Thursday, December 13, 2012

Real Talk With Rachel: Tell Mom About Divorce? Tell Prof About Accidental Plagiarism?

by Rachel Kurzius

Dear Rachel,

My husband and I have decided to divorce. It's amicable (more or less). Our kids are grown. We have our separate lives and interests.

But I have one question: Should I tell my 78 year old mother? (My father passed away five years ago.) She lives in another city, doesn't use Facebook, and unless I tell her, she'll never know.

I feel a little guilty about not telling my mother that I'm divorcing, but on the other hand, she'll be much happier not knowing that my marriage has ended.

Should I go with my instinct and not tell her?

Sparing Mom

Dear Sparing Mom,

If your aim is to make someone happy, always try to tell them the truth. How can you be so sure that she won’t find out anyway? It’s much harder to explain to someone why you’ve covered something up than it is to just tell the truth from the start. I suppose it all depends on what kind of relationship you have with your mom.

You don’t give much information about that, but I can tell you want her to be happy. It’s the reason you wrote in. So I think you owe it to Mom to tell her that you and your husband divorced.

You might be surprised by your mother’s reaction. All relationships change (they’re always kind of changing). Surely your mother, with her 78 years on Earth, already knows this. She might even have some experience or wisdom to share with you about what you’re going through.

Relationships with mothers are very peculiar, and often wonderful, things. So in the end, only you know what feels appropriate. But don’t condescend to her. She can handle it. And it might be a good conversation.

All the best,


Dear Rachel,

I am a senior in college. It is finals season. I have been staying up late to finish everything, and I think I may have accidentally plagiarized. I waited until the last minute to complete my English term paper, so I was naturally skimming Wikipedia articles for links to scholarly papers that could help me build up my ideas. Then I handed it in after pulling an all-nighter.

Looking back on my paper now, I see it bears remarkable similarity to those found in some of the articles I’ve used. I didn’t mean to plagiarize but I am afraid the professor will find out and I will get in trouble. Should I approach the professor and try to talk about it? Or should I not call attention to myself and just hope she doesn’t notice?


Dear Bibli-Oh-No-Graphy,

Damn. My heart goes out to you -- I am also from the fellowship of staying up late to finish things. I have a sense you might be chastened into avoiding this in the future, so let’s try and figure out how you can make this better.

First thing you need to do is consult your student handbook. Most colleges have very strict anti-plagiarism rules. But you might feel better reading them and figuring out exactly what your rights are and how your college adjudicates complaints of plagiarism.

It would be ideal to get in touch and request to hand in a new version of the paper with corrected citations. Tell the professor that in looking over the paper afterwards, you realized you needed to amend a few things. If it’s a professor with which you have a good rapport, this shouldn’t be difficult.

But some professors are very serious about even “accidental” plagiarism and are quick to report it, especially for older students. To feel out how your professor might respond, ask some friends who have experience with her.

If these are papers cited on Wikipedia. chances are your professor has read them. However, your professor will be reading lots of similar-seeming papers.

I wouldn’t go to the professor and outright say, “I plagiarized,” but I would attempt to amend the mistake before grading.

Good luck!



Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel via or advice @ .

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