Hyper-Anxiety & Research Integrity 3: it’s not just students

In August of last year, I gave a paper to the University of Melbourne’s Office of Research Ethics and Integrity research seminars, Tuesdays with OREI, on ‘Hyper-Anxiety about Research Integrity among library staff and RHD students’ that ended up doing two different things. So this is the third of a five part blog series, about who is anxious, why it’s unhelpful, and what we can do instead. 

You can read the whole series by clicking on the category ‘Hyper-Anxiety & Academic Honesty’.


In the first two posts, I suggested that ‘hyper-anxiety’ about research ethics and integrity is excessive and a ‘double-anxiety’, or a shame about not being totally confident. Rather than seeing academic honesty as a negotiated and complex series of judgment calls that can and should be discussed openly, a punitive culture shuts down sharing and mutual support.

In this post I suggest that it’s not just RHD students who struggle with this stuff.

At the beginning of this series, I had suggested that “categorical outliers” (such as research teachers and librarians who are not faculty academics) are also at risk of allowing ‘situational cues’ to ‘trigger dysphoric forms of self-consciousness’ that ‘are likely to promote paranoid-like’ behaviours, including ‘hypervigilance’ which can lead to ‘distorted judgment’ of ‘elevated … threat perception’. (Kramer 1998)

Much of the university’s research training is provided by staff in Academic Skills or in the Library. (There is probably also a place for pointing out that much faculty teaching of this kind is provided by casual tutors who are still doctoral students, or early career researchers… but that’s another paper).

Academic Skills and Library staff are in a subordinate position to Faculty in the university hierarchy, because the assessment, the extent to which a student writes in a ‘scholarly’ way, will be decided by academic staff. [i] Professional staff may not have the experience of a research degree, experience of academic publishing, peer reviewing, teaching or marking Faculty classes. This means that these staff are not assessing what they teach (as tutors do), but teaching into someone else’s course, often in a parallel workshop (held at another time, in another venue, and optional), or in parallel online or paper resources.

This means that the kinds of anxieties I’ve been talking about in the first two posts can also be felt by professional staff (Shupe and Pung, 2011).[ii] What’s more, they are likely to be influenced by discussions with academics, reading punitive university policy documents, and the whole “Gotcha!” school of plagiarism literature.[iii]


And this brings me to my final anecdote.

Last year, I arranged a secondment that allowed me to take some time off my Academic Skills job to work as a Subject Co-ordinator and lecturer for a first year English studies course. I’m therefore giving this paper from a position of hybrid authority (I am both professional staff and academic staff).

I contacted the Library to set up some research skills training for the students, of exactly the kind I have just described (after the lecture, in the library, taught by librarians).  In meeting up with the librarians who were designing and developing the workshops, we moved to a wide-ranging discussion based on increasing levels of self-disclosure.[iv] I displayed quite a lot of ignorance about things pertaining to how the library works, so finally, sufficient trust had been established for the dreaded academic honesty question to come out. With much stumbling, the two librarians articulated their question.

Was it actually true that if you got your citations wrong you could fail a subject? Because that didn’t sound quite right and it didn’t seem to actually happen…

Indeed. Forgetting a reference will not cause you to be sent to the Dean with a formal allegation of misconduct; getting 50% ‘not original’ in your Turnitin report may not even be a problem in a close textual analysis assessment.


In this anecdote, as with the previous one, where I was successful in explaining what actually happens, and successful in convincing my interlocutor of the actual state of affairs, their major emotional reaction was relief.

Phew, they say, that’s much less stressful.

Therefore, treating hyper-anxiety reduces unnecessary and non-useful stress.

The fear of legal punishment and social disapproval is excessive in the three cases that I have considered in this series. They are examples not only of elevated stress, but of anxiety, which has negative impacts on people’s ability to process complex and nuanced situations, such as those around nebulous and negotiated concepts like ‘honesty’, ‘ethics’, or ‘scholarship’[v].

Moreover, I am suggesting we are seeing a version of ‘hyper-anxiety’, in which anxiety overwhelms even students and staff with high self-efficacy and excellent research skills; and which imposes a second layer of worry or shame (Brown, 2007, 2010)[vi] that erects barriers to them asking for help, being able to process the helpful information or trusting that information as valid.

In my next blog post, I talk about those who have not yet internalized the ethos of scholarship, both the egregious intentional cheaters (a very small minority) and the majority of students who would like to do the right thing but benefit from some teaching and support around making that happen.



[i] See Leckie, Gloria J. “Desperately seeking citations: Uncovering faculty assumptions about the undergraduate research process” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 1996, Vol.22(3), pp.201-208

Barrett, Andy. “The information-seeking habits of graduate student researchers in the humanities.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 31.4 (2005): 324-331.

McGuinness, Claire. “What faculty think–exploring the barriers to information literacy development in undergraduate education.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.6 (2006): 573-582.

Julien, Heidi, and Lisa M. Given. “Faculty-librarian relationships in the information literacy context: a content analysis of librarians’ expressed attitudes and experiences.” Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science 27.3 (2003): 65-88.)

[ii]Shupe, Ellen I. ; Pung, Stephanie K. ‘Understanding the changing role of academic librarians from a psychological perspective: A literature review’ The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 2011, Vol.37(5), pp.409-415

[iii] Price (2002), describes the perspective we have called the crime and punishment paradigm as “a pedagogy whose spirit we might characterize as ‘Gotcha!’” (Hartle, Kimmins & Huijser, 2009).

(See further Howard 2001 “whole gotcha industry” http://abacus.bates.edu/cbb/events/docs/Howard_ForgeT.pdf, Whiteman, Gordon, 2001; Howard 2001; Park 2004; Abilock 2009; Barrie & Crowe 2010; Thomas & Sassi 2011)

[iv] Jourard, 1959; Jourard & Resnik, 1970 and many others; Cozby, Paul C. “Self-disclosure: a literature review.” Psychological bulletin 79.2 (1973): 73. Dindia, Kathryn, and Mike Allen. “Sex differences in self-disclosure: a meta-analysis.” Psychological bulletin 112.1 (1992): 106

[v] Eysenck, Michael W., and Manuel G. Calvo. “Anxiety and performance: The processing efficiency theory.” Cognition & Emotion 6.6 (1992): 409-434.)

[vi] Brown, C. Brené. I thought it was just me: Women reclaiming power and courage in a culture of shame. Gotham Books, 2007

see further Kamler and Thompson (2006) on writing as scholarly identity formation.




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