I’ve done an undergraduate degree, written a master’s dissertation and a PhD thesis, plus numerous essays for post-PhD qualifications. I’ve never been tempted to get someone else to write them for me, but some students are. It’s hard for me to put myself in the shoes of someone who has, or wants to, submit a piece of work they haven’t written themselves, but I thought I would try to examine some of the issues in this blog post.
Ghosting, as it is sometimes known, is where you get someone else to write part of, or a whole, piece of work, which you then submit under your name. It’s a type of plagiarism and in any decent higher education institution, it’s banned. A whole industry has built up around this, where customers are charged by the length and depth of the piece of work they require. In the past, I was under the impression that this was limited to undergraduate essays. But I have since learned that this reaches all the way to doctoral level. When I heard this for the first time, I asked “Where do they get people of doctoral calibre who have access to original data and can write a good quality 80,000 word thesis that makes an original contribution to knowledge”? My next question was “If you tried this, surely someone would find out”? I’ll come back to these questions later.
What kinds of situations would cause a student (both taught and research) to think about using a ghosting service? The list below is not exhaustive:
- Pressure: both academic pressure, if a student felt what they were producing on their own wasn’t good enough, and time pressure. For example, needing to work close to full-time hours to afford the tuition means not enough time for research and writing. Perhaps an illness (both physical and mental) or chronic condition is also causing a build-up of pressure.
- Not understanding the topic/assignment/research: what happens when, with the best will in the world, and lots of extra tutorial/supervision hours, you just don’t understand the topic, or what’s being asked of you?
- Laziness: a student can’t be bothered to put in the required work.
Leaving the last point aside, I sympathise a great deal with the first two. Sometimes it’s not enough to just get the degree, a student might need a certain class or grade to get a specific job or career opportunity.
I know there were weeks where I worked over 30 hours during my undergrad and I worked on-call during my PhD, often getting woken up due to emergencies several times a night meaning I didn’t sleep properly. Once you start working those kinds of hours regularly, the quality of time, not just the amount of time you have to devote to study and research, comes into play. It’s hard to make progress with ‘bitty’ and fragmented amounts of time, especially when you’re already mentally drained from the work. Also, having to deal with an illness or chronic condition may sometimes affect the time, and quality of time, you have to devote to research and writing.
Regarding a lack of understanding, I had an acquaintance that was undertaking a PhD and unfortunately, she did not make it through one of her progression vivas because her skills in a certain area were deemed not to be up scratch. Although a great deal of time and effort had been put into getting them up to scratch, those efforts weren’t enough in the end to make it through, which was undoubtedly devastating for all involved.
I don’t know that there are any satisfying all-encompassing answers to these very difficult situations. I can suggest taking a suspension of studies to work to earn and save more money if that is the issue, or switch to studying part-time or distance-learning to allow more flexibility. Having that extra time and flexibility may also contribute to a better understanding and higher quality research because there is more time to devote to it. It’s also worth asking your university for any support and help they can provide.
So, now we know just some of the reasons a student might be tempted to pay for a readymade piece of work, but what are the issues with that? I’m sure most students are aware it’s not allowed. In my experience, universities go out of their way to make sure students know this. But beyond not being allowed, what are some of the issues that could arise from ghosting?
- Blackmail: some ghosting services have been known to threaten their customers with exposure to their university/company if they do not pay more money and/or keep paying more money indefinitely.
- Ruining your career: here is an article that names not one, but four senior politicians who have either had their PhDs revoked or are likely to have their PhDs revoked due to public accusations of plagiarism. This would make it difficult to be taken seriously and could affect your career and your ability to get jobs in the future. Even decisions made previously in your career could be called into question.
- Making a serious mistake: Let’s say the ‘best’ case scenario happens and despite ghosting, you make it through your degree and into your chosen career. Companies are likely to hire you based on what they think your knowledge level is, using your qualifications as a guide. You could end up making a serious and even life-threatening mistake because you don’t have the knowledge required for the job you are doing. Not only could that ruin your life, but other people’s as well.
- Not getting what you paid for: many ghosting services boast about what they can provide, but the product is often poorly written, particularly at doctoral level where subject-specific expertise and an original contribution to knowledge are required. It also may not be original work, even if it is advertised as such (i.e. it will not make it past text matching tools such as Turnitin). You are very likely to get found out at this stage, which means you are the one that will suffer and you are unlikely to get your money back.
- Failing exams/viva: In the case of all levels of university student, including doctoral students who have to undertake oral exams known as vivas, you are unlikely to make it through these if you haven’t researched and written the work yourself.
- Getting thrown off of your course/getting thrown out of the university: in some universities it is an offence just to go on to a ghosting website. Read your university’s policies surrounding this.
- Having to repeat a year: this will cause a great deal of expense and may affect scholarships, funding and/or visas depending on the person involved.
- Plenty of others not mentioned here…
I know there is more pressure than ever on students today, but I would encourage anyone who is thinking about paying for a ghosting service to seek out guidance and support from their university to do the work themselves. In the end, the consequences are just not worth it.