## Advising about the Course --- Especially about Dropping

It's often the case that as the drop-add-date approaches or the drop-date approaches, some students will contact me with concerns about how well they are doing in the class. The propose of this page is to explain how I approach such conversations.

First, every one has different interests, skill levels, and career needs. In an ideal world, one could make a detail assessment of these factors and craft those assessments into a wise decision about continuing with the course or dropping the course. This is not easy, but there are general principles that offer good guidance.

**First question: How much mathematics have you had?**

If you have had a lot of mathematics, then we can discuss the specialized pro's and con's of the course and make the trade-offs that are needed. Students who have had a lot of mathematics almost always have a serious personal interest in mathematics. They understand the culture of mathematics courses, and they have enough experience to judge for themselves if the course will meet their needs. As a practical mater, students who have had a lot of mathematics are seldom uncertain if the course is appropriate. They can tell on the basis of their own knowledge and experience.

If you have not had a lot of mathematics, then the suitability of the course is harder to judge. Did you do really well on the mathematics you have had? If I ask you about some integral (it will be an easy one), can you just do it? Or, on the other hand, do you have the urge to talk about "memorization" and "a bunch of formulas." In the later case, there may be trouble. People who have a useful knowledge of calculus may have "memorized" almost nothing, yet they know a lot of concrete facts --- and ideas. The mere presence of the word "memorize" in the conversation is a strong suggestion that the student has not yet learned how one goes about learning a mathematical subject. That can be a big problem.

Another tell is a concern about the course having a "lot of theory." Raising this question is of itself a serious problem. Students with the mathematical experience that is appropriate for 433, will see the course as one of their most practical courses, but, if a student is concerned about there being "a lot of theory" in the course, then the course is almost certainly inappropriate for them. They are unlikely to have a taste for what we do, however practical it seems to us.

**Second question: Is the "bet" appropriate for you?**

Well prepared students will not find the course hard, and they will find the grading generous. They can take the course, learn a lot from a modest investment of effort, and have a hell of a good time. This is the way the course is designed.

Poorly prepared students should run from course as fast as their legs will take them.

This still leaves a fair number of **students in the middle**. Here it is all about the sensibly of a bet.

Suppose you are not totally in tune with the culture of mathematics, but you have been a very successful student. Your calculus is solid; yet it is not something that you have a strong desire to explain to your grandmother --- and you don't often talk to your friends about cool calculus facts you just learned. In other words, your background is trustworthy, but you are not part of the mathematics culture.

In this case there are two questions:

- Why are you taking the course?
- Do you really have the time to do the work that is needed?

If you are taking the course to complete the requirement for some part of your degree, like the statistics concentration, this is certainly a legitimate motivation. For you the question is whether this class is the best one for you from the set of alternatives.

In this situation, all of the alternatives will also require substantial work. If you like programming or data analysis more than "proving" or "calculating" or "modeling" then you may have better options. If you like math and you have the desire to have probability in your bones --- like poker players, systems engineers, quantitative marketers, and great investors do ---then 433 is hard to beat.

It only remains to be practical about your time. I'll just bullet point the issues:

- We have 26 classes. If you miss 3, that's more than 10%. If you miss 5, that's almost 25%. This is deadly. Even though there are job interviews, etc., you can't afford to miss more than 1 or 2 classes.
- If you are a senior, you have many special concerns. You have the last spring break of your college career. You have graduation. You have job searches or job anticipations.
**It is spring!**- Since the dawn of academic history, students have had less "energy for class work" in the spring of their senior year than at any time in their lives. The course tries to take this into account, but there are limits.
- How much do grades really matter to you? Is it a major problem if you end up with "gentleman's" C (or, gasp, D)? See the page on grading and judge for yourself if you are comfortable with the probabilities.

## Matter of Perspective

It's very hard for any human being to step into the shoes of another. You have more insight into your needs and interests than any other person can possibly muster. There are choices to be made, and they are yours to make.

I want you to have a positive, empowering experience. This is hard to achieve if you find yourself confused and struggling. On the other hand, if you have the required background, a taste for mathematics, and curiosity about the applications of probability, then the course can be fun --- and of only normal difficulty.

Stochastic Processes can give you a ** pay-off ** on the investments that you have already made by learning the probability and mathematics that you know. One just has to understand that the course is not for everybody, and there is no point to putting yourself into a situation where you are uncomfortable.