13

A few years ago, while I was working as a freelancer, I did something very stupid. On a freelancing website someone posted a few exercises about ordinary differential equations and asked someone to solve them (I don't remember the details exactly, but I think it's safe to assume it was their homework).

I did the project. That's the only time that I cheated and I regret it. Now I'm an undergraduate student and am thinking about going to graduate school and maybe even getting a job in academia after finishing graduate school (I dropped out of the school and just started the school this year, and that's why I'm still an undergrad).

What are the possible consequences of what I did and what should I do now? Should I tell it in my resume (for graduate school and possibly when I want to get a job in future) or just pretend it didn't happen or something else?

12
  • 36
    I don't understand. Why do you say you have cheated? It might not be very ethical to help someone to cheat but I don't consider what you did cheating. The situation is different if both the person who cheats and the person who enables the cheating are students and bound by an honor code. You were not a student.
    – Roland
    Aug 27 '21 at 11:15
  • 4
    If the only concern is that this issue returns back to you, I do not think someone can pin you down for helping a student's homework. Indeed, someone asked you to do it to earn money or something different, and you did it. You cannot check every time if a posted question on a website is for homework or not. If you did an online exam, however this can have maybe some consequences if you are in academia and this issue has been told to the Dean of the university etc. but I am not sure. Aug 27 '21 at 11:55
  • 2
  • 3
  • 23
    To be meta about it, how do we know this question isn't OP's homework for some sort of Education Studies course ;-)? Aug 28 '21 at 11:32
101

Assuming this was several years ago and not a continuing pattern, the fact that you raise the question suggests you have learned something in the interim.

You should do precisely nothing about the old transgression. Someone else got a benefit they didn't deserve, but it was a small thing in their overall record. Likewise, while your actions can't be commended, I assume it was a small thing overall in your learning process.

Let it go. Let the past remain in the past.

7
  • 4
    It's not even certain that "someone else got a benefit"; it depends on whether that one homework assignment affected the course grade (which would be rather unlikely in my classes). Aug 27 '21 at 16:16
  • 1
    We're also assuming that the work the OP submitted was, well, good! But +1 for move on, and know how it feels, so the next time someone asks for "help", you can see what the outcome would be.
    – CCTO
    Aug 27 '21 at 19:48
  • 8
    I have this mental image of a world in which we are tattooed with each of our sins. By the time we reach 40 there isn't room for the next one. Thankfully.
    – Buffy
    Aug 27 '21 at 19:50
  • 3
    @Buffy If our sins were all were public, I think there would be many fewer of them.
    – Kyle Jones
    Aug 27 '21 at 22:20
  • 18
    You cannot expunge the past but if you have learned from it and have determined not to repeat it, the matter is ended. Do not plague yourself with pointless guilt for one of life’s trivial learning experiences.
    – Anton
    Aug 27 '21 at 22:21
25

This makes no sense at all. You didn't cheat. Eventually the supposed student may have cheated. You didn't have any obligations towards his school. The school doesn't have the power to forbid you from solving ODEs. There is no legal, moral or ethical dilemma here. But you may have or acquire enemies/adversaries and they may try to frame you. So you should never give ammunition to your potential enemies so never talk about this anymore.

10
  • 6
    By the way, who cares about homework? If a test is meaningful it must be done in a controlled environment with oversight to make sure nobody is cheating otherwise it doesn't really matter.
    – Mandrill
    Aug 28 '21 at 5:25
  • 3
    I prefer this answer to Buffy's for the simple reason that OP is completely guessing about the ultimate use of this freelance assignment and inventing an ethical violation out of whole cloth. If someone posts a request for solving ODEs to a freelance site, OP is free to solve them, and he doesn't have to care what the client will use them for.
    – tbrookside
    Aug 28 '21 at 13:19
  • 17
    Disagree: there are moral and ethical obligations to not facilitate cheating. The OP's behavior hardly seems like a major crime, but to say that it was entirely acceptable is too far.
    – Nat
    Aug 28 '21 at 15:09
  • 4
    He contributed to cheating, and this is absolutely despicable. He also got paid for it (that is why he did it - it wasn't voluntary work). Aug 28 '21 at 20:33
  • 3
    "By the way, who cares about homework? If a test is meaningful... [etc.]" The instructor gets to decide that. Not you, not me, and not someone using motivated reasoning to argue their way out of an ethical transgression. Shades of "if they leave their door unlocked, they deserve to get robbed". Aug 29 '21 at 13:55
24

As Jesus said, “Go forth, and sin no more.”

9

You're over-thinking this. Do nothing about it. It is entirely legitimate to answer peoples' questions on-line. If we had to screen all of on-line questions in regard to possible exams or quizzes, nothing would get done.

For future, though, of course, if the on-line questions demonstrate weak prior effort, and you suspect it's someone trying to get other people to do their work, sure, don'd buy in.

But it is not your job as a technical person to "police" peoples' requests to you for explanation of technical things. Sure, be a little aware of obviously cheat-y things, but that should not be your major occupation.

3
  • 3
    Disagree on "overthinking"; there's nothing wrong with thinking things through. Just like solving ODE's, once you have solved the problem once completely, the next time you see a variant the solution becomes more intuitive. If something is puzzling, intriguing or troubling, it's always better to think it through than it is to try not to think about it.
    – uhoh
    Aug 29 '21 at 2:13
  • 1
    @uhoh, well, yes, but/and "with hindsight" there may have been no problem at all. Yes, good to think about it... to a point... etc. A significant point is that (in my observation) people who are concerned about good action worry a lot more about things than people who don't care. It's good to think about things, but it's not good to over-load oneself with unsolvable problems, etc. "Gosh, no simple answers..." Aug 29 '21 at 2:23
  • Personally I have always heavily loaded myself with potentially unsolvable problems, and occasionally I get lucky. However I would not recommend anybody else do so. :-)
    – uhoh
    Aug 29 '21 at 2:31
2

Times are different. This is the age of the internet, and "The internet’s not written in pencil... it’s written in ink."1

I think you should go find the post and screen-capture or archive it and record to the best of your knowledge your thinking at the time and reason(s) for participating in the forum.

It sounds like you participated for profit, and if it seems you've done this more than once now that you check, document it all, along with your notes now. They're not contemporaneous, but at least they can have a time stamp.

Once that's over, then you can forget about it knowing that in the event that you end up in a career path where people go look you up exhaustively, you can answer any questions credibly.

You might end up in a mathematics career in an institution where they do background checks or competing for a competitive position, or even running for political office some day.

If you have the notes, then even though you've taken the luxury of forgetting about it you still can produce the complete story. Background checks do not look for trivial imperfections so much as they look for potentially leverage-able information and things you may hope nobody ever finds out. Being open and forthcoming is the best way here.


1 Erica Albright quote from The Social Network

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.