A long time ago, I was lucky enough to get selected to attend the National Mathematic Summer School, an annual camp run by the Australian National University and the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers. Around 60 promising students who have just completed Year 11 are invited to attend a 12 day retreat at ANU in Canberra.

In the time since, I’ve been getting the bi-annual (maybe, everything blurs together) newsletter, and reading it with some interest, coupled at times with a feeling of inadequacy as I thought about how little further mathematics study I actually did.

It turns out that I attended NeMeSiS (as the students refer to it) back in 1992, and that was 25 years ago.

In the time since then, I’ve come across exactly two other alumni: one was a student with me at The Levels in 1993 (we had attended NeMeSiS at the same time, I think we met there, and we were friends for a year or two, but I can’t remember his name), and the other I met several years later through Touch Football, and several years after that discovered that we had this shared-although-offset-by-a-year history. She’s a surgeon, and we still bump into one another occasionally.

NeMeSiS was for me a real eye-opener. I went from being (I felt at the time) the smartest kid in the room at all times, to just being some kid. In some ways, I probably didn’t actually deal with it quite the right way - I knew I was no where near as smart as some of the other students (Ben Burton, for instance), I came out of it still feeling superior to everyone I studied with at school/university after that point in time. That probably explains how someone with “lots of potential” ended up failing first-year Engineering Mathematics.

I remember catching the plane from Adelaide, and I think I was seated with a group of other NeMeSiS students. They all knew one another, and I was somewhat of an outsider, as I was actually from the Victorian quota (having been at school in Hamilton, in western Victoria). I have a feeling now that there was more segregation and aloofness of some students, but I did find a home within a small group. Perhaps we were the outsiders, but I didn’t feel at the time that I was being ostracised.

After dropping out of my Engineering degree, I then went and completed an Education degree (which was much less work, I must say). I taught for nearly 10 years, and then did a graduate entry Computer Science degree. I’d taught myself almost everything that was covered in the course work of that degree, so sailed through it with mostly High Distinctions.

I hear lots of people talk about imposter syndrome, and it’s really interesting (to me, at least) that I don’t often feel that in my second career. I think maybe I did have it when I was a teacher, and I feel so much more confident about what I am doing within the scope of my work now that it doesn’t affect me so much. Maybe that’s Dunning-Kruger, but I hope not. I think it’s more about having felt, not exactly out of my depth, but like I was doing something that I was never really supposed to be doing.

Anyway, these thoughts were brought on by the arrival today of the latest newsletter, with mention of how the next one will be the 50th. I’m yet to attend one of my school reunions (both 10 and 20-year versions have passed me by), but maybe I’ll think about going to one for NeMeSiS.

Update: I found a list of “lost alumni”, and it seems that I can remember way too many names: Michael Plavins was (I think) the friend from Uni, and I know that Robert Dunbabin (Bobbit), Kathryn Vaughan and I were quite good friends. Effie Hatzigiannis, Irina Shainsky and Zoran Vukojevic are all names that I had forgotten I knew.