Kosbie advises students on happiness, well-being in life

At Carnegie Mellon, we see students working terribly hard just to get that A. But do grades make students happy, or is it the learning process that matters in the long run?

David Kosbie, assistant teaching professor of computer science, addressed this question in a talk he gave on the second day of Carnegie Mellon’s Odyssey program, Jan. 11.

The talk, an invite-only event held in Baker Hall’s Adamson Wing, was attended by about 100 sophomores from various departments, including some from students from Carnegie Mellon’s Qatar campus.

Kosbie began by stating he was no expert on happiness, but just a “well-informed layperson.” He related his experiences as an applied mathematics undergraduate at Harvard.

After a year of struggling hard but performing poorly he realized that hard work alone without any heed to health and social interactions, was the wrong method for success. He encouraged students to look to their peers for support, academic or otherwise.

Relating this to Carnegie Mellon students, Kosbie went on to say that to remain happy at Carnegie Mellon, students should try to eat healthy food and sleep well. He also encouraged students to get regular exercise. He stressed the importance of socializing, especially through in-person interactions, as opposed to communication through electronic media or over the Internet.

The message of student happiness and well-being especially resonated with sophomore decision science major Tonya Sedgwick, who remarked, “When he said that instructors care about the students, I could see how he sincerely meant it.”

Kosbie then related a few incidents from his employment at Microsoft prior to coming to teach at Carnegie Mellon. He assured the audience that some of the richest people he’d met in the computer science industry were among the unhappiest people he has ever met.

He affirmed that although you do need some amount of money to live a comfortable life, there comes a point where the more money you earn, the unhappier you get. “Not one person in this room must make decisions based on money alone,” he said.

In addition to the lecture format of his talk, Kosbie also used audience participation activities to emphasize his points. At one point, Kosbie engaged students in a four-minute meditation exercise to emphasize the importance of meditation in generating a sense of inner happiness.

Kosbie also asked students to try some mental exercises intended to demonstrate that multitasking is less than half as efficient as doing the different tasks separately. Kosbie believes that doing away with multitasking while doing homework can help students save time and be happier.

Kosbie wrapped up his talk by assuring the students that faculty care about them and highly value student feedback on making academic life less stressful.

He asked the students to come up with ideas that would make coursework less stressful; he promised to implement much of the feedback into his popular course 15–112 Fundamentals of Programming and Computer Science.

One of the suggestions brought up which reached a huge consensus among the audience was allowing students to repeat a course to improve their grade and that the most recent grade should completely replace the older grade for that course.

Arjun Hans, a sophomore computer science major, was impressed with the talk and Kosbie’s devotion to improving student life. “It’s really awesome when a professor takes such a keen interest in the students’ welfare,” he said.

Kosbie encouraged the audience to implement his suggestions to bring happiness to their daily lives, at Carnegie Mellon and beyond.