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Offered pennies for my thoughts

"I received my first invitation to help A-level and university students cheat five months ago," writes Sarah O'Meara, a Hull university graduate.

"As I hit my late twenties and decided it was time for a career change, I joined the online graduate careers service 'Milkround Online' and was introduced to a research writing company. It sent me emails offering graduates the opportunities to become paid researchers.

"It offers professional expertise in areas including corporatemarket research, IT and data analysis and professional writing. I was accepted as a specialist researcher in English, drama and media and assumed that I would begin to compete for research briefs from companies and academics in these areas.

"So my first email from the company was a shock. I understood from my terms of engagement that all my work needed to be original and that there were strict penalties in place for plagiarism. I suspected that this was because it could be used by a student.

"My inbox filled with briefs such as "Evaluate the effects of Elizabethan theatrical conventions on your understanding of the play Hamlet". I was instructed on word count (1,000), the relevant reading from which I had to quote, the academic level I should aim for (A-level) and fee (pound;20).

The only thing missing was a student.

"Companies such as and are easy to find on the web, as are chatrooms for the researchers who work for them. has a disclaimer on its website saying its materials are for model purposes only. The main topic of conversation on these sites seems to be the unreliable payment methods of the companies and not the ethical dilemma of helping students to cheat.

"Indeed one virtual voice insisted that her essays formed a vital part of the student's learning curve, providing them with valuable new academic insight.

"The emails are still coming but I have never tendered for any of the assignments sent to me. Just thinking of all those essays I worked so hard to cobble together from old books in the library, sorry, that I researched, drafted and wrote myself, fuels my anger against this service.

"These 'researchers' are undermining the special process that begins when a student looks at their essay title and realises that they should have gone to the lectures. My response to all those thinking of cheating in this way is to quote Marcel Proust: 'Truly great academic work is done the night before'."

Sarah O'Meara graduated from Hull university in 2002 with a first-class degree in English and drama

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