This website is intended to help you raise your awareness of ethical issues and offer some guidelines that might help you stay on the right path. However, as a graduate student it is your responsibility to conduct yourself ethically in all of your academic and professional activities.

Ethics for Psychologists Training in Applied Settings

During your graduate career at Michigan State University many of you will provide services for individuals and/or groups in applied social settings; such as social service organizations, schools, and clinics. Furthermore, you may conduct research in these applied settings. When we go out into the community, we wear many hats: psychologist, researcher, service provider, ambassador from MSU, and scientist - to name a few. It is important to be aware of the various ethical issues that arise in and out of the lab; especially when graduate students are in the professional position to provide services to individuals in the community. In the "links" section of this website you will find a link to the ethical code of the American Psychological Association, as well as links to APAGS (American Psychological Association of Graduate Students) for information about ethical guidelines for psychology graduate students working in the community.

Misrepresentation, Falsification, and Fabrication of Research Data

The discipline of Psychology is built upon the research findings of its member scientists. As an aspiring member of this discipline, the integrity of your research activities is absolutely crucial to the health of Psychology. Since falsified data, bogus analyses, intentional misrepresentations of method or findings, and other unethical behavior sullies an entire field, the penalties are extremely harsh. You and your colleagues must strive to be absolutely honest and transparent in the research process. The University is also concerned about this issue, since unethical research activities also tarnish the reputation of the host institution.

There are many things at stake if dishonest research activities are discovered. Certainly, a guilty individual will suffer grave consequences to their career. But beyond that, the University may also endure some negative consequences. Scientists and professionals who had nothing to do with the dishonesty could find their reputations questioned as they apply for research funding or submit papers for publication. The fallout from these kinds of events is widespread and long-lasting.

You should expect that your faculty research mentor will be involved with your research to the degree that they can feel comfortable in the integrity of your data, analyses, and conclusions. If you or any of your colleagues, suspect research fraud, you are obligated to share your concerns with an appropriate authority. Often the first step is to confront the offender themselves. However, it may also be appropriate to approach other faculty or administrative personnel about your concerns.

Familiarize yourself with the Psychology Graduate Student Handbook and the University's Graduate Student Rights and Responsibilities. These outline your rights and responsibilities as a graduate student. The University also holds seminars and workshops on various aspects of academic integrity; attending these is informative and helpful in your professional development. While such issues initially appear unambiguous, transgression can occur if you are not aware of the guidelines and expectations.

Within psychology, our professional standards are set by the American Psychological Association. You are expected to adhere to these standards, so familiarizing yourself with these will make decision-making in a rough spot easier.

Read the University's Committee for Research Involving Human Subjects (UCRIHS) policies regarding the conduct of research. Since your Master's and Dissertation may use humans, it's a great idea to be familiar with policies and requirements regarding research. Also, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) describes overarching legal and policy standards to which we as researchers are held. The UCRIHS website has a link to a HIPAA orientation and exam, as well as information about HIPAA and its application to your research. Give yourself enough time to get accustomed to these laws! Learning what does and does not apply to you can sometimes be time-consuming and difficult.

If you have any questions regarding your research, ASK YOUR RESEARCH ADVISOR. Much of what you will learn IS NOT IN THE CLASSROOM, BUT WILL BE LEARNED IN THE FIELD. It is your responsibility to learn about all applicable policies and standards!

Cheating on Examinations

The subject of cheating on examinations is taken much more seriously in graduate school than you might be used to in college. Consequences for integrity infractions can likely include expulsion. As a graduate student in the Department of Psychology you make an implicit promise "to conduct yourself in a scrupulously honest and upright way" (see MSU Psychology Graduate Handbook, sect. 3.8). On the surface, it seems easy to avoid cheating. However, the definition of cheating reaches beyond a simple definition of copying answers from other students and is often ambiguous. It is ultimately your responsibility as a student to clearly understand the parameters between misconduct / dishonesty and acceptable collaboration.

The College of Social Sciences maintains several good websites regarding cheating on examinations. Web addresses for these sources are provided below. These sites provide definitions of cheating, descriptions of how to avoid being suspected of cheating, as well as what to do when suspected of misconduct. Unfortunately, these sites are maintained for undergraduate audiences and therefore are of limited use for graduate students. Nevertheless it is important to consult these sites regarding basic definitions of cheating.

During graduate school you will be working closely with your colleagues in research as well as in your coursework. Collaboration with peers is often times encouraged by faculty. However, the amount of acceptable collaboration in the completion of course assignments can vary, depending upon the instructor of the course. In order to protect yourself from accidentally stepping across the line, you should assume that collaboration in the completion of all assignments in prohibited unless expressly stated otherwise by the course instructor. In addition, you should not take any liberties in assuming that parameters of acceptable collaboration as defined by one faculty member or teaching assistant are the same for others.

Definitions of academic dishonesty are sometimes included in course syllabi, however too often this area is ignored and assumed to be understood by students. Although it is the responsibility of all members of the academic community to maintain the integrity of the Department as well as the University through providing reasonable safeguards against misconduct, you are ultimately held responsible for your own actions. You should therefore be active in establishing your clear understanding of the parameters of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Ask the course instructor about any questions you might have so that you do not find yourself in a position where you must defend yourself against allegations of misconduct.

What happens if you are accused of cheating?

You should avoid becoming angry and approach the instructor in a calm and respectful manner. If you believe that you have been wrongfully accused, take notes on evidence that the instructor might cite against you. If applicable, you might cite witnesses who may be able to vouch for your innocence. It is the responsibility and right of the instructor to decide whether or not you have committed an infraction. Depending upon the instructor's judgment, he / she may assign you a failing grade in the course or the assignment in question. In addition, the instructor may notify the Department Chair if he / she believes further action is warranted. However, if you do not agree with the decision made, you may contact the Department Chairperson to appeal your case and, if applicable, a department level hearing board can be established to review your case (see Graduate Student Rights and Responsibilities, Article 5).

In addition, if you feel that your rights to due process have been / are being violated you may consult the University Ombudsman for help. If the situation develops beyond that, you should be aware that free legal services are provided for graduate students by both ASMSU and COGS.


As we have entered the information age, some forms of academic dishonesty, including plagiarism, have become a much larger problem in the academic community. The responsibility to avoid and prevent plagiarism involves the students, faculty, and administrators of an academic institution.

Plagiarism is both a simple and complex issue that is faced in the academic and legal realms of much of western society. The American Psychological Association, whose ideals we uphold, provides the following information regarding what is and is not plagiarism.

Quotation marks must be used when making a direct quote, and paraphrasing requires citation. Plagiarism includes not only the words and structure of an author, but also their ideas. While these ideas may be sometimes difficult to reference, if you know a source, be it an article or personal communication, you must cite. (American Psychological Association, 1995).

Perhaps the main goal of avoiding plagiarism is making it as easy as possible for a reader to acquire your sources and track down the information you used. (Academic Misconduct & Student Misconduct, 2002).

Plagiarism is a serious issue that can be both accidental and deliberate. Even when an individually accidentiallyplagiarizes (e.g., paraphrasing incorrectly, or poor note-taking) it can be considered academic misconduct. When an individual is aware that they are plagiarizing and there is a malicious, premeditated intent to deceive, it is considered academic dishonesty.

Most of the academic community, including MSU, makes no distinction between academic misconduct and academic dishonesty. Ignorance is not an acceptable defense of plagiarism.

Some plagiarism facts.

  • In many definitions, including the APA's, you will find that it is not considered plagiarism to state common knowledge without a citation. However, definitions of common knowledge vary. BEWARE. It is often best to cite anyway, this saves you the risk of an accusation of plagiarism (Regents of the University of California, 2001).
  • It is also possible to plagiarize yourself. If you reuse a paper, or parts of a paper, without appropriate consent of the instructor it is STILL PLAGIARISM. In graduate school you should attempt to learn more, and this is not done by repeating your work over and over. Further, in the academic community your publications have value. If you plagiarize yourself, you are generating more publications than you should (Standler, 2000).
  • While this is not a website dedicated to correct citation, here are some tips when quoting and paraphrasing:
    • To avoid problems in paraphrasing, use quote marks around distinct words in a passage taken from another author. It also helps to make reference to the author in the first sentence of a paragraph. The information flows better and you do not need to cite that author at the end of the paragraph (Owl, 2003).
    • Another option is to avoid paraphrasing at all. After reading your source, write about it from memory and check back later for accuracy of information (Van Bamer, 1996)
    • Do not make direct quotes unless there is a good reason. According to Triveldi & Williams (2002), some of the good reasons to make a direct quote are:
      1. To develop a step in your argument
      2. To present a striking or memorable phrase
      3. To provide a strong, specific example
      4. To introduce a claim open to interpretation
      5. To summarize an author's main points.

There are many useful places to find information regarding plagiarism. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to avoid academic misconduct; always ask your professor. Do NOT rely solely on information given by friends or classmates. Your professors are here to help you and guide you. Do not be afraid to ask for clarification.