Monday, July 15, 2013


Avoiding pitfalls in university exams includes sidestepping opportunities to cheat. The temptation to do so in a competitive environment, when we were trying to get the marks necessary to get into and to stay in Medicine, presented themselves occasionally. I escaped the pitfall twice in my student years, largely through cowardice I must confess rather than any surge of ethics. In my premed year my marks were good since I needed them to transfer to the medicine faculty and a colleague, not a friend, but a playboy and bon vivant in my premed year and also an occasional drinking companion, knowing that I was heading to good marks in invertebrate zoology, asked me to write his exam for him. He offered me fifty dollars to do it: a big sum in 1953. I told him no, mostly because of cowardice, but also self-righteousness since he never bothered to spend any time at the subject. I don't really think at that time I had any strong ethical sense. I just was cautious about being found out and risking the destruction of my budding career. The second time was in second year medicine when my friend, in first year medicine, gave me a prepared copy of the final second year bacteriology exam two days before the examination. Once in my hand it was difficult not to look at it. There was no question on it that I couldn't have answered easily. However, paranoid though I may be, I think in retrospect I was being set up for disaster. I was a good student in bacteriology, but I wasn't a great student in bacteriology. A laboratory technician, whose wife had been trying to seduce me, had left a copy of the examination questions "inadvertently"  near my friend's library table in the evening. My friend couldn't help but notice it and was impelled to show me. What to do? I had no way out. I solved the problem by writing the exam badly enough that I could get by without detection while kicking myself at the same time. Cowardice however has a place in all of this. Had I taken great umbrage, and asked for a separate exam since I had seen a copy, the shit would have hit the fan for every one but me. Thanks to my cowardice no one lost their job, no one was exposed for cheating, no one was expelled for passing information about exams, and I was never seduced, probably again about cowardice and naivety rather than ethics. There is no doubt that growing up in the prairie boondocks you had to look where you were going to avoid stepping in fresh cow pies.

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