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I Learned to Cheat in University

April 28, 2014

Many years ago, at my first Physical Chemistry lab, I followed the procedure that was described in the page handed out to us.  At home, later that day, I wrote up the report in my lab book.  I handed it in the next day.  I had no inkling of what would happen after that.

Next week, for my second lab, I picked up my book from the stack of marked lab books.  Even though I knew it was well done, I wondered what mark I got.  Zero!  How could that be possible?  I asked the instructor.  He told me I got zero because I didn’t get my results initialed by the lab instructor before leaving.  I’d never heard of such a thing before.  I told him so.  He said “Mrs Kaczmarek told you that in the first class”.  I countered with “I’m not in Mrs Kaczmarek’s class” and “I’m in Dr Campbell’s class”.  “He never told us that”.  Surely he would relent when he heard that.  No.  He told me that I still had to get my results initialed before I left the lab, and that I’d have to repeat my first lab.  I could come in any afternoon to do that.  I told him I had five labs, one every afternoon.  Maybe he’d relent then.  No.  I came in the next Saturday to do it.  That time, and all the other times, I made sure to get my results initialed.  I wasn’t going to get that wrong again.

In one of the Physical Chemistry labs, we were to measure the viscosity of air and of natural gas using a glass apparatus  immersed in mineral oil.  The technique required timing the rise of the oil in a glass tube as the gas was displaced.  Each trial took 30 minutes.  I quickly realized that there was not enough time in the afternoon to do all of them.  I wanted to get out of there on time.  I knew I had to get the results initialed.  What could I do.  I did as many trials as I could.  I stared at my observations, with two blank spaces.  It was a nice rising series.  I guessed at the last two and wrote them into the blank spaces.  Feeling very nervous, I showed my results to the instructor.  One glance, and he initialed them.  I’d gotten away with it!  At home, when I plotted my results, I got a pretty nice straight-line graph.  I even got a good mark on that experiment.

That was the only time I’d cheated, but I felt entitled to that one.  I wasn’t going to do it again.  Years later, I met the fellow who had been my instructor again.  He turned out to be a pretty nice guy, nowhere near as nasty as I imagined.  He didn’t remember me.  I sure remembered him.


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One Comment
  1. Thanks for sharing, appreciate your candidness. At my college, many of us faked continuous curve data to save lab time. But I can’t recall any of us cutting corners on exposition of theory, and I guess it was the same for you?

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