In the summer, I took a math course where one of the homeworks involved a question where answers were expected to include several diagrams alongside an explanation. At the time, I thought it was a difficult question and I had been complaining about how confusing it was to a friend who was also taking the course. Eventually, I did complete the question independently with some suggestions the instructor of the course gave me during a meeting.

Before the submission deadline, my friend offered to explain to me some of his ideas about the problem over social media, I believe I had asked for this a few days before because I was struggling. At this point, even though I had already finished the question, I agreed to the proposal. I thought there would be no harm because the course permitted collaboration to the extent where students can discuss their ideas about the problems in the homework. My friend proceeded to send me some diagrams alongside a very brief explanation outlining his steps, at first I went along with this because I did not sense anything wrong. But after it seemed like they were sharing too much, my friend stopped after I requested that they not continue their explanation (I was afraid that if I did not stop them, I would have essentially seen their solution to the question).

When I submitted my problem set, I did not modify the answer I gave to that specific question prior to the conversation, and so what my friend showed me had no effect on what I actually submitted. Thus, I did not copy anything or 'cheat' in any obvious way. Still, I felt very guilty and anxious because I thought I had seen "too much" of my friend's work. I tried to forget about all of this and assured myself that the correspondence was harmless because it did not influence the work I submitted. Nevertheless, a few weeks later, after something reminded me about what had happened and I decided to e-mail the professor with a description of what happened on two separate occasions. This was after I discussed how guilty I felt with the friend I mentioned earlier, who respected my decision to send the e-mail.

I think my instructor missed both of these e-mails. After this, I had once again decided that I should just try to move on, because once again, I convinced myself that what happened was harmless (as I said before, I did not change my answer to the question even after seeing what my friend showed me). All of this happened a few months ago. Once again, I had resolved to just forget that all of this happened.

A few hours ago, something had reminded me about that conversation. I decided, for some stupid reason, to review the conversation again, and I once again felt a wave of anxiety after reading it. I regret that I did not send a 3rd e-mail earlier so that my instructor could provide their input on this situation and give me some peace of mind. Furthermore, the final marks for the course have already been released and finalized, and I feel like sending an e-mail to my instructor about this issue at this point would either seriously annoy them, or put them in a very bizarre position. I do not know what I should do in this situation, or if I am just overthinking things.

  • 13
    This is a complete non-issue, and your instructor's lack of response reflects their lack of concern about this. If are having trouble moving on from this, I would suggest finding someone qualified to talk to about your anxiety.
    – d_b
    Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 20:40

2 Answers 2


I can't speak to your specific institution, because it may have different rules, but here are some general thoughts:

  1. Academic integrity rules are there to protect the degree. If it comes out that basically an entire class (or even just a single student) got their degree through work other than their own, then that degree is essentially worthless. However, these rules aren't there specifically to prevent collaboration. In fact, the academy is all about collaboration, as long as appropriate credit is given.

  2. Violations of academic integrity in most places only happen when there is a failure to disclose. That is, let's say that my friend wrote my entire assignment, but I submitted it as "This is Mike's assignment, but Dave Jones wrote the whole thing". I should probably get a zero for that, but I am not violating any academic integrity because I did not represent someone's work as my own.

In this case, you disclosed the event to your instructor. As such, you have reasonably absolved yourself of guilt in an academic integrity sense. Furthermore, you stated that you submitted your original work, created before the collaboration. In that case, you essentially just compared answers after a submission.

All of this points to the fact that you should not be concerned, you acted with integrity. However...don't do that again. There is a fine line between collaboration and cheating, and it's sometimes hard to convince yourself and your instructors which side of that line you're on. Not putting yourself in a situation where you can see another student's work before the deadline is the surest way to protect yourself from the guilt and potential academic misconduct.

  • The response is good, but OP should give some time before accepting, to encourage further responses. Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 21:16
  • Thank you, I will accept answer later then. But so far I thank everyone who responded, they sent very helpful comments.
    – Sipchant23
    Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 22:03

You are overthinking this. You have not cheated, and there is no need to do anything further.

The goal of assignments generally is to make students learn how to independently solve the problems, and assess them on it. This is why directly copying others' work is disallowed while discussion of ideas (to a limited extent) is allowed: discussing ideas helps your learning, while blind copying does not. You still need to understand the ideas, and apply it correctly, and write a coherent answer by yourself. This is also why your instructor provided helpful suggestions, as you mention, to point you in the right direction, while still letting you come up with the solution yourself.

In your case, you did not even use your friend's ideas. From your account, you were careful to stay within the limits of what was permitted for collaboration, so there's no issue. Even if what they shared was too much, you did not cheat as you did not use it in your own submission. It's perfectly fine (in most cases) to discuss solutions after submission; in fact, a good idea since feedback is quite valuable.

The absence of any response to your emails suggests that the instructor either did not read the message or did not see any issue with your behavior. The fact that the final marks have been declared without you hearing about this reinforces this. Sending repeated mails in this situation is a bad idea and quite unnecessary.

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