This page describes my relation to Cognito Mentoring (CM), which was an “advising service for intellectually curious students”. I originally saw the post on Less Wrong that Jonah Sinick made, and emailed CM for the first time on January 1, 2014. I was too intimidated to contact them on my own, so I asked a friend to contact them as well; we ended up reviewing each other’s emails before sending them off1.
CM and I then exchanged around 20 emails, mostly about college and major selection (since at the time I was in my final year of high school). Sometime around the beginning of March 2014, I responded to the survey put out by CM about how well they did in helping me. The following is the review that was generated based on my survey answers (also posted on the reviews page of CM under “male high school senior joining University of Washington (UW) in Fall 2014”):
I found out that majoring in math at UW was not a good choice for me. Cognito Mentoring pointed me to Alex K. Chen’s Quora content and connected me to him through email. Reading Alex K. Chen’s answers on Quora has also been immensely useful. Finding out Quora as a resource has also been useful (I knew of its existence before, but not of its utility in finding out information about e.g. UW and the university experience in general). In particular, this post convinced me to contact UW admissions to have my intended major changed from mathematics to computer science (which should make me eligible for direct admit to CS). I also plan to follow Alex K. Chen’s advice once I am at UW.
The Cognito Mentoring wiki (though still under construction) has been useful. I have begun watching some of the Center of Math videos (I had found them at one point, but lost the URL, and couldn’t relocate the website, so it has been good to find it again) and Vipul’s math videos (for some reason finding the videos was difficult because the main page of the channel doesn’t list all the videos…), which are closer to the math that I had wanted to learn, and still want to learn.
It was very useful to receive targeted information about UW and math, but I feel that a lot of the advice could have been placed on a website (i.e. the advice was general enough that having them available for everyone would have saved time for all). I realize that the Cognito Mentoring wiki will solve this problem.
In addition to the things listed above, I can attribute various other positive changes in my life to the advising I received from Cognito Mentoring:
Although I did not get direct admission to the computer science department at the University of Washington (as alluded in the review), I still chose to switch my intended major from pure math to computer science. At the end of my first year at University of Washington, I applied to the computer science major and was admitted. I expect this to make somewhat of a difference in the long run (regarding financial stability, mostly).
The review only mentions the information I gained from Quora. However, since the time when I wrote the review, I have become a contributor to Quora as well, writing over 80 answers and asking more than 3000 questions (as of July 2015). If I hadn’t been shown the utility of Quora by CM, these contributions would either not have happened, or would have happened at a later point in time.
My decision to join Facebook was motivated by CM. I have since been rather active on the site, posting links to various articles and contributing to groups like the Effective Altruists Facebook group.
My continued and increased interest in the effective altruism (EA) movement has been helped by Cognito Mentoring. See for instance their wiki page on EA. (To be sure, CM wasn’t the only influence here; I also became involved with the Seattle Effective Altruists starting in July 2014, which has also helped to increase my interest in EA.)
My decision to purchase domain names and get hosting for this site was catalyzed by Creating your personal website on the CM info wiki (though I already had a website made with GitHub pages prior to that, and was already interested in online content creation).
I’ve also made minor contributions to the CM info wiki.
I’ve also received emotional support from one of the mentors of CM, as well as from those I met through CM.
I think my social life has improved significantly through the connections I have made through CM. I elaborated on this to some extent in my reflection of the autumn 2014 quarter at the University of Washington.
To be sure, I think I am one of the mentees that benefited most from Cognito Mentoring. For example, I think that although my friend who contacted CM along with me benefited from the service, she did not get as much out of it as I did—in other words, I think that she would have pretty much ended up at the same place regardless of the mentoring, whereas in my case, I think that my output and impact on the world would have been much less without CM. I’m not sure there is a definite reason for this difference, other than that I “clicked” with the ideals behind CM.
- Almost exactly one year after I first emailed Cognito Mentoring, I answered the Quora question “One year on, how has Cognito Mentoring benefited you?” by quoting from this page (as the page was at the time).
I later found out that Jonah and Vipul thought my friend and I were a single person trying to A/B test CM!↩