I'm a fourth year student earning a degree in computer science. I have a fairly high gpa, completed two research projects, and have conducted myself honestly through my entire career. A few weeks ago, we received an assignment comprised of 3 sections. My class partner and I decided to work separately on a single module and then collaborate on the last section. After a few days, my partner brought it to my attention that he had found the entire assignment on Github. This bothered me, but I ultimately made the decision to not back out if he decided to plagiarize his section. After completing both of our sections(I did mine honestly) we began collaboration on the final part. At this point, I made the regrettable decision to mimic a significant portion of the other programs structure.

I feel incredibly guilty about this. If this were an individual project, I would fess up to the professor and accept whatever consequences. However, since my partner(who I also consider a friend) is graduating, and starting a well paying job in a nearby city, I feel obliged to hope for the best and see things through.

I do not consider myself to be an unethical person, but high levels of stress and a bad influence caused me to make a bad decision. This I realize is my own fault.

We have not yet received a grade for the assignment, but I'm expecting the worst. How should I proceed? If I do get caught, what will the consequences be? If I don't get caught, is there anything I can do to relieve myself of guilt without ruining my partners career?

  • 5
    What does "mimic a significant portion of the other programs structure" mean? Because if you're not copying code, I don't think mimicking a program's structure constitutes plagiarism. At the most it makes the source deserving of a citation.
    – Jeff
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 18:58
  • If you follow our code step by step you will find that it's almost identical to the other program. Initially going into it, I was hoping to just use the other program as a reference, but when I look back at both programs I can't help but feel as though they're essentially the same.
    – ddruck
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 19:05
  • I should mention that the solution from Github was from a previous student.
    – ddruck
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 19:08
  • You should provide a bit more detail as to what you mean by "structure." Are we talking algorithmic, architectural, or something else?
    – anonymous
    Commented Dec 10, 2016 at 19:39
  • As far as "copying" structure, give credit where credit is due, in your code, input //original source by authors name Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 1:57

5 Answers 5


It's hard to judge whether your specific situation constitutes plagiarism, since copying "structure" has room for a gray area.

From what you've said though, I personally would take it to the professor. As someone who has graded student coding work many times in the past, I can say I've definitely developed a feel for when code is copied, and it's usually very easy to check. Every individual has a signature way of doing things that emerges when enough time is spent looking at their work.

Go in and say you intended to use it as a reference, but upon reflection without the looming deadline you feel like you overdid it, to the point of the work being too close to unoriginal. Offer to redo it, but be prepared to accept whatever the professor says. Personally, I can say I would be totally receptive to a student who owned up like that, but obviously there are no guarantees.

Unequivocally though, the worst-case scenario is that the professor figures it out on their own and agrees that it's plagiarism. The fact that it's a previous student just ups the chances of that. Plus your own gut is telling you you did something wrong, or you wouldn't be here asking us about it.

Good luck!

Edit: It's also worth consulting your syllabus. It's possible there are explicit guidelines laid out for dealing with outside code that you should be very aware of before deciding and/or talking to your professor.


Although it depends on the university in which you study, the university at which I currently work very clearly spells out that there is a case of academic dishonesty going on here. Plagiarism is just one type of academic dishonesty. One particularly good example would be this:

Assume that Alice printed her assignment at a common printer, in another room, and is on her way to pick it up. Bob, who printed on the same printer, gets there first and searches through the papers at the printer to find his own. As he does so, he finds Alice's work and notices that she handled a problem far more elegantly than Bob did.

Now, Bob has a choice. He could do nothing (no dishonesty), he could copy/use Alice's work as inspiration to fix his own and cite her (no dishonesty), or he could do all of that and not cite her (this is the dishonest option).

What happens if he chooses the second option? Well, it's up to the instructor at my institution. If the instructor chooses to give Bob a zero anyway (it's not his work, after all) then that is the instructor's choice. But the instructor would have no grounds for academic discipline if Bob cites Alice.

Let's assume that Bob chooses option 3 and is therefore acting dishonestly. If he's caught, then discipline procedures can commence, even if there was no direct copying involved.

It is also important to note that, typically, group work means that all members of the group agree that the work was conducted honestly. As a result, even though it was your partner's dishonest actions that ultimately lead to copying, you are responsible as well.

My advice to you is: speak with your professor, clearly explain what happened, and submit a citation of the original code. It is better to confront the situation than it is to let it be discovered by accident.

  • 2
    About the Alice-Bob example: If I get a homework paper from Bob acknowledging inspiration from Alice, I usually assume that Alice voluntarily provided that inspiration. That's no problem if I allow (as I usually do) such cooperation between students. But if a professor prohibits that sort of cooperation, then Bob's acknowledgement could get Alice into trouble. In that situation, option 2 would require Bob to not only cite Alice but also indicate that he got the inspiration without Alice's knowledge or consent. Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 2:35

Lowbrow answer here.

After a few days, my partner brought it to my attention that he had found the entire assignment on Github.
However, since my partner(who I also consider a friend) is graduating, and starting a well paying job in a nearby city, I feel obliged to hope for the best and see things through.

He backstabbed you and you will never see him again. This would be a fantastic time to look out for your own interests, as the person who does not have a job offer.

You will want to communicate honestly with the professor as proactively as possible. Academic discipline tends to start upon getting caught.

Do not fall victim to sunk-cost fallacy. If you made a small mistake there is no need to turn it into a big one (by continuing to not act).

By the way, you could Google "plagiriasm detection software" and run yours through and see what happens. I don't claim this method is ethically robust.


Either the grader knows that he is not capable of doing such assignment, he/she will suspect and run a simple google search to find that he plagiarized, or he/she already knows that such code exists on Internet.

In these cases, your colleauge will be punished.

If none, then don't worry because him cheating will not do any better. Unless this is a matter of getting a higher grade, you might not want to interfere if you are not involved in this matter.

At the end, he will be the one who does not understand the subject despite the fact that he passes the course. Detecting and punishing the plagiarisms is grader's job.

  • That is not universally true. I don't know where @ddruck goes to school, but at my institution anyone who has their name on a plagiarized assignment is committing an act of academic dishonesty regardless of whether they were the person who plagiarized in the first place. In essence, signing your name means that you endorse the work in its entirety. I suggest that the original poster learn the exact policies at the school in which s/he studies. Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 1:26

Ask yourself the questions:

  • Is there a textbook which would contain the program structure (e.g. in pseudocode) in a similar depth as the github project? If yes, then your teacher should have been aware of it when giving the assignment. Also: textbook knowledge doesn't need to be cited

  • Was it more of an "algorithmic idea" of an "clean execution" (i.e. system programming) project. In the latter it would not mater so much if you copied some structure

    • Related to that: did this save you a lot of time/thinking/attempts (if yes, then it is likely that it was clear case of plagiarism.
  • If you quote or use the ideas in a textbook it should be cited if used in an assignment or report. If you use a theory to build something for a car then citing is not necessary.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Apr 20, 2019 at 7:26
  • Depends on the level and specific situation. I for sure would not see a "i use the product rule to take the derivative", but i would find a citation in the code useful. but its a gray area, i admit
    – Sascha
    Commented Apr 20, 2019 at 7:32

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