Dear Alexa,

As a science cat, I talk to some of the smartest scientists on the planet. It can be intimidating. Especially when I talk with people who are experts at things that are hard for me.

I talked about what it means to be a good student with Kira Carbonneau. She’s an educational psychologist at Washington State University.

She told me that everyone grows and learns at different rates. Just like people learn to walk or talk or ride a bike at different rates.

“How fast you learn things is not the same as intelligence,” Carbonneau said. “If it takes longer to do something or learn something, that doesn’t mean you’re less smart.”

She told me about two kinds of intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to solve problems and make sense of new information. Crystallized intelligence is the library of all the stuff you’ve learned so far.

But intelligence is only one part of what makes someone a good student or leader. They need dispositional skills, too. Those are things like never giving up, working well with a team or even having an excellent sense of humor.

red converse surrounded by pencils, notebooks, and school supplies

Carbonneau told me it’s important to develop a growth mindset. That means believing you can get better at things. It also means learning from mistakes and getting inspired when other people do well.

One way to build a growth mindset is by using the power of yet. If you add the word “yet” to what you think and say about yourself, you can reframe it. Like this:

I can’t solve this math problem. I can’t solve this math problem yet.

I can’t ride a bike. I can’t ride a bike yet.

I’m not good at studying. I’m not good at studying yet.

If you’re like me, adding “yet” feels hopeful and determined. It feels like I know I’ll get there someday if I keep trying. Yet is a small word that changes the whole vibe.

Carbonneau teaches a super challenging class called statistics. It uses math to understand scientific data. I remember taking that class and thinking, “Whoa. I don’t know how to do this…yet.”

She teaches her students to be academic risk-takers. That means trying things that stretch your brain and your abilities instead of sticking to things that are already easy for you.

Academic risk-takers also ask brave questions. They think critically about the world and how they fit into it.

“That’s exactly what Alexa did here,” Carbonneau said. “It shows a growth mindset just by asking the question.”

I bet that mindset will help you do all kinds of things you can’t even imagine yet.


Dr. Universe