Here's the situation: She was an undergrad, I was a grad TA. At that point, our interactions were totally professional and limited to the classroom. However, she and I both since graduated and left the college/city where we got our degree. I now am at another university working as a postdoc and she is working outside of academia. We ran into one another and started spending time with one another. Our relationship has been platonic, but I get the sense that it could go further, which I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to. I can't imagine that there would be legal problems with pursuing a romantic relationship, but would there be ethical or professional concerns (as an early career academic)?

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    I can't think of any possible negative consequences. Concerns? You'll always find someone concerned about anything. – darij grinberg Oct 24 '18 at 4:01
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    Most academics are not particularly wide in their informal networks beyond university folks, so having an ex-(student, colleague...) is extremely common, and I have never heard anyone raising any complain about it. – Greg Oct 24 '18 at 6:57
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    Speaking as a by-product of one such encounter, it can turn out alright. ;-) – Strawberry Oct 24 '18 at 17:25
  • My bachelor's advisor (CS) dated a maths student (so 40 yrs old vs 25 or so) and they got married 1 year before I started my thesis, they had a baby right during my thesis (... you could guess with what consequences as an advisor for me). AFAIK no professor or other student found this too troubling. – Bakuriu Oct 24 '18 at 18:25
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    Please take all discussion about HNQ to Academia Meta. The comments section on random forum questions is not the place for that discussion. – eykanal Oct 25 '18 at 16:02

There are professional/ethical rules at many universities relating to dating between students and staff, but these do not extend to imposing a permanent moratorium on dating between people who have previously attended that institution. Essentially you are asking if there are any professional or ethical issues in dating another adult who has no connection whatsoever to your current employer. I cannot see any issue.

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    This is nearly almost true, unless he is a member of a professional body that forbids this kind of thing (e.g., he was studying to become a health professional of some kind). – Behacad Oct 24 '18 at 13:28
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    @Behacad I know of no health professional body that would forbid a sexual relationship with a former student. State medical boards prohibit sexual relationships with patients. – De Novo Oct 24 '18 at 16:36
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    Just as a never-say-never anecdote, I know of a case of a teacher being fired for dating a former student well after that student had graduated—but this was at my Catholic high school, and rumor had it that the principal had some personal problem with the teacher in question and had been looking for an excuse to fire her as it was. This scandal didn’t reflect well on the school or its administration, but that didn’t save her job (nor did it cost the principal his), so... it can happen. Very different situation in many details though, obviously. (+1 nevertheless) – KRyan Oct 24 '18 at 17:24
  • I think this is especially true in your situation, where there is (or should be) no question that the relationship might have been going on during the original situation, but instead only started after you had both left the institution where that was. Frankly, between a TA and an undergrad, I would think it ok as long as some months passed between the end of the class and the beginning of the more involved relationship, though I can understand why some people might want to be cautious about that. – rcook Oct 24 '18 at 18:02
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    Also consider the time elapsed. Undergrad and TA vs Post-Doc and career. If the original school found out about it, anyone looking at it would just say "Oh, that's nice." and wouldn't think twice about it. If your current school found out about it, they would say exactly what this answer says, which is "It has nothing to do with us". – Nelson Oct 25 '18 at 0:53

All the relevant ethical guidelines I have ever heard of relate to romantic relationships with someone who is currently your student, professor, boss or subordinate. None of them would apply here. Nor do I think that the circumstances would lead anyone to think that there was a relationship while she was your student, particularly given the lapse in time.

I see no problem.


I have two colleagues who have since married ex-students. This happened several years after graduation and they are, well 3 out of 4, all working at the same institution...

No issues, even the employer is fine.

But the employer is VERY clear about non-appropriate contact / behavior with current students...

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    Regarding the last sentence, it’s worth nothing that this is the case for professors/lecturers, and even then it still depends on the country. Some institutes may additionally have rules for the interaction between TAs and students but others don’t. – Konrad Rudolph Oct 24 '18 at 11:29
  • I can say that in Turkey it is fine, some people may gossip about it but no one actually makes that much fuss. One woman advisor, for instance married her master student and that was years ago, they are quite happy now. Why others try to decide about people's private life, I do not understand. – user91300 Oct 31 '18 at 5:35

Let's forget specific rules and regulations for a moment and think about why dating students is forbidden. There are two main reasons:

  1. The possibility/likelihood/perception that you will give preferential treatment to your partner over other students (e.g., higher grades, better access to facilities, etc.), even if this is done subconsciously.

  2. The possibility that you are abusing your position of power over the student to coerce them into dating you.

Clearly neither of these applies to an ex-student. Doubly so given it was a few years ago. Triply so when you're now at a different institution and the student isn't even in academia any more: you're no longer in a position to grant favour and you no longer have power that you could abuse. The institution you first met at is no longer in a position to tell you what you can do, and the institution you're at has no reason to care about your relationship with somebody outside that institution.

If they were a recently ex-student, it's possible that people would think something had been going on while you were their TA but, at this level of removal, that doesn't seem like a credible allegation.

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    This answer covers an important detail, but I come to another conclusion: You should evaluate Point 2 - in some cases former students can still perceive a former teacher as an authority and dating could be abusing this perceived authority. - So in essence you should evaluate your behavior - are you acting like peers, or like mentor and student towards each other? - If the latter, you should try to change the nature of your relationship before becoming romantically involved – Falco Oct 29 '18 at 14:27

If she is outside of the Academia now, no one on the Earth can say anything. The whole ethical problematic of the romantic relations is rooting in that it may cause distrust in your impartiality, if you are grading her work. It is because it is not enough to be impartial, you should also seem impartial.

If such a relation happens, the most typical reaction of the community (and the co-workers) is, that they totally ignore it. It is not their business and they follow it. Furthermore, everybody wants to keep a distance from any hot topic, and it is hot.

It would be even likely so, if she would be inside the academia, but in a different institute or department. If she would be your co-worker or student, then you should likely follow some regulations, for example you wouldn't be allowed to grade she in any sense (you should ask a co-worker to do this instead you).

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    Even outside of academia it can be problematic if you are in some kind of work relationship but that doesn't seem to be the case here. – user64845 Oct 25 '18 at 6:32
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    It's not just the impartiality aspect - there's also the question about whether there would be an implicitly coercive aspect to the relationship given that the instructor's in a position of power over the student. In either case, given that he's not in a position of power over her now, that presumably wouldn't apply either. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Oct 27 '18 at 23:47

I see no problem with it, as long as your employer is fine, which I don't see why they wouldn't be. You're working in an entirely different city than where you worked/graduated, and now work for a different college that she's not affiliated with at all. I see no issue with that whatsoever.

If you want weird/moral/ethical dilemmas, try this on for size: my wife (happily married 7 years and counting) used to be my little sister's babysitter/chauffeur. She's 6 years older than me and lived down the street when we were younger.

Cue my parent's divorce, and getting us 3 kids to school was a challenge due to now only one parent, no one being old enough to drive, the buses not coming near us, etc. I was a freshman, and the high school was close enough to walk to, but the middle and elementary schools were further away, so my little sisters needed a babysitter/chauffeur

My mom hired the girl down the street (future wife) to drive my sisters to and through it all, we started hanging out as friends. Junior year came, and the weird talk about feelings came, etc, etc, etc. Because of this, she chose to quit taking care of my sisters for moral/ethical reasons (she wasn't fired; my parents didn't even know). I graduated in June, proposed in November, and we were married by May of the next year. Still going strong, though we weirded out my family a bit at first ;)

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    "as long as your employer is fine," That's none of their buisness. – user64845 Oct 24 '18 at 18:14
  • during your junior year of elementary school, junior high or high school? I'm a little confused ... – user93132 Oct 24 '18 at 18:15
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    I didn't know elementary and middle schools HAD junior years... – Daniel Oct 24 '18 at 18:50
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    @DSVA Depends a lot on culture. For instance, in China a lot of employers (locally called "leaders") routinely intrude into personal matters of everyone under them. The perception of privacy can be different. – Scientist Oct 24 '18 at 23:51
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    @Daniel The whole concept of "junior year" means nothing at all (or worse, something different to what you intended) to the 95% of people who live outside the US. It would probably help to use less region-specific terminology. – David Richerby Oct 26 '18 at 13:23

It depends when the relationship was initiated. If it was strictly professional when you were a TA and then this new friendship/potential romantic relationship was formed after it should be fine. It would be a different story if you were for example flirting or messaging when you were a TA as that would be viewed as the romantic relationship starting to develop when you were in a position of power and you could definitely get in trouble for that.

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