A professor once told me that “While the body is shared, the mind is ours alone.” It didn’t make much sense to me back then, as a freshman caring more about my free time for reading and running over acing my classes. I went to classes taught by my favorite professors, missed classes that didn’t interest me, and made up for the absences by doing extra readings. I loved working towards my anthropology degree because it’s a subject that thoroughly interests me. We were only eight in our batch, with almost everyone believing that a good and stable future awaits upon graduation.
Two weeks since I graduated, I still couldn’t find a job. I’ve applied to 25 jobs at this point and couldn’t get past beyond the first screening. I graduated with good grades and was pretty active outside school work. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I left job search websites and gave Upwork a try. Being a freelancer was something that I never thought I’d pursue as a career. Signing up for Upwork was clearly out of desperation.
Since I was new to the site, I was desperate to get clients as fast as I could. At this point, I was a month into unemployment. So, I browsed through other freelancer’s profiles and checked their rates. I placed mine at a measly $3 per hour since getting my first client was the top priority. Not surprisingly, I immediately got an offer to write a 10,000-word essay on acai berries. I was to deliver the paper in two weeks. Health topics interest me and so I wasn’t fazed at all.
Now as an alumna, I did not have online access to academic journals any longer and so I opted to reference from what I could mine from the internet. There are over 20,000 articles written on acai berries, but sifting through all these pages was more difficult than I thought. For one, it was quite difficult to verify information since I’m only basing my understanding on secondhand information. Trained as an anthropologist where living in subject communities for as long as it’s needed is the norm, I certainly lost confidence in what I was doing. After every sentence, I would cringe and think, “Is this even accurate?” I kept on questioning my work up until the moment I handed over my final work.
After a few days, I received a complaint from the employer saying my work is full of erroneous data extracted from non-academic journals, and that my work is plagiarized. Therefore, this person is demanding a full refund. Of course, I stood up for myself saying that I referenced my sources well and my work has passed Copyscape. Sure, I had doubts with the information I was putting on the work, but proper citation is something that I value highly. My aptitude for referencing is something I never question.
The complaint got escalated to Upwork and the employer wanted to bring the case to court. That seriously scared the hell out of me as I could not even afford my own rent, let alone court fees. I decided to just back down and give the full refund of $300 which was such a huge amount for me at that time. I knew I should stand up for myself until the end but with financial constraints, I chose to back down.
After that experience and a negative review on my profile, it got difficult for me to get clients. It took at least six more months since I got my next client, but this time I was already employed and so landing contracts sporadically wasn’t a problem any longer.
Although my first writing gig was traumatic, it taught me such valuable lessons for my professional and personal life. For one, shortcuts don’t work well in life in the long run. Although it was so convenient for me to source out information from online resources, I would have saved more time and energy finding the best journals even if that means going to public libraries or asking for a one-off access from my former professors. I could have looked beyond the confines of my laptop, but I got too comfortable working on my parents’ couch.
I’ve realized that plagiarism is not just about violating citation rules, but also about not giving justice to the importance of quality sources when picking references. When I source out from unreliable sources, I become an accessory to plagiarism by supporting content that is unfounded, erroneous, and most likely reworded from someone else’s work. Plagiarism is not just about stealing ideas, it is also about not being conscientious enough to know the difference between reliable and unreliable sources.
I’ve grown so much since my first job after university. I haven’t run away from that experience, and I am still working in the research industry. Every time I have a paper to write or edit, I look back on that first nervous attempt to finish a 10,000-word essay in two weeks. It’s a project that isn’t that difficult to complete as it seemed back then, after all. And I’m happy because I can now say with full confidence that it’s a job that I can fulfill without self-doubts and inhibitions.