesting link about education:

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/09/back-to-the-wrong-school.html

    http://www.squidoo.com/stop-stealing-dreams

    • “For one, the system is disconnected from reality, you learn one thing in school and another is needed on the job market.”

      I’ve noticed this line of thought in quite a few posts and complaints and I beg to differ.
      Ideally, education should not cater only to the market demand. This is not to say that you shouldn’t get some skills needed for a job. But education should have a broader scope, you should get to know things from different domains of knowledge, learn to think and make correlations, learn how to express your ideas coherently, learn to look for (alternative) solutions etc.

      The danger of thinking that education should just create skilled workers is that it could lead to a batch of idiotic experts, good at one and only one thing and ignorant of pretty much everything else. Take a good look at the next IT guy you meet.

      Getting work skills is not education, it’s called training.

  2. The fact is that for some bizarre reason, a lot more people are being forcefully kept in schools than should – given their aptitudes, etc. The ones who love learning are few and should be the only ones spending 12+ years in a learning environment, while the vast majority remaining should be freed to pursue their calling outside of the school environment.

  3. First of all, regarding the Ponta subject, the three personalities that are supposed to be plagiarized, denied everything. Weird or what? Second, Funeriu going to Deutschland with business, giving interviews to “Nature” (I wonder what on Earth could they understand from this monkey) and every little bit of information surrounding this subject reeks of political.filth.
    But really, my question to Sam, and I have apologize if I sound too curious, is how come you never wrote anything regarding Romanian politics in the golden era of the PDL rule (and I simply LOVED that, no politics I mean), and why the almost daily interest regarding the present government? Come on, Sam, I know Cluj is still a PDL fief, but screw politics and return to the cool subjects.

  4. Funny how all the comments above go on and on about Ponta and the Romanian school system and how learning is such a bore, but never see what’s really wrong here.
    I, for one, was shocked by the reasons you give for people not wanting to write their own papers. Why should someone that doesn’t understand the material or finds it too difficult even be in that school, let alone get a diploma? Wanting a diploma is not reason enough for getting one. Facilitating it is surely part of the issue.
    This being said, I’ve done such ghost writing myself back in my student years, and never understood that I was actually bringing these people on the same level as myself. Now we are probably competing for the same jobs. In hindsight, nothing but a great way of stealing your own hat (or “a-si da singur cu tesla-n coaie” as we say here:))

  5. While plagiarizing is bad, obviously, what annoys me the most is this crazy obsession with degrees, masters and PhDs as a measure of some public servant or politician’s worth. It is very common in Romania, but not only there.
    A proper PhD requires not only a huge amount of work leaving little time for anything else, but it’s often associated with a kind of personality that does not make a good politician. Rather than scholarship and original research, the politician needs leadership, communication, vision, people skills, negotiation, public speaking, integrity etc. At best, the two sets of skills are orthogonal, if not exclusive.

    Think of your favorite politician or statesman/woman from any era or country. Do they have a PhD? While these empty qualifications are seen as useful or even necessary for politicians, the temptation will be there to copy content.

    While a PM or minister’s thesis is examined and plagiarism proved, the less famous but equally copied PhDs are still enjoying their title. This diminishes the work of those that have dedicated long years of their lives to get those accolades.

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