A master’s thesis is only a click of the mouse away

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A master’s thesis is only a click of the mouse away

“A master’s thesis costs 1.6 million won ($1,408) and payment in installments is possible,” said the head of the dissertation ghostwriting company, surnamed Kim, to a reporter from the JoongAng Ilbo, who disguised himself as a graduate student in physical education in a phone conversation.

On April 22, after searching the keywords “dissertation paper ghostwriting” online, the reporter found more than 10 Web sites and online blogs.

A day after he sent out a request for consultation, he received an e-mail from the Web site asking for his personal information concerning his currently enrolled school and major, the due date and thesis director, and a preferred type of thesis.

After receiving the reporter’s personal information, the original sender of the e-mail finally provided him with the Web site address of the real ghostwriting company.

In a follow-up phone call, Kim said, “I am sorry about the complex procedure. This is because I am operating this business in collaboration with a friend of mine.”

Companies like those run by Kim not only write the thesis draft but also provide “follow-up service,” which includes second-draft editing after the thesis is checked by the student’s thesis mentor.

Work is contracted to graduate students who are currently in school. In some cases, the ghostwriters are people who have graduated with a doctorate degree. Most of the workers are part time.

These companies are very keen on catering to customers’ needs, providing a specific title for a thesis for those who had not yet even decided on the topic of the paper.

There are at least 20 to 30 online Web sites and blogs dealing with thesis ghostwriting, but many of these Web sites disguise themselves as thesis-translating agencies.

In Kim’s company’s case, payment system is divided into three stages: an initial down payment of 600,000 won, followed by an immediate payment of 500,000 won upon completion of the thesis and a final payment of another 500,000 won.

Especially after the nationwide scandal when the doctoral thesis of Moon Dae-sung, the Olympic gold medalist and National Assembly representative elect from Busan, was found to be plagiarized, the spotlight has been put on the current research ethics of scholars and thesis-writing students.

In Korea, however, illegally “purchasing” dissertation papers online already was a prevalent phenomenon. It is very common to see comments on these thesis-ghostwriting companies’ Web sites saying “I have sent a request for thesis-writing.”

Some of these companies go a step farther by openly advertising a personal mobile number of the broker.

One of the brokers from these companies on the phone said, “The price for a doctoral thesis starts from three million won ($2,643) and the payment varies depending on the level of effort put into it.”

The major customers for the ghostwriting companies are mainly businessmen and office workers whose main purpose is to obtain a master’s degree in education or business, according to sources from a ghostwriting company.

After the JoongAng Ilbo reporter explained to Kim that he was a businessman and was in a hurry to finish the thesis, Kim said, “I fully understand your situation because most of our clients are also office workers.”

Plagiarism is another common method when it comes to thesis-ghostwriting. An anonymous source from a ghostwriting company said, “Usually students in doctoral programs write the theses themselves, but in some cases where it cannot be written under the time constraints, they resort to plagiarism.”

An official from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said that there are already existing legislations against plagiarism on dissertations enacted in 2007 and the Ministry has educated more than 4,500 university students on thesis plagiarism.

Uncovering these illegal ghostwriting activities is not always easy. Lee Dong-yeon, professor at Korea National University of Arts, said, “Ghostwriting is hard to catch because of its secretive nature. The only evidence which could be drawn from a perpetrator is a voluntary confession.”

Another professor from Yonsei University, Lee Won-yong, asserted, “Students who submit their theses must be able to verify the contents and explain their research during the screening process with professors.”

By Lee Seung-ho [enational@joongang.co.kr]
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