Counselor Testimonials

“My PROMYS experience convinced me that I wanted to be a mathematician.”

Qiaochu Yuan
Student 2006  Counselor 2012

"I spent four years as a counselor at PROMYS, a number theory program for high school students, and highly endorse it either as a place to go learn or to go work... I think I care more about being a good teacher and a good writer as a result of PROMYS... PROMYS made me think consciously about how to teach, and recognize that I was capable of doing it well if I worked at it.... PROMYS was extremely helpful in developing my approach to studying mathematics and teaching it. PROMYS helped me focus my understanding on examples, and, by making me review the fundamentals of number theory every year, helped me see how to understand a mathematical field as a cohesive whole rather than a series of results. In terms of teaching, PROMYS taught me patience, taught me to listen to a student's partial solution to pick out the useful ideas, and taught me the importance of knowing many approaches to any subject...

I also have run across many former students at academic conferences, or walking around the halls of MIT, and am friendly with them. I also check arXiv.org regularly, and look for names of former students. I always read their preprints, and often send them suggestions, thoughts or corrections...The PROMYS network of grad students and professional mathematicians has been very helpful to me as a source of advice as I have moved through my career."

David Speyer
Counselor 1999, 2000. 2001 (Head Counselor), and 2002 (Head Counselor)

“I learned much and more mathematics here, and it was greater than I could have imagined, it really fueled my love for the sub­ject. Nevertheless, I think that I have learned some things of even greater importance, the most influential of which certainly is a very general, humble attitude of the mind — to think about mathematics as an explorative experience rather than a deductive language, to always think thoroughly and carefully, even about simple things, and to reflect upon what one is doing.

It shouldn’t be shorter, because at the end of the sixth week, everything came together beautifully, and because in order to really focus and understand (“feel”) the core ideas of PROMYS, a long period of time is necessary. I wouldn’t mind if it were longer, and it could only get better that way, but that would create difficulties when embedding PROMYS into the summer holidays (and generally, into the lives) of the participants.”

Lucas Mann
CMI-PROMYS Scholar 2013 and Counselor 2014

"There are lots of places where people can go to learn things. What makes PROMYS so special is the opportunity that people have to discover things for themselves, and at the same time to be part of a community of people doing the same thing . . . The atmosphere at PROMYS is designed to encourage this by allowing students the academic and personal freedom they need to grow."

Jonathan Hanke
Student 1990  Counselor 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995.  Returned multiple years as Research Mentor, Instructor, and Guest Lecturer.  

"What I appreciated most as a student was the intensity of the program. I think that the main sources of this feeling were the difficulty and depth of the problems sets and the presence and motivation of the other students and counselors. Also, I found the material itself to be exciting . . . "At PROMYS, I met people who could offer advice about possible mathematical paths for the end of high school and at college. Many of the people I met are still close friends, and I learn a lot from them as they continue to do interesting things with their lives."

Joshua Greene 
Student 1991 and 1992  Counselor 1996 and 1997 (Head Counselor)

“A defining three summers in my life. I wouldn't trade them for anything and would recommend the program to anyone.”

Tom Zavisca
Student 1989 and 1990  Counselor 1991

"PROMYS was fantastic! It introduced me to higher mathematics at a young age and taught me to think like a mathematician. I carried this with me in every job I've had since, as a Statistician, Astrophysicist, and Applied Mathematician."

Ria Persad
Student 1990  Counselor 1991. 

"I'll be starting grad school at the University of Chicago in fall 2012. I'm excited to continue pursuing mathematics as a career - I can't wait to get started doing research and teaching. My enthusiasm is thanks to my wonderful experiences at PROMYS" 

Zev Chonoles
Student 2007 and 2008   Counselor 2011 and 2012

“PROMYS is the perfect experience for high-schoolers who would like a challenge and would also like to find out what it is like to do some "real mathematics." The combination of open-ended problem sets and of lectures that stay just a few days behind what the students are thinking about allows each student to engage the material at their own pace, and their own level of depth.”

Mimi Cukier
Counselor 2002

"I think a really big and important difference is the teachers. The lecturers and the teachers here are really, really enthusiastic about math, and they instill that in their students. It's just a great feeling when everybody's thinking math, and you're all working on it. . . . "The problem sets are very well designed. Certain problems come up, and it will sort of give you a hint of what's coming next, and you'll say, that's nice, and then you find other problems, and you'll find they're connected. The more problems you do and the more types that you do, you find that they're all connected in this really deep way, some way or another, and you can then prove much deeper things, and it gets so interesting; it's great. . . . They really give you the impression here that math is more similar to art than it is to a science." 

Bryden Cais
Student 1996 and 1997  Counselor 2000 and 2002  Returned as Research Mentor and Guest Speaker

"You are working with some of the brightest minds in the nation. In high school, you don't have people of the caliber you have here. . . . "People come here at different points in their high school careers. The first time I came here was after my freshman year of high school. I was good at mathematics, on the math team, but not one of the top members of it, not really knowing what I wanted to do or knowing anything about colleges. Basically, I didn't have much direction at the time. While I was here I realized that math is really what I enjoy. Also, being in Boston, close to MIT and Harvard, it's really useful to get to tour those campuses. I'm going to MIT next year, and PROMYS probably had a lot to do with that."

Edward Early
Student 1993 and 1994  Counselor 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000 Returned as Research Mentor

“Quite possibly the best two summers of my life.” 

Donald Bruckner
Counselor 1991 and 1992

“I spent 5 summers at PROMYS, 2 as a student, 1 as a junior counselor, and 2 as a counselor. The experience really helped shape me as a person. I loved being surrounded and challenged by smart people every day of the program! I've never exercised my brain so much! The program really fed my need to relentlessly pursue solutions to complicated problems (thus my interest in health care reform). I made so many great friends at the program and wish I kept in touch with more people. I'm thrilled that the program is still going strong!”

Julia Kraemer Lerche
Student 1992 and 1993  Counselor 1994, 1995, and 1997

"PROMYS (Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists) is a six week summer program at Boston University for high school students. It began as an offshoot of the number theory program at OSU and its aim is to introduce talented high school students to higher mathematics through an intensive number theory course. 

Each year, Professor Glenn Stevens, the program director, hires approximately fifteen students as counselors. The counselors' main responsibility is to grade the students' daily problem sets, but counselors are also expected to monitor their students' progress, to be available to answer their questions, and to set an example for the students by conspicuously working on their own math throughout the summer. Counselors live in the B.U. dorms with their students and are expected to be on hand to organize social activities for the students on weekends.

Being a counselor at PROMYS is a wonderful way to learn math while working closely with talented and motivated students. Many of the more advanced number theory problems are interesting and challenging, even for counselors. In addition to Professor Stevens's basic number theory course, there are classes on more advanced topics for second- and third-year students, which counselors are encouraged to attend. Last summer, for example, there were courses on elementary group theory, algebraic number theory, and dynamical systems. There is a lot of work, but there is also plenty of time to socialize and to form friendships with students and with other counselors. I had a great time working at PROMYS last summer. I found it very rewarding, both mathematically and socially."

Leslie Mayer
Student 1991  Counselor 1992
Posted on Harvard Math Department's REU review page

"Last summer I worked as a counselor at PROMYS (Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists). PROMYS is a six-week program run by Boston University, and is funded by the NSF. The director of the program, Glenn Stevens, is a mathematics professor at BU. Last summer there were eighty students, mostly from high school, who had strong interests in math.  

The purpose of PROMYS is to develop the students' interest in math. Each morning the students attend an hour lecture in number theory where they are given the day's problem set: numerical calculations, statements that they are asked to "prove or disprove and salvage if possible" and some tricky problems labelled "miscellaneous." Students look for patterns and make conjectures ("any conjectures?" is perhaps the most frequently asked question in the program.) The students never receive scores on the problem sets. They are instructed to finish as much as they can, and receive comments. Finishing the problem sets becomes steadily more difficult as the program progresses, and few students come close to finishing the problem sets in the second half of the program. The lack of grades enables the program to keep competition to a minimum. Students constantly work together and discuss the problems.

This brings us to the role of counselors. PROMYS hires 20 college students, some of whom were themselves students, to guide students through the program. Like the other counselors, I was assigned five students whom I was primarily responsible for (numbers varied slightly from counselor to counselor.) I commented on their problem sets, and discussed their work with them. We talked about the course and tried to resolve some difficulties. Besides his or her five students, the counselor is responsible for all of the students in the program. In the evenings, many students and counselors work together in a room called the "basement". Students work with students, students work with counselors, counselors work with counselors.

The students at PROMYS are very smart and motivated; working with them was one of the best parts of PROMYS. Working with the other counselors was also a great experience. The program at PROMYS can be taken at all different levels; it is hard to imagine anyone being bored by it! The number theory problem sets are extremely interesting, both in the problems themselves, and in the way that they are organized to lead up to important results. There are several more advanced courses that are taken by the returning students in addition to the number theory (all students take the number theory course, there is easily enough material there for several summers).

As a counselor, there is much opportunity to learn a lot of math. Besides the number theory problem sets, the more advanced courses are of interest to counselors. There are also seminars that counselors put on for themselves. Last summer's Modular Forms seminar developed a particularly cultish following.

Contrary to what it may seem from this description, we didn't do math all the time. The flexible nature of this program allows for much socializing. Counselors organized social events that range from somewhat normal to bizarre, but were always fun. Trips to surrounding colleges are also organized by counselors (if you've ever wanted to give a tour of Harvard, now might be the time to do it), as are games of ultimate, trips to Boston, etc. You won't get much sleep, but you will have an exciting and fun summer."

Jessica Wachter 
Counselor in 1993
Posted on Harvard Math Department's REU review page

"The Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists is an intensive six-week summer camp for aspiring mathematicians in high school. The program emphasizes mathematical discovery through an immersive environment centered on learning elementary number theory. Approximately 60 high school students are guided on the path of discovery by 15 counselors (college students usually majoring in math) and a team of top-notch professors in the mathematics department at Boston University. Daily lectures are delivered by the program founder, Glenn Stevens, whose energy and enthusiasm for mathematics is contagious.

I attended PROMYS as a student in the summers of 1996 and 1997, and returned as a counselor in the summers of 2000 and 2002. I credit PROMYS with opening my eyes to the possibility of becoming a professional mathematician, and for introducing me to the beauty of number theory. PROMYS has also had a significant impact on my views toward teaching mathematics, and I hope to continue my involvement with mathematics education at the high school level."

Bryden Cais
Student in 1996 and 1997  Counselor in 2000 and 2002
Posted on alum's Teaching and Advising page at the University of Arizona