Graduate-level programs tend to be small, insular, and highly competitive. While students in these programs often become friends and colleagues that can last for a lifetime, a small circle of folks who are studying the same subjects can breed high-stakes competition and bitter rivalry. In that contentious atmosphere, gossip easily flourishes—and never more so than when one of the graduate students has been accused of cheating or another type of academic misconduct.
Admit it: you've probably gossiped about fellow students, whether during your undergraduate years or as a graduate student. But have you ever wondered what it's like when you're the target of the scuttlebutt? Should you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, here are some tips on how to survive.
Guilty or Not, Here They Come
In many ways, it doesn't really matter whether you have actually committed the act of misconduct of which you've been accused. After all, the truth of a rumor doesn't generally factor into the amount of gossip it engenders. People are going to talk, and they're going to speculate, and plenty of them probably won't believe anything you have to say after the whispering has begun.
So, a few rules apply, no matter what, and no matter whether you are a MBA, medical, law, or any other graduate or professional-level student. Let's take a look at them:
- Don't discuss the issue. Refrain from fueling the rumor mill by talking about your case in public forums. Don't even deign to deny the allegations, even if you are categorically innocent. No matter what you say, the very act of addressing the rumors will only feed them and give the gossips more to discuss. If someone presses you to respond or react, it's fine to be blunt but polite. Simply say, “I'm not going to discuss that; please respect my decision and my privacy.” From then on, you can feel free to ignore additional queries or change the subject.
- Hold your head high. Even if you do have something to be ashamed about, don't let it show. Walk with confidence and hold your head high. Revealing your guilt or shame, getting emotional, or acting inappropriately during class and on campus is, again, only going to give the Chatty Cathy's more to talk about. And chances are the talk won't be about how bad they feel for you or how bursting into tears in the cafeteria is probably a sign that you're innocent.
- Concentrate on your studies. Is there ever a good time for a grad student to slack off? If there is, this definitely isn't it. Abandoning your academics will send a message that you're giving up—maybe because you're guilty. So, keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone.
- Carefully choose your confidants. Unless you trust a fellow grad student with your life, keep quiet even in private. It's a good idea to talk to someone about your troubles to ensure your own emotional well-being, but that person has to be trustworthy. Turn to one of your parents, your BFF, or a therapist. It may be tempting to vent to someone in your program. But don't give in; you'll regret it.
Lastly, But Importantly, Get Legal Help
Charges of academic misconduct can be devastating to your graduate degree, your future career, and your reputation. This is true, unfortunately, whether you have committed the alleged misconduct or not. Seeking legal help is not an admission that you are guilty. In fact, it might be the only thing that can save your bacon in this situation.
If you have any questions about the disciplinary process or want to discuss your situation, give attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686. We're here to help, and we'll support you through the whole process.