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Senior Lecturer Peter G. Kasius Offers Words of Welcome at Fall Convocation

December 10, 2018
group at convocation 2018

Peter G. Kasius was promoted to Senior Lecturer in Mathematics in Fall 2018. He was invited to give the welcoming remarks to the campus community at Fall 2018 Convocation.

Kasius has been teaching at Bryn Mawr College since 1987 (with what he terms one "shared" year with Haverford College, 1988-1989). His past research area was rational homotopy theory, "but I have been devoted solely to teaching since I started working here at the College," he said.

Among the many different courses he teaches are MATH B104: Basic Probability and Statistics, MATH B201: Multivariable Calculus, and MATH B203: Linear Algebra. He also leads the problem-solving seminar for the Math Department that prepares students for the prestigious Putnam Competition.

Read his remarks:

Welcome back, fellow faculty, students and members of the Bryn Mawr community.

I am honored to have been invited to give this welcome for the 2018 Convocation.

This special opportunity to speak to the campus community inspired me to reflect upon about 30 years of teaching and to ask myself what observations I might be able to distill from all of my experiences that might be beneficial or at least worth considering by students beginning their college studies as well as by those students who will be concluding them in the year to come.

Students too often attribute undue influence over the student’s future plans to small failures or to minor setbacks.

The student may unrealistically magnify the significance of such problems.

One frustratingly silly error on an exam or an incorrectly reasoned conclusion in a paper is often seen as a disaster, whereas the body of all the correct work is dismissed as almost

The correct work somehow never accurately represents the knowledge or ability or the student yet the error does so.

Quite inconsistent, I must say.

I myself as a student had succumbed to this skewed perspective as probably many of you have as well and are likely to so again, unless you are among the fortunate few who never make an error or reach an unjustified conclusion.

What I wish I would remember to tell my own students who come to me with these concerns in my courses (but I never seem to do in the relevant moment) is that the errors will likely never affect your life the way you may fear.

They will recede from memory into insignificance, as my own many such errors have done long ago.

Furthermore, every mistake is itself a source of educational possibilities, not just a mere failure without any redeeming positive value.

This is not a just hope on my part to make it so but is based on reports of former students beyond college.

Just as one example, a student from about 25 years ago was devastated by her grade on one exam and was sure it would derail her plans for medical school at the time, even as I tried to reassure her otherwise.

She completed medical school and is today a successful physician in her specialized field.

When I reminded her of this long-ago matter on a fairly recent visit, she had almost completely forgotten it and said what the low disappointing grade really did was help motivate her to find more effective means to relieve test anxiety, which later proved

Every mistake is itself a source of educational possibilities, not just a mere failure without any redeeming positive value.

This leads me to my second point on which to reflect, which is that you always retain the self-confidence that brought you successfully to Bryn Mawr in the first place, as you are as worthy of that confidence now as when you first considered applying here.

I have often seen self-confidence challenged by modest mistakes, as mentioned above, as well as apparently by nothing of any substance at all.

Some students tell me that they alone in my class are not brilliant as are all the other students who, in this scenario, learn effortlessly unlike the poor student who is relating these self-doubts to me.

What usually does not occur to the self-doubter, to look at it from a mathematical perspective, is the very low probability of such lopsided and skewed abilities with the one supposedly unworthy student in a class of 50 other flawless geniuses.

No matter what the origin of such doubts, I would urge any such student to realize that you are as worthy of belief in yourself as the most brilliant student in the class, who may very well be you!

And if need be, please remember this observation most of all, so that you can turn to your instructor, dean, mentor, or trusted friend, each of whom believes very much in your ability and wants to help you to look within yourself to find it.

If you have low points in self-confidence, then have confidence in their faith in you, instead.

Each of them is eager to help you, as everyone has had such moments just as you will have.

Finally, I would remind you as you study hard also to be kind to yourself in reserving some time, perhaps limited, just to enjoy those pursuits and activities that are personally rewarding.

This might seem odd coming from me, since I may be one of the people who will be piling up work on some of you, but I give you this advice sincerely.

I often feel that the extra hour spent by my students restudying some concepts or methods that they already know as well as they ever will, might be more profitably spent doing something to escape from reviewing the same material for the sixth time.

I seldom say this to the individuals when it applies to them, so I am saying it to all of you today.

With these thoughts I wish you all great success in the coming year and beyond.

Student Reflections

Math's Isaac Craig (M.A. '18) gave remarks at Fall Convocation 2018 on behalf of the college's graduate students as co-chair of the Graduate Student Association